The Chilterns: an area of outstanding natural beauty featuring a 170 mile circular cycle route, so accessible to London you can actually get there on the Tube. So why hadn't we ridden there before? It wasn't until several people at Eroica Britannia asked us if we were taking part in the Chiltern 100 Cycling Festival that we decided to check it out. This year for the first time, the Chiltern Cycling Festival combined with the brutal Chiltern 100 sportive - steel v carbon, heritage vs technology - this was going to be interesting...
On the face of it, the Chiltern 100 is your standard MAMIL sportive, organised by humanrace events and Verulam CC, and there certainly were plenty of expensively lycra-ed cycle folk (predominantly male) on flashy carbon bikes. The main ride is billed as a ‘best of’ the region’s many gruelling climbs, including the infamous Whiteleaf Hill. But, there was much more on offer than just the gruelling 100 miler with ascents totalling 2,400 metres.
Actually most of the people I spoke to seem to have dropped down to the 68 mile 'Medio' ride citing late nights and hangovers as their excuses, making us feel rather more at home! These were riders who were going for an enjoyable day out on the bike, taking time to experience the glorious scenery and plod, rather than race, up the notorious Chiltern hills.
There was plenty on offer back at the stunning base of Penn House to keep everyone entertained, from younger family members to the returning Hill Climb heroes. I've never seen so many children at a sportive - kept busy by the competitive children's events and family ride.
We met one family whose three sons aged 5, 7 and 9 were the keenest young cyclists ever - the elder two already having climbed Alpe d'Huez and with the Tourmalet and European National Championships in the diary for this summer. They were busy practicing their tricks and skills while their parents ran the hugely popular Kidsracing stall.
Eroica aficionados were at the event to celebrate the heritage and glamour of cycling. There was lots to entertain the merino-clad steel warriors including the Concors D'elegance parade and the best vintage bike competition. Riders took part in a 32 mile "Amersham Classic' event on some very fine (and heavy) steeds and then returned for luncheon and a spot of shopping in the Velo Village.
The Corto Fondo and Cycletta women's race covered the shorter 32 mile route which we checked out the day before. Running through some stunning Buckinghamshire countryside, we flew down the newly tarmac-ed 'Gravelly Way" and meandered past Roald Dahl's home and museum, to name but a couple of the highlights en route. Every rider was entered into the Hill Climb competition, running along the pretty avenue up to the Penn House estate as the final leg-tester of the day.
Once back in the glorious festival gardens, we were entertained by Simon Warren of 100 Greatest UK Cycling Climbs fame and live music. There was also an enormous screen broadcasting Stage 15 of the Tour de France live to the crowds who chillaxed on hay bales in the sunshine.
We worked hard all day in our Ride Velo gazebo meeting up with some familiar faces and plenty of new ones too. Thank you to everyone who made the Chiltern 100 Cycling Festival such a great day out - we'll see you again next year!