Tales from the Tour: A whippet takes on Wessex.

The Tour of Wessex is one of the most overlooked events on the UK calendar. Without the pointless nonsense attached to big corporately driven rides like Ride London and Dragon Ride, it keeps it simple and keeps it effective. Three days, A LOT of miles, A LOT of climbs, adequate but not OTT feedstations, mechanical outriders, and no unnecessary nonsense at HQ. You go to Wessex to get hairs on your chest, not a crap goody bag.

What follows is a digested account of the ride, as a full blow-by-blow debrief would be dull AF.

The Tour is ridden by three types of rider;

  • One third are riding leisurely and for enjoyment, to see the sights and shoot the breeze with friends
  • One third are strong riders looking to challenge themselves and get good times, to test their limits and beat personal goals
  • One third are looking to get the fastest times, to put the hurt on the remainder of their 33%, to smash Strava segments

This is written from my perspective, i.e., one of that final third. The Tour isn’t a race, but when you put a number on people’s bikes and time things, things inevitably get heated.

The routes, although they are bloody lumpy, are those for the rouleurs; those big guys you see at the Belgian classics at the pointy end of the race, or driving the pace in the flatlands of a Grand Tour. Probably 70-80kg with massive power outputs, they have the raw power to drill 45kph on the flats, but can punch over short climbs through brute strength and belligerence.

I however, am not one of these. I fall more into the ‘pure climber’ camp. The lightweights you see dancing their way up the steepest of mountains, low power, minimum weight, relying on a lack of mass to float over the passes as much as anything. Steady gradients of less than about 8% are useless to us.

IMG_6479

The following is a whippet’s eye view of the Tour.

DAY ONE

wessex1 parcours

Km 0

In the front pen, nervous as a fat turkey in December. Eyeing the field with fear at a knowledge at what’s to come if this year is anything like last.

Why do so many people have deep section wheels?

Why aren’t there more super-skinny guys like me?

Oh yeh. This is a weekend where the big lads like to do nasty things to the featherweights, in anticipation of us climbers getting our revenge in the summer’s european gran fondos. 

Shit.

Km 0-35 

Over the timing mat, down the first 50m straight, round the roundabout,

BOOM. 40kmph. 500W effort to jump onto a wheel. Two lines form. Crosswinds. Well over threshold to just hold position at such pace and taking a battering from the wind. Constant stupid efforts to hold wheels.

Lunacy pace.

Someone loses a wheel. The field splits. The brave and the strong jump across. I know i’ll never make it and don’t even try.

The rest of us flounder and watch the powerhouses and those with the racecraft vanish up the road. The battle continues, albeit at 1% less intensity. Massive efforts, constant fight.

Have I pressed start on the Garmin?

Oh Christ hang on this is stupidly fast!

On a wheel. It’s ok. I’m doing ok.

Concentrate.

You’re doing fine. 

Hold the wheel

I’m thirsty. daren’t go for a bottle right now.

Concentrate.

This is so hard. Bloody hell it’s windy.

Shit I’ve missed the split.

Why is my heart rate so high?

Concentrate.  

My legs really hurt.

Should my heart rate be so high? This is REALLY HARD.

Have I gone this fast on a flat road before?

Tour Of Wessex – 27-29.5.17 – www.pendragonsports.com
The front group on the road, day 1.

KM 35-45

Here it is, the first climb of the week. The Cheddar Gorge. Willys are being waved and hammers are being dropped. The field splinters and only the strong survive. It’s a true power climb, with some initial steep, twisting and rough ramps that anyone can push over if they try hard enough, and then put the watts down on the endless 4% grind over the top. I get dropped. Watts over weightlessness here.

cheddar_gorge_035
Cheddar. Best served after an energy gel

I push hard to try to keep up, but the energy already feels low having gone so stupidly hard in the first hour. My lack of recent group riding betrayed me as I couldn’t rely on road craft to get myself into the safest positions in the pack, instead having to rely on power (ahem… ‘power’).

The gloomy disposition that preceeds a bonk approaches. That slump in outlook that suggests a sugar depletion. Very soon after, the legs get very heavy.

Oh good it’s a climb. This will hurt, but at least I can relax. My brain hurts from trying not to crash.

I’m ok at climbing, this should ne ok. Wait, why are people going so much faster than me?

Hang on, they’re getting further away…. Why is my power so low? I can climb better than this.

Eught this road sucks. Sort of flat. But not.

Grind

Grind.

Eugh I feel shitty.

Grind

Why is my power so low?

Why are people coming up on me so fast?

Oh God I’ve bonked 40km into a 500km+ event.

I need a gel. And a bar.

Now.

KM 45-80

Grinding over the gorge’s false flat, hating everything and praying to the glycogen gods that my double drop of nutrition will take effect, fast. Two guys come over the top of me and I somehow summon the will to jump on a wheel.

I sit in for as long as possible til I’m forced to take turns over the now constantly rolling roads. No room for wheelsucking in a three up.

I try to take pulls. Still feeling toasted, they’re short and ineffective. I sense animosity from the oter two.

MMmm that bar tasted good.

God I hate cycling sometimes.

Hang on, I’m on a wheel! Sit here for as long as possible.

Shit, they want me to pull.

I can do this. Go Jim.

I’m on the front, this is ok. I’m doing alright.

What, that’s not many watts.

Eugh, being on the front is hard. Flick the elbow, pull to the back.

Those evil eyes from that guy on the cervelo don’t bode well.

KM 80-90

The next climb, the leg-breaking Alfred’s Tower, looms. I apologise to my two companions, explaining I’m toast.. but I genuinely am starting to feel better.We call a truce and introduce ourselves.

My new favourite ride fuel – veloforte bars – have worked. I had one in about 2 minutes over Cheddar and it’s awesomeness is kicking in.

The Tower is a killer. A stepped climb of brief plateaus then ramps up to 15%, with an awful final kick of at least 25%. On greasy roads, standing in the pedals is not going to get you far as your wheel slips and skids like a slippery skiddy thing. I take the top seated. Cadence about 30rpm.

I hang on to my companions, and we know we’re in it together for now. We resolve to work mutually and effectively.

The outlook is brightening.

We’re all friends here now.

My legs are starting to feel better. This is good.

Oh my god this climb is hard. It’s ok. You’re doing fine.

If I can just stand in the pedals over this ramp it will ease up my hips

FUCK! My rear wheel’s going ervewhere.

Back into the saddle

God my hips hurt.

ALFREDS
A trip up to the Tower

KM 85-100

Going over the top of the tower, taking a breath. Taking a gel. You can never have enough of the sugary joy on a weekend like this.

The legs are nearly back to where they should be and with a lighness in the legs, a lightness sweeps into my mind, the outlook is a lot less dreary.

The three of us roll through some crazy woods in the Somerset levels, gravel and road debris everywhere, and we pick our way tentatively through. The pace is easy, the focus is maximal as we fight to keep bikes upright on what could almost be a CX route. It’s hard work focussing on the road in front as we cross paths with a large local club run, but the respite from the chain tension is a relief.

Ah, a descent.

Mmmmm I quite like energy gels sometimes. Have I got some of it down my face? Hmmm don’t care.

Bloody hell there’s gravel everywhere.

Concentrate.

It’s going ok again. Focus. You’re doing ok.

FOCUS!

At least this isn’t hurting my legs

KM 100-130

Out of the woods, back onto fast flowing roads. The three of us pick up pace again, taking turns. Short but effective turns, all of us sharing the work well, efficient to the point that we’re picking up others.

The willy-wavers from hour zero, some of the ‘mr 500w on the front’, now heavy legged messes wobbling through Somerset. As we pick up more and they sit on rest, and then start contributing, the pace increases, and the turns become more surgy and less efficient as a new man takes to the front and accelerates, stringing us out.

I lose a wheel, and make a massive effort to jump back on.

It happens again. I make the bridge. It happens again. I pop.

Almost a repeat of what happened three hours before. My emergency nutrition and 10-15kms of easier riding bunged the leak; the bung has now disintegrated and the torrents are breaking through.

Ah bugger, normal roads. Time to ride hard again.

It’s ok. I feel alright. 

You’re doing fine.

Get on the front, take a pull, take control.

OK, this is good, steady 3 up, nothing crazy. Decent length turns, pulling through nicely.

Ah reinforcements, great!

Why is he surging so hard on the front?

That nice rhythm we had. Gone to shit…

Shit! Lost the wheel!!

30seconds of intense pain

Ah, back on the wheel.

It’s ok. You’re doing fine. Do not drop.

Shit! Lost the wheel!!

30seconds of intense pain

Ah, back on the wheel.

It’s ok. You’re doing fine. Do not drop.

Stars in my eyes

Lose the wheel.

Eugh my legs are heavy. Why won’t they turn faster?

Oh god I’ve lost the wheel.

There they go, up the road.

I hate bikes

Fuck. 30km to go. Solo. Knackered. On day one. Awful start.

I hate bikes

KM 130-Finish line

Despite feeling like I have energy in the belly, my legs refuse to move. Seized and tight, like wood. Power down to 80% of my threshold. Head down, I grind home, weeping inside.

I spot riders up the road every now and then and hope I can team up with them to share the mental and physical load. To my distress, they’re in worse shape than me and I grind past. They’re even more spent than me.

The histrionics of km1-30 are spattered over the roads of somerset.

At one point, we pass within about 5 minutes’ ride of my hotel, and i consider just packing it in and not bothering going to HQ. I’m yet to bail on an event like this, and for fear of the eternal mockery and even longer than eternal self-hatred at being a wuss, I grind on.

Time slows. When Dali painted those melting clocks, he was painting my head in a bonk.

After what feels like hours, I make the line, dejected and disconsolate.

I hate bikes

Lets eat this bar. It may make my mood better.

Wiat, someone up the road! Full rapha kit, Canyon bike… hmmm could mean he’s either very good or very bad… nothing in the middle… please be the former please

Balls, he’s going even slower than me.

On my own again.

Should I eat something again?

I hate bikes.

How long to go? 20km? Still?

I hate bikes.

How long to go? Don’t look at the garmin. Don’t look at the garmin. I can tell i’ve still got ages to go…

Looks at the Garmin

5km!? still? Euughh that’s about 10 minutes!!! I HATE THIS

Ah, the finish line.

I hate bikes.

I want to sit down. I want a pork pie.

 

DAY ONE NERDINGS:

  • Distance: 163km
  • Elevation: 1750m+
  • Total time: 5:22
  • Moving time: 5:14
  • Ave. Speed: 31.2kph
  • Normalised Power: 217W

 

DAY TWO

wessex2

Km0

I begrudgingly barge into the front pen out of some sort of sense of duty. Having ridden the Tour in 2016, I knew that today, you MUST get in a group. A hugely long day that could be awful on your own.

Hating myself a bit for getting dropped yesterday, I’ve vowed myself to be strong and intelligent in the groups, and HOLD THE WHEEL. YOU WILL NOT DROP. I must be strong mentally today, as a stage this long is as much about mental strength and focus as anything else. I CAN DO THIS.

I eye the big men with big legs at the front of the pen with a mixture of fear and suspicion.

How do they ride so fast? How are their legs SO BIG?!

I WILL NOT DROP.

KM 1-20

A pretty flat start on fast wide roads. Big groups form of maybe 30-40 riders. A high pace of easily 40km is forced at the front. Fortunately, a lack of wind and untechnical roads makes it super easy in the wheels, b ut occasional roundabouts and junction result in maximal, hideously painful (yet short) efforts to cling on.

Hold your position.

Hold your position.

Stay up the pack where you’re less likely to get dropped at a junction or get held up behind a car. Follow that wheel.

Do not drop.

You’re doing fine

Concentrate.

Drink. Eat.

Hold your position.

KM 20-50

The road starts to get lumpy. The ramps are 2-3 minute climbs that are punched over at stupid pace…. Have much power or lose out. The packs start to thin out as the back of bunches split at junctions and the wheat is sorted from the chaff.

The road goes from wide and functional to narrow and country, twisting and winding through the fields, and the riding is fast and breakneck, filling the road and bouncing over gravel and potholes. I feel like I’m in Strade Bianche. The peloton expands and contracts like a shoal of fish around bends, to make potentially lethal dodges of anything coming the other way in the lanes.

Hold that wheel.

You will not drop.

200% power over the climbs and make sure you HOLD THE WHEEL.

Maximal effort.

Brief flashes of pain in eyes

Bloody hell it’s narrow along this road.

Hole!

Gravel!

Keep low in the drops, concentrate in the technicality.

Hold your position.

You’re doing good.

You’re doing fine.

Stay strong, don’t let yourself fall back in the group and get crowded out.

Nervously eat, drink, eat more… When I feel confident to actually move your hands from the bars

KM 50

‘The selection’ Hartley St selection climb arrives It’s here that the men will be sorted from the boys. The below Strava segment doesn’t do it justice – it starts easy enough, but the final 300m or so are killer, ramping up to a wall thatch only taken in the granniest of gears, full effort going through the whole body to keep the bike moving

The inevitable eruption occurs as the strong and the wheel suckers are split. The gaps appear.

The strongest 20 go up and over disconcertingly fast. Me, the first in the second (wheelsucker) bunch, are 15 seconds behind

Keep pushing keep pushing.

You can do this.

My legs hurt. My arms hurt. My chest hurts.

Is it good for my heart rate to be that high?

I wonder what his heart rate is?

Bloody hell, 22%!? Really?

Still 22%!?

The pain is temporal. It will go.

Focus

It’s ok, I’m doing good

Concentrate.

d2
THE SELECTION! Day 2

Km 50-55

Plummet off the lane down a vertiginous descent. I’m caught between the front and second groups in a dangerous spot – blow my beans trying to catch the front 20 or so, or sit up.

I’ve learnt lessons from yesterday and accept I’ll never catch the front group. Over my shoulder I spy some of the heavy guys dropping down the long, shallow and untechnical descent like stones. Keep an eye over the shoulder, and as they come past, I’m FULL gas and onto the wheel. A sprint on a -6% gradient on a narrow country lane isn’t something I’ve done before and probably shouldn’t be tried at home.

Shit I’m stuck inbetween groups.

I can’t get that 100m gap on a descent. No way.

Remember yesterday. Don’t shoot too high too early.

Glances over shoulder

Reinforcements! MUST GET THAT WHEEL

30 seconds intense pain

YES. Im in.

I’m doing ok.

I’m doing fine.

Km 55-70

A collective calm comes over my newfound companions, a group of c.15 riders. The pace eases a little over narrow rolling roads where a pace cannot be safely held. I eye up the peloton and assess the carnage to come. Glute sizes, bike blingness, and looks of savagery are considered.

You’re doing fine.  

You’re doing good.

Eat eat drink eat drink.

Hmmm he looks fast. So does he.

God I hope I can stick with these lot.

It’s too long a day to go solo. MUST NOT DROP.

I may be stronger than him. Maybe.

I can do this.

Strong mind.

Eat eat drink drink.

Tour Of Wessex – 27-29.5.17 – www.pendragonsports.com
My group, somewhere in Dorset, day 2. Yours truly 2nd left (white helmet)

KM 70-95

The road widens and imperceptibly descends.

The inevitable chaingang takes shape, becomes effective and the pace winds up and up and up, and we’re rolling through the roads at easily 45kph.

Lots of communication between riders to make it work. We’re in this together. it’s exhilarating and awesome to ride like this. We’re tight and effective.

On the outside line.

Next to take the turn on the front

Me to go. Be strong.

Keep the pace. Don’t surge.

60 seconds of pain on the front

Spy the rider in front of come around to take the reins. Stare at their rear wheel

C’mon you bastard pull in front.

C’mon c’mon c’mon

A few more seconds of pain 

I’m in, ensconced safely on the inside line.

Awesome. I love this shit

At the back of the inside line…

Oh crikey this will hurt

Jumps across to outside line

10 seconds FULL GAS as you sprint to jump across. Fleeting visions of pain and feelings of fear 

Arrrggghhhhh this sucks

Back in!

This is ace.

Recover.

Repeat.

KM 95-105

Up over a long climb towards the coast and thankfully, the pace isn’t stupid. Still hard, but not carnage.

A silently asserted decision to stick together has come over the group. Typically, a climb is time for willy waving and putting in efforts, but not on a day like today. We all know nothing is to be gained by it other than making you look a total tool. We’re in this together for now. The climb hurts, but you’re in control of your hurt, rather than the man in front of you. It’s a mental relief.

A steep winding descent and technical country lane along the coast follows. The pace continues to ease as we anticipate the feedzone, bladders full, bidons empty, legs in need of brief respite.

Ah a gradient. I can do gradient.

This feels almost relaxing.I don’t have to stare at the hub in front of me.

Concentrate.

I need a piss.

I hope there’s some sarnies at the feed station.

Concentrate. Still a while till feed time yet.

How much drink do I have left?

Concentrate.

You’re doing fine.

I need a piss.

When’s the feed zone?

So thirsty. I really need to top up my bottles. And I need a piss. How does that work?

When’s the feed zone?

Hmmm a cheese sarnie would hit the spot. Or a pork pie. Mmmmm…

Concentrate.

Stop thinking about the feedzone.

KM 105

The oasis in the desert, the feed station arrive.

A small set of marquis with an array of goodies. In and out in minutes, no mess.

The 3 minutes 30 I spent in the feed was still long enough for our bunch of comrades to split…. The six stragglers, including me, work like mofos to catch back.

Fortunately the front half of my old group are soft peddaling (relatively), and within 5 minutes again, we’re together. Harmony is restored.

Thank god. I can piss now.

GO GO! Don’t get dropped at a feed station!!

Right, first things first.

Bottles. Refilled.

Pockets. Stuffed with whatever comes to hand (I later this discover to be 3 slices of soreen and two gels – perfect)

Egg roll, rammed in gob.

Where’s the toilets? All the way in that building?

Bloody hell it’s hard to run in cleats…

Where the fuck are these toilets?!

Ah thank God, here they are.

Mmmm this is good.

What?! The rest have left?!!?!? Who’s wheel am I going to sit on!?

KM 105-135

All together again, as lunch digests and pockets are rooted around in for the spoils of the feedzone, a collective calm spreads over the bunch. The pace is reasonable, but one that is manageable without being awful.

We loosely scatter down the road, assured that, for the rest of the day, this is us. With the fact that we are only half way through the tour fresh in the mind, the pace is conservative.

This is nice. I can actually look around a bit.

Aaah it’s nice down in this part of the world. Oh look a sheep!

What did I actually get from the feeedstation then? Soreen? ACE!
Yes, and I have a veloforte bar left. WIN.

KM 135-170 

As the roads become lumpy again, fires in the bellies re-kindle. The pace spirals upwards with more chaingangs when feasible, or longer turns on the front from a lot of the group.

Feeling strangely good – especially after my woes on day 1 – I put in some good efforts. Not the biggest or hardest, but good. You can sense that the hounds smell the rabbit that is the finish line.

On such a long day, the merest scent of the line smells good. Like when you’re out riding early on the weekend and you catch a whiff of bacon from a house you pass.

As we rattle through numerours villages and down twisty descents strewn with speendhumps and manhole covers, the riding becomes technical and dangerours, just as the pace increases. One rider loses a bidon over a speed hump right in front of me. Another somehow bunnyhops over two manholes back to back. More risks are taken to hold wheels and keep with the group; those that have ridden the tour before know what is to come….

A flat, fast finish that sees the strongmen taking the front and crushing those too weak to hold on.

Concentrate.

Hold the wheel.

Your doing good.

You can do this.

Wow, I actually feel pretty good here.

On the front. Leading the peloton home. I AM CANCELLARA

Bloody hell who put speed bumps on this descent?!

What’s that on the floor? Shit a bidon, it’s coming for my wheel!!!

Visions of carnage.

Evasive action

Made it!

Concentrate.

Hold the wheel.

You’re doing ok.

How long left? 25km? It’s about to kick off. Big style

Eat. Drink.

Eat.

Concentrate.

KM 170-193 

Off the tight twisty roads, onto wider, smoother straighter fayre. The bomb drops, as expected. About four of our 15-odd strong group move to the front. The big guys. The ones who looked uncomfortable on the climbs, yet had the power to hold on. The ones with thighs as big as my waist.

The pace suddenly rockets. Holding a wheel puts me at threshold, the concertina effect around roundabouts and bends requires those agonising full gas efforts to hold on. I hold on.

I do all I can to stay in the front half of the group as I notice a couple drop off the back. The back is the worst place to be. Most likely to get caught at a split, where the concertina can be widest.

The final few km before home features a series of cruel 50m 6-7% ramps, where the pace seemingly doesn’t drop. The climbs are attacked with ferocity. For a few hideous seconds, I lose contact. I somehow make it back. After nearly 6 hours, i’m not getting dropped now.

The final roundabout acts as a marker for the final 100m sprint for HQ. All but me and two other whippets are left for dead. We still sprint it out. After this long, you want to finish with your new companions.

High fives, and handshakes are exchanged. Epic days like that generate best friends for life (until you’ve forgotten who they are a few days later).

Hmm those big guys are at the front. This won’t be good

HOLY COW this is not good!

Concentrate

Hold the wheel

Shit… roundabout

FULL GAS SPRINT

Aaah back on the wheel

Gel time.

It’s ok. You’re doing good. You’re doing fine.

Crikey I’m almost at the limit right even though i’m right on their wheel

Shit – sharp corner

FULL GAS SPRINT

Aargh I’m gonna lose the wheel

MORE FULL GAS SPRINT

MORE FULL GAS SPRINT

AAaaaah I’m back in

Home straight!

Wow, that was amazing. But I’m very glad it’s over.

I need to sit down. I’d like a pork pie.

DAY TWO NERDINGS

  • Distance: 194km
  • Elevation: 2100m+
  • Total time: 5:50
  • Moving time: 5:46
  • Ave. Speed: 33.6kph
  • Normalised Power: 211W

DAY THREE

wessex3

KM -1

Sitting in the car at HQ, having just parked up. The heavens open and the rain pummels the windscreen.

The lightweight jersey and its loving packed pockets comes off, the ‘foul weather’ jersey goes on and pockets are rapidly restuffed.

The rain stops, the sun comes out, and a very long contemplation of clothing takes place. No clothes are changed. I stick in ‘foul’ mode.

Rain.

FFS.

Is this a portent of whats to come?

Heavy duty jersey or lightweight heavy or lightweight heavy or lightweight? Too late now. Stick with ‘foul’… Being hot and dry beats cold and wet for sure.

KM 0-40

Standard ‘start of a Wessex stage’ fayre. Within 200m of the ride HQ, about 50 of us are tearing down the lanes at mad speeds, 2 abreast, riders constantly moving up the peloton for fear of missing a split. The pace is frantic, but it’s evident that legs are tiring as the punches have less impact than ealier in the tour.

The water sitting on the freshly wet roads is being kicked up everywhere. My sunglasses are covered in muck, and within minutes I have to take them off. A mud visor isn’t much help in this situation. I have no choice but to let the road spray its debris all over my face and into my eyes. I cast aside the repercussions of this. Boots sell eyedrops right?

I keep in the front 5 as much as possible so I can see where I’m going and to avoid any sketchiness from greasy roads and perilous wet manhole covers etc. I actually put in a reasonable bulk of work! Whoda thunk it?!

Eugh it’s fast again.

Concentrate.

Eat. Drink

Concentrate.

You’re doing fine.

Hold the wheel.

You’re doing good

Eat.

Drink

Mmmm my bidon tastes like mud

Concentrate

My eyes hurt quite a lot.

How far have we gone? Got bloody mud all over my garmin so fuck knows.

KM 40-45

The selection arrives. The moment we’ve all been thinking about since KM 0.

Up into the Quantocks, the first climb of the day is preceeded by a difficult undulating lane, mixing steep ramps with technical bends and drops. The field is strung out instantly, as individuals have to rely on themselves rather than on the wheel in front. As with yesterday, an elite 20 or so vanish into the distance, and i’m in the second group on the road.

When the climb kicks proper, it’s a horror. A wall of a ramp (maybe 300m of 14-18%?) that properly splits the bunch, followed by a long grind over the top. Once at the false flat after the steep wall, those around me look around. We somehow have formed up into almost exactly the same collective that shared 193km together yesterday.

Now this first climb is done, we know that our stage two peloton will be sharing a lot more kilometres today.

How do some people get over these lanes so fast?

It’s too technical to go that fast? Oh no, that’s just me being shit at bikes.

Concentrate!

Must keep up.

Cannot get dropped.

Shit a load have gone up the road.

Aah, ok, loads are behind me.

Be strong.

You’re doing good

My god this ramp is awful.Why are climbs always so steep at this bloody event?

It’s ok. Strong core.

Relax.

Don’t push too hard over here, just keep people behind you.

Aaah the top.

Oh its that guy from yesterday. And him. And that one.

D3 CLMB1
THE SELECTION! Day 3

KM 45-75

We drop down the stpidly steep back side of the climb, regroup, and the now-customary calm after the storm of the climb descends on us for 10 minutes or so as we take a breath, eat and rest.

However, we’re soon on a very long, very straight, very fast, and gradually descending road. The big boys move up, and with the weight of their own bodies, the benefit of big watts and a bit of gravity, we’re screaming through Somerset faster than the the locals scream out of work on the 5pm cider claxon. Fortuntately the untechnical roads make holding wheels nice and easy, as just sitting in requires a fair bit of effort at such a pace, and with a  bit of a prevailing wind.

The air is wet and misty, and the omens for the weather in the direction we’re headed are gloomy. Glances up the road, to where we’re heading – the Exmoor national park – look portentious. The skies are very grey and heavy on the moor that looms ahead.

Mmmm veloforte bars are great.

Chew chew.

Drink.

Bloody hell this is fast.

It’s ok, just keep tight to the wheel.

You’re doing good.

Concentrate.

Keep in tight.

Focus.

I almost hope it’s wet up the road to justify me wearing this jersey. I’m a bit sweaty.

CONCENTRATE!

Eat. Drink.

Please don’t be wet up the road.

You’re doing fine.

Don’t lose the wheel.

I’m not sure I’m looking forward to Porlock….

KM 75-85

We hit the climb from Porlock, one of the longest , most ‘alpine’ climbs I’ve experienced in the UK. It’s a beauty, set in some luscious woods, twisting, turning and constantly at a none-too-harsh a gradient.

The impact of the previous days is evident during the 15-20 minute effort. The gentle slopes make it a power climb, and I find it a lot harder than it should be. Along with 3-4 others from the 15ish strong group, I keep yoyo-ing off the back. Though I should be enjoying such a beautiful climb, I just want it over as I fear getting dropped.

My turn of mood and sudden lack of energy worry me significantly. This is very much the first sign of a bonk.. Believing a feed station to be at the summit (some slightly misleading info by the man on the tannoy at HQ), I guzzle most of my remaining drink and take a gel in a bid to revitalise my blood sugars.

I somehow cling on over the top of the climb, but my legs feel heavy and my energy is drained.

Wow this is a nice climb. Why do people gt so excited about Box Hill? This is approximately a million times better.

Aaargh my legs feel slow.

Stop riding at the back of the group.

NNnnng I can’t ride fast enough to get to the front…

Keep up Jim.

You’re doing good.

You’re fine.

Shit it’s just me and this one other guy and we’re 4 meters behind.

Aaah… back in.

Shit off the back again!

Eugh this sucks

You’re not doing good.

Shutup jim! Don’t say that.

Must take a gel.

Must drink.

I can refill soon.

porlocl
Porlock – One of the nicest UK climbs I’ve ridden. 

 

KM 85-100

The feedstation we’d been lead to believe would matetrialise in front of us at around KM 80 doesn’t show. It’s evident the whole group wants it, and a few grumbles and whinges emerge from mouths. No tantrums – for that would betray weakness! – just outbursts of bemusement.

The pace slows over the grinding roads of the moor, up steep pitches, and down sktchy descents, over long hard grippy plateaus, and eqally hard grinding false descents. The labours of the past few days, the intent to keep the powder dry, and, the effects of the weather start to show. The mists had closed in by this point and the air was heavy and wet. There were spots of drizzle and our mucky faces and kit were now also covered in wet. Wetness wasn’t socmuch falling from the sky as it was just THERE.

My mild bonk continued, and even the slower pace felt tough. The roads were hard, the wind was picking up, and the gradients constantly pitched one way or the other. I fought my own doubts to keep the wheels, and hoped that my porlock emergency provisions would save the day.

As we get close to KM 100, I give up on the hope of the feed station and despair slightly. I know there should be one at around km130, bu that’s at least another hour on minimal water and legs in need of even 30 seconds of re-alignment by getting off the bike.

Then, the feed materialises.

About 20km later than advertised, but there it was, like a fortress, the High5 flag flapping resolutely in the wind and adverse weather. We are in and out in literally 2 minutes. 2 minutes of carnage. Riders hide behind the nearest obstacle available to empty bladders, elbows are out as everyone pushes to refill bottles, and handfuls of whatever food is closest are stuffed into pockets.

The ‘in and out faster than an obstinate kid in the bath’ tactic at feeds is weird. We all want to stay together, we all want to stop, yet we all want to keep moving.

No-one wants to drop each other, yet no-one wants to be dropped. It seems that we are all colluding in each other’s torture yet also ensuring we don’t prcrastinate by taking the feeds at the pace of a bunch sprint.

Back on the road.

Where is this sodding feedstation?

What’s in the bottles? About 3 sips? Great.

It’s bloody hard up here.

It should be beautiful. Stupid mist everywhere. All I can see is that guy’s rear hub.

Don’t lose that hub!

Concentrate!

Ugh. Want to get off the bike for a bit.

You’re doing good.

You’re doing fine.

Concentrate.

I’m thirsty. Must ration the drink…

KM95? Still no feed?!?

We must have missed it. Shit. 30km with next to nothing to drink.

I hate bikes.

The feed!

Right. Priorities.

Piss.

Bidons.

Pockets.

GO GO GO

Tour Of Wessex – 27-29.5.17 – www.pendragonsports.com
Some of my group rolling though Exmoor, day 3

KM 100-125

I root around in my pockets to find what I got in the feedstation grab-and-run.

A seed and nut ‘9 bar’ and a breakfast bake bar. The seed and nut bar looks good and I stuff it straight down. Little did I realise it would essentially turn into a cluster bomb of tiny sharp fragments in my throat and I cough and hack for kilometres, spraying what looks like the floor of a cereal factory left right and centre over my stem and most likely down my face. By this point, as I’m covered in mud, rain, and probably bits of gel and energy drink, I care little. I’m pretty sure the coughing brougbt up some bits of blood. I must have looked like some sort of wild man.

The next 10-15 km is what feels like near-constant gradual downhill as we come off the moor, predominantly down a wide and grippy B Road, and the pace picks up again. The mist is super heavy and you can see little beyond the hub and ass that you’re following. Progress is strong, yet not stupid. I put in my fair shift, but don’t really have the strength, power or frame to keep the same solid speed put out by the rouleur-heavy bunch.

I know the final selection climb approaches and attempt to conserve as much as possible.

Hmmm what’s in here then? Seed bar? Hmmm loads of fats… need to eat this now to benefit from the slow release

Bloody hell this is awful to eat on the bike! Tastes good though so I’ll persist. Mmmmm toasty seedy goodness.

Eugh is my throat bleeding?

I can hardly see. Keep safe up the front of the bunch.

Concentrate.

Hold the wheel.

Let’s do some work, I can’t sit here all day.

You’e doing fine.

Another climb’s coming isn’t it?!

Eat.

Drink.

Conserve

Eat.

Drink.

You’re doing fine.

KM 125-135

We cross back over the Quantock hills, and tackle the final climb of the week; the final hoorah.

Initially we take the stepped climb – from flattish to really steep and repeat – steadily as a group. Keeping in for cars, climbing at 15% with riders a few feet either side of you is difficult and there’s some sort of anger bubbling further back in the bunch. After a long and hard weekend, patience and tempers fray as energy levels drop. I think one rider nearly took out another, with neither having the reactions or energy to take strong straight lines. There’s no coming together, but there’s an angry exchange of… ahem… opinions… and I stay well away.

All of a sudden, a few of the whippets of the group attack out of the front. They’d been keeping their powders dry all day, possibly hatching the plan. We crest the climb and a few of the strongest rouleurs – the men I eyed with most fear and reverence – attack the descent, inflamed at the impertinence of those little men to go off solo having hitched a ride for so long.

Having been unable – and unwilling – to follow the climbery-types as they went off the front on the climb, I desperately try to get on the wheel of the big men as they fly down the descent, turning massive gears.

I attempt to rely on my relatively fearless descending and a bit of maximal effort to get on and I nearly make it. An agonising 20 meters is left between me and the wheel. I flap around in no man’s land, the big guys just up the road, and the rest of the bunch watching me, probably chuckling to themselves at my failing effort, about 100m behind. I struggle in vain for a few minutes…. I can’t do it. Others have tried to bridge behind me, so I jump onto them, forming a bunch of four. We ride hard for a few kms and eventually  flag and allow a few others catch on, and we become the remenants of the day’s group – lacking the three strongest roleurs and the two spriteliest climbers.

Last climb.

Be strong.

Don’t break.

Pray to the gel gods that the sachet of rocket fuel I just consumed works.

Why’s everyone shouting at each other??

Stay up at the front. Noone will shout at me. I’m behaving up here.

Two whippets go off the front

Where the bloody hell do those two think they’re going?

The big men attack on the descent

Crikey the strongest guys are going too now!

HOW DARE THEY!? I need them for the way home.

I can do this.

I’ll catch them.

Get low, get mean, chase chase chase.

CMON! CMON CMON CMON!

OK maybe not.

Sit in.

That made me tired.

KM 135-165

The remenants of the buch race through narrow twisty lanes, wet with the morning’s deluge and now also the fresh rain that has started falling quite heavily.

As we rattle through farm tracks, I spy horse shit everywhere and squint my eyes up as much as possible in a futile effort to keep the worst of it from being catapulted perfectly from the wheel in front into my face.

Depleted of the big men, about four of us do the work. Yes, US. That’s me as well. We mop up a few of the guys who’ve been dropped out of the very front group. They’ve got that staggery wild eyed look of a Team Sky domestique who just completed his stint driving the pace for the first 20 minutes of a climb. They sit in but can’t contribute.

The roads are covered in filth. In my eyes, im a true Belgian hardman. The roads are narrow and sketchy, I can feel mud all over myself, I can barely see my garmin screen. An epic end to the weekend in my eyes (in a passerby’s eyes, a bunch of idiots riding too fast down what appear to be mud tracks).

As the finale arrives, I manage to eek out a tiny sprint for the line, and we’re done. T

he bunch share handshakes and hugs. It was a pretty massive day, made all the more massive by the filthy weater.

I stagger to the HQ, get my medal, and am greeted by race organiser Nick to be told I look like I’ve just done a “shitty paris-roubaix”.

It was much harder than that Nick.

You twisted genius.

A great weekend, done and dusted.

This is sketchy.

Will my eyes ever be the same? Fuck it, that makes me more brutal. Like when Hinault permanently lost feeling in a finger after winning Liege Bastogne Liege in a non-stop snow storm.

Concentrate.

Cmon drive the pace. I’m like Cancellara, trailing the bunch out in my wake

Final corner! SPRINT!

DONE! Thank God it’s over!

I love bikes.

My legs hurt.

I hate bikes a bit.

Ah, the good old medal. These are rubbish but I love them too.

Should I have a shower before my three hour drive home?

Nah. Can’t be arsed.

Bye Wessex. It was a lot of fun.

DAY THREE NERDINGS

  • Distance: 166km
  • Elevation: 2300m+
  • Total time: 5:27
  • Moving time: 5:29
  • Ave. Speed: 30.4kph
  • Normalised Power: 211W
IMG_6493
#shittyparisroubaix. So tired i can barely hold up the medal. 

 

8 Replies to “Tales from the Tour: A whippet takes on Wessex.”

  1. Great write up, couldn’t make the TOW this year (think I may have ridden in the same groups as you last year) but good to see it is just as frenetic as ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Jack! Being at the pointy end of affairs involves a lot of hurt. It’s a great event, best thing in the UK i reckon – make sure you put it into the 2018 schedule

      Like

      1. Maybe 2019, will be bike touring Asia/NZ all of 2018. As you’ve said, there aren’t many UK events that suit the sub 65kg type who isn’t packing a 300w+ FTP. Would like to do an Haute Route at some point though.

        Like

  2. Great write up Jim. I was the other rider in the three on the 1st day with yourself and our evil eyed Cervelo friend! See you at the Haute Route!
    Jack

    Like

    1. hahaha hey jack! i’ve forgotten his name, and he was a super nice guy in the end, but he definitely didn’t like me when i was suffering and sitting in after cheddar gorge!

      thanks for the kind words on the blog, and see you in nice… train hard!

      Like

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