It was November 2018. Having not raced properly for over a year I needed a goal to aim for. The KK mailshot e-mail arrived in my mailbox and I thought that it was a good idea to enter?! My work colleagues Ian and Phil decided to enter too, it was to be their first sportive – what a one to pick!
I’d ridden the KK twice before. I’d entered in 2015 when I first moved to rural Kent, and rode it again in 2016. So I knew that it was a tough ride and that the weather was likely to be bad. Not only was I younger back in 2015 and 2016, but I was also a bit fitter as I had a 50 mile commute which I did a few times a week. Both years I’d managed to complete the course in 4 hours 18 minutes, which was good for a “gold award” time. This time I really wanted to get that platinum award, and now in my 40s the platinum time cut off is 4:15 – so a PB should seal the deal. Actually, I really wanted to “win” the thing and do it under 4 hours. You’ve got to aim high after all.
I’d kept my riding going a bit through December, and was just starting to ramp it up again in January when I got REALLY ill. I was out of action for two weeks. This left me with about one month to resurrect some sort of fitness for the KK. I figured I would do a 3 week training block with one week of rest before the event.
On the day of the event we were blessed with storm Freya, i.e. high winds and rain. The organisers had a time cut off at the point where the long and short routes split – anyone arriving after the cut off would have to do the short route in order to avoid the worst of the storm.
I rode to Brands Hatch with Andy, into the wind and rain. I took it easy, but this meant I was cold at the start. We arrived and got our pack and applied our timing chips and frame numbers. I met up with Ian, who had done almost no training at all for the event(!), and Andy met up with his friend, Matt. We rolled up to the start and after a brief wait we were off. We rolled out of Brands Hatch and up Fawkham Road, I looked around for Ian, but he was nowhere to be seen. Off the back from the start – it was going to be a long day for him!
Andy, Matt and myself pushed on. The road surface became quite muddy up St Clare Hill Road and we got held up by a couple of cars. By the descent of Exedown we’d lost Andy. I held back going downhill, and was on the breaks all the way down. I knew the crosswind would be dangerous in the fast exposed section, but this didn’t perturb a group of 5 or 6 other riders who overtook me at speed. Nutters. As the road flattened out Matt and myself caught and passed the group of fast descenders and thankfully I didn’t see them again.
After this I settled into a comfortable pace and chatted a bit to Matt. Bates Hill wasn’t too bad, we pushed it a little but its only short so I managed to keep my Heart Rate below threshold. The first big climb on the ride is Carters Hill. I’d gone up Carters a couple of weeks before with Phil, so it was fresh in my mind. I warned Matt that it was a tough one, but just as the gradient ramped up he started pulling away from me. “Blimey” I thought! I didn’t panic and tried to keep up with Matt whilst I controlled my breathing. About halfway up my legs woke up a bit, I started reeling Matt in, and near the top I was able to sit down and spin past him and carried some speed into the flat bit at the top. Phew!
Soon after Carters is a descent down the A225 out of Sevenoaks. Again I was on the breaks all the way down, but even so the strong crosswind made it sketchy AF.
Horrible Hubbards isn’t all that bad. The gradient is much more gentle than Carters for starters. There is a long stretch that goes over the motorway which I guess could be quite daunting if you’re already suffering. I however quite enjoyed overtaking a few weekend warriors whilst sat down and chatting to Matt. ;-p
After Hubbards the terrain is rolling, but the wind and rain made it hard going. I’d been drenched for a while and I’d lost feeling in my toes. Only one thing for it – try harder! Matt decided to stop at the long/short route split and wait for Andy, so I cracked on solo.
Around Groombridge there is a little descent with a junction / right hand turn at the bottom. Going into the junction a cyclist in front of me took a sketchy wide line, I went past him and he jumped on my wheel. The two of us were joined by another chap for a while, but he soon dropped off. I got chatting to my new riding partner, another cycling dad! We were pretty evenly matched, but he seemed to be a better climber than me and I could pull harder on the flat sections.
The absolute worst of the weather hit us in a valley where the crosswinds blasted us from right to left. We’d been carrying some speed on the descent into the bottom of the valley, so it was another super sketchy moment. It was at this point I passed Steve from Gravesend CC. I shouted “Alright Steve?” but the wind was gusting so loudly and the rain was lashing that he didn’t hear nor see me – even though I was only one meter away! I was actually glad when the road ramped up the other side of the valley as it provided some shelter.
Riding up Church Hill in Ashdown I let my new friend take the front and pace me up, he did such a good job I felt unable to come past him. Towards the top of the climb I regained a bit of strength so took a turn on the front and quickly dropped my companion. Realising my error I throttled back to let him jump back on my wheel. In my defense I’d found the effort up the hill pretty hard all the way, my legs were suffering a bit, so when I took the front I just tried to maintain the same perceived effort – could’ve done with a power meter I guess.
At the top of the hill the course turns right, and for the first time that day we were gifted a tailwind – woo hoo!!! I took the front as the wind blew us along the flat and down the descent. We couldn’t capitalise fully on the wind and downhill though as the wet road meant we were on the brakes a lot of the time. It was a welcome break from the wind and climbing, but it meant that I started to feel cold again.
The terrain was rolling again, I took the front and pushed on in an attempt to get some heat in my limbs. I also wanted to bring the average speed up a bit, time to crack on. My new riding buddy had saddle bag issues which meant we had to slow and stop a couple of times, but despite this we’d bought the average up by 1kmh by the bottom of Ide Hill.
I’d fully cooked my legs leading up to Ide Hill, so had to let my riding partner go up the road a bit when the road first pitched up. After I’d let him go I found my second wind (probably tenth wind by now TBH) and maintained the gap for the second half of the climb. Going around the feed station at Ide Hill he peeled off and stopped, but I carried on solo and decided to bury myself the rest of the ride. I caught and passed a couple of others going down Ide hill on the north side, but then got caught at the traffic lights where the guys I’d just passed caught me up again. I decided to eat some food and took it easy for a bit leading up to Sundridge Hill, letting one of the other guys go up the road.
The wind picked up leading up to Sundridge Hill, blowing from left to right it made progress tough, again. Seeking cover, I jumped on the wheel of another rider. At the start of the climb he rode away from me, but when I got in my rhythm I caught and passed him. It hurt. Halfway up the climb I saw Ian up the road, walking his bike. He’d not made the time cut off so was diverted on the short route. I think I said something to him, but I was hypoxic, so I don’t remember TBH. The climb is a real brute, but I actually quite enjoyed it.
At the top of the hill I was feeling good – I adopted TT position and put the hammer down, what was left of it anyway! Looking at my computer I had half an hour to get to the finish in order to make the 4:15 Platinum time. I mentally broke the rest of the ride down into three ten minute chunks: if I could get to Otford in ten minutes, then make it over Row Dow and Tinkerpot in the next ten, then that would leave me ten minutes to get to the end. My guestimations were well off, but I find putting in a hard effort much easier if I break it down. The best bit of the ride happened as I was blasting past a couple of guys in TT position on Knockholt Road at 40+kph. I heard one of them saying to the other “fuck that” 😀 This was closely followed by the scariest bit of the ride where the crosswind almost blew me into the curb at the top of Pollhill. As promised the weather was worsening and I was glad to be nearly done.
I actually made it to the bottom of Row Dow in about 20 minutes. I knew that it’d take me longer than 10 minutes to get to the finish line from there, but I gave it a go anyway. I find Row Dow hard at the best of times, so with over 4 hours in my legs, and after a hard effort, it was all I could do to crawl up it. I still managed to catch and pass a couple of people, but I reckon I was hurting just as much, if not more than they were. In previous years I’d suffered cramp at this point, but no cramp today thankfully.
When the road flattened out I was able to get back up to speed again. Maybe its psychological, when my legs are cooked I can still push on on the flats and descents but I lose the ability to climb? I caught and got held up behind a couple of riders on the next downhill, but made it past them before the road went up for the last time.
I’d caught another group of riders at Tinkerpot and made my way past them all as I summoned the last of my reserves and, knowing it was only a short climb, I refused to drop to my smallest gear. Having other riders up the road sparks my competitive spirit and must give me a burst of adrenaline, or some such?
Finally all the climbing was done. I tucked down again and emptied the tank to the finish, reaching my maximum speed of the day on the descent down Fawkham Road. Upon finishing I wasn’t sure if I’d made the Platinum time cut or not. It was tight, but I had missed out by two minutes. Happily, I’d beat my PB by one minute though.
Being caught up in traffic, traffic lights and stopping to wait for people maybe accounted for over two minutes? Oh well. The weather certainly didn’t help either. I finished 11th on the day, which, given my circumstances leading up the day, I am really happy with.
I then waited at the Kentagon for everyone else to finish and to swap war stories. After several free coffees later I rode my bike home to make it 134km for the day where I spent at least an hour in the bath.