With just over four weeks until the 2018 Legal and General Real Assets Cycle to MIPIM, Club Peloton's latest training ride was well-attended: 70 riders emerged from the pre-dawn gloom at the Grasshopper Inn, near Westerham in Kent, keen to get 69 lumpy miles under their belts. We were split into two evenly-sized groups, setting off about 20 minutes apart, each with a lead car, medic and mechanic's van.
Conditions initially were poor, decidedly chilly with plenty of puddles (usually masking sizeable potholes) and grit. But the wind was forgiving, the sun emerged and the mechanics of Service Corps had just four punctures to contend with across the two groups.
Three climbs were advertised, the first being 67km into the ride, but almost at the start we turned off Pilgrim's Way onto Hogtrough Hill (the name is a clue) and crunched through the gears: it averages 9% but exceeds 20% in places. Velocity's GoPro was splattered with mud at this point, so no video - but here's someone else's. As one blog puts it: "Hogtrough. This depraved climb, spawned in the pit by the beast, is the stuff of horror stories. Most hills provide you some warning of their malevolence, sort of taunt you on the approach. But not Hogtrough. No you turn left onto the hill and it is instantly full. You have no warning whatsoever, if you haven’t selected the right gear beforehand you are immediately defeated and have to step out of the pedals."
Some of us were, with late gear changes causing small pile-ups and several having to walk. OK, given the brevity of the hill, "spawned by the beast" might be a bit strong; but, Club Peloton, it is definitely a climb!
Still, we had plenty of coffee and cake breaks; too many for Dan Curtin of architect KSR, who decided to ride straight past the second stop at Ightham Mote. Ride Captain Barry Fowler of Aviva Investors seized the challenge and chased him down for a few miles, both getting back in time for cake. Well, half a mouthful, anyway.
From there, Conisbee's Allan Dunsmore set a steady pace to shelter slower riders (we averaged just over 21km/h overall) before we hit the longer climbs of the day. We finished off with Toys Hill, where Ride Captains were called on for a spot of pushing. The steepest sections of this 3.4km hill were conquered before a couple of riders succumbed to exhaustion; veteran rider John Nordon was spotted at the roadside, helping a cramp victim with stretches. Clawing up a further 100m, was that someone being sick in the ditch? Crikey, this is proper training.
A couple of riders putting themselves through all this were not even signed up for the MIPIM ride next month. One was training for March 2019 - talk about planning ahead; another was there to support a workmate with less cycling experience get ready - now that's a colleague. Chapeau, Gareth Atkinson of Civic Engineers and Hayes Davidson's Anna Parry and Jon Ogilvy.
Having gathered at the top, we all recovered to power down a fast, straight descent and back along Pilgrim's Way to the finish and a welcome late lunch.
A chunky total of 1,500m of climbing over 100km was excellent preparation for the ride to MIPIM. Gorgeous countryside for all, challenging riding for stronger riders (several of whom rode to and from Westerham, in some cases doubling their mileage for the day) and a stern test for many; just the thing with less than five weeks to go.