Tour of the Surrey Hills time

 Pacing, I decided some time before the start of this year’s Tour of the (Surrey) Hills, would be the key to my ride. For the uninitiated, the event is run under audax regulations by the West Surrey District Association of the Cyclists’ Touring Club and covers a 115km route that incorporates 2,300m of climbing and, as the name sugggests, uses the Surrey Hills as its playground.

Lumpy? To a fault. Until a couple of years ago, the ride covered two loops with the harder, taking in St Martha’s chapel and the dreaded Horsebox Hollow, coming first. Maybe a remark made to the organiser, Don Gray, suggesting running them in the reverse order was to blame but, in any case, for 2009 the route was reworked to make it considerably – call it 30 minutes for an extra 5km – harder.

The two loops aren’t quite run in reverse, the first of the new route taking a slightly different descent off Leith Hill to avoid the ascent of the treacherous Tanhurst Lane and substituting the long and demanding Abinger Road climb. There are, now, three distinct loops, the second taking in Peaslake and Ewhurst with the former first loop now the last and Horsebox Hollow – officially Barhatch Lane – now the last significant climb.

It pays to have something left for the last 30km. This year it would seem that many who felt they did not decided to abandon at the bridge above Shere, where a simple descent took them straight back to the HQ. I was tempted – who wouldn’t be?

So, a steady start it was. Anyone reading  RCUK’s new series on coaching by Huw Williams, himself a veteran of many Tours of the Hills, will be aware by now of the concept of “intensity”. Well , I was going for the exact oppposite in the hope of staving off exhaustion until at least the summit of the Hollow.

And it kind of worked. It’s actually quite hard to ride gently, or so I find, but as I watched three riders from my start group disappear up Coombe Lane I reminded myself what would happen if I chased after them.

Having said that it’s quite hard to ride gently, I probably mean that I personally find it hard to start gently. Once settled into my chosen pace, I found it very enjoyable. If it’s easy to start too fast, it is also easy to blow up well short of the finish; indeed, the one will, by definition, lead to the other. And, given that I am a bit short of miles this summer, a major blow-up was the last thing I wanted. Not that I ever want one.

So, steadily making my way around the course, I was able to take the many steep and vicious climbs more or less comfortably and, by the foot of the Hollow, had enough in the tank to creep up it about as fast as last year.  Despite hurting just as much at the finish, my ride time was about the same, my fitness level lower and my appreciation of the ride considerably enhanced. Pacing; it’s the way forward.

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