Cycling: Join us on the Tour de Kent

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THERE is still time to enter this Sunday's Tour de Kent, the charity bike ride which the Independent is helping to organise to mark the arrival in England of the Tour de France next week.

Readers are invited to join the 65-mile ride from Sevenoaks to Dover, which is in support of The Prince's Trust. Participants can enter on the day of the race simply by registering at the start on Sunday morning in Sevenoaks.

The ride begins in the beautiful setting of Knole Park and passes through picturesque villages and countryside before finishing at Dover Castle, which will be the setting three days later for the start of the first English stage of the Tour de France.

Among the celebrities taking part in the ride will be two television presenters, Jeff Banks, from The Clothes Show, and Normski, from Def II. Hugh Porter, the former British cycling champion, will be among those seeing the riders off at the start.

The entry fee, which will help pay for the organisational costs, is pounds 8.50, with discounts for families and team entries. Riders will be asked to find sponsors (the aim is a minimum of pounds 25 per rider) to raise funds for The Prince's Trust, a charity which aims to help young disadvantaged people throughout the country. Prizes will be awarded to those who raise most money for the Trust, which helped nearly 10,000 young people last year. The Trust gives grants to individuals and groups, supporting those who have the ambition to succeed but lack the means.

THE RIDE

The Tour de Kent route (details of which will be provided at the start) is mostly along B and minor roads through the county. It is not a race, so you do not have to be a racing cyclist to take part. However, the ride is 65 miles long and covers some testing countryside, so it is not recommended for the very young or for inexperienced cyclists.

The ride, coordinated by an experienced and qualified team, will have a fully signed route, maps, marshals, support vehicles and mechanics. Five stop-over points have been set up, where first aid, mechanical support and rest areas will be provided. The stops are at Badsell Park Farm near Matfield, a 180-acre farm with a rare breeds park, petting zoo and play-barn; the Rare Breeds Centre near Woodchurch; the Barn Tea Rooms at Alkham Valley Garden Centre; and the village halls in the picturesque villages of Benenden and Lympne.

Knole Park, where the ride starts, is a magnificent 1,000-acre deer park, owned by Lord Sackville. Knole House, the largest private house in England, and 65 acres of the park are owned by the National Trust, which welcomes more than 80,000 visitors to the site each year.

Dover Castle, where the ride finishes, is one of England's oldest and most important castles. Perched high above the town on an ancient headland, it commands the historic gateway to England, with spectacular views across the Channel to France.

Castle entry (normally pounds 5.25) is free to all riders, who are encouraged to bring family and friends to meet and congratulate them at the finish. A special discount entrance fee to Dover Castle of pounds 2.60 has been arranged for non-riders.

Riders can set out from Knole Park any time between 08.30 and 11.00. Good cylists should be able to complete the course in four hours; less accomplished riders might take up to six hours.

British Rail will run special trains at normal fares to take riders and bikes from London Charing Cross non-stop to Sevenoaks Station for the start. Trains leave Charing Cross at 07.30, 07.45 and 08.00. An hourly service between 15.00 and 21.00 will take riders back from Dover Priory station to Sevenoaks and London after the finish.

PRIZES

Amongst the prizes for those who raise most sponsorship will be two bikes and 10 cycle helmets provided by Raleigh cycles. Prizes will be awarded to those in the following categories who raise most money for the Trust: individual rider (Raleigh bike), junior individual aged 14-18 (Raleigh bike), company team, social team and family team. Riders will be given sponsorship forms and are also encouraged to seek additional donations to mark their efforts.

HOW TO ENTER

You can enter as an individual or as a team. You may want to enter as a family, as a company team with work colleagues, or as a social team with friends or with colleagues from a local club. You can register for the ride on the day at Knole Park from 08.00 until 10.30. Further details are available on 071-831-0133.

On registering, you will receive:

A sponsorship form, to enable you to sign up your sponsors.

A special discount voucher, entitling up to four adults to discount entry to Dover Castle.

A rider ID card: this entitles you to free mechanical back-up at stops along the route and a free drink at the finish.

Your rider number.

A car parking label for both Knole Park and Dover.

Entry costs pounds 8.50 for individuals, pounds 20 for a family entry (two adults and up to two children of 17 years and under), and pounds 35 for a corporate entry (teams of five adult riders). If you recruit two teams (ie nine other adults or more), you will receive a free T-shirt. Individual riders of 17 or under must obtain the signature of a parent or guardian.

Tour de Kent T-shirts ( pounds 6.95 each) can be purchased on the day.

All riders must obey the Highway Code. Cycling can be a strenuous and potentially hazardous activity. The organisers, including Newspaper Publishing and The Prince's Trust, cannot be held responsible for personal injury, accident, loss or damage or public liability.

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