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PREVIEW: Marlow Red Kite Ride 2014

by Andy Dawson

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PREVIEW: Marlow Red Kite Ride 2014

I recently caught up with Marlow Riders club to preview their Red Kite Sportive. This event is set for Sunday 31st August and they invited me along to ride the 50 mile route. The Sportive has 80 and 100mile options too, and had 550 participants in 2013. It will raise money for the Cyclists Fighting Cancer charity. 

Willie Moore - Bronze medal Olympic track cyclist

We fixed to meet up at the start/finish HQ at Marlow Sports Club. First to arrive was Willie Moore, British Olympic Bronze track cycling medallist and the designer of the sportive routes. Pretty soon more Marlow Riders gathered and after introductions we set off north through the town to go up the Frieth Road.  This start to the sportive is a gradual climb (5km but just 2%) that very quickly gets you away from the streets and into leafy lanes with actual Red Kite birds of prey circling above our heads. This part of the Chilterns is known for its large population of Kites.  

A drop down towards Fingest brought us into the "TV vale" - Midsummer Murders and Vicar of Dibley are shot around here.  By now you should be getting a picture of how scenic this ride is.  

Dolesden Lane climb

To get out of this valley the route goes up Dolesden Lane which is a long, high hedged climb that gradually steepens over 2km, hitting 10% at its worst for a total height gain of 100m.  Further easy gradients got us up to Christmas Common, the high point on the route and then the spectacular descent of Watlington Hill with great views over Oxfordshire and a long, fast spin down off the Chilterns. 

The routes split in Watlington with 80 and 100 mile options going right whilst the 50 goes left. The longer routes head north through easy, car free roads. The 80 takes a long loop through Thame and Chalgrove with no appreciable climbing.  The 100 gets all the way to Brill Hill - a significant bump set in the Oxfordshire plain. It can be seen from some distance and features a portion of steep 15% slopes over a 2km stretch, gaining 100m by the time you enter the hill top village.  

Brill Hill

Meanwhile the 50 route has turned left in Watlington and taken a short cut over towards Benson.  Here it is joined by the 80 and 100s after their extended Oxfordshire loops and all three courses stick together for the rest of the sportive.  They immediately re-climb the Chiltern ridge by going up Swyncombe Hill, which is 2kms long and features plenty of 10%+ gradients at the start. 

Swyncombe Hill

Once on top the route takes a long gradual descent on good roads all the way through Sonning Common and down into picturesque Sonning itself, losing 200m in height. This is a long loop around towards Tywford, where you'll find a unique feature of the Marlow Redkite - a 40ft fording of the river Loddon. On the preview ride this was way too deep to go through but by summer it will be much more manageable. On the Sportive day there'll be an alternative dry route for those that don't want to get their feet wet. 

Ford through river Loddon

After this the route curls back northwards, skirting Maidenhead and rising slightly before dropping down Winter Hill, which is fast and has a couple of tricky hairpin corners. A short flat piece afterwards gets you into Marlow and across the iconic bridge to the finish at the Sports Club. The venue has space for a range of post-sportive activities to entertain supporters. 

Thanks to Marlow Riders club for a great preview ride. The route offers spectacular views with a good set of climbs, plus opportunities for group riding on the flats, and the ford is a nice touch! 

Drop down Winter Hill 

Crossing Marlow bridge 


The Marlow Red Kite Ride 2014 will take place on Sunday 31st August. Entries are now open, visit for more information.