Sportive News – Hell of the Ashdown


From a Catford Cycling Club Reliability ride first run in 1938, the Hell of the Ashdown sportive attracts large numbers ready for a challenge

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Sportive News – Hell of the Ashdown

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First run in 1938, the Catford Cycling Club Reliability ride used to be held in January: it attracted hard road men up for a battle against weather and terrain.

By 2005, with numbers dwindling to less than eighty, President Rik Vandieren decided to re-vamp the event by creating a Cyclo-Sportive, marshalled and signposted – so the ‘Hell of the Ashdown’ was born.

The first ride attracted 350 entrants; the following year 700, outgrowing the Village Hall HQ. In 2009 a limit of a thousand was instated and places sold out within 24 hours.

Currently, entries are capped at 1500: these sell out fast but it is the maximum that can be catered for from a safety viewpoint, whilst maintaining the perverse enjoyment that such a tough early season challenge offers.


Preparation starts in April: we look at what works and what doesn’t. The HQ is negotiated, feed zone halls booked, risk assessments and route sheets updated. We meet with local residents to address any concerns.

With the increase in numbers that the Sportive tag attracted, we needed to re-route to quieter lanes. Bryan Stout found as many hills as he could between Biggin Hill and the Ashdown Forest, taking the total ascent for the 100km ride to 1800 metres.

In 2010 we tweaked the course to allow crossing of main A roads at junctions with better sightlines, to bypass the Groombridge Half Marathon and to bring the riders up Ide Hill for a safer turn into the feed zone. This still leaves 1700 metres of climbing.

Some temporary detours have occurred over the past few years, necessitated by road works, fallen trees or floods. This is risk assessed and dealt with on the Friday before the event. We put up route arrows and warning signs as far as Ashdown Forest then drive back on the rest of the route to check it; finishing preparations on Saturday.

On event day, we go ahead of the ride replacing stolen signs, handing out red flags and reflective bibs to the marshals. Once the last riders have begun, we follow, removing the signage.

Finding fifty marshals to stand outside in chilly February and another twenty at HQ is no mean feat. Club members, families and friends are all roped in; the supported charity provides marshals too. They are positioned at busy junctions, any right turn across traffic and as many minor junctions as possible, especially in Cudham and Knockholt where sign theft has been a minor, but recurrent, problem.

These friendly folk make this ride run smoothly; we could not do it without them. As a Reliability ride, weather was always one of the challenges; Sportive riders tend to prefer warmer weather (hence the move from January to later in February) but, with our unpredictable climate, anything goes.

In 2009, Hell froze over! From 1000 entries only 750 started, given the grim forecast. It started snowing at 10 o’clock and continued until 3 pm; around a third didn’t make it to the finish line. 2010 was just as cold and icy – ducks walked across the pond at Four Elms. 2011 was much fairer and we saw our highest turn out with 1250 starters. 2014 had clear skies but early starters had to skate across patches of black ice, deterring some 150; however those that ventured further were treated to the best weather since the event became a Sportive.

As a club, we adapt all the time for difficulties; we have put in contingency plans for later starts if ice is found; but a balance needs maintaining – this event should be a challenge of man and machine against the elements.

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