Event Review

Tour Of Wessex Day 3 REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

DAY 3, The Quantocks and Exmoor:

Another early night, a better night's sleep, the alarm goes off to bring me to Day 3.  This is the day that had been worrying me. 112 miles, so marginally shorter than Day 2 but with 50% more climbing! After two sportives already done!  On top of that, the weather forecast was not good which, let's be honest, was predictable, because there's no way the whole three days were going to be blessed with sunshine, now was there?

ready
Lined Up

We were at the start line a bit ahead of time this time around.  Unsurprisingly by now we were pretty practiced at getting ready to go.  We were both wearing more layers today as although the sun was still out, the wind was blowing and it wasn't even close to warm.

We lined up in the start pen, without the chaos of the previous days.  We were earlier, and there were also less riders it seemed.  I was actually feeling nervous.  Real butterflies in the tummy nervous. Which although not that pleasant, I know can be a good thing.  It's just not a feeling I get very often these days.  But if it wasn't a big thing that I really wanted to do, that would make me nervous as a result, then why would I be putting myself through it?  Precisely.  So, nervous I was.  The timing guy was doing his jovial thing again as we advanced forward, which broke the tension a bit.  And we also didn't have to wait around as long as in previous days, so I didn't have time to fret too much anyway.

peloton
A Peloton

So, off we went.  Day 3 was underway.  Just one more day to get through.  It's just a day, right? After an initial leg sapping drag out of Somerton, there wasn't much to worry about for the first twenty miles or so. Well, not on the gradient front anyway.  We ended up fighting the rather more challenging wind with an ever changing range of little groups, and making reasonable time across the Levels.

green sunny climb
Green Sunny Climb

green sunny
Climbing And More

In order to get to our real goal for the day - the hills of the Quantocks, and Exmoor - we had to first negotiate Bridgwater. This is frequently not a good place for cyclists to be, but apparently the inhabitants wake late there, and there weren't enough of them up and about to provide any hindrance, which came as somewhat of a relief.  Well kinda, but not, in that I knew that meant we weren't far from having to go up in the world, and I really wasn't sure how my legs were going to react to that.  OK, so I was feeling pretty good. Very upbeat, positive, quite good all 'round...but hey, massive hills are a whole different thing, right? And when we reached it, it was a doozer.  Let's just say it went on for a very long time, in consistently steep fashion, with false finishes, twists..the works!  And I could do it!  OK, so I wasn't going to be winning any fancy jerseys for my performance, but I made it up. I was pleased - the first of the day's big climbs done, without my legs buckling from under me...see, I even look happy.

quantock climbers
Quantock Climbers

me
Me, Happy

We were happily riding across the Quantock Common, cussing the wind and exposed nature of the place somewhat, in fairly good humoured fashion, when one of the riders behind me locked his gears up somehow and went crashing down on his right side. How he didn't take anyone else done with him I'll never know. We stopped to sort him out, one of the group going ahead to the food stop to inform "them". We gingerly picked him off the road, got him sat by the side of the road, and called the organisers to get someone to pick him up. Explaining where we were seemed harder than it should have been - apparently "we're on the common after the first timed climb" wasn't quite clear enough, so I had to do quite a bit of explaining myself, and last I heard they were sending someone out. A friend of his turned up, and they headed off to try and find somewhere a little exposed to wait, before he added hypothermia to his list of possible injuries. He was tempted to carry on he may have done, even if he probably shouldn't have. I know I'd find it hard to stop if that was me on Day 3 and I wasn't actually physically incapacitated!  Mind you, I wouldn't have wanted to have an accident like that and then have to be able to stop on the next descent which was Crowcombe Hill! Wow - that's steep.  Hard and fast and the speed a few went past me at? I'm glad nothing came the other way!

the quantochs
On The Quantocks

first food stop
First Food Stop

Anyway we left him there, looked after and catered for, and made our way down and up to the first food stop at Crowcombe Village Hall.  There were no toilets, officially, but one of the young lads there was very kindly taking pity on the ladies around and letting them into the disabled toilet - via keypad - one at a time.  Thank you - it was very much appreciated!

We came down from the Quantocks at Washford to the joys of a long stretch on the A39 - all the way past Dunster, through Minehead, and out to Porlock.  I'm pretty familiar with this road, and it's a busy one. Luckily the traffic were, surprisingly considering the number of cyclists around, being fairly tolerant. There's a long climb out of Minehead, but a lovely long flying bit to get to Porlock.  We had a bit of a stop at the bottom of the toll road, which was about 48 miles in, to take on gels, and refreshment, before we tackled it.

toll road sign
Toll Road Signs

So on to one of my favourite climbs - Porlock Toll Road.  I've said that before, and everyone's always gone, ooh, bet you won't say that on Day 3 of the Tour of Wessex. Well I'm sorry, I still loved it. It's long, slow, gradual, and scenic. It was also sheltered from the growing yet worse wind and the deteriorating weather.  The road surface is lovely, there are precious few cars, I get to see the sea, and there are even hairpins!  What more does a girl want?

toll road riders
Toll Road Riders

first hairpin
First Hairpin

sea views from porlock hill road
The View From Porlock Toll Road

porlock wioggles
Porlock Wiggles

I pootled my way up taking photos. The higher up we got, the worse the weather got. We became more and more exposed, and that wind just gusted away, knocking me sideways from time to time. I stuck to just taking it easy and eventually we ran out of Toll road, and hit Exmoor proper.  We headed across to Exford, and there's a lethal steep climb that comes after the descent in the middle there somewhere. I'm really glad I knew it was there (as did the photographer!) otherwise I'd most certainly have lost my chain trying to get into the right gear.  Which was the lowest possible gear, and even then I nearly didn't make it, as my legs suddenly did the lactic acid heavy losing it thing. All I could do was keep asking them to go 'round and hope that they would listen to me.  It was a close run thing.

bleak moor view
Bleak Moor View

cow
Cow

It was horrible up there. Even the cows were windswept! 15 miles or so of slogging into that headwind on bleak exposed moor land would be bad enough...and then it rained. Oh marvellous. So I got to get wet and then freezing cold as well. We had a brief period of respite at the lunch stop, 57 miles in, which happened to have public toilets nearby, always good. We ate, drank, I took yet another gel.  Everyone was looking a bit shell shocked, and there were not a lot of shiny happy people around.  At least they still had bananas this time. I'd have loved a cup of coffee, but then hanging around to drink one would probably have been a bad idea.  We were trying to get away from the bad weather, not travel along with it!

green tunnel
Green Tunnel

lunch stop
Lunch Stop

Off we went again. I don't remember the details. Just a lot of riding. A lot of climbing. I remember being very cold. Miserable. Beyond flat. Even a tad weepy.  Not like I couldn't make it because come hell or high water I was going to make it.  It just felt like it was going to take a very long and unenjoyable forever to do so. I spent quite a lot of this bit on my own, which I have to say wasn't helping cheer me up much either, though GB did wait for me in between times. I never want to hear anything about Wimbleball Lake ever again. I'm not so keen on lakes that I need to slog my way up gratuitous hills just to see one!

Wimbleball
Wimbleball

The final food stop was at the gatehouse of Cedar Falls, which contained one inside loo, thus causing a certain amount of queuing. This probably wasn't helped by the fact that it was warm and toasty in there and so hard to leave. Riders were making tea and coffee in the kitchen, which all seemed oddly domestic and surreal at the time. I forced myself to eat more - a banana, a gel - as I figured I needed to fuel myself back. The last thing I needed to do was wipe out as well, and that had threatened to happen several times already. Still, we couldn't hang around, we had places to be.

cedar
Cedar Falls Gatehouse

wet
Wet Food Stop

It may have only been 25 odd miles from the end, but at some of the speed we'd been doing, that didn't feel as much of a relief as it sometimes does, especially with a 6pm timing cut off every day (which seems a bit harsh if you ask me). However daft it is, we both wanted to make it in before that, and I have to say I didn't think it was likely.  But GB did, so I let him lead the way. I made him stop from time to time so I could take the next gel, and then I just followed him in. I even took my turn at the front occasionally.  But it was pretty much a head down push for home and don't talk much job. I guess having a goal is good sometimes! Knowing the route, he knew where the flat was, where to make the most of shelter, etc....forewarned and forearmed. As we went along, I gradually dried out a bit, warmed up a bit, and possibly even perked up a bit.

guy towing me home
Guy Towing Me Home

We came back into Langport, having been passed by the last of the motorcycle outriders, leaving nothing but the mechanics and the broom wagon (and actually quite a few other riders!) behind us. The Tour of Wessex was closing up.

There were a couple of final drags on the way back to Somerton that I would love to have burned it up, but I just couldn't it wasn't in my legs. But I got up them in my own slow sweet way, caught up with GB after the tops, and we made it down the last fast flying descent to turn right into HQ, negotiate the leaving traffic, and make it over the finish line at 17:58. There, by the skin of our teeth. The mat was still there, even if the inflatable arch wasn't, something beeped and we'd made it. Of course being so late in the day, everything was being packed away. No welcoming committee, no audience, nothing. A very anti-climactic way to end such a day.

I was so happy we'd made it. We packed up, and went and got our medals, a cup of coffee, and some food before heading for home. I felt great - it was over!  Day 3 done! I'd earnt that medal! They were dismantling the tent around us as we sat and I ate my roll free bacon roll - also known as just bacon. GB was talking, I was listening, just really proud of us both for having done such an amazing thing.  To have survived in fact. Day 3 is a sportive that would be hard at the best of times, on a good day, on its own.  On a day like that, as Day 3 of an event with two days already in the legs? Just awesome.

Cycling time: 8:34 hrs.
Distance: 112.38 miles.
Avs: 13.1 mph.
Climbing: 2791 m

CONCLUSION:
Right, shall we sum up? Is it a good event?

toilets
Toilets

food tent
Food Tent

Yes - mostly.  HQ has all the facilities you need - a range of toilets, food options, a small event village.  There's camping for those that want it, also with the relevant facilities. There's a lot of photo opportunities en route - both for you and of you, thanks to SportivePhoto. The drummers, and the roadside supporters were great, and helped cheer us along.

outrider
Outrider

outriders
Outriders

mechanical support
Mechanical Support

wheel bike
Wheel Bike

There's plenty of support on route too. The cheery outriders are, and were, as lovely as ever. I saw plenty of stricken riders being helped by them, and the various mechanics. The food stations leave a little to be desired - they're ok, but they did tend to be a bit chaotic, and stock levels weren't reliable. Plus there's the lack of toilets to consider - us ladies object to that, and let's not forget the foodstop queues. I also wish there wasn't a 6.00pm timing cut off. Ok, so I'm not a great cyclist, but I'm not the worst, and I shouldn't have to struggle to get back in time.   Even making it 7.00pm would have sorted that.

Mind you, maybe I shouldn't worry about the timing. For whatever reason, though I appear to have done the timed hill climbs on all three days, I only officially finished on Day 1. I'm down as a DNF on Days 2 and 3, which is irritating. Maybe it's those flimsy timing chips?

Moving on the routes were mostly well marked - although a couple of signs were easy to miss and one was missing altogether. There weren't much by way of caution/warning signs though, and there were a few places they might have been wise.  However the routes themselves, all three days, are scenic and varied, and challenging. Where else can you get the chance to challenge yourself in the same way? You can't.

I do wish it all came with more of a sense of event, of being a happening.  As "the biggest Multi stage cyclosportive in the World" I sort of expected more.  Briefings, tannoy, music, organisers everywhere making sure everything is going smoothly.  However late I am in, I'd like to be welcomed home and told how well I did - however daft that sounds.  Especially on the final day.  But that's just me...
I always wanted to do it, wondered what it would feel like, wondered if I could do it.  Now I have, I know how it felt, and yes, I could.

There, that concludes my review of the Tour of Wessex 2013 - it took almost as long to write it as to ride it!

map
Tour Of Wessex Map

medal
Medal

Cycling time: 23:23 hrs
Distance: 335.7 miles
Avs: 14.4 mph
Climbing: 6533 m





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1 Comment

kjeales
6th June 2013 10:48pm kjeales wrote:

I thought this was a great review :-) I would have to agree with the final comments though, although I am personally proud of having made it through all three days (and I was in even later on day 3 than you were). I too was expecting the whole thing to be more of an 'event' given the pre-tour publicity. However, that said, the routes were wonderful and I enjoyed every minute of them (even Exmoor!!)


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