Cornwall coast with Wendy Houvenaghel
YOUR GUIDE: Wendy Houvenaghel
DISTANCE: 29 miles (56km)
MAIN CLIMB: Watergate Bay 14 per cent (up and down)
TOTAL CLIMB: 490m
ACHTUNG!: Wind off the Atlantic
‘Padstein’ the locals call it. TV chef, Rick ‘101 ways to cook a fish’ Stein has put the north Cornish fishing town of Padstow well and truly on the map, but not everybody who lives there likes it.
Throngs of tourists come and gawp in the summer, clogging up the narrow picturesque streets. Even worse, quite a few well-healed socialites, anxious for the perceived glamour of living in the same place as a TV celebrity, have bought second homes here, pushing up already spiralling house prices. It’s got so bad that in most cases anybody without a high five-figure income can forget buying a house in Padstow.
But it isn’t all bad news. The owners of the Ferraris dotted around the harbour early on a beautiful June morning must be putting something into the local economy, and how many of the town’s fishing fleet are Stein’s culinary adventures supporting?
Houvenaghel chose Padstow, not because of celebrity status, but because it’s a good place to start and finish this ride. No matter how busy the town is there are plenty of parking spaces next to the Camel Trail, a family-friendly cycle path that runs for miles alongside the river Camel.
Wendy was ready for us in the car park, decked out in brand new GB kit, reflecting her recent promotion onto the Olympic Podium Plan as a fully-funded athlete aiming for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
“This is a good circuit for a lot of things, but today I’m working in a low gear to concentrate on developing my leg speed. Later today I’ll do some cadence intervals on the turbo or rollers, 30-second bursts pedalling as fast as I can,” Wendy explains.
“The coast road is hilly, but the rest isn’t too bad, not for around here, so you could use the coastal bit for a series of hill intervals, then do some speed work around the rest. But if you take the climbs a bit easier, the circuit also makes an ideal recovery ride,” says Wendy.
Although she’s eager to get out on the open road, I ask Wendy to do a circuit of the harbour to get an atmospheric shot or two. She obliges but it’s a bit too busy for anything creative, so it’s off in the direction of Newquay and straight up the first hill.
Happily, it isn’t a bad one. It’s a well-surfaced and nicely engineered gradient that takes you gently away from the Atlantic. Not all roads in these parts are like this. If it isn’t red or brown on an OS map, any road on the north coast is likely to leave you gasping up one side of a hill, and hanging on to your brakes down the other. Fortunately, though, with one or two notable exceptions, Cornish A and B roads are nowhere near as busy as those in the rest of the country, even during the summer.
After the climb out of Padstow the first bit is undulating, but once Wendy sweeps down into picturesque Porthcothan Bay, which comes complete with a deserted golden beach, turquoise sea, and crashing white-topped waves, the climbing begins in earnest. The road is hard, but the enormous sea view over your right shoulder instantly repays any oxygen debt.
If you like your scenery dramatic, the north Cornish coast does it. It was kind to us today, but years of gale-force winds have battered the ocean against these cliffs, leaving jagged headlands punched out into the surf. And where the sea has won, remnant islands and rocks are left stranded.
We’re in Wrecker country. The name comes from a time when Cornwall was wild and lawless, although it still can be in parts of Newquay on a Saturday night. Wreckers used to light beacons on the wrong cliffs, leading ships off their course and onto the rocks. The Wreckers would then row out, slaughter anybody on board, and steal the cargo. Now, though, this stretch of coast is part of another thriving business; and it’s legal. Newquay is Surf City UK, and as Wendy climbs above Watergate Bay plenty of slick, black, wetsuited surfers are bobbing
up and down in the water waiting to catch the next big one.
Porth, which is basically the north end of Newquay, ends the coastal run and Wendy turns left and onto the fast bit. “There aren’t many fast roads in Cornwall for someone training for the pursuit,” Wendy says. Even this one rolls a bit too much, but Wendy solved the problem in the run-up to the Commonwealth Games by “doing my speed work on the turbo-trainer, wearing layers of clothes to simulate heat”.
The road we were on is just about the highest of the whole route, and there’s a treat halfway down if you’re an aeroplane buff. You come to a sharp left bend and then, on the outside of the right-hand bend immediately after it you will see a little white cottage. Stop and look over the wall, there’s a fully restored Spitfire in the garden, but remember to put a few coins in the munitions tin chained to the gate for the privilege.
Wendy completes the circuit by turning left onto the dramatically-named Atlantic Highway, then at the Winnard’s Perch roundabout she turns left onto the B3274 and back to Padstow. The scenery here is very different from the coast: it is open and dotted with ancient burial grounds. A wind farm on Bear’s Down is the only reminder you are still in the 21st Century.
She makes good time back to Padstow. Houvenaghel has got her track legs on now, fluidly pedalling at a really high cadence, and the pace doesn’t drop below 25mph, even on the draggy bits. She has come a long way since first using a bike to ease her legs after the 2002 London Marathon.
In October 2005 Houvenaghel rode her first ever pursuit when she won the national title. Over the winter she won the UCI World Cup title for the pursuit. Now she has her sights firmly on Beijing and a gold medal. “I really feel that the way things are going I’ve got the percentage improvement I need in my legs to do it,” she says.
Start at Camel Trail car park, uphill out of car park following direction signs to B3276 and Newquay. Follow road for 10 miles.
In Trevarrian turn right (TR) onto unclassified road and descend to Watergate Bay. TR onto B3276, then follow until T-junction with A3059 in Porth. Turn left (TL) and follow A3059 to roundabout with A39.
Take first left and follow A39 to Winnard’s Perch roundabout. Take first left on B3274, joining A389 back to Padstow.
WENDY HOUVENAGHEL: THE FACTS
- Unbeaten in UK time trials in 2005 and, so far, in 2006. Took the national pursuit title at her first attempt
- Current national 10 and 25-mile time trial champion
- A dentist by profession. Formerly with the RAF, she lives in Cornwall with her husband Ian
- Fourth in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games pursuit, fifth in the 2006 World Championships
(This article originally appeared in Cycling Weekly, July 6 2006)