Event Review

REVIEW: The Chiltern Hundred 2014

by Andy Dawson

GB Flag

The Chiltern Hundred 2014

Date: Sunday 1st June 2014
Distances: Medio Fondo 122km / Gran Fondo 177km
Entry fee: £39
Start: Bovington airfield, near Chesham
Feedstops: 2 on Medio / 3 on Gran Fondo
Timed: yes, stick on helmet strip
Signs: yes
Roads:  good
Extras: a medal

Starting the Gran Fondo

This was the big Chiltern event. The 100 is talked about by many local riders and is the gold standard for cyclists in the Chilterns. Many plump for the 122km Medio Fondo route after looking at the jagged profile: the full 177km Gran Fondo is known as a bicyclist breaker, with 2,500m of climbing over a relentless up and down course.

Human Race had taken over the organisation of the Chiltern 100 for 2014. The course and event was originally created by Verulam Cycling Club, St Albans, and has been going for 9 years. Verulam are still involved - helping marshal cyclists at the food stops, and many members were also riding the routes.

Before the big day event numbers and disposable timing strip had been posted out to participants. This made arriving on the day easy - just rock up, sort out the bike and then head to the start line. Getting to the event location was also simple - especially as there was a Lidl mini-blimp flying high above the Bovington airfield site. The location had loads of hard-standing parking and the marshals ensured it was a swift operation. With 2,000 participants it's important to get this aspect right.

Up on the Ashridge Estate

Bison Hill

There had been various reminder emails in the weeks leading up to the event which kept us informed.  Very impressive was the list of what would be available at the food stops - not sure I've seen this before but such a simple piece of information about something that would have a big impact on your day.

Relatively quickly I lined up for the Gran Fondo start. There was a compare on the PA system giving last minute advice and telling us what was going on, and the way to the start was well marked, all of which helps when you're starting something that's going to be challenging. The weather was absolutely ideal and even starting at around 8am there was no need for arm warmers - just sunglasses and suncream.

The route was initially a gentle warm up in the lanes above Chesham, and then a drop down through Berkhamsted and a couple of steady climbs through the Ashridge estate. Pretty soon we were at the foot of the steep Bison Hill though, which took us up towards Whipsnade Zoo, and then over to Dunstable and an abrupt turn west, for Ivinghoe Beacon. It was around here that I encountered the Eliptigo people who were doing the full 177km standing up. Kudos.

Eliptigo riders

Descending Toms Hill

After the Wiggington climb we arrived at the first food stop. This was impeccably marshalled by Verulam Cycling Club who ensured we entered and exited safely. Inside the well laid out food stop there didn't seem to be anyone overseeing what was happening. Weirdly, a long queue had formed at the food tables - everyone talking about how they'd never seen a queue before at a food stop but still queuing in classic British style. After a good 5 mins (or what felt like it) I arrived at the tables to find little pretzels, wine gums, small (postage stamp sized) squares of fudge/caramel, Bourbon biscuits and half bananas. Except for the latter everything was very small. Couldn't see any flapjacks or substantial "real" food.

A small queue for the loos had also formed, though we later discovered that there was spare capacity that could have reduced this queue. Probably just needed someone from the organisers to be in the food stop helping cyclists make proper use of all that was available, and encourage more of a free-for-all on the itty-bitty food offerings. Anyway, off I went somewhat nervous about what little food I'd taken on - hadn't really planned to do 177km on sweets.

Verulam marshals

Queue for food...

Climbing the Crong

Next up was the iconic Crong climb and then a super-fast descent of Aston Hill. From here there was a 14km run over to the foot of Whiteleaf Hill. This is a big one. Someone asked me if it was the hardest hill on the route? "Yes, it is, but not by much. You've got at least four in a row now." I replied. In fact there's actually 5 climbs - after Whiteleaf, you immediately go up Wardrobes (I saw the first bike pushers here) then toil up the long Wiggan's Lane, then do Kingstone - long and steep - and then do the hill out of Wattlington. In between Wiggan's and Kingstone was the second food stop, and it seemed like everyone had relaxed and stopped being proper, so you could get food immediately. Still no flapjack though.

Once past Watlington Hill there's a good piece of flat, which becomes a long descent, a gentle climb then another descent. This is the first piece of sustained recovery time on the whole ride. By now we had turned back east and once we had trogged up the long and difficult Fingest Lane climb, we were very soon under the M40 and heading for home.

Cresting Whiteleaf

Climbing on Wardrobes

A sharp left near West Wycomb had us climbing up onto Bledlow Ridge before dropping and then climbing up to Walter's Ash. Here there was a problem. I missed a left turn sign and carried straight on, eventually dropping to Hughenden Valley. I could feel something was wrong and going down a steep descent I was flagged down by a fellow cyclist and a motorcycle marshal. We were off-course, and more cyclists were dropping down the hill and being gathered up. The marshal had a map and rather than ride back up the hill we were able to plan a way to rejoin the route. This was a 4km extra bit - for free!


Mechanics busy at the feeds

Third feed

Soon we were back on track, and at the third and final food stop. Again there was no standing on ceremony, and the first appearance of flapjack was great - although nearly 8 hours in to the ride I was getting pretty empty in a way that more wine gums wasn't going to sate. I also realised that I had 55 minutes to do the last 20km if I was to get inside my target time (9 hours for the Gran Fondo route). I'd been cautious all day and very focussed on not blowing up/ getting weak from all the hills. But now I could time trial the last bit - 20km in 55 min sounds easy, but I had done 157km at that point.

I set off from the food stop with a new energy and enjoyed the change of riding style. Soon I was overtaking groups of riders and checking my average speed. The last hill was a challenge to many but I was able to blast up it (comparatively) and then blow over to the airfield with 15 minute to spare. What fun, and I didn't even feel that wasted at the end.

Nice touches at the finish was the commentator calling out your name as you crossed the line, and getting a text confirmation of your time almost immediately. There were also catering vans and a massage centre, so happy days all around.

White Hill, Chesham



Final thoughts: Course - it looks brutal, but on the ground it's less of a problem - lots of descents of course, and if you take it easy on the hills then it's possible to get around without destroying your legs.  Patience and restraint were important.

Food stops - having noticed a trend towards real food - cake, quiche, flapjacks, malt loaf - on many recent sportives it was odd to come across handfuls of little sweets and tiny chunks. Not much by way of substantial or filling food, which during a long day is certainly needed.

Support - was good, the motorcycle marshal saved the day when we went off track. At the foodstops there was good medical and mechanical facilities to keep us safe and rolling. 

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 7 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 8 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 9 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 9 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 8 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 8 out of 10
Overall Rating 85.6%

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