Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Tour Wessex - On reflection

Last year a friend posted on facebook 'Tour of Wessex = Rain' and to be honest the weather has been one of the defining features of this three day mega sportive. Covering (officially) 335 miles heading north, south then west from Somerton its up there with the best Britain has to offer, and one of only a handful that actually attracts riders from overseas to ride it.

It has progressed a long way since I first did a couple of stages in 2007 as part of my training for the Marmotte. One senses that Pendragon Sports have got this down to a fine art.  Now as Shimano support vehicle is on hand to deal with practically any mechanical problem. Back in 2007 one of my friends was taken out by a broken chain, the other by a broken spoke and there was not much else for them to do than wait for the broom wagon. Now the feed stations are well stocked with decent grub (chicken tikka rolls work surprisingly well to take away that fruity clag of gels), back in 2007 on a freezing day in a down pour all they could offer was some energy drink at one feed. This time when riders got into trouble, as trivial as a puncture or as serious as the guy who went down with a suspected heart attack, trained motor bike marshals were there quickly to assist. In 2007 I remember us stopping to help a guy who had run out of tubes, was so cold he couldn't change his tyre anyway. One friend still describes that has is worst day on a bike. I also have a memory (possible false) that the only food available at the end of the stage were some cakes made by the WI. At that point more sweet stuff was a long way short of the mark. Now there is a good range of stuff from bacon baps to recovery shakes.

I have been back a few times, I completed all three days in 2008 but if I recall the final stage was cut to 100 miles because of rain and high winds. This year the first day kicked off in that fine tradition, but the second was dry and though rain was threatened for the third day it stayed away long enough for us to finish. All three stages are great in their own right, though in terms of scenery the final day is the treat, if you are able to enjoy it. A gently rising run-out take one the Quantocks (where I am convinced they added an extra climb in that wasn't on the route card) before taking us along the coast through Minehead and Porlock. While the brutal 1:4 climb out of Porlock is the 'classic' challenge of rider versus road, the ToW is sensible enough to use the Toll road up toe Exmoor, offering wonderful views out to see as one goes over the switchbacks to the top. Then out onto  the rolling road on the moor, followed by steep descents and sharp climbs. At the final feed there is a sense of having beaten the beast, ahead is 30 odd miles of more or less down hill to the end.

Clearly cycling is starting to get some serious traction with women. Given that this is long and tough event the huge increase in the number of women for 2008 is obvious, and they weren't doing the short route. I know because they were passing me. There is some kit that must be wonderful when out on the sunny roads of Southern Europe, it looks both more revealing and less attractive on a wet Saturday in Wessex when on dirty gravelly roads. And I am sure the 'Spiderman' cycling kit with matching jersey, shorts and leggings seemed like a great idea at the time but.....

The event brought home how for cyclists our playing field is the world, with all that can bring. The different landscapes, terrains offering endless variety and challenge, hard slogs and exhilarating thrills, and just stuff happening. 15 miles from home on the second stage we were stopped by cattle being moved across the road, this lasted abut 10 minutes, and apparently happens every year at this point. Like getting caught at the level crossing on the Paris-Roubaix, the world goes on around us.