Just over a month ago (the 20th of May to be precise) I joined a small group of riders on the Castle 100. We chose the 100km route rather than the 100m one and it turned out to be 112km by the end of the ride.
I have to confess that I generally struggle with sportives and typically don’t ride many. On the plus side, I’ve found they can be a great way to find new roads and routes to ride. It’s also interesting to be on the road with lots of other riders as a change although I don’t usually like to ride in large groups. I do however like seeing the huge range of riders and bikes out for the day, especially less glamorous bikes people turn up on (hybrids, mountain bikes etc) and it’s always good to complete the challenge of the route.
The core of what I struggle with most about sportives is some of the riders you get on them – the ones who think it’s a race and ride like they have a world championship at stake. If you’ve ridden one you’ll know what/who I mean. These are the guys I think should really be looking at channelling their “aggression” into an actual race.
Anyway, putting that aside and even with a high entry fee and a fair smattering of the riders described above, the Castle 100 is frankly the best sportive I’ve yet entered and completed. I was genuinely impressed at the quality of the event Action Medical put together.
The entry fee was chunky at £50 because it really is for a charity (unlike some others as you may have seen in the press in the last day or so), so I can’t begrudge this as it includes a donation to the charity. You could enter for £28 if you commit to raising £0 in sponsorship if you want a lower entry fee. There were a lot of emails from the organisers before the event to “constantly” keep you up to date with the lead up to the ride and I have to say for me that was the only negative of the experience – too many emails from the organisers – please keep them to a minimum if you can – I think most of us already get plenty of email thanks very much.The start at Tonbridge Castle was a nice location and well organised. The car parks were a little way away but were free and there seemed to be plenty of room (they were busy though). Check in was very quick and efficient and we started off from a marshalling area in good sized groups.
There wasn’t far to ride before we headed east and out of Tonbridge and started the ride on what was to be the general theme of the day – well surfaced roads (not many potholes) with light traffic. As we headed further round the route, the scenery just kept improving. A highlight for me being when we turned a corner and had Bodiam Castle appear in front of us.
Sadly even though the roads were relatively quiet, I still noticed a couple of potentially very dangerous pieces of driving. Fortunately no one got hit but they were both pretty close. In fairness, this can happen on any ride and is sadly just one of those things about riding a bike on the road in a small crowded country.
The first 40kms were very flat indeed by sportive standards and our group rode at a very leisurely pace out to the first hills. In fact we didn’t ride particularly hard the whole way around and I think I enjoyed myself more due to the simple fact that I’d not tried it before. It also meant I had a bit more left in the tank at the climbs and could ride up them a lot more comfortably than many who’d been roaring around the course. This was shown by the fact that I briefly held a Strava KOM on one of the tougher climbs – which made me chuckle.
One of our group had a major mechanical (rear derailleur through the spokes) about half way round and so we had to make use of the emergency number/support and as I understand it, our rider and his bike were duly collected without too much trouble.
I’ve already mentioned the route a little but it I thought it was simply a terrific piece of planning. Excellent roads & road surfaces. Wonderful scenery and views and generally very low traffic. In fact I liked the route so much, I’m planning on working large chunks of it into future rides – not something I’ve made a conscious decision to do before. The only bits of the route I wasn’t so keen on were the bits out of and back into Tonbridge, which were quite busy and not nearly so scenic.
Thanks to a relatively gentle pace and plenty of food and drink, I got to the end feeling the freshest I’ve ever done on a sportive and felt that I’d had a thoroughly enjoyable ride. I had some excellent company with my riding companions which also added to the day. Next time I’d like to ride a bit faster though, I have to be honest. Some of my riding companions were fairly spent by the end and I simply don’t think they could have gone any faster. However, I will say that riding a sportive as a proper social ride at a more gentle pace than normal is actually a brilliant way to do it. Talking to your buddies, not going crazy to go as fast as you can, enjoying the scenery and adventure is something I can highly recommend. I will definitely be cruising around some more sportive courses in the future.
Overall I can thoroughly recommend the ride and frankly if this is the normal quality event from Action Medical Research then I think you can (and should) enter any of their rides with complete confidence. They really did a first class job and my kids thought it was cool when I arrived home with a medal for the ride as well (but everyone got one of those).
You can check out the Action Medical Research events calendar here:
Thanks for reading … and by the way – yes I was riding with a GoPro but I’ve not figured out how to edit the footage yet 🙁