Event Review

REVIEW: Great Weston Ride 2017

by Jennifer Trotman

REVIEW: Great Weston Ride 2017

Date: Sunday 16th July 2017
Distances: 57 mile basic route with 3 additional optional loops
Start: Long Ashton Park & Ride, Bristol
Feedstops: one drink/support stop, one food stop.
Timing: n/a
Signs: black arrows on fluoro yellow background
Roads: very scenic, on a mix of roads, mostly quiet ones.
Photos: https://www.sportivephoto.com
Goody bag: medal, bottle of water, voucher for free post-ride food.
http://www.greatwestonride.com/home

The Great Weston Ride is one I do every year, and this year was no exception. This year's edition was its 8th.  And my 8th too. I kinda feel like I have to keep the tradition up now!


So the event is a given, but the cast varies year on year. Originally this was due to be my fiancé Matt and I, with Alan, and shortly beforehand it turned out that James would also be joining us. After the usual early start, Matt and I headed off to rendezvous with the lads in order to ride to the start as usual.  I'd assumed that we were meeting at the normal place, and hadn't twigged that we weren't. So unsurprisingly they weren't where we were when we were supposed to be, a little later than we'd intended on being there.  Too much faffing as ever...  And having presumed that, being all of 5 minutes late, we weren't actually coming at all, Alan and James had headed off already.  Marvellous...  However thanks to a quick phone call we managed to join up on the road from Winscombe to Sandford.  Let's get this show on the road then shall we?


Alan had mapped out a route, and plugged it into his gadget, so unlike in previous years, we managed to make it to HQ at Long Ashton Park and Ride without getting lost.  Well, if you don't count the bit where Matt went flying on ahead on a downhill and missed the right turning onto the cycle path that we were supposed to take, and had to be hunted down   Other than that it was a fairly uneventful and pretty sociable ride.  As we rode through into Long Ashton, along with a fair few others, a great many other riders were going the other way, already on their way out.  It's a good thing there wasn't much traffic around to annoy at that time of the morning.


The weather was passable, albeit rather more breezy than I'd have liked. We parked up outside the car park block building, and did the usual.  Which in my case involved rather a lot of queuing to get to use the Ladies.  This ride, being one for charity and of a length and format that makes it more open and welcome to all than your average sportive, attracts a mixed bunch of riders and has a better gender balance than usual too.  So 3 toilets (if you include the disabled one) and a lot of women in layers of kit and bib shorts?  Queuing ensued...  


That done, and it was time to go and register.  Organiser Darren was already on the front line, briefing batches of riders before letting them loose.  I found my queue, to sign the usual bit of paper, be presented with my bike number and cable ties, and told to help myself to 9Bars.  There was a bit of confusion with regards to Matt's registration but we got that sorted, and picked up extra cable ties as we were at it.  Well they were skinny little ones, and I know from experience that those won't go around my handlebars, but Matt informed me that if you string them together, it's doable.  Not something I've tried before, but hey, it worked, even it did look a bit haphazard.  


 Alan and James were raring to go, and chomping at the bit which, I'm sorry to say, did not make me move any faster.  There was my bike to be loaded up and checked, another quick trip to the facilities and then finally, much to their relief, we were all joining the next batch to be briefed.  Darren can probably give that briefing in his sleep by now!  It didn't take too long before we were set on our way, and everyone was hurtling off.  Which always makes me laugh, because all of 100 metres up the road, the traffic lights always grind everyone to a halt *grin*.  The second set do the same...  We managed to get split up a bit.  Alan must have got away and through the lights before they changed, and James wasn't initially with us either.   

We turned left to go through Long Ashton, rather than go straight on.  The standard and original route has been maintained through the years but there are several additional loops on the way that you can take should you wish, to add miles or metres climbed, or both.  Or neither if you're me, because I'm all about tradition, remember? I know the basic route, I mostly like it, and knowing what I have to deal with helps me cope with it.  It's a ride that breaks into nice chunks, and that makes it mentally and physically more manageable somehow? 


So, out through Long Ashton, and then under the A370 to take the rat run that is Barrow Gurney.  Except it isn't so much these days, now that the South Bristol link road has been completed.  And, presumably in honour of the reduced through traffic flow, the route through has been resurfaced, and smoothed, and landscaped, and ok, there are still the obligatory speed bumps and traffic calming bits, but it was much nicer to cycle through than before.  Unlike the unavoidable drag up the A38 afterwards which was as unpleasant as always but is at least blessedly fairly short! As the miles passed, what with traffic, of the two and four wheel variety, different riding styles, the need to change layers, faff or whatever, four regularly became two x two, and James and Alan got plenty of restorative rest waiting for us to catch them up and for us all to head off together again.   


The next bit of the ride is my favourite bit of the whole thing.  Turn left, and head towards Chew Magna.  The road rolls a little bit, in a generally climbing way, before you get to hurtle along, downhill ish, flying past lots of other people and having whole heaps of fun.  And this year was no exception.  I still loved it!   All good things come to an end, and turning right at the roundabout here marked the end of the fly past, and set us heading South towards the Mendips.  What with the weather being currently fairly nice, quite a lot of people were taking the advantage of the lay-by where the route crossed the Chew Valley Lake to stop and/or regroup, and quite a few supporting families were cheering on their athletes as they arrived.  As we were currently pretty much together, we carried on past them.   


The big challenge on today's route is Burrington Combe, and to get there involves one of my least favourite patches of road from West Harptree, through Ubley and Blagdon.  It's draggy, includes a fair few ups, and has one of those momentum sucking road surfaces. I was doing hills in my usual take it easy because I have to way, but it all went better than usual, and better than expected. Matt stuck with me, while the boys did their thing, and before long we were all gathered together at the first stop at the bottom of the Combe.  This is a liquid & mechanical support stop only, but if you wanted anything else, including facilities that are rather more salubrious than the public toilets outside, then the Burrington Inn had it all.  Quite a few people were clearly planning on a longer stop than us, with friends and family joining them for refreshments inside and out.  James held on to my bike while I topped up my bottles and nipped inside to "freshen up".  I'd have loved to purchase some fizzy orange, or some such, but there was quite a queue and I didn't fancy joining it.  Such indulgence would have to wait until later...  


I rejoined the boys, and the conversation headed off in a techy direction, with much discussion of gears and ratios and the like, so rather than fall asleep standing there, I took my leave and got myself a small head start. We'd agreed to meet up at the Two Trees junction at the top, and they were bound to get there before me however much of a lead I got, so it seemed to make sense.  And I enjoyed it.  Yes, Alan and James went past like I was treading water, and yes Matt caught me.  But I did good by my standards if not Strava's.  I like Burrington Combe.  It's my kind of long slow climb, and I didn't even spend the entire time in bottom gear.  My oval chain rings come into their own on climbs like this and somehow make the whole thing feel smoother and more constant.  Even the last kicker of an up after the cattle grid at the top, which isn't the end even if you really wish it was, wasn't too bad! 


As planned, after life had flattened out into a longer drag, James and Alan were waiting for us.  Time to eat, drink, discuss how their 'race' had gone (James won), and then time to go and do a little of what I do best.  Yep, plenty of down and flat and flying across the top, almost chain gang stylee, doing what I can to make for what I can't, and I definitely held my own and did my fair share.  The wind was fairly challenging up on the top here, which is often the case, and it did make some of it rather more of slog than we would have liked.  It was also rather damp up here, and with the damp and the wind and the elevation, it was distinctly chilly.  I'm not sure whether it was actually raining or whether we were just riding through a cloud though! 

Having been on top of the world for a while, it was time to head for the Levels.  We reached the junction with the main road, where the loop that takes in Cheddar Gorge had riders joining us from the right, and turned left to head for Priddy.  There's a nasty narrow little steep kick out the village here, and just for once, and possibly the only time today, I was proper feeling it, and from behind Alan and James I got myself out of the saddle and kicked my way up and past them both...which came as a bit of surprise to everyone, including me.  Go me!  Sometimes #thisgirlcan *grin*.  


Time to roll a little down some little country lanes to get us to the big descent, down Westbury Hill, or the Quarry Hill as it's sometimes known around here.  Today was a day for being careful, what with it being damp under rubber, frequently gravelly and bendy, with plenty of riders around, and the possibility of vehicular traffic in either direction.  This didn't mean a degree of controlled fun couldn't be had, and having passed a more sensible Alan, I followed Matt down the hill.  At some point a car came the other way, and I can't remember whether I was ahead of Matt at the time, or just didn't notice from behind, but his life got a bit squirrely on a bend as we passed it, which was a bit hairy apparently!  Almost too close for comfort...

Luckily that was all it was, and we all had our own version of fun getting to the bottom,  to the junction with the main road to Wells.  As ever, there were marshals making sure we all stopped there, and advising us of approaching traffic if necessary, which was much appreciated.  We regrouped briefly, before crossing over safely and finishing the last bit of the descent down into Rodney Stoke.  I managed not to drop & total my camera here this time around too!


Time for a bit of Level pegging.  Which came with an unexpected amusement factor.  The car not so far in front of us had realised she wasn't going to be going anywhere fast, what with all the cyclists around, and overtaking being a tad tricky hereabouts, so she'd let her dog out the back to run along behind her slow progress.  Which is, I suppose, one way of walking the dog!  We overtook her, having a chat as we passed, obviously, because if we hadn't I wouldn't know what was going on, now would I?  It was fairly fast progress, and fairly sociable too, as we stuck together in a chatty group all the way along to the little kick up to Cocklake, from where we turned left to Wedmore.  


Wedmore was, as ever, a little tricky to negotiate.  Traffic, parked cars, cyclists, motorists with very important places to be, and the ever-present risk of being doored by someone not paying attention en route to the local gallery/boutique/pub...  SMIDSY...  I'm always careful here, and we were careful here today.  Having turned right, and with that main flashpoint behind us, it was time to head out into the countryside again, and head for the next stop, the proper food stop, at Hugh Sexey school in Blackford.   


Which was, as usual, a smörgåsbord.  Free drinks, of the hot and cold variety.  A wide range of cakes on sale inside, with bacon buttes on sale outside too.  Time to take a well-earned break then...  I topped up my bottles, and debated the merits of cake before deciding not to indulge. I grabbed some free squash though, I'm getting far better at hydrating these days.  While Matt joined the rather long queue for bacon butties, I nipped inside to use the dinky facilities, which always makes me smile.  Well, it is a First School, so everything is a little bit smaller scale...or seems that way anyway.  I took Matt's place in the queue for a little while so that he could do the same, and once he was back I headed back out into the throng...where I found Alan and James chomping at the bit again, ready to head off.  Apparently they'd decided to do the next bit on their own and have a bit of a race to the finish... 


So off they went, and back he came.  Given that it was indeed now just us two, we decided to chill out a bit...but not too much, because that would mean chilling out literally not figuratively, and although it was definitely brightening up now, it still wasn't precisely warm.  So time to head off again then, with about 20 miles or so to go, and not much by way of lumps to deal with in those, which is always good!  The next stretch is a little bit rolling before hitting the flat straight bits around Mark.  

Once more a little detour took us off the main, and very boring Mark to Highbridge road, which remains an improvement on the original route.  It avoids traffic and is far prettier.  Well it's proper Levels and if you're going to come and ride around here, that should be done   Although this bit is flat and fast and I was feeling pretty good, Matt wasn't doing so well.  I'd turn round to check he was behind me, and he wouldn't be...so I'd wait for him to catch up and we'd be together again and then...we wouldn't.  We arrived in Highbridge, and discovered that he'd had a slow puncture for a while, and riding on that lack of tyre pressure had a lot to answer for! We pulled off just before the traffic lights on the little railway bridge into town, and I took it easy while he very efficiently changed the inner tube and got everything back up to pressure and back up to speed! 


Not that speed is something you can really do in Highbridge, or on the roads out though Burnham-on-Sea and out to Berrow.  Too much traffic and too many obstacles, though the views of the beach and the Severn river at Burnham somewhat make up for this.  It was still a relief when we finally got to stop playing with the traffic and turn right, off the main road, and hit the quieter lanes that head towards Lympsham, with about 10 miles to go, as a very lovely sign confirmed.  It is nice to count down   Well, ok, it was sort of quieter.  After a nice quiet straight patch, we joined the road that takes tourists to and from their caravan sites around Brean.  It's narrow and wiggly and the surface is atrocious, so sticking to the LHS to let cars past often isn't an option...not if you want to stay on your bike, and/or avoid pinch punctures.  We were as courteous as possible however, and waved cars past when we could, and went as fast as we could in between times so as not to be too much of a hindrance.  Traffic can't go that fast around here thanks to those roads either, so it worked out just about ok.   


The miles were ticking by now, and I was still feeling perky.  Even having been re-inflated Matt was flagging a bit, but we really didn't have far to go now.  Down the lovely straight bit alongside the railway line, with the sun pretty much shining now.  Then the usual wait to turn left onto the fairly busy A370 before the detour through Uphill to get us to the final finishing straight along Weston Super Mare's sea front.  It wasn't so much of a sprint this year, though we did try.  It's not easy with the number of traffic lights along here that have a tendency to stop play!  And then there we were, pulling off the road, onto the lawns, going over the Finish Line pretty much together, and another Great Weston Ride was done  


We were presented with our medals which, if they fitted my frame, could have been nicely fitted to the front of my bike, such was their design this year.  I grabbed a bottle of water too, and had a quick chat with Darren who was lurking around keeping everything under control.  I also got to meet rider No 1 - which is a privilege he has due to the sheer amount of money he has raised over the years for the Great Weston Ride's charity - Prostate Cancer UK.  Chatting done, we headed off in search of Alan and James, who were to be found taking it easy on the grass not far from the bar, clearly having been there for ever.  Well they'd already had their free food and the odd pint...and having gotten in that bit earlier, they hadn't had to queue much for either.  The queue for the bar was, luckily, not insurmountable.  The same cannot be said for the food queue...which we ended up leaving until considerably later.  Better to be sat chilling with your mates and drinking the odd cold one that standing up on your own for hours doing neither right?  


So there we sat, and chatted, and debriefed.  At some point later on food was finally acquired and consumed and very nice it was too.  More lager was consumed.  And after a while Alan and James headed off back to his place a couple of miles down the road where James was parked.  And a while after that I prevailed upon my eldest to come and pick us up, since riding home had never really been on the cards, and staying on the lawns in the sun for an extra pint really was :)


Great Weston ride 2018 done.  How was it?  As lovely as ever really.  Sure we were slow, also as ever.  But that's normal these days, thanks to my health issues, and Matt's support and my drugs get me through that.  All that not withstanding, it went well, and we had a good day out.  It might have been a different case had it not brightened up in time for the après ride to be so nice.  And the queues at the food stop and at the end weren't great, with the latter being way beyond not great.  But that's the kind of feedback they take on board every year and every year it gets a little bit better.  Since I really enjoy it, and I'm part of the furniture, barring unforeseen circumstances, it's safe to assume I'll be back there in 2019.  Maybe even 2020. I reckon 10 times in a row would be pretty cool 


Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 10 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 10 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 100.0%




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