Brought to you by the south London based Sunday Echappée club/collective, the Epic Echappée is a road ride that has been put together with a big nod to the early season road classics, and monuments, and delivered in the spirit of traditional club reliability rides – not a sportive and not a race but an early season challenge for riders, but with the added twist of mixed terrain parcours… as they say “this ride operates a shit load of gravel policy”.
The Sunday Echappée guys have spent years refining their club ride routes and taking a few left field choices down gravel tracks, bridleways and BOATS, pouring over maps and Google Street View, eventually linking up sections until they settled on a nice 110 mile (176km) route out of Dulwich to the Surrey Hills, turning left into Kent and the North Downs before snaking back into south London.
Keen to share they set up the Epic Echappée inviting others to ‘enter’ as a team to have a go at the route. The word enter in inverted commas because there was no charge and for all intents and purposes the Epic Echappée can’t really be called an event – I guess there’s a fine line between organising an event (including using a third party event entry website, a handsome looking website and a bit of social media promotion) and just inviting others to join you in a fun day out, but the distinction, in my view at least, and focusing on the word ‘invite’, is that if you turn up then you turn up at your own risk. Contract lawyers don’t write in will you, I’ve no doubt there’s some contractual precedent somewhere that is contrary to my thoughts on this but to go on about liability and risk is to miss the point in this kind of thing entirely.
The tough early season classics style rides, with secteurs and mixed parcours, is nothing new – I quietly point at my friend Jo’s annual Happy 100 ride which is usually set around the vernal equinox and the clocks changing to BST (more daylight hours to ride 100 miles), and coincidentally Jo’s birthday, which has been going for many years. There’s even a video of the ride when Oli from Morvélo brought along a compact camera and put together an edit, that was used on the Morvélo website for a while, back in 2012: Morvélo 100 Miles 100 Shots (I’m in this video).
Challenge is an understatement – in the ride briefing they made no bones about the fact that this ride would be hard, they also reminded riders of their obligation to other road and bridleway users; consideration was a key word. “This ride is unsupported and you are responsible for yourself and your equipment. There will not be signposts or a friendly marshall on every corner, there will not be a broom wagon and it will be hard!” This is what they call ‘managing expectations’ I guess – I was more than happy to accept this, along with 5 of my friends, we signed up as a team of six under the moniker ‘Team DFL’, all but Jo seemed to get the memo about jersey choice, but never mind this was just added larks anyway.
The 5am wake up call was something, for me, to get on with… if I had thought about it I probably wouldn’t have got out of bed but I’m a team player and I managed to get up, get sorted and out the door onto the road by 6am. The rendezvous point was the Volcano Coffee Works in South East London so it was a good hour and a half drive for me from the south coast.
All present and correct and coffee consumed we were ready to get going – team starts were staggered but there didn’t really seem any particular organisation to this, we had noticed that some other riders were out in the forecourt receiving their briefing so we just lined up outside until it came to out turn to leave. Team name and start time registered we were free to go.
The route headed west from the Volcano Café avoiding Croydon (quite right) and passing through Richmond Park and then out into the Surrey Hills. The first of the ‘secteurs’ listed as the ‘River Mole Dash’ arriving as we entered the Mole Valley not far from Dorking and Box Hill. All 16 secteurs had been named and labelled with a circle or a triangle (triangle denoting a climb).
As with most social rides of this kind there is always someone you’re going to know. Brixton CC were out in force, many of them like me using this ride as pre-Dirty Reiver training, and a number of other clubs and individuals, known to at least one of our group, so there were always other people to ride and chat with including those of your own team. CycleTechReview’s Paul Horta-Hopkins had made his way up to the ride too, out with Handsling team mate ‘Pistol’ Pete and a few others.
The weather turned out to be really nice though there were showers forecast later in the afternoon at about 5pm. It had warmed up just enough for the gloves to come off once the hills really started and it was turning into a pleasant ride – there was some group faff, as there usually is, but as a bunch of fairly evenly matched riders we were riding well. It started to unravel a bit around Gravellyberg near Godstone where we lost 2 of our party to a puncture. Whilst waiting at the top of a climb, a number of texts and phone calls, some confusion and a bit of mis-communication and we didn’t see each other again until Uplandberg.
We had lost some time now and the dynamic had slightly changed in our group, though cordially keeping it all together we agreed to drop down into Westerham on the Kent/Surrey border and find something to eat. There was some murmuring about cutting the last loop off and heading straight back to London via Biggin Hill. With grab and go food from the Westerham Co-Op in bellies the mood had lifted, though we all agreed to get back into London by picking up the route on the Norhead secteur, missing out on the 30km loop that headed further east and 3 of the secteurs.
In hindsight this was a wise choice. We made it back to London and the Canopy Beer Co. Brewery just as the rain started to spit. In the end we covered 85 of the planned 110 miles and that proved to be just right. I had a really good time – the meticulous route planning, and a good pinch of local knowledge, that must have gone into all of this is much appreciated, there’s a great deal of eager anticipation turning the corner not knowing what is coming up and being very surprised at every turn. There’s not many organised events out there that can give you that level of satisfaction. This might not be for everyone, of course, but I’m all for the futility of such shenanigans – riding right on the razor edge of your own limitations is a great way to sharpen the wits, keep the heart pumping and the oxygen filling your brain.
Dear Sunday Echappée, thank you very much. I hope to come back next year to complete your ride.
Details and other information about the Epic Echappée can be found here: Epic Echappée 2016
All images in this post courtesy of Gavin Peacock – see more at The Man From Icon