I was due to head on the bike with Matt and John at 1pm, so decided to make the most of a rare free Saturday morning by doing some gardening. I wasn’t expecting to sweat so much gently pushing a lawn mower up and down a modestly sized patch of grass. There weren’t any new mole hills so that’s a good start to the day. I followed up with some halfhearted weeding which stretched the leg and back muscles a bit so there was the warm up tyaken care of.
We met, as usual, at the crossroads and set off eastwards. I had originally thought of a couple of riverside locations we could cycle to, break at and then return but Matt had other ideas. “I enjoyed Box Hill the other week, let’s do that again!”. OK, no problem, let’s go.
In an attempt to do something slightly different, I routed us around Ripley and through Ockham before heading past the green at Downside and into Bookham Common. It’s not ideal as it’s an unmade path rather than tarmac but it was passable with care even on the carbon road bike – I wouldn’t take that bike through there in wet weather though. We then picked up our usual route up and over the Downs by Polesden Lacey before zipping down to Westhumble.
As we approached the official foot of Box Hill, past Rykers, I noticed that Jon was already pushing on. We turned right into the ascent proper and he was setting a very steady pace and I decided to hang on to his rear wheel. We passed a lady cycling up and said hello. She laughed about jumping onto to our back wheel and we said it was fine. Jon’s pace didn’t waver one bit as we hit the first hairpin and shortly up the second leg I tentatively offered to take a spell at the front and was very pleased when he said he was fine and just concentrating on his own pace. That seemed like official confirmation that I could continue to hang on and try to keep the elastic band in one piece – I wasn’t sure I would have easily been able to overtake him and hold the pace anyway.
Half way up the third leg, Jon changed up and pushed on a bit. Initially, I didn’t follow but then decided to try and keep up, switched up a gear and slowly hauled him back in, shortly before we were passed by a guy on a folding bicycle who was powering up at a rate of knots. Just before the final right hander, Jon pushed again and this time I had to let him go. I just didn’t have the legs to go after him again. I checked my time when I got back and Strava dutifully reported a time of 10.0 minutes for the climb – only eight seconds off my PB. Given how warm it was, I’ll take that as a) I don’t feel I’m in good hill climbing shape this year and b) I’m pretty sure the amount of sweat that was pouring off me on the way up was reducing my traction on the road and wasting power.
I had already remarked to Jon recently that he was climbing much quicker this year than I’d seen previously. In part, he put it down to the bike he bought for the Paris ride – a Boardman aluminium gravel bike with 40mm tyres and a bright orange paint job. He’d remarked when we met that he’d decided to take this out rather than his dedicated road bike (another Boardman) as he found the gearing suited him better. Once I got my breath back I told him he should probably sell the other one and keep the orange bike as he is undoubtedly quicker on it.
We had a cold drink and an ice cream at the cafe before heading on up through Box Hill village and then back towards Headley. The usual route was closed for some road works so we detoured around Headley Court before cutting back to the bottom of the small punchy rise towards Tyrrells Wood Golf Club and one of my favourite local descents down towards the A24. We went through Leatherhead towards Cobham, but turned off at Leigh Hill Road and made our way via the Old Portsmouth Road to West End Lane where we had a short stop to allow Jon to remove the wasp that had worked its way into his jersey and was leaving a trail of stings across his shoulder. Ouch.
Time to head back, via Hersham and Weybridge (along a truly awful bit of tarmac on Queens Road) before reaching West Byfleet and going round the back roads home and some serious rehydration. 45 miles done, 45 gallons of fluid leaked and a thoroughly enjoyable bike ride.