Archive REVIEW: Evans King of the Downs

by Scott Pinhorne

Distances: 56 or 113 miles
Participants: 1200
Start: Evans Cycles Gatwick, Camino Park, James Watt Way, RH10 9TZ
Transport: Gatwick station - 1.4 miles

Feedstops: Half Sportive 1, Full Sportive 3
Timed: Yes
Signs: Black arrows on a pink background
Road: A good mixture of quiet lanes and main roads

The longest ride in the Evans Ride It calendar is billed as, "Harder, longer and hillier than the usual Ride It, the King of The Downs super sportive will test your road cycling strength and endurance to the max." It is considered as ideal preparation for anyone considering L'Etape or Marmotte, the epic French rides of the summer. Does it deliver? It certainly does as your climbing and stamina are put through a severe test with ten selected climbs. Including such well-known names such as; Leith Hill, Boxhill, the Wall and York Hill this was not for the under-prepared. To make matters worse the ride began in very chilly and wet conditions outside the Evans HQ in Gatwick. However as the ride unfolded riders were treated to sunnier skies but challenged by strong winds.

The Ride:
With registration opening at 5am this was a tough start to what would be a long hard day. I arrived with my riding companions at the slightly more civilised time of 5:50 to gain a parking spot closer to the start. On top of the early departure we were greeted by grey skies and plenty of rain! However the registration process in the marquee erected in front of the Evans HQ could not have been more straightforward. If you fancied a later start there was a three-hour window of opportunity that helped to ensure there were no queues. The only queues were for the coffee and the Gore try-before-you-buy clothing tent as people sought additional protection from the elements.

Once we set off at 6:45 the sky had cleared and we made our way out onto the northern loop which doubled as the route for the half sportive. As cold bodies slowly warmed to the task, the day's first of ten climbs loomed at Leith Hill. For anyone who rides on the North Downs on or off road the names of the best climbs are synonymous with great riding. At 13 per cent the day's opener did not disappoint. The ride along the ridge over the top of Leith offers some great views and before long we were heading up Pitch Hill.

It really isn't hard to see why this area is so popular; if it isn't spectacular views it's great climbs or descents. Sprinkle in some great Surrey villages and the scene is set to let the miles roll by or they did until a puncture stopped us in our tracks about 100 metres from the day's first feed station. We weren't the only ones, the rain had washed plenty of grit and other debris onto the roads and sight of riders fixing holed tubes by the side of the road was a very common scene all day. The most I've seen in any ride.

Fixed and back on track it was a flying visit to top up water and then onto the next two climbs of the days - Combe Bottom and Ranmore Common with the latter one of the steepest on the entire route. From here it was pleasant rumble down off the downs into Westhumble and the perhaps the most iconic climb in the area, Boxhill. There were plenty of none sportive riders enjoying the hairpins, the views and of course the caf© at the top. From here it seemed a long stretch Betchworth, Leigh and Charlwood before the airport hove into view and the halfway point.

Another re-fuel with drinks and some rather tasty brownies it was time to tackle the sixth climb on the list. The route out past Tulleys Farm is not bad and before we knew it Turner's Hill had come and gone and we were speeding past the Scientology Centre and towards Weir Wood reservoir. Built in 1953, the 280-acre body of water is impressive. Unfortunately the sight-seeing was cut short after another stretch of partially re-surfaced road left my front tyre feeling distinctly spongy. A quick check revealed a slow puncture, so a blast on the pump soon had us heading up and away from the reservoir but speeding towards the next test, the Wall.

It's not the steepest but more the sheer nature of it. You climb over 400ft in less than a mile! After a short lung burst, you round a slight bend to see the full effect in all its stair-like glory as it appears to head heavenwards. Finally cresting the summit we were then buffeted by the now pretty strong wind along the B2026 before enjoying a little respite on the long and fast descent of Black Hill.

From there it's a long run in through rolling Kent countryside towards the last two delights, climbing-wise anyway, of the full sportive. York Hill is more commonly known as the location for the world's longest running cycling event, the Catford Hill climb. First run in 1886 and has continued apart from the war years. An average of 12 per cent with two sections that ramp up to 25 per cent, this is a tough climb on a narrow lane so late on in the event. The reward at the top is a feed station with some great views if you have the energy to take them in! To make matters worse I had to complete the climb with a flat front tyre, as the battle to retain air was lost at the worst moment. I thought it prudent to replace the front tube at this point and take advantage of the mechanic's track pump as he attended to quite a lengthy queue of riders suffering similar fates.

As thoughts drifted towards the finish it was easy to forget the final summit of the day. Lulled by the relief of getting up and over York Hill, you head north and under the M25. The approach is hard enough as you join the B269 heading skywards before turning off to begin the final climb. Once more it's not the longest, but it is narrow and nearing the top I had my progress halted as cars trying to inch past each other stopped right in front of me.

From here it is the long ride home, heading back under the M25 you know you're heading south, but it's deceptive. With best part of 20km still to go your work is not quite done. You can see the planes, so know you're heading the right way but it takes a while before you feel like you're getting close. Safely negotiating the villages of Tandridge and South Godstone you finally see signs for Horley.

A good pace saw us return to race HQ, tired but satisfied with our ride. 9,000ft of climbing is a pretty good achievement in this tough but well organised event. Back at base it was time to collect the goody bag and bowl of pasta to complete the 2011 King of the Downs.

Likes: The great climbing, scenery and organisation
Dislikes: Punctures!