NO matter how you cut it, three days, 329 miles and 7,292 meters of climbing will be tough. In 2011, 2,300 athletes attempted one, two or the full three days. Only 230 finished the entire tour. 2012 saw 1,697 conquer the twisting roads of Wessex and 368 finished the three days.
It would be easy to break it down in to the three days with tales of legs getting more and more fatigued as the long Jubilee weekend went on. However, it was the climb on the third day from Porlock Toll road above Minehead in Exmoor National Park that made the event. The twisting climb was a new edition to the Tour of Wessex and was a raving success.
Tired bedraggled riders limped in through the gantry on Bank Holiday Monday with nothing more to talk about than this magical climb. One rider described it as an out-of-body experience through a mouth full of bacon sandwich. Many fussing that is was a climb like on the Continent. Four and a half miles in distance, the road built in 1840 pulls out of forested canopy to hair-pin on to the exposed coast. Vistas of the sea and rugged coast below took the breath of many more than the gradient of the climb. With a feed station only miles on it provided the fire in the belly to ride the final 55 miles back to Somerton. This change in route left organiser Nick Bourne pleased. The route change gave favourable feedback and will be staying for 2013.
Miles of blooming lanes…
Other notable climbs were the spectacular Cheddar Gorge. The first challenge on day one where many pushed too hard and paid for it later on was only 50 kilometres in. The climb twisted up past the caving and tourist attractions before almost going vertical past rock climbing enthusiasts. You know it’s steep when you are grinding past rock climbers on similar plains. The sun beat down and made it a real challenge, showing what the Tour of Wessex was all about – it ain’t no cake ride.
The gorge of cheese was nothing in comparison to King Alfred’s Tower, which was to follow. Having rode the course many years before I had an epiphany moments before the road snaked up through the farm land. Like lightening the images came back and I knew what was to come. I stuck the brain in to determined and focused on keeping a smooth revolution going. This theory seemed to work as I passed many grinding their cleats down walking on the side of the road and got to the tower at the top. This was no small feat and I wasn’t the most lady like as I grunted to get the extra push needed. There were other climbs of the day but these two marred the mind so much that the others were merely blips.
The second day was forecast for the usual rain that tests the three day entrants stickablity. Only 50 per cent of our group donned the rain cape and headed out; the rest relinquished to Sunday newspapers, wellies and cream teas. The rain gods were favourable to the cyclists and held off from the torrential downpours that washed down on the Jubilee flotilla parade in London.
Good weather and beautiful countryside
Being the longest day of the three, it was an appreciated blessing. The route traversed down to the south coast past Sherbourne Castle and the phallic Cerne Abbas Giant. Puddletown was puddleless and lead to the climb for the vista of the sea. Idyllic villages were decorated with Jubilee flags and Queen images. A few had gone as far as having a Jubilee nativity set in the front garden. The view out to the coast signalled halfway and a head wind home – for 68 miles. If you weren’t in a group it was a test of your mental strength.
The sun shone through the cloud by mid morning on the third day; not that many noticed. Fatigue and the hardest day of climbing meant the determined few left were just focusing on the next patch of tarmac and nothing more. The chocolate covered flapjack and fig biscuits were certainly consumed in gigantic proportions in order to power up the steep farm roads.
The route headed into and through Exmoor National Park. The winds were weak and the hedgerows protected most. The signs for the finish were not frequent enough as everyone started to do the bum shuffle on their saddles, three days taking toll. Coffee, Rotary cakes and soup were consumed in a haze as the three-day warriors lay on the grass at the finish. Funny how pain and suffering fades so quickly; many bets on next year’s times were placed over a few Jubilee drinks that same night. Always held on the last May Bank Holiday weekend, this is a cycling challenge that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Stage 1: Somerset and Wiltshire
Date: Saturday 2nd June 2012
Distance: 169 km (106 miles)
Ascent: 2,290 m (7,512ft)
Stage 2: Somerset and Dorset
Date: Sunday 3rd June 2012
Distance: 187 km (117 miles)
Ascent: 2,239 m (7,346 ft)
Stage 3: Somerset
Date: Monday 4th June 2012
Distance: 171 km (106 miles)
Ascent: 2,763 m (9,066 ft)
Sportive sound bites
3 days – 23h 40m
I’d done big rides before, but never on consecutive days. I wasn’t sure what would happen to my legs, but the anticipated fatigue and deterioration didn’t appear and, in fact, I felt as strong at the end of the third day as I did on the first.
The highlight has to be on the third day climbing up to and past the Porlock Toll road above Minehead with alpine like bends and great views over the Bristol Channel, but the low came not long after when I stopped a little too long for lunch and had a dark hour of riding during which my legs were useless and a friendly chap let me sit on his back wheel until I recovered.
I’ll be back next year, but with more domestiques to drag me round; you know who you are!
3 days – 20h 48m
The ride was great with beautiful vistas and a wide range of terrain, which made it really enjoyable. Going through all the small towns and villages was good as was the surprisingly smooth road surface. Not getting really rained on day two as predicted was a bonus. The climbs were challenging, yet the coastal climb through the hair-pins on day three was really cool as we went through tree cover and then looked down to the coast. It was easily the best route ridden in England. The only down side was the pain in my legs after the event and a few narrow lanes to navigate. The three days was topped off as one to remember when I was pulling a group home on the last 26 miles and ran over a red squirrel. It was my club mate that finished him off though.
3 days – 18h 37m
The scenery was amazing. The whole event was very well organised and the routes well sign posted, much needed after three demanding days.
The most difficult part of the event was the enormity of the three-days, it is a big event, your legs certainly feel it by the end. The most euphoric moment of the entire event was cresting a hill and seeing the sea! I was very relieved to know I had reached half way, both on day two and of the whole event.
Riders enjoying the rolling roads
Web: Tour of Wessex