Pics: Trevor Lenthall
The Tour of the Hills is not a sportive. If it were, it would be one of the most celebrated on the UK calendar; instead, Surrey cycling’s local legend is a mere randonnee, and not even a proper long one at that. Covering a paltry 110km, it qualifies as a Brevet Populaire, which means that the regulations governing what bike can be ridden are fairly lax unless you are a CTC member wishing to compete in the West Surrey DA Benstead Cup Competition. If so, you need full-length mudguards. Otherwise, a machine in good working order will do, although it pays to have a wide range of gears. This is an event with one AAA Point, meaning it qualifies for an Audax UK competition that revolves around climbing – and lots of it.
In the case of the Tour of the Hills, this means 2091m of ups and, of course, the same amount of downs, all to be found within perhaps 15km of the HQ in Shere village. With this much climbing in such a short distance, few entrants can hope to fall foul of the Audax regulation imposing a maximum average speed of 30kph. Those that do so are advised to start later to throw the helpers at the checkpoints off the scent. RCUK’s correspondent set off at 10:05 hours, some 20 minutes after the first group away, with a previous best of 4:07 to hunt down.
Unusually for the event, which normally takes place under torrential rain, the day was dry and pleasant, offering the prospect of a fast ride. At the top of the first climb, a significant winnowing of the large group had taken place, leaving me with just Trevor, of the South Western Road Club and Chris, of Rapha, Look and Lightweight for company. Both looked a bit too lean and fast for my liking. That said, I have found the best way to ride the Tour is to take it very steady on the climbs, so I let them go on every ascent.
Luckily, I was able to claw back the deficit on each descent. By Tanhurst we had overtaken all but a couple of riders ahead and had swept up a duo of triathletes, who proved predictably tenacious. Trevor was riding an unusual strategy (for a randonnee) of having a bottle handed up by his helpers about every 10k while Chris, whose bike must have weighed under the UCI minimum, simply rode away on every climb and then, unsure of the route and unwilling to trust his GPS, sat up and waited for us to catch up.
The upshot of all this was that, at the foot of the dreaded White Down, I was still with them. One of the tri boys had gone, but the other was still looking good. He and Chris rode away; as Trevor and I dropped down to the cross-roads past White Down I could see them tackling the following short, sharp ramp on to Ranmore Common. Keen to get back to them, I put in a dig. Trevor was gone. On the penultimate climb, I again lost contact; dropping towards West Horsley, I got back to Chris, who kindly towed me back up to our triathlete friend.
Glancing at my watch, I noted with interest that we were 10 minutes inside the four hour mark with less than 5km to go, three of which were downhill. A PB was on! Yet again, Chris rode away, but Triathlete was looking ropey. Although, having caught him and his companion earlier, I was on a faster ride, I wanted to finish ahead and went hard up the left hand side with the desired result. Having barrelled down Coombe Lane and crossed the A25, I got back to Shere Village Hall just inside the four hours for a new ‘personal’. Meanwhile, first man back Jonathan ‘Eddy’ Lewis of the Charlotteville CC had gone round in his own, even faster ‘personal’ – as had Chris. Sportives? Prefer Brevet Populaires myself…