The Tour de France has finished for 2014 and our attention turns a little closer to home in anticipation of the Prudential Ride100. Whilst I appreciate this event is not to the same scale as the TdF, riding 100 miles will present a similar challenge to the less experienced or novice cyclist. The route for the Ride100 starts in London and heads out to Surrey along part of the route made famous by both the road race and time-trial events during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Once in Surrey, the route becomes more undulating between 75km-125km and features the main hills of the total 4,325 feet of climbing (1,318 metres).
Surrey offers some of the most interesting hills in the South East and although lacking long alpine climbs, the Ride100 does take in the first hill of Newlands Corner, then rolls along to Abinger Hammer and Holmbury St Mary before tackling the biggest ascent on the route at Leith Hill. After a fun descent towards Dorking, it’s onto the next challenge: the world-famous zig-zags of Box Hill.
I run a cycling coaching company (www.revolutioncycling.co.uk) and live in Guildford. I coach several cyclists training for the Ride100 and in the last five days I have ridden Newlands Corner, Leith Hill and Box Hill several times to help riders prepare for the event and overcome their worries about these increasingly famous hills. There seems to be a bit of myth and mystery surrounding the Surrey Hills, so let’s look at each one individually and give you some local knowledge and tips.
Newlands Corner is the first big challenge, and is a draggy mile or so with a gradual average gradient of 5% and one short section of approximately 11%. Once you pass the left hand bend you are past the most difficult section so add a couple of gears, increase you cadence and spin up to the popular beauty spot at a height of 567 feet (173 m). Once you get to the top you will be rewarded with stunning views of the North Downs, and a fun, fast and wide descent.
Strava Segment: http://www.strava.com/segments/646938
In the RideLondon route, Leith Hill occurs at around mile 55 (after the Newlands Corner climb, but before Box Hill). Leith Hill is iconic for being the highest point in south east England, and for the stone tower built in the 18th Century. Unfortunately, you won’t get to see the tower but you will experience the country roads that take you to the famous heights.
The route takes you into the pretty village of Abinger Hammer past ‘The Volunteer’ pub on your left and starts a very gradual ascent of approx. 70 metres into Holmbury St Mary. However this is just a gentle warm-up before you ride a nice, long and gradual descent to the foot of the climb. You will turn left onto Leith Hill and start ascending for approximately 2km. The overall gradient of Leith Hill (depending which road you take) is approximately 6% and very manageable – there are steep sections of 11% at the start of the climb, but very quickly it will level off to give you some respite before kicking back up again. There are a few corners, but there are no nasty surprises and each little kick will be rewarded with a flatter section.
The key to riding Leith Hill is to pace yourself, use your gears appropriately (I would recommend a compact gear set-up) and to keep steady and calm. There are narrow parts of the hill so if you are a slower rider then keep to the left allowing faster riders to pass you safely, and if you are in the fortunate position to be the ‘overtaker’ then give yourself plenty of space for the manoeuvre and look over your right shoulder to check that you won’t wipe out another rider!!
Once you crest the summit ride away from the top of the hill. I know you may be desperate for a breather and a quick drink, but if everyone stops for a drink at the top of the hill then very quickly there would a bottle neck for the 15,000 riders coming up behind!!
The descent to Wotton is pretty straightforward, but be aware that the road surface is a bit dodgy in places, there is a narrow section half way down and the dappled light from the overhanging trees does make it a bit difficult to make out and bumps and holes in the road.
Undoubtedly it’ll be the zig-zag climb of Box Hill (made famous by the Olympic road race) that is the most familiar section of the route. The road starts to ascend from the foot of Box Hill near the hotel before turning left onto the land owned by the National Trust and the ‘zig-zags’. The road was resurfaced just before the Olympics making a lovely smooth road, and is covered in professional and amateur road graffiti which gives you something to read as you climb.
The road meanders around a couple of full hairpins, which you should take nice and wide if you want a less steep gradient, once you are through the zig-zags then keep going until you reach the view point where you should safely pull over and take in the amazing views. You will climb over 200 metres, with an average gradient is 4%. The biggest challenge on Box Hill will be other riders and navigating past other riders who may stop on the way up, sometimes abruptly!! Keep your eyes on the road ahead and read the ‘cycling traffic’ like you would a motorway and try to anticipate any difficulties ahead of getting stuck behind them. Once you ride away from the smooth tarmac, you are welcomed back into the civvie street of Box Hill Village with an easy descent (beware of sunken manhole covers) before heading back towards London.
So, after the iconic Box Hill all that is left is a gentle roll back into London and pushing your tired legs all the way past Buckingham Palace for the final sprint down the mall. Remember, the cameras are ready to take a photo as you crest over the finish line, so zip up, look up and SMILE!!
Kerry Bircher, La Fuga Guide, and Personal Trainer and British Cycling coach for Revolution Cycling