Taking on the Ride Of The Falling Leaves (ROTFL) is an ever popular event that takes in some of the best Kent has on offer. It commences a week on from the legendary ‘Giro di Lombardia’ of northern Italy. This British escapade is a tribute to that ride. Organised by the friendly parish of the Dulwich Paragon, it has a host of clubs and individuals participating. Sure enough, the streets along Brixton and onto the south-east are teeming with early morning cyclists.
The loop starts and finishes at the Herne Hill Velodrome. You navigate past Dulwich college and eventually on till you see the welcoming signs heralding your arrival into Kent, The Garden of England. With the mist rising and the sun rays breaking through the tree branches, you can’t help but admire the country. Along the way we spot the bobbing hats of horseback riders, just above the hedgerow. And it isn’t too long before we greet a few more mounted friends on the climbs. Steering through our first descent outside of town, and on our right are rolling fields with bundles of hay rolled up like giant swiss rolls.
Early on we meet a few break-aways, but with the B-train moving at pace, it isn’t long before the four of us are out again in the lead. This isn’t the original game plan and we’re not Team Sky, but heck we are the Baroudeurs. Crazy Legs sets a mean pace as we begin to climb, with Poncherello taking deep digs to share the workload. Whilst Big Chase and I keep the B-train rolling; taking pulls on the open roads, or on the quick sharp climbs. DC’s abetted words echo: “Don’t stop. We recover on the bike!”
We expected to return by noon and it’s only just coming up to 11AM
It’s our third outing on the ROTFL and I’m glad to say that the weather has remained true each time. So as we hit a side road and unto the remains of a muddy track, I smile and wonder if the organisers, using a farmer’s tractor as their tool of choice, have prepared this surprise for us the night before. A demonstration of some Cyclo-crossing skills resolves this and we’re away.
The towns become more frequent, and the built up areas of suburbia rise up around us, indicating that we’re on the final stretch. Our quartet regroups and makes a dash for the final climb home. Moments later the B-train takes a brief stop at a pelican crossing, giving way to a lady walking her dog; reminding us that the rest of the world is waking up and we aren’t alone on the roads any more. Clicking back in and the A214 leads upwards towards Anerley Hill. As much as I’d like to say I kept on their wheels, I was soon making the climb by myself. The only relief came when the boys paused so I could join them for a free-wheel down College Road. We’re looking good for time: we expected to return by noon and it’s only just coming up to 11AM.
As we enter Herne Hill for the final time today, we are joined by a capable pairing of a Paragon and his son. Each one is turning around and encouraging the other. I am reminded of the Baroudeurs doing the ‘Fire-Fleas’ ride with their children, and I know they would be just as remarkable. Yet, I wonder if they’re having as much fun as we are. Allez les Baroudeurs!