The Great Kent Ride is organised by Bike-Events it is aimed at a mix of novices and ambitious amateurs. Going for a few years now, The ride is a charity event in aid of The Canterbury Oast Trust who care for and provide rehabilitation for those with severe disabilities. So the entry fee felt like sixteen quid well spent.
From a cycling point of view, It offered something different to the more competitive sportive and was an opportunity to stretch the legs without young whippersnappers speeding past your right shoulder like an express train, as they pedalled their way into a professional contract.
No, this looked a much more sedate affair; the long route of 60 miles was virtually all flat and promised country lanes sunshine and lashings of ginger beer. One of our group was even prepared to do the route on a single speed such was our Metropolitan roadie confidence. In the end he wisely dropped out, sixty miles in the wind with no gears wouldn’t have been much fun.
Thus the three musketeers were now a double act. Myself and best man Andy met at St Pancras in our black Team Cinzano jerseys, ready to combat a coastal chill. We were to get the fast train to Ashford International that’s the same place as Ashford, Kent by the way. The presence of around ten other cyclists mostly on road machines allayed fears that this would be a mountain bike only event. It was also nice to see a variety of ages making the trip south.
We alighted at the aforementioned station to the world all keyed up and ready to go. Unfortunately we needed to negotiate the lift first, so in we all piled, cycles upright. Next to me one keyed up mountain biker was clearly in the zone. Pumping techno pish-pished from his earphones as he stared resolutely ahead through mirrored shades. He looked like he had arrived straight from a Eurosport promo or isotonic drinks ad. He was living strong, about to Do it, not accepting second best, focussed on winning, in a lift.
Pumping techno pish-pished from his earphones as he stared resolutely ahead through mirrored shades.
We arrived at ground level and techno-cyclist was off, locked in the zone he raced up the road, an early breakaway and we hadn’t even reached the starting line. The rest of us were still debating which way to go, dawdling in the middle of the road much to the annoyance of one minicab driver bleary eyed and overtired from a night ferrying refreshed revellers to and from Ashford’s premier nightspots. He shouted some fruity Kentish phrases at our group as we worked out the way to the start. Another more helpful cabby, presumably starting his shift, pointed us on our way, meanwhile techno cyclist had come back to the fold after getting lost on the first roundabout. However once informed of the route he was off again burning cals, pumping e’s, eating up K’s, being an arse.
After signing in and putting on our obligatory numbers, Team Cinzano awaited their turn. There were three routes, a five miler which had attracted many families and a thirty miler for the slightly adventurous and the 100k challenge for the over confident such as ourselves.
Despite the drizzle there was a good turn of all shapes, sizes and abilities. The mood was good, none too serious but organised. At the start the Cinzano boys were complemented on their attire by the jovial MC before embarking on what promised to be a good workout. Dunwich veterans, we were confident we could do the course in just over three hours without too much strain. Sure conditions weren’t perfect but what’s a little wind and rain to a couple of good old boys.
The mood was good, none too serious but organised.
The first part of the route took us through the Ashford edgelands, canal tow-paths, glassy cycle lanes and pots holed overpasses, but we were quickly directed to the country roads that would take us southwards towards the coast. The variety of cycling styles and abilities meant that it was best to go cautiously and politely and wait one’s turn. The terrain was flat and the mood jolly as we snaked through the Romney Marshes. Traffic was at a minimum but the headwind meant that progress was steady and the muscles weary earlier than expected. The route was well signposted with stewards at regular intervals. We eschewed the refreshment stops in favour of our own supply of cycling space food, a random selection of gels and banana thingies that leave you flatulent for days. Surely they can come up with something tastier than this crap. Where’s the cycling equivalent of Kendal mint cake?
This was the no-mans land of the South Coast.
As we neared the coast, the wind got stronger; we arrived outside New Romney in good time, an hour I think. We turned right to go along the seafront and from here things got tougher. The crosswinds made it impossible to find a comfortable gear change. It was one rev forward two revs back, or so it seemed. We grinded passed one Sky sports pub after another, ducking low in a vain attempt to combat the breeze. We overtook a few game cyclists, all sticking to their task. They had no choice, this was the no-mans land of the South Coast.
We eventually reached a bend before Rye and stopped for a quick breather. The worst we hoped was over. Already we could feel the wind on our back as we passed by Dungeness and through the centre of Lydd. The sun peeked out and we took it easy through the marshy peninsula. Outside Lydd we gladly gave our back wheels to a couple of other roadies for a few kilometres, but the fatal pop of a tyre as we went over a rail crossing meant that we were soon two again. The field had definitely thinned out now, so much so that we thought we had taken a wrong turning but the green signposts and friendly stewards reassured us that there was less than twenty miles to go.
The worst we hoped was over.
At Chapel Down, home to a highly recommendable sparkling wine, we hit our first hill. Not a bad one but enough to tire the legs for sure. The lanes had given way to standard roads with sapping tarmac. From here on in it was hard work. The exertions on the coast had taken it out of our legs and we were back in grinding mode. Conversation ceased as we took turns to get down the road. Refreshments stops flew by stopping would be a disaster. The two routes now joined, the 30 milers looked a lot fresher for sure.
All we two wanted to do was get to Ashford. The miles ticked down but the mind got lazy, a dangerous state. A misplaced gear change led to a chain off. I re-mounted and pushed on with five miles to go, the end was in sight and soon we were back in the Ashford environs, down the canal and home.
At the finish line just less than four hours after we set off, we gratefully received our flapjacks. Much better than any space food and took in the familial atmosphere. We were more fatigued than we thought we would be, but glad for it. Back for more next year? I reckon so.