Monday, 4 June 2012

Business Finished: Tour of Wessex 2012

It's an odd thing. Writing your blog at five o'clock on the morning of a Bank Holiday Tuesday. So much is wrong with that, in concept and detail, quite frankly it makes my head spin a bit, especially because having checked Facebook, I think the only person I know that is likely to be awake is The Princess, and she is still in yesterday, half a world away. And that makes it just weirder.

I couldn't sleep. I woke up about two hours ago, partly because junior Mendip Rouleur is very poorly, and partly because I am very, very hungry indeed. So I have already had breakfast, I'll probably have second breakfast when I finish this, and move on to third breakfast by the time the family wake up. If my Polar HR monitor is anywhere close to accurate I burned about 16 thousand calories in the last four days.

Thank heavens for the Jubilee. Without its extra day off work I may have been forced to pretend I was capable of cognitive function in the office, instead of getting this wonderful day to recover. I rode to work on Friday too, so ended up with a nice round total of 380 miles for the long weekend.

I am very grateful to all the messages of encouragement and support, and particularly to Chunky MAMIL, for his questions (more on this below) and my boss for his motivational speech as I left the office on Friday: "Course you can do it, you big wimp". It may not be in many leadership manuals, but it sure works on me. Which just goes to prove he has got the measure of me.

Stage 1 : Somerset & Wiltshire

This is King Alfred's Tower. It sits atop a hill, which is a brute of a climb, and comes after you have already done Mudgely, Cheddar Gorge, Crosscoombe, Bruton (in and out both involve hills) and have about 60 miles in your legs.

I have worked out that cycling sportives on your own, can be tough. Particularly between the 60 to 80 mile mark, and despite the pleasant weather on Saturday, by the time I puffed and wheezed up this hill, I was into some very dark and gloomy places. And I don't mean Wiltshire. I had seen the Doc at the start line, with mini Doc in tow, but he was a way off registering and I was all kitted out for an early start, so elected to go on my own. Apart from the few hundred others doing it.

Anyway, I ploughed on across the rolling hills around Warminster, the Deverills, which came and went, and seem a cross between a Bronte novel and something rather painful. Before long the wind was at my back, and I was cycling through the grounds of Stourhead, and my least favourite road on a sportive. It was covered in mud on the Lionheart and it's still covered in mud now, plus an extra layer of gravel.

From there it was a few lumps and bumps, plus the joy of a tailwind assisted flypast back along the road from Castle Cary to Somerton. Which has to be a first, I usually slog into a headwind on that stretch.

To keep me occupied I'd been thinking about my favourite colour. Which is green by the way, and to honour the day I wore this, the flag of Devon jersey from "Half-baked Brand :

With the plethora of Union flags and red, white & blue bunting everywhere, it seemed a good day to be thinking about colours. Nail them to the mast, show your true ones, the colour of money, or colourful characters. Or maybe more specific stuff? That piece of driving made me see red, or I'm green with envy of people who can climb at 15 mph, still, no rose-tinted glasses, or black arts, for this greyhair, for I knew that tomorrow I would be doing it all again.

Normally there is a sense of euphoria at the the last few miles of a sportive, and whilst I was pleased to get in before the heavens opened, the forecast was for rain all day on the Sunday. Here is Saturday's route, and you can see that despite the mileage and the climbing I was not hanging around. I fully expected to pay for it sometime, so hurried home to avoid the rain, and eat as much as I could before Stage 2.

Stage 2: Somerset & Dorset

Affectionately known as a trip to the seaside, it was with some  trepidation that I awoke to a gloomy Sunday morning. But, a very big but, no rain. And even better, someone up there clearly likes us, because a hole had been crafted in the clouds to give us a blustery but dry day. Apart from 20 minutes near the end when we got a short sharp downpour, the day stayed mercifully dry. I was all kitted out in my ACG finest, and was soon unzipping the arms of my gilet and enjoying the occasional bit of sunshine.

It's lovely route. Down past the castle in Sherborne, through pretty villages, valleys and countryside, past the Cerne Abbas giant, and on towards the sea at Lulworth Cove. Up and over the firing ranges on Purbeck before sweeping past Corfe Castle and back up north. The route is a long one at over 118 miles, and I fell in with an expert Investor Relations' Manager, E,  from Sky TV, so we chatted about football, sport, the fact that they had brilliant access to Brailsford, Cav & Co. and it all passed the time quite nicely.

A couple of times I had seen SG arrive at the foodstops just after us, going considerably quicker too, but we always managed to stay a short distance ahead. She was doing just the one day, and the lack of company was the hardest thing. It's psychological I think, to do one day on your own is tough, three can drive me a bit bonkers if I am not careful.

Corfe Castle
 The wind was a tad blustery at times, particularly on the final run-in back towards Somerton, and I did the bulk of the work to be honest. After having ridden on my own all day on Saturday, I was getting close to my energy limit, despite the copious amounts of food I had eaten on the Saturday night, and it gets harder to take on board food whilst cycling. I tried to persuade E to ride on the Sunday, as much for company as anything else, but it was not to be, E could not be persuaded and Monday was to be a solo effort again.

Here is Sunday's route

Stage 3: Somerset & Devon (just)

Day 3 was again overcast, with a fresh northerly breeze to start the day. By now I was shattered, and it was more about the brain than the body, willing me to get back on the bike. Because Day 3 is tough, on its own, and combined with the other two, it makes for a very hard three days. You could always tell the ones who had just come for a day's riding. They were the ones zooming off into the distance, or jumping on to testosterone-fuelled groups of skinny men. The 3 day people all had sunken eyes, weary faces, and a certain plodding style to their riding. I just wanted to get it done.

Which was a bit of a shame because on the whole the ride is delightful. A flat blast across the levels, skirting Bridgwater and then up into the Quantocks. The climb up Quantock Common is brutal, reaching 20% in places, and the descent, the notorious Crowcombe Hill, is also just as steep and technical. Combine it with gravel, over-exuberance and macho pride and you get a crash, the aftermath of which I saw down at the back of an ambulance by the feedstop. Nothing serious, but a timely warning.

On to the question of gearing. I ride a compact 50/34 with a 12/27 on the back. What I particular like about this subject is its simplicity and yet also its ability to confuse the un-initiated. Whilst I am sure I would have murdered for a triple yesterday morning on the climb out of Stogumber (or it may have been into it, I don't know), I was also glad I didn't have the extra weight or complexity. Too many choices is not good for me, particularly when my brain had been turned into a quivering mass that could only think of food and sleep. So you pay your money, make your choice, but I don't think it makes too much difference, you can only have so many gears on a bike.

That said, I wouldn't have minded a 30 on the back, my thighs were burning so much by now that even the small bumps in the main road around Minehead felt like the Tourmalet. I stuffed loads of jelly babies in my mouth and pressed on down the A39.

And now it's rant time. Bank holidays clearly bring out some of the worst impatience and frustration in the human race. On bikes or in cars. People- nothing slows you down as much as being dead, it's not a race!

Having been forced into the bushes on a back road by a car coming way too fast round a blind bend, I was cycling cautiously. Unlike some of my fellow riders. So just in case anyone ever reads this, here are my three please:

1. Give other riders a shout. Particularly if you are coming down a steep, noisy, windy hill and intend on overtaking someone. Especially if traffic is coming towards us, and you are on the wrong side of the road in a group of four, in team kit from a major on line cycling retailer that is not Wiggle. And sounds like a hit from Diana Ross. I will not be buying gear from your website ever again you idiots.

2. And you are also allowed to be just friendly and say hello if you cycle past a lone rider, or ask people at the road side if they need help if they have a mechanical.

3. Keep you gels, your wrappers, and yes banana skins (which take years to biodegrade and are harmful to badgers) in your pockets. Would it kill you to stop at a bin or wait till the feedstop?

Rant over.

The motorists on the A39 into Porlock were not happy as they were faced with the normal Bank Holiday traffic and a cycle event, causing huge jams. I was a bit sceptical about whether this was a wise route choice by endragon, our organisers, but the highlight of the entire three days was about to come. The climb up the Toll road was superb. Cool temperature on what had turned into a warm day, just the right 6-8% gradient to keep it interesting, switchbacks and hairpins, and wonderful, wonderful views.

On the way up I pondered on the career of Stuart Adamson and Big Country. If you look at all his work with the Skids and the first two, possibly three BG albums, it was all about the guitar. In partcular a corruscating, searing edge of a guitar. So yes, the music mellowed a bit. But I don't think it did Adamson any favours, he looks like he lived a fairly unhappy life, and whilst there are surely fans of the later stuff, it's not my cup of tea. Looking out over the bay below, I'm not sure it was his either.

From the top of the toll road it was "simple" matter of negotiating the roller coaster of a road that heads south across Exmoor to Exford and the second feedstop. I ate as much as I could stomach and ground out the last few hills before coming down off the moor on a fast descent near Elworthy. As I reached the junction I was passed by a blue car, then by two riders, one of whom was shouting something about braking and waving his fist in the air. I quickly caught them up and asked what the fuss was, only to be told that the car had been about 6 feet behind me all the way down the hill, after dangerously overtaking them and pulling in between us. One puncture or pull on my brakes and I'd have been dead, and wouldn't have known a thing about it.

I would have been really annoyed though, to get so close to the finish and be killed by an idiot. A DNF at that stage would have been heart-breaking. It was all pretty much downhill or flat for the last 30 miles, the few small hills felt interminable, and so I was delighted to latch onto a tandem being ridden by two huge blokes. On the flat they towed me, I gave them some help on the bumps, and got out of their way on any downhill, mass multiplied by velocity remember?

Day 3 looks like this. I was a bit slower today, at 15 mph exactly, which given my level of tiredness I am very pleased with.

Now for the boring statistical bit (2010 in brackets):

Total elapsed ie official time including all stops  22 hours 27 minutes (23-23)
Riding time  21 hours 37 minutes (22 - 20)
Stopped time 50 minutes (63) in nine feedstops and other short stops.
Distance travelled 337.4 miles (329.4)

So what we have is about an hour quicker and eight miles more. Very happy with that. Not sure about the Dragon ride though, see how I feel on Saturday. Right time for second breakfast.

1 comment:

  1. Well done, hat(won't go all french)nearly four hundred miles ;) Glad you enjoyed the Toll road always a favourite.