Cycling events are back! West Surrey Cycling Club's Tour of the Hills is a great success
Cycling events are the cherry on the cycling cake for many of us. They provide the chance to meet and mingle with other riders from outside our own group or club, to glance with envy at other people's machines or expensive riding kit, swap stories of hills conquered and adventures had, meet old friends and make new ones, and frequently complete challenges they may not have done on their own.
Of course, the past year has meant that very few events have been able to take place but, with restrictions finally being relaxed, and with coronavirus guidance in place, volunteer organisers are now stepping up to put on rides into late summer and autumn that everyone can enjoy in a safe and convivial atmosphere.
The Tour of the Hills is a challenging ride that has been running for 39 years this year but, sadly, had to be cancelled in 2020 for obvious reasons. So it was with renewed anticipation that cyclists started gathering on a damp and gloomy morning on Sunday 8 August at the village hall in Shere, a picturesque location just over 30 miles from central London, and the setting for Cameron Diaz's home exchange cottage in the romantic classic Hollywood film 'The Holiday'.
But with over 2,000 metres of climbing and a 110km route to get round in under eight hours, the ride was certainly no holiday for those who took part in it. Taking in iconic climbs such as Box Hill, Coldharbour and Bar Hatch Lane, all of which have featured in the Ride London classic in the past, it's a true test of stamina and resilience. There are also checkpoints, manned by some wonderfully encouraging volunteers, and clues to spot along the way, with an Audax UK 'brevet' card to be stamped so there can be no cheating if you want to claim an Audax validation sticker.
However, the Tour of the Hills is also unique in providing riders with its famous 'nutritionally appropriate' food before, during and after the ride, along with copious amounts of Jelly Babies (as seen above with the Brevet card) handed out by the willing volunteers en route, so energy levels - and morale - don't flag too much.
Derek Ridyard (in the West Surrey CC jersey below), the event organiser, said: “We had to cancel the 2020 edition of Tour of the Hills, so we were keen to go ahead with the 2021 edition if possible. Like most cycling groups, at West Surrey Cycling Club we have spent the last 18 months adapting club rides to the changing Covid rules, and generally keeping an eye on the very useful advice from Cycling UK to navigate through this minefield. So we felt we had gained enough experience to be able to put on a viable event.
“In the weeks before the event, we sent guidance to all participants on a few basic ground rules such as face coverings (when indoors), respecting personal space and a few simple protocols for handling food and brevet cards at the checkpoints. But none of this caused any serious disruption and participants seemed content to comply. I think they were happy to get involved in a group event after such a long break."
Jill Ridyard, the catering manager, added: “We took a few extra precautions to ensure that the village hall we use as a base for the event was suitable, and checking that we could provide enough space for the helpers and riders on the day – more than 150 in all. We had to budget for a few extras such as sanitisers and food scoops, and our volunteers team took some extra care in presenting the refreshments in single serve portions where possible. But it all went like clockwork on the day.”
A huge success
Derek adds: “On the day, the event was a huge success despite some ‘typical’ English summer weather. We had over 130 entrants, most of whom safely navigated the notoriously hilly course. The positive feedback we received from riders and the many club volunteers who gave their time to make it all happen was overwhelming – we’re already planning for the 2022 event, which will be the 40th time the club has staged the Tour of the Hills.”
Riders new to the event concurred. Russell Stephens (above), Cycling UK's head of commercial, said: "I thought the whole event was superb, super well-organised with plenty of volunteers eager to help and support at every checkpoint. I'm pretty familiar with the topography of the Surrey Hills but the route threw up a few new lanes, so a great blend of some of the classic climbs, as well as some less well-known ascents.
"There's nothing easy about a route with over 2000m of climbing and the damp and rainy conditions meant the mental battle to keep pushing on was equally hard. But the prospect of returning to the village hall in Shere to hoover down some more of the wonderful refreshments on offer kept me plugging away on the climbs. All in all a cracking event, will definitely be back next year with hopefully an improvement in the weather!"
This was my first audax and my first time cycling in Surrey, and to be honest, living in the Yorkshire Dales, I didn't believe Surrey had any really challenging hills. I can now confirm it does!! Thoroughly enjoyed the event, despite the weather, and I'll definitely be doing more audax events and will be back for this one again next year
Zoe Westerman, Tour of the Hills rider
Fellow first-time Tour of the Hills rider Zoe agreed: "Really well-organised event. Derek and the team of volunteers were super friendly and welcoming, I thought the event information was superb from pre-ride emails to on the morning briefs. This was my first audax and my first time cycling in Surrey, and to be honest, living in the Yorkshire Dales, I didn't believe Surrey had any really challenging hills. I can now confirm it does!! Thoroughly enjoyed the event, despite the weather, and I'll definitely be doing more audax events and will be back for this one again next year."
Cycling UK's events calendar is starting to fill up again with a range of tempting rides and events throughout the UK. For example, Chester and N. Wales CTC's Momma Audax Events take place on Sunday 12 September and CTC Wessex Cycling's famous Gridiron 100 is on Sunday 10 October. We hope there will be many more to come.
If you are organising an event on behalf of a Cycling UK group, don't forget to register it with us and use our Event Organiser's Toolkit to help plan a great day out.