Sportive mad blogger Gavin slays fear of the Dragon in the Surrey Hills.
Do you have an upcoming ride that is worrying you? The kind of ride that has you waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat cowering under the sheets, wishing you had heeded your wife's advice and taken up salsa instead of cycling? I do. My demon this year is the Wiggle Dragon Ride, and I know that I am not alone - as fellow wannabe dragon slayers (Dra-goons), Dave, Pete and Tom are also very troubled.
With this in mind, drastic measures, some may say plans were hatched - ones that required the hi-tech approach of marker pens and the Sportive calendar. UKCycling events were hosting two sportives in as many weeks in the Surrey Hills - our very own Hell of the North (Downs). These hills may not be Alpine - but there is a very good reason why the area has been included in recent Tour of Britain editions, not to mention the Olympics and the inaugural Ride London. And yes - before you ask - there is more to the area than the iconic Box Hill.
Although both staged in the same area, the two sportives offered quite different challenges. The first one - the Cycling Weekly Surrey Cyclone - started at Epsom Racecourse - a mere wheel away from my front door. An area made famous for health inducing salts and horseracing, riders couldn't help but feel inspired by the statues of graceful horses in the shadow of the Grandstand. The Dra-goons were joined by Gavin and sportive newcomer James Smith - who turned up on hearing that Boardman was riding - only to be overcome with disappointment when cycling legend Chris Boardman showed up and not eighties "funny man" Stan, who it turns out was his hero. This did not spoil his day - and he managed to smile for the camera nonetheless and signed up on the spot for the following week's Ups and Downs.
The ride was a test and as well as the usual Surrey climbs the lesser used Pebble Hill provided a pleasant last climb of the day challenge. After hearing of the horror stories from the previous week's sportive in the New Forest, it was wonderful to see people out cheering us on and both motorists and cyclists giving each other mutual respect. The London to Brighton vintage Jaguar run was also in the area that day - providing similarly vintage cyclists with sites and sounds of the dream cars of our childhood. The dragoons were all happy with their times - but with the Ups and Downs 100 mile Epic to follow in a week - there was a steely determination and knowledge that the job was only half done.
The Ups and Downs - started in the heart of Surrey and the climbs were packed in at both ends of the Epic ride. Jamie - a veteran of the Kentish Killer turned up to see what the fuss about the Surrey Hills was all about, but with a tough ascent of Ranmore Hill straight out of the starting blocks - the tone for the day was set.
Atmosphere along the route was again jovial - at one point - ramblers, spectating on the climb up WhiteDown provided a corridor of applause and encouragement that rivalled the fans on Alpe D'Huez. Whilst tacks on the route has never been an issue in cycling-mad Surrey, the same cannot be said about pot holes - as I discovered to my peril turning in to Barhatch Lane - famed for its 21% gradient.
At 100 miles and with 2200 metres elevation, this ride doesn't breath the kind of heat that the Dragon does - but having put up a decent show in consecutive weeks (three golds and two silvers) - the Dragon Riders can rest a little more easily in their beds, but with six weeks to go - there is still work to be done.
Lastly - as a balding man with missing teeth - my seven year old son was highly amused at the Head and Shoulders shampoo and toothpaste in the goodie bag, but the pistachios and the Cycling Plus provided refreshment and entertainment for the train home from Dorking.