Sportive newbie Jocelyn Mack tackles the hills of Devon in the Smuggler Sportive and talks of her despair at being beaten up the severe climbs by a 10-year-old
Distance: 25, 50, 80 miles
Major climbs: Three
Terrain: Up, up and away
Number of finishers: 480
Best: Smuggler Ale
Worst: A tyre-wrecking puncture. Thanks to the Bike Shed for sorting out my new rubber
Being overtaken by a 10-year-old boy on a climb hurts, more so than the climb itself. I’m talking a searching-for-more-gears climb with a gradient of around 16 per cent over 450m. “I’ll sit on his wheel for a bit”, I thought, “Yep, that’ll show him”. Evidently it would show him that I have the ability to pant louder than a Labrador locked in a hot car, as after all of five seconds I had to admit defeat.
Milling around Barnstaple Square with eager cyclists devouring free breakfasts of kedgeree and porridge, I got chatting to a local rider of The Hell Cats. “Cyclists”, he told me, “are scared of three things: punctures, cobbles and Devon.” Just what I needed to hear on my maiden voyage around the north of the county.
The Smuggler too, was on its first outing and organiser Marcus Chapman was keen to inject his personality into the day, with a number of elements that put this on the map as a standout event.
There were optional ‘extra booty’ climbs for the more adventurous smugglers, to earn gold coins transferable for pints of the sportive’s very own Smuggler Ale. There were no timing chips, but to harness a competitive element, and keep the banter flowing, there were clearly signed Strava segments.
All the routes were immediately bumpy and the first gear-crunching climb came at Simonsbath.
The lanes are lined with head-high hedges. But here, the views revealed themselves in a dramatic fashion as we descended on sweeping alpine-style roads through the lush Barle Valley, and over its river via a quaint stone bridge down into the feed station.
From here the 80-mile route headed out to take on the epic Porlock Toll once used by smugglers of days gone by, now marked with the modern day challenge of a Strava segment.
The 50-mile route made its way across the open expanse of the moorland to climb to Barbrook with its 25 per cent hairpin bend. However, the pain in my legs was soon forgotten as the winding tarmac led us to the stunning Valley of Rocks, home to the White Lady.
She lives at the top of one of the rock formations and if you squint and tilt your head to the left you can see her rocky silhouette and white dress made of clouds.
Making our way up the final climb of Lee Valley, we were rewarded with beautiful views over the bright blue waters of the bay. For those who wanted to work their legs some more there was a booty climb: Slattenslade, an absolute wall of a climb that ramps up to at least 25 per cent. Those who conquered that deserved a whole barrel of ale.
With the finish line in sight, a fellow rider sped past me for a sprint finish. No, it couldn’t be… Oh yes, there he was again, his little legs spinning away. I let him take it, though. I’m nice like that.
So should cyclists fear Devon? Well the climbs are pretty epic but I say: “feel the fear and do it anyway.”
A big Smuggler ale “cheers” to everyone, young and old, who completed the ride.
Missed it? Try this…
Two Moors 100 is on Sunday July 20 and heads out around Exmoor and Dartmoor. Choose from either 100 miles or 100km.
Next year’s Smuggler will take place on June 7 and to find out about Marcus Chapman’s second event, Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley on September 20, check out