Wednesday 19 April 2023

South London spin: Flèche-Chislehurst - My alternative Flèche-Wallonne

As it's the day of the Flèche Wallonne cycle race in Belgium, I thought I would do my own version of the race, which is 194km (127km for the women). It runs from Herve to the famous Mur de Huy, a climb of 1.3km with an average gradient of 9.6%.

As I haven't been able to do loads of cycling due to a few injury issues I can't ride what the pros are riding, and I certainly wouldn't want to waste time and effort going over to Belgium and doing the cyclosportive version of the event created for amateur riders. So I thought I would ride my own version. 

Old Hill, Chislehurst

It is considerably shorter - just 34 km, was in a less iconic - though still enjoyable for me - Bromley, Chislehurst, West Wickham. I didn't have fans cheering me on when going over the climbs. As it was around 9am I had lots of parents and kids on the school run watching me. Instead of vehicles from the race organisers, teams, and media, my roads were cluttered with school run vehicles. Still, I had an audience.

This is a short ride that I like to do early in the morning during the week before starting work. I get out to Bromley via Beckenham and Hayes and straight into Chislehurst. Overall, the ride is not so hilly compared with some of the other routes in the Kent area, and I don't tend to want something too lumpy first thing in the morning when I am still trying to get my body into gear.

I always enjoy the part where the road plunges down suddenly just before Chislehurst train station and you get nice views over the Kent suburban countryside. Then right after the sharp left-hand turn after the railway bridge the road immediately begins to climb gradually and then becomes steep and narrow. 

If I'm not feeling fit, I'm not ashamed to say that occasionally I've ended up walking up the hill! It has to be said that the narrowness of the road and parking means that this road is best approached early in the morning, or in the evening when traffic is light.

Vehicles coming down the hill tend to give way to you as you're going up, but in a way it also assumes that you're going at a minimum acceptable speed. 

The problem comes when two vehicles need to get past one another and the vehicle going uphill decides to stop. Then you have to do a track stand and then restart pedalling when the road is clear; or the more normal folks among us just put our foot to the ground, mean you end up walking as the gradient makes it a bit tricky to get going again.

The good thing about this climb when pacing is that there are two pubs to look out for: The Bickley Arms, just as the road steepens, and then The Imperial Arms just as the gradient levels off. Note that if you go down the side of the Imperial Arms there's also The Rambler's Rest which is also a decent watering hole.

On this particular day, and because I was honoring the big event over in the Ardennes, I also went up another hill nearby, though more clement Camden Park Road, which takes me to the same summit as old hill. 

Actually, I also went up this second hill because Old Hill was a little too rammed with school run cars for me to go all the way to the Imperial Arms. Now if only I had had a motorbike escort ahead of me to clear everyone out of the way!

Going down Old Hill

Once at the summit, at Chislehurst Cross my route then goes through the quintessential Kentish village-like London suburb, and then on to Petts Wood, Crofton and Locksbottom. While the route from here is largely flat, it's good to save a bit of energy for another steep climb later on at West Wickham, Hawes Lane. 

Most local riders turn right at the Coney Hall roundabout and take the shallow hill to West Wickham High Street. But this alternative of the road before the roundabout, Hawes Lane provides a nice little home-run tester - not quite as steep as Old Hill, but the 10% gradient is still a sting in the tail when you think it's time to relax.

Finally, the route reaches the back of West Wickham and the road back to Elmers End and Crystal Palace. This is the stretch where I ride at a moderately quick pace, ready to jump on the back of one of the many trains on the home run back into London. 

Most groups of riders are too quick for me given my current lack of fitness. But it was still possible to join a couple of guys who were going at a more relaxing pace (which was by my standards, still quite fast). At that point I could imagine myself in a train containing the likes of Marlene Reusser, Lotte Kopecky or Elisa Longo Borghini! Okay, I was probably only doing about 15mph, but why not dream!

So in this ride honoured the Flèche-Wallonne by climbing my version of the Cote d'Ereffe, Cote de Cherave and the Mur de Huy by doing Camden Park Road, Hawes Lane, and the Mur de Old Hill! No World Tour points or prize money for me, but I think I earned my breakfast! 

My mini local Flèche-Chislehurst route

Related posts

Regents Park, London - My favourite training ground

Rouleur Live - London rocks! Why I think London cycling infrastructure is pretty good

Winning on Winnats Pass at the National Hill Climb Championships

Cycling up Toys Hill - the hard way ( via Puddledock) 

My cycle Tour of Flanders

No comments: