Everyone in Sussex knows that The North begins from Crowborough and this is an actual fact. So, it was with great trepidation that I got in the car on the morning of Saturday 13th March to meet friends at the Scout hut in Otford near Sevenoaks to ride the Kent Invicta Grimpeur 100.
The Kent Invicta is my 4th attempted ride as part of the Brevet Des Grimpeur Du Sud Audax triple AAA Award (Audax Altitude Award), a 100km ‘Brevet Populaire’ with a fair bit of climbing at 1890m over the distance and organised by the West Kent CTC.
The route is an interesting concept; a 50km clockwise orbital loop of the area around Sevenoaks and the North Downs from Otford scout hut and back again, only to do the same loop in an anticlockwise direction and finally finishing back at the scout hut.
The weather was actually quite pleasant, though there was a stinging north-easterly wind that was still ever-present – another ride in tights and a softshell jacket. I had arrived in Otford quite early but the scout hut was already filling up – a ride this close to London had attracted a decent crowd, more so that the 60+ riders starting out for the earlier Sussex Grimpeurs qualifiers – and there was a burble of conversation and riders helping themselves to food, fruit juice and accepting tea and coffee from the friendly volunteers in the kitchen.
Friends George and Gavin arrived not long after me. George had ridden up from Brighton, collecting Gavin at Redhill along the way so they had both already put in quite a ride already. It wasn’t too long before we received the rider briefing and we were eventually on our way.
From Otford the route heads out east on the Pilgrims Way, meandering up towards the M20 before taking a sharp right towards the south and across the M26 and into the North Downs. The brevet card had a number of controls and info control points, as with all audax events it pays to maintain a keen eye on the route notes, it is easy to miss important points.
We made the first control in Underriver in reasonable time, passing a local sportive coming the other way, before making our way up towards Knole Park and the Sevenoaks Weald. The hills really started at this point, snaking up and down the southern scarp of the North Downs. The southern point of the route pulls up alongside Bough Beech Reservoir, heading north towards the infamous Yorks Hill.
It has been a while since I have ridden around this area and it was quite nice to have a go at Yorks Hill again, it was steeper than I remembered. From Yorks the route continues north, avoiding Ide Hill, and heading back across the A21 to Duncton Green.
Back at the scout hut there was a spread of plenty and more coffee and tea served by the happy volunteers. We lingered for a while as we were still in credit for time but with 50km still to go we didn’t want to hang around too long – having traversed the route one way already we kind of knew what was in store on the way back.
As I mentioned the route retraced its footsteps in an anticlockwise direction, meeting the same controls, but different info controls. The control at Underriver happened to be outside the White Rock Inn, a particularly charming public house that was a real temptation. As we got into conversation with the volunteers at the control they explained that there was always a clamour to win the spot amongst the club members, for obvious reasons… I personally couldn’t think of a better spot to spend a day. The volunteers were insistent that they wouldn’t mind if we bought them a pint, always happy to oblige of course but they were already on their way to having a very good time and we needed to crack on.
A cloud bank had begun to form and the wind was beginning to pick up so it was head down to get the ride done… having already ridden to the ride my compadres were starting to feel it in their legs and there were still a number of hills to get over before the finish, including Exedown which had a sweet (almost but not quite) hairpin bend half way up – with trees lining the road it felt very Alpine (sort of).
As we turned back on to the Pilgrims Way we spotted a rider in need of some help, bearing in mind Audax is a discipline with a strong leaning towards total self-sufficiency we could have just continued on, but the man was in need and it was nothing to help out – the 6 miles or so back to the ride HQ would have been quite a walk in road cleats. I was happy to stop and hand over one of my own spare innertubes but on learning that they guy had no means of pumping it up once installed was a bit annoying, fair enough you may have run out of spares, pot hole pinch punctures and thorns are a real risk in the early spring, but it’s always worth carrying some small patches (as well as spare tubes) for roadside repair AND an actual pump. Mini pump/frame pump whatever, but a pump is always a good idea. The guy committed another couple of social faux pas too but it’s best if I drop it – I maintained my composure anyway and we eventually got him back on the road, though not before shivering cold had set in.
With just a few short clicks to go for the end we put the power down a bit in an effort to warm up again – I don’t remember warming up until back at the scout hut and another warm cup of coffee – despite the faff on the Pilgrims Way we managed to get back comfortably within the time limit. Gavin and George were spent, not surprisingly, after a full day of riding – I think George had clocked 200km since he left his house in the morning. A lively discussion ensued between them about how best to get back home and eventually they both gladly accepted my offer of a lift. A Honda Civic isn’t the biggest car in the world, and it generally features a baby buggy in the boot, a small child’s car seat and various other bits of family paraphernalia, but with a bit of careful planning we managed to get three riders in and their bikes…
Another Brevet Des Grimpeurs Du Sud ride successfully completed
Kent Invicta Gripeurs 100 – Otford, Sevenoaks. £8 (or £9 if payment via Paypal)
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