Catford Reliability relived

Yesterday (26th February) saw the running of the Catford Cycling Club’s “Hell of the Ashdown” sportive. It is, by all accounts, a fine event, offering some serious climbing and the usual sportive accoutrements of event timing, route marking and manned feed stations. It makes money for the club, some of which goes to charitable causes and, introduced in response to the growing popularity of such events, is an established part of the UK scene.

The Catford Reliability Trial, however, it is not. Sadly, this fabled event disappeared to make way for the Hell of the Ashdown a few years back. Until then it was the unquestioned highlight of the South East’s reliability ride season, not because the route was any more demanding than those of the Old Portlians and Sydenham Wheelers events, which took place on similar terrain, but because it was the ride that invariably attracted the strongest field.

This fact inevitably meant that it turned into the best tear-up. Given the small number of participants and the splitting of the riders into small groups, this could take place without unduly bothering other road users. The last group was the one to be in, legs permitting… Way back in the day, it was for those hoping to complete the ride in four hours, but by the late 90’s this was down to three and a half.

This was still too much for pro legend Sean Yates, who tore round in 3h 5′ one year. It was a ride to remember, a big bunch of hopefuls setting off with the big man in the hope of hanging on for as long as possible. For most of them, this was not very long at all; by the top of Turner’s Hill, the group was down to six. My abiding memory of that day is of hanging on Yates’ wheel for dear life as he rode the two miles of so out of Sharpthorne out of the saddle with no apparent effort.

His relentless pace was such that only Andy Kay was still with him by Crockham Hill, and even the Beast Of Romney Marsh had to give best before the final checkpoint atop Star Hill. And then there was the time the group included national champions Simon Cope and Gavin Sellen and the cream of local cycling talent…

But enough reminiscing. A bunch of us decided to ride the old route yesterday, joining it at Tandridge and departing from it at Sundridge. We still got in our full quota of climbing, starting at Warlingham and climbing Slines Oak Road at the start and Botley Hill at the end of the ride. And great fun it was too, once we got to Turner’s Hill and the start of the real action. Up to this point the route is mostly flattish and boring; after Turner’s  it is never less than lumpy and, with the climbs of Groombridge and, in the old days, Crockham Hills, in places very tough. So tough, in fact, that we ran short of time, had to cut off the Crockham section and tackled Ide Hill, which is neither easier nor quieter.

And at the top of Ide Hill we found the final feed for the Hell of the Ashdown, whose riders got there having climbed Bailey’s Hill to the east. To a rider they looked like they’d had a hard time, but there wasn’t that sense of urgency that used to suffuse the fast group in the days of the old reliability trial. Come to think of it, we didn’t exhibit much urgency on our ride, but then we weren’t in an organised event.

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