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Tour Of Wessex REVIEW

by James Berresford

The Tour of Wessex is a unique proposition in the UK sportive calendar, a three day event covering a total of over 540 km. The format creates a distinctive atmosphere with a very high quality field of riders, a fast pace and some fantastic group riding opportunities. Add to this spectacular and varied scenery and terrain; from coast to woodland to moor and you have a very special event. The only minor gripes were slight but cruel under-quoted distances and somewhat limited recovery food at the finish.

Essentials:
Distances: Day 1: 171 km  Day 2: 191 km  Day 3: 181 km
Entry fee: £95 
Start: Somerton Sports Club, Somerton, Somerset, TA11 6HS
Catering: Breakfast at the start, Sandwiches and cake at the finish 
Accommodation:  Camping is available on site, many options locally
Timed:  Yes (Number mounted transponder)
Signs: Clear black arrows on a yellow background
Swag: Finishers medal, distinctive walk

Day 1 - Somerset and Wiltshire
Route: Click Here>>>
Arriving at event headquarters the site was quite compact, centred on a large marquee housing the catering, timing and registration with the Somerton Sports Club facilities available to riders at the rear. The registration process was quick and painless, as riders collected their numbers from alphabetical blocks with minimal queuing.

The atmosphere was tense at the start line; there were a lot of club colours assembled, people with serious looking faces and even more serious looking bikes. This is a 540 km event, by any way you measure that it is a long way by bicycle therefore I had reasoned with myself at length that completion and success was all about a carefully measured effort laid out over the three days.

Aside from maybe the Etape du Tour and possibly the Dragon, I've not seen a sportive go off that hard. Settling in to any sort of group riding was extremely tough at first as everyone was up for a fast day in the saddle. As the ride left the first villages we set off into the countryside, taking a lot of narrow lanes that criss-crossed open fields. We were soon drawing close to our first iconic site, Glastonbury Tor before dropping again into some flat riding.

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Climbing Towards Glastonbury Tor

The flat landscape here meant that the main event for today, the wall in the profile that everyone had seen, Cheddar Gorge was visible from a few miles out. The climb did not disappoint, the entire thing is nearly 10km in length rising up 260m but the dramatic opening section with sweeping bends through the rock is what everyone remembers not least for its 10-15% gradients.

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The Iconic Cheddar Gorge

Following the gorge there was little respite as the climbing continued for the majority of the rest of the ride. The landscape turned to sparse woodland and the faces that looked so keen at the start, began to look a little drawn. The real killer came up on Kingsettle Hill which bucks up to 20% at a point in the ride where everybody seemed to be hurting. The feed at the top was a blessed relief. The feeds on the ride were well thought out with a "lunchtime" mid-point feed that was well stocked with savoury food in addition to sweet stuff and the variety throughout meant you could keep eating for the 3 days. On this occasion however it did little to re-dress the tiredness in my initially over keen legs.The ride pushed on though, over more open higher ground and I steadily began to regain some strength managing to hold with a quicker group for some time as we pushed back towards Somerton and the close of the first day. 


Day 2 - Somerset and Dorset
Route: Click Here>>>
The second stage was the flatter and longer of the rides and flatter was definitely sounding appealing as we took our place at the start with aching legs and sore backsides. Setting off it was clear there had been some learning from everybody on the first day and we immediately settled into a solid but manageable pace and some quality group riding with many people cooperating to make light work of the flat opening section down through Sherborne. However on reaching the first foothills the big group shattered and we pushed on as a smaller unit at a faster pace. 

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Climbing

Moving into the hills of Dorset we upped the pace again and unwittingly stirred up a peloton of riders. This happened a number of times over the few days, where you would take your turn at the front, roll off only to find a group of 20 riders had accumulated behind. Generally people were willing to take a pull and the quality and experience of group riding was such that despite some very high speeds and tight roads we navigated the entire 540km without incident. When the groups were really working it made for an incredibly exhilarating ride.

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A glimpse of the sea and Dorset coastline from Grange Hill

We picked up a real head of steam as we approached the bigger hills and I was beginning to suffer terribly as we took the beautiful climb up to the coast close to Durdle Door and I eventually fell out the back before even glimpsing the sea. Despite my pained state some incredibly beautiful riding followed as the ride snaked along the coast, climbing up Tyneham Hill to a ridge which ran above the coast. We headed back in land at the beautiful Corfe Castle towards the town of Wareham and I began to come round and gain some speed.

I fortunately met my group at the next feed station and was able to push on with them in another fast peloton which was much appreciated in the stronger wind. As the ride moved on we upped the pace riding in good formation to the finish and posting a satisfying time for the second day.We managed to get back in time to benefit from a sports massage which was satisfyingly brutal and top notch for getting the many niggles out. One of very few disappointments of the ride was that the post ride food selection was a little limited. As people were generally returning ravenous and in need of some quality calories to recover it really would have benefitted from a good selection of hot food.

Day 3 - Somerset and Exmoor
Route: Click Here>>>
The faces on the start line said it all, gone was the jostling and enthusiasm of the first day, just over 100miles sat between us and the finish and we all knew it was due to be a hilly one. Leaving the site and heading north-west this time, in a moment of madness we took up a group with some of the fastest riders of the three days. For me the madness was fleeting as they quickly put me out the back and I was left to play catch up into a pretty strong breeze.The course was first undulating until around 45km, where we hit a real killer, Quantock Hill, 2.5km at 7.5% with some real big kicks. We passed over some scrubland at the top and dropped down a very steep descent to the town of Crowecombe and a much needed first feed.

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A Beautiful Climb up Porlock Toll Road

This hill was just a teaser though as from here on in the route had little but. The biggest of which, up Porlock toll road is a truly classic climb and for me probably my favourite part of the whole ride. 6.5km at 5.5% average in an alpine mould passing gradually through beautiful woodland to the moors with views to the sea to one side. Breathtaking.

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Sweeping Moorland Roads

Reaching the top we cruelly dropped down a short stretch of Porlock Hill before climbing again, much steeper this time across the moor. The profile here was the hilliest yet and with tired legs we were all just hanging in there for flatter ground. Once we found it, around 130km in and finally had a scent of the finish we began to turn the wick up, leaving it all on the road our group pushed harder and harder through the fields. Unfortunately some left a bit too much on the road as after pushing hard the ride had a few sneaky extra miles that had a few pedalling squares as we struggled to the line!It was an amazing feeling to finish an incredible event which gives a real sense of achievement. It's well organised with a very high quality field and one I hope to see in the calendar for years to come.





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1 Comment

aehwarner
13th June 2012 8:28pm aehwarner wrote:

Great event, great routes and thankfully great weather, a must do event for the serious roadie.


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