Fed up with freezing finger tips and scraping salt of her bike, Astrid gets on her bike for another training ride in the cold - this time taking part in the popular Hell of the Ashdown.

It’s not entirely clear to me why the Hell of the Ashdown [1] – a sportive organised by Catford CC - is so popular. It is, though: the 1,500 places sell out within a day or so! Why “Hell”? With a length of just over 100 km it’s not particularly long, but it does include quite a bit of serious climbing, and the early season date means that the conditions make this ride tougher than its length would suggest.

This year was particularly cold; temperatures were only just above freezing and there was ice on the roadsides, which worried me quite a bit.  A crash on black ice in the group I was riding with the previous weekend had resulted in one guy with a dislocated shoulder and another with a broken hand. So maybe the forecast of icy roads was the reason why there weren’t too many women to be seen when we arrived at the HQ. This was very useful for someone like me, who drinks lots of tea with breakfast – the ladies’ loos were empty, while the men had to queue!

I set off with some of the guys from London Phoenix, my old club. This was my first official outing on the bike for Team CTC, so I wanted to post a half-respectable time.  For some reason the men didn’t seem to want to get going, so I left them behind. Sportives aren’t races, but they are quite useful as fitness tests, and time-trialling this on my own was probably better training anyway. When I arrived at the first feed station after about 40 km, I wondered if I should just carry on, but then decided that (yet another) visit to the toilet was called for.

After that we hit The Wall – as the name implies, a very steep climb, but made manageable by low gearing. I was pleased to see more women out on the roads as the ride continued, most of them tapping out a good and even rhythm on the climbs – in contrast to many riders who attacked the bottom of hills as if they were in a sprint finish in the Tour de France. 

Sleet soon started to fall, which together with a northerly wind to made the last 20 km from the second feed station a bit unpleasant. I’m never particularly good at riding into a head wind and now wished for a strong rider to shelter behind.  A little later I was overtaken by a guy who had customised his bike with gold components. Taking this opportunity to draft for a bit, I observed that he had gilded his saddle, cable-outers, rear-mech hanger, skewers and bar-end plugs. Wow – what attention to detail! I’m just pleased if those stupid plugs don’t keep falling out...

After about 100 km (weren’t we promised 110 km?), it was suddenly all over and I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried a bit harder. I was really happy to get indoors for a while and to sit down with a cup of tea and a bacon baguette (who needs recovery drinks anyway?). Despite the slightly iffy conditions, this felt like a safe ride, a large part of which was due to the excellent organisation by Catford CC, which had provided marshals for all of the tricky turns and more dangerous road crossings. I’m sure the brilliant organisation of the ride is one reason why it’s so popular.

Reaching early March I’m now tired of freezing finger tips and scraping salt off my bike, and I’m really looking forward to training on ice-free roads with Team CTC on Mallorca in preparation for the challenging season ahead.