The Tourture of Wessex

Having discussed Haute Route Pyrenees, Marmotte, and Ariegeoise in other posts, I thought i should write a little about the ‘opener’ of my season, and the one I fear the most: The Tour Of Wessex, or as I’ve heard it charmingly monickered, the Tourture of Wessex

As far as I’m aware, this is quite a long running event, and basically consists of a three day adventure across the bergs, moors and gorges of Somerset, Exmoor and Dartmoor. There are various route options and difficulties to chose, and because I’m an idiot, I’m doing the full length race. It goes something like this:

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  • Stage 1: Wiltshire and Somerset – 107 miles, 2,198m
  • Stage 2: Somerset and Dorset – 116 miles, 2,255m
  • Stage 3: Somerset and Exmoor – 112miles,  3,219m

So, those of you with your abacuses (‘abucii’?) out will notice that’s over 330miles and around 8,000m ascent in total.

At first glance, the thing that strikes about this is the huge distance. 3 days at around 80 miles each would have been challenging enough in my opinion, but the sadists that organise the events are going for over a century a day. However, I think that intelligent riding getting into good groups and following wheels as much as possible will mitigate this to some extent.

For me, it’s the total ascent that is worrying. 2-3000m a day spread over 100 miles+ may not sound that punishing, but the issue is the nature of this climbing.wess3

We’re not in the mountains, where 3000m ascent may mean three or four big long climbs. We are in the rolling, unrelenting south west, where climbing comes in the shape of 10%+ ramps of a few hunded metres, over and over and over. The elevation summary on the map above really illustrates this. There’s not much proper flat, offering no chance for a rhythm, and no chance for rest.

Literally and metaphorically, this will be saw teeth rather than snake’s fangs; slowly sawing away at your strength, gradually eeking away strength, rather than the definite bite of long mountain passes, where you know where and when the fatigue will come.

Perhaps unlike many, I’d prefer a 3000m ascent day to come in the shape of a few loooong climbs; experience has shown me that I really excel over others on climbs like the Bonnette, Tourmalet or Teide, where I can just diesel away for 90 minutes or so, and then get the chance to clear out the legs on the long descent of the other side. I’m not so good in the rolling unrelenting terrain of, for example, Yorkshire, Dartmoor or the Lakes, where there is no opportunity for rest and you need to be constantly on the power, punching over ramps and keeping the legs turning.

However, to focus on the positives.

Unlike some of the big sportives in the UK, which have recently been taken over by big commercial brands seemingly focussing on hiking entry fees whilst offering more or less the same package as was available before their involvement in the event, the Tour of Wessex seems very ‘humble’ and quintessentially English.

The majority of riders stay in a campsite (as I like my sleep I’ve booked into a Premier Inn with my companions for the week), there are refreshments from a Rotary Tea Tent, and the on route feed stations are said to match off the usual array of teeth melting fayre with cheese or ham rolls. A bit of savoury mid ride, especially when your stomach is churning after a few days of bananas, energy bars and gels, sugary drinks etc, is a blessing some overlook. Furthermore, the entry fees are very reasonable, and Claud the Butler will be there. This final point is crucial! CTB are a coffee cart serving top quality brews to riders pre and post ride, and were at Haute Route. I more or less cannot ride without a proper double espresso in my belly. And they’re great guys that offer a good chat when you’re trying to take the nerves away before an intimidating day in the saddle.

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And of course, the company will be great. I’ll be riding with a bunch of guys and gals I met at Haute Route, and every one of them are great people, and fearsome riders, all of whom were top 100 finishers in the Alps. I’ll be needing every wheel I can get!

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