Il Lombardia - or the Race of the Falling Leaves, as it is sometimes known - is the final Monument of the cycling season. In other words, it’s a big deal and it brings a full stop to cycling's road racing season.
South London cycling club Dulwich Paragon have run a sportive for several years now in tribute called The Ride of the Falling Leaves. And very nice it is, too. I’d say it is my favourite sportive. Starting in south London at the Herne Hill Velodrome with coffee and pastries, you take a lap of the famous circuit before heading out on a beautiful rural route that includes some eye-watering climbs (Toys Hill and Sundridge Hill both come to mind). As if that wasn’t enough, the ride finishes in the grounds of a cricket club, where pasta and a beer are served as part of your entry fee.
So, when Spoke Cycles in Codicote put forward their own more northerly Ride of the Falling Leaves, I jumped at it. Like the Paragon event, this would be 100km (with a 60km option) and the ticket promised beer and frites at the finish as part of the entry fee, with Il Lombardia on the big screen.
On the day, the weather played ball with crisp, blue autumn skies and, yes, there were autumn leaves rattling around the roads. Parts of the route map looked familiar to me, in fact, I think I’ve ridden nearly all of these roads before. For good reason, they are quite lovely. There are no super large climbs – this is Hertfordshire, not Lombardia, remember – but the Spoke route does undulate (a lot) and there are some tough sections.
Whereas I had previously attacked the Paragon’s RoTFL events, aiming for a gold standard time, this year I wanted to play it differently. I wanted to use the event to signal, not the last race, but rather the beginning to my winter training base miles and so I planned go a bit easier. That thought didn’t last long, as I attacked the route from the off. It just felt right and the first part of the course seemed like it was egging me on to do so. I was going great guns, but starting to feel it by 30 miles. And I did regret my earlier exuberance by the 40-mile point, roughly where the food stop was, as my legs were none too happy with me.
It was great to see Spoke owner, Alex Anderson, there staffing the food stop and encouraging riders. I understood from him that there were only 100 places they could offer this year, as they were being cautious with the café’s public liability insurance. Next time could see a much expanded field and their next event… wait for it… it might well be a gravel event. And Alex also revealed that Spoke are looking to expand their menu. Watch that space.
A guy called Rob left the food stop at the same time and we nursed each other through the next 12 miles or so, until his patience or my limited climbing ability expired. I struggled through the last few miles solo and gleefully queued for my chips and pint and a chillax watching others murder themselves at the legit race.
I’d highly recommend both the route and the event. Given that the route comes south, you could do it any time. If you ride up from north London, you could pick it up at Epping Green.
Or you could take a train from Finsbury Park to Welwyn Garden City, which is only 3 miles from Spoke and do either the long or short route. Here’s the shorter version.
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"You will always be in our hearts and on our roads." - @Giro d'Italia on Michele Scarponi