ToSH HQ at Shere
45t "big" ring
August, the silly season, is the perfect month in which to run the Tour of the (Surrey) Hills. It is an audax event, albeit a short one of just 115km, but to make up for the lack of distance it packs a ludicrous 2300m of climbing and, to encourage the weak of will, never strays more than about 15km from the ride HQ. In a straight line, that is. And it goes back to the HQ at halfway for refreshments.
It’s an event I have ridden regularly since 1999, when I used it as a warm-up for Paris-Brest-Paris. I have started every year but one – I think – since then but have suffered a couple of DNFs. I don’t like ’em but the ToSH is a challenging ride and there is never a guarantee of a finish.
With this in mind, I spent Saturday dithering over my choice of bike. The lanes on which most of the ride is run are tiny, steep and treacherous, with gravel drifts and sharp flints a persistent threat long after heavy rain, let alone during it.
Taking note of Saturday’s relentless rain, I went for my Roberts PBP machine, which has done the ToSH a few times including the two DNF’s, one when the back wheel broke on a pothole and one when I punctured so many times I ran out of tubes and patches. So, for reliability, on went American Classic Sprint 350 wheels shod with Bontrager RXL All Weather Plus rubber.
The Roberts has another secret weapon; following my experiment with small chainrings, I had fitted a 45t ring to the regular Shimano compact chainset. The shift between the big and 34t small rings is about the same as between the next larger or smaller sprockets and makes for very relaxed progress in hilly going.
How did the ride go? Without a hitch, mechanically speaking. I started in the first group and within 2.5km found myself alone in the lead before the top of Coombe Lane. This raised the possibility of being first back (no winner in an audax, of course), which I had managed once before. Trouble is, this required a riding speed fast enough to stay clear of pursuers – with no means of knowing if any were close behind – but one that would leave enough gas for the last 30km from Albury and including the dreaded 1:5 ascent of Horsebox Hollow.
Needless to say, I blew up and was caught, with perhaps 16km to go by a strong-riding couple of racing types from the South Western Road Club on racing bikes and then, on Horsebox, by a rider on a bike that would not meet the UCI road bike weight limit. No worries; I usually ride something similar.
Annoyingly, the conditions on the ride were benign, most of the route seemingly having been resurfaced with coarse chippings by Surrey council following the harsh winter. The surface, although slow, drains well and offers good grip and, while I saw plenty of cyclists attending to punctures on the way round, I reckon I’d have been fine on a much lighter machine.
But, hey, it’s an audax; there should be a rule about riding audax bikes.