Recently, BikeRadar Training teamed up with Cyclothon UK to offer three places for a team relay endurance event at Brands Hatch. Bob Scarle, Chris Holliday and Dean Webb were all lucky winners, and joined up with BikeRadar's John Whitney to tackle the course last Thursday.
Brands Hatch is a rarity among motor racing circuits. If you came along to BikeRadar Live in 2010, you'll know what we're talking about. Its maniacally undulating terrain must be a huge thrill in the high-octane world of car and motorbike racing, but slow down to bicycle speed and the 2.3 miles are a constant battle to find and maintain rhythm.
The course mimics a rollercoaster in the way you constantly go up and down, building huge speed and momentum on the downhill and powering into a wall of a climb before cresting the summit and tipping yourself over the edge.
As such, the eight- or 12-hour relay event is not for the faint-hearted, requiring power, endurance and willpower in equal measure in order to do it justice. Through weeks of hard training miles, and with the help of coaching advice, training plans and bike fittings from Koolstof Sports Coaching, we built ourselves a crack team of riders ready to tackle the unique contours of the Kent circuit.
On the start line
The event itself comes from Victor Ubogu, a former England rugby union player, and his hospitality and sports travel business VU Limited. He makes no bones about the corporate reach of the event (blue chip companies such as Ernst & Young, Legal & General and Nintendo all had teams on the start line).
But Ubogu's considerable pulling power in the world of rugby and wider sporting world meant Scott Hastings, Rory Underwood, Doddie Weir and Angus Fraser, to name a few, were on the start line. There were also 30 solo riders competing under their own steam, so this is an event that's open to anyone up for the challenge.
Riders can compete in teams of four or five (mixed or single sex) or on their own, over eight- or 12-hour races. Those choosing the mammoth 12-hour option start shortly after sunrise, at 7.30am, and ride through to sunset. The shorter race, which we'd entered, started four hours later, at 11.30am.
Both races start Le Mans-style, with cyclists making a mad dash across the Tarmac to their bikes propped up by the roadside. Timing started once we'd exited the pit lane, with a timed section up the monstrously steep Druids Climb greeting riders almost immediately.
Forget triathlon transitions – the race to the bikes at the Cyclothon was crucial!
With a team of four, it was vital to keep the changeovers frequent. Four laps took about 30 minutes for the BikeRadar Training team to complete, meaning all our team, buoyed by a summer of hard training, could ride full gas for much of that time and not risk exploding.
Sportives are often characterised by wildly varying abilities, and the Cyclothon was no exception. Riders in fancy dress, mountain biking kit and on Bromptons mixed with serious roadies and slick-looking time trial squads clobbered up in skinsuits.
And while many grabbed the opportunity to bask in the scorching mid-September sun between stints on the track, those with their game faces on passed the time by spinning on rollers in the garage.
Our schedule meant we would often wait up to 90 minutes between efforts, so rollers would have been a sensible option if our team had designs on overall victory. But we didn't, and we had work to do, talking to cycling celebs to see what had brought them to the event.
First up was newly crowned round-the-world record holder Mike Hall, riding for the Rose Bikes team. As anyone who followed the Yorkshireman's efforts to topple Alan Bate's 106-day record will know, Hall went through the mill, both physically and mentally, on his way to his incredible record.
Catching up with him for the first time since our interview with him, he revealed he's struggled to slip back into normal life since returning from his adventure.
His efforts poleaxed him, and it's taken him much of the summer to get back in the saddle and contemplate his next move. He says he's taken time off work to focus on a book of his record-breaking exploits, which will detail the build-up to setting off, and the emotional rollercoaster his endeavours involved.
Mike Hall (left) taking some time out during the Cyclothon UK event
Then there was Gavin Kerr, a 35-year-old retired rugby union player who was capped 50 times by Scotland before a neck injury curtailed his elite playing days. He was riding with The Jocks, a team that read like a who's who of Scottish rugby.
Cycling has been championed by a number of egg-chasing greats, including Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Carling and now Victor Ubogu. Kerr, whose days of playing prop meant he had to be one of the biggest, strongest guys on the field, says cycling helps keep them fit while avoiding the brutal pounding they took throughout their careers.
Ubogu, himself a prop, agreed. With his booming laugh and huge smile, his enthusiasm for the sport was evident.
Victor Ubogu at the Brands Hatch track
Ubogu's got big plans for the Cyclothon, too. It's only in its second year, and given the hugely crowded UK cycling events calendar, he's delighted to have seen numbers of riders almost double since 2011.
Next summer's event will be held a week earlier, to avoid the Tour of Britain, with an ultimate aim of attracting names from the world of pro cycling.
This year's winners
But back to the 2012 contest, which was fiercely fought from the gun. PM R@CING took overall honours, their four-man team clocking up an impressive 111 laps during their 12-hour heroics.
Sixteen laps behind was Carl Ferri, who took the solo award, while we notched up a respectable 64 laps to take 50th place. We did get first place in the Male Four 8hr Trade group, but being the only team in the category made it something of a hollow victory.
The novelty of riding round a closed-road, silky-smooth, pothole-free circuit was the biggest thrill we took from the day. We all agreed that the training plans we've used have helped us to push on with our fitness, even if work and family commitments sometimes make it hard to stick to regimes rigidly.
"I realise that I'm never going to be as fast as some but I do try hard," said BikeRadar Training winner Bob. "However, the coaching has shown me that even I can make small gains that improve my overall riding ability and enjoyment."
Like the sound of Cyclothon? BikeRadar Training will be able to help you prepare for next summer's event. BikeRadar Training is a free online resource for you to record and analyse all aspects of your training, log your training routes, get yourself tailored training plans, see how you're doing on our leaderboards, set goals and plan your season with a comprehensive events guide.