DISTANCE 67 miles (107km)
MAIN CLIMB Millhook
TOTAL CLIMB 1,400 metres.
ACHTUNG! Some steep and narrow descents.
Millhook doesn’t sound so scary, does it? It’s not got the Satanic ring of a Nick O’Pendle, or the vertical threat of a Rosedale Chimney. It doesn’t sound as tough as Hardknott pass, or as wild and windy as Bealach na Ba.
But by late afternoon on April 20, Millhook will have made its way into cycling lore, and the riders of the North Cornwall Tor cyclo-sportive will leave Bodmin with its memory clearly felt in their aching legs.
It’s a 33 per cent sea monster that climbs straight out of the Atlantic, but it’s certainly not the only climb on this ride, not by a long way. Few roads in North Cornwall are flat, and there are one or two other set pieces on this stunning route that goes from moor to sea and back again.
The sportive is the brainchild of Geoff Saxon of Kilotogo, a seasoned organiser and the safe pair of hands that North Cornwall Council turned to as the organiser of what it hopes will become a showcase cycling event.
The North Cornwall Tor is one of several cycling initiatives that the council is involved with. Its sports development officer, Geoff Samuels, says: “North Cornwall sees cycling, especially adventurous cycling, as a vehicle for a number of our objectives. The cyclo-sportive is primarily to attract people to visit North Cornwall and see it as a cycling destination, but we will also encourage local involvement with family rides on the Camel Trail the day before.
“In the long term we are using cycling to address social problems like getting children to be more active, getting them to take some risks and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own actions. We have already had some great results, even with problem kids, and the whole project won two awards last year. We have found that cycling works where traditional school sports like swimming, athletics and even football don’t. Cycling captures the kids’ imaginations.”
The ride starts in Bodmin and the KFS-Sunday team, fresh from winning the Perfs Pedal Race the previous Sunday, have agreed to be our guinea pigs. Team manager and former Euro pro Harry Lodge has brought Perfs winner James Stewart, Greg Roche, Daffyd Dylan, Matt Clinton, Richard Sykes Popham and Kevin Friend to ride the course. Team rider Gareth Hewitt is consigned to back-up duty in the car with a “jiggly knee”.
It’s bright and sunny, but cold for the start. Not for long, though, as it’s steadily uphill out of Bodmin onto the shoulders of the moor. There are two routes for the cyclo-sportive. Both go north-east along the edge of the moor, where a series of low, craggy peaks like Rough Tor punctuate the eastern skyline.
The 107-mile route goes to Bude before heading south-west and hugging the coast. Today we turn short of Bude, where the 67-mile sportive will turn, and head for the Atlantic splendour of Widemouth Bay.
A quick stop for sandwiches gives me chance to ask James Stewart if he was expecting the Perfs win. “I hadn’t trained for it, but I have trained well this winter and knew that I was going OK. Thankfully I just timed it right and the team worked well behind me,” he explains.
KFS-Sunday are a well-organised young team, typical of a number of growing squads that are bringing back interest to the Premier Calendar road series in Britain. And they are definitely looking forward to challenging some of the big names of the domestic racing scene.
“It’s going to be interesting. All the teams seem to have got stronger and there is a real buzz about the Premier races again. It will be harder for one team, and certainly one rider, to dominate this year,” says Greg Roche, who as owner of Sunday Bicycles with his brother is also one of the team’s sponsors.
“We want to help Geoff promote his cyclo-sportives because our single best seller is a sportive bike. And if they get people riding, then that’s got to be a good thing,” Roche explains before the group set off on what is the hardest part of the route.
The tough bit
The descent to Millbrook is steep, narrow and roughly surfaced. You end up at sea level in an isolated valley surrounded by towering cliffs. It’s time to take a good look around, a deep breath and try to ignore the 33 per cent sign. It’s a long haul to the top with amazing views, but something like 34×25 gearing is recommended if you don’t want to be looking at them through a veil of tears.
The riders regroup over the top, before plunging down into Crackington Haven to tackle a series of back-breakers that take the route over the highest cliffs in Cornwall, to Boscastle and Tintagel. Here the route splits and the 107-mile riders will continue along the coast to Port Isaac — which is Port Wenn in the Doc Martin TV series — and to Polzeath — where the Famous Five went for their holidays — before turning inland again.
No lashings of ginger beer today though. The group follow the 67-mile route back to Bodmin to complete their ride. Samuels, Geoff Saxon and some other North Cornwall staff show they are hands-on by keeping up with the pros for most of the way round.
They are really enthusiastic about this event, and about cycling in general, which in itself warrants making the North Cornwall Tor a success. Couple that with the scenery, the rugged route and epic climbs, and this cyclo-sportive should be one of the highlights of 2008.
YOUR GUIDES: TEAM KFS-SUNDAY
* KFS Special Vehicles adapt chassis and panels to make custom goods vehicles, like horse boxes
* Sunday is the brand of titanium bikes the team ride
* When asked if there were any off-the-wall characters in the team, senior rider Greg Roche says: “Characters no. We’ve got a couple who are weird though.”
* If you want to find out more about the team look on www.halosportsmanagement.com or www.sundaybicycles.co.uk
Take the unclassified road out of Bodmin that runs parallel with the A30. Take the third turn right (TR) to Bilsland and turn left (TL) to St Breward. TR on unclassified to Crowdy reservoir.
TR on unclassified and TL to Hallworthy, then follow signs to Week St Mary and Bude. Cross the A39 to Widemouth Bay. TL on unclassified and follow the narrow coast road to Crackington Haven. TR and TR again on the B3263. Follow this road through Boscastle to Tintagel. Follow signs to Delabole.
TR on B3314 and TL on B3267 to St Teath and cross the A39 to follow unclassified then TR on B3266 and TL on A389 back to Bodmin.