With an off-road option available for the 2022 LONDON-PARIS by Tour de France, Hotchillee’s dynamic duo, events team and new gravel converts Jane and Charlotte, embarked on a stealth mission to recce Day 1 of the route.
Charlotte tells the tale of the trail….
The idea for an off-road London to Paris came from our Hotchillee Ride Captains when they all got their Specialized Diverge gravel bikes, started exploring route options and got very excited about the idea. We reckoned that if they were all so into it that there must be something there.
Although from an admittedly fairly low starting point, Jane and I have really upped our cycling over the last 18 months and have especially really got into gravel. We’d had a brilliant day out riding the London Great Gravel Escape route, honed our off-road skills and fitness with some weekend and evening rides led by the Hotchillee Ride Captains and London-Paris beckoned.
We’d originally planned to do all three days but obviously COVID had other ideas. A couple of the Ride Captains floated the idea of doing Day 1 but, when they couldn’t make it, Jane and I, with confidence bolstered by our London Great Gravel Escape triumph, took up the gauntlet.
Without the pressure of having to catch a 17:00 ferry from Newhaven as we will on the actual event, I think it’s fair to say that we took it easy, started late and stopped lots! We’ve certainly got the cafés, pubs and ice cream stalls en route dialled in.
Rolling out from Imber Court felt super familiar as Hotchillee have started their London-Paris event from there for years but going off-road from there was a whole new experience. It’s going to be so special on the event day as road and gravel routes start together and suddenly the gravel group will just vanish down an alleyway and onto a canal towpath.
This surprise and discovery continued for the whole day. I’ve cycled London-Brighton a few times but this “secret” off-road route blew me away. I’d say that 90% of the route was off-road. Most of the route is pretty good under-tyre. There are a few bits that are a bit more technical and definitely gravel bike rather than road bike terrain but Jane and I managed them fine by just taking it steady. What was a really pleasant surprise was how little climbing there was – much appreciated! The only real lump is coming out of Guildford but you spend a lot of time on a wonderful and easy to ride disused railway line.
Our original goal for our ride was to finish at Newhaven where the ferry goes from (125km) but, because of our relaxed start-time and extensive refreshment research, we called it a day at 92km when we reached the pub we were staying over at – sundowners beckoned!
We did ride the final section the next day though and although we originally had ambitions to ride home, a combination of it being forecasted to be the hottest day of the summer so far and gravel battered bodies led to us coming up with an alternative plan. So, we got the train to Brighton, bought cossies and towels and hit the beach – we’d earned it!
We’re both super keen to ride the rest of the route on the other side of the Channel and will report back on it, the ice cream and maybe another beach when we do.
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