DISTANCE 80 or 140km
MAIN CLIMB Carters Hill
TOTAL CLIMB N/K
ACHTUNG! Don’t get distracted by the beautiful countryside!

Pulling into the grounds of Sevenoaks Preparatory School, the nerves started to kick in. It’s only an 80km challenge ride, not a race! That’s what I kept telling myself anyway, but as someone who likes to do everything perfectly and always beat all my PBs I knew I wanted to beat last year’s time and not have to deal with the two punctures we encountered within the first mile — a scenario that still haunts me.

With two routes to choose from — 140km or 80km — I opted for the shortest. With running marathons as well as living my life there isn’t time to train for everything, although I did make sure I got out on the bike a few times beforehand just to get some miles in, and boy was I glad I did.

After the line-up, the organisers and officials send us on our way, a diverse group of cycles and cyclists on this Kentish journey. We zoom down Carters Hill — well, I don’t. I’m not good on hills whether up or down, I just nervously pull at my brakes while the ‘nutters’, as I describe them, go screaming past. Eager hard riders, all kitted out with the latest bikes and jerseys that I repeatedly saw on the TV during the Tour and spring Classics, are all over the windy roads of Kent. But it’s still incredibly warm considering it’s the middle of September.

The first climb of the day arrives, and already I start to get out of breath. The gradient is sharp enough to engage bottom gear and as I look round I feel so much better to see most of the people around me are also struggling. My heart rate climbs as we do, but we eventually get there — I feel like I can’t keep this up for another 40-odd miles.

Time to enjoy it
Back on the flat I enjoy the countryside, oast houses, hop fields, and what seems like hundreds of orchards full of fruit-laden trees that flash past. The first 30 miles include some tricky hills and a few main roads, but the green paradise of tiny lanes twisting through idyllic, serene villages where you are welcomed by enthusiastic locals as they walk their dogs, work in their gardens and set off for their local pub for Sunday lunch, more than make up for this.

I ride alongside cyclists who seem friendly and passionate about their challenge before we are welcomed by more fellow riders at the feed station. Here we enjoy a generous selection of cakes and biscuits before embarking on the second half.

Reasonably flat, the last half goes quicker than I expect. I enjoy looking at the beautiful houses and fruit fields along the way, dreaming of what might be one day, but before I know it I am rudely interrupted by the 10km to go sign. The dread kicks in and mentally I feel tired knowing I am going to be confronted with the cruel Carters Hill again — this time going the other way.

Grinding pain
Preparing myself, the hill approaches quickly. I make it up the first bit fine. But as the relief sets in I peer around the corner and I see the remainder of the rising ground. That’s it. I say no way! Off I jump and I walk along with three others who had given up to the grinding pain.

Encouraged by my boyfriend who casually makes it all the way up, I make one last attempt to get up the last part. With sheer determination and the help of pulling all sorts of funny faces I make it, to be rewarded with a last downhill section that allows me to freewheel — pure bliss.

Seeing the end makes me happy yet sad — I didn’t want it to end and feel that perhaps I could have gone further. However, all those thoughts vanish as I cross the line and sit down to what I can only describe as the best post-event feast I have ever been treated to.

The generous servings of crisps, soup, cheese rolls and cake go down beautifully as we enjoy the September sunshine and applaud those 400-odd riders brave and fit enough to take the 140km challenge. That could even be me next year. Hmm — we’ll see!

ROUTE DETAILS
Start/finish at Sevenoaks, Kent. The 80km route heads to Dunk’s Green, Crouch, Offham, West Malling, East Malling, Teston, Yalding, Claygate, Laddingford, East Peckham, Hadlow and back to Sevenoaks. The 140km route splits at Claygate to Three Chimneys and Sissinghurst via Staplehurst then back to Claygate.

WANT TO RIDE IT?
IF you want to ride the Circuit of Kent 2007, your best bet is to point your web browser to www.kentcyclosportive.co.uk. On the site, you can find details of the ride, an online entry form, and full 2006 results from the 80 and 140km routes. The 2007 ride will be staged on Sunday, September 16, and costs £25 to enter.

The ride was conceived as a fund-raising event for the Hospice in the Weald and Macmillan Cancer Care charities. Riders are encouraged to get sponsorship. The ride has raised over £95,000 for good causes.