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Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Somehow, without noticing, some things just become a habit.  Well, not so much a habit as a tradition actually.  And somehow, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has become just that. Traditional.


I don't always ride the whole event. I don't always ride the whole event when I've signed up to do so, I've frequently been forced to bail to shorter routes!  But I do seem to always do the Prologue ride.  It's the event that marks the start of the season for me. 


So a while ago my partner Matt and I made our way as far as West as you can go without falling into the sea, to St David's and beyond, to the fabulous Crug Glas hotel (which I love), where both the Prologue and the event itself run from - albeit from the Cowshed venue on site.  It's a bit of a trek - 3 hours plus driving - and Matt was playing chauffeur, since I'm not good at driving long distances.  Having had to get up at 4:30am in order to get to our destination by 9:00am, it's not like I'd have been awake enough to drive anyway - I'm not really a morning person!


Anyway Matt got us to the seriously freezing carpark outside the Cowshed, in time and without incident.  And man was it ever cold.  Oh, and wet, and so windy the little windmill on the farm was spinning so fast it looked like taking off was actually an option.  Marvellous...*sigh*.  Ah well.  First things first.  Time to head inside, nip to the salubrious toilets, sign the register, and say hello to a few familiar faces - organiser Peter, and Jim, and the rest of the team, back in charge after a brief hiatus last year, and after all this time, also friends of mine.  Fellow Cyclosport writer Sean was also there, with a different hat on, and a nasty chest infection thingy which meant he was going to be playing support car, and not riding.  Half his luck...  


We didn't have a lot of time to spare before the various groups of riders were due to be let go, so we skipped coffee and headed back to the car to unload and reassemble the bikes, and put on every layer we had brought with us.  By the time we were ready I couldn't feel my fingers well enough to zip up my overshoes, which hardly boded well for the day ahead!  As we finished up, various groups were starting to gather in the courtyard, only just leaving Matt enough time to get our bottles filled up.  There were two route options available today - 45 miles or 28 miles - with groups of varying abilities being set up for each route.  What with everything - the weather, it being early in the season, etc...we'd decided that 28 miles sounded like more than enough.  


Well, considering the average speed that the terrain around here usually results in, even that was likely to take over two hours so...  Besides Peter was to be leading the slow, short route, group, and I thought that it might be a good time to catch up with him a bit. He announced to the group, as we set off, that I'd be helping them learn a bit about group riding etc.!  News to me...and as if!  I may, just about, know what I'm doing for myself, but I'm by no means qualified to educate anyone else!  Ah well, I figured I'd try, but that no-one was likely to need my kind of help anyway, especially not with Peter around.  (And I was right...they didn't!).  Off we headed, out for what turned out to be a fairly typical Prologue ride.  Unlike the event proper, it's not the world's most organised affair.  Our group had about 19 people in it, and keeping that kind of group together is virtually impossible even on a good day.  Today, on narrow roads, with varying abilities, lousy weather, and a fair few drags, it was literally impossible...  


... So the group stretched, broke, reunited, got rained on, the rain got worse, the wind got stronger and was mostly (as ever) not at my back.  But the scenery was still stunning, and beautiful and lovely - when you could see it. The route we were taking reflected that which the event will take in May, which has been changed, so we didn't come up past the cathedral the usual way, which is a shame, but St David's was still lovely.  The company was good.  It was sociable.  And I felt pretty good - in that my legs at least were ok.


I was wearing lots and lots of layers, and keeping mostly warm and dry, though as the ride went on, I did start to cool down.  But I'm rubbish up hills at the moment (always?). I'm kinda used to it these days though.  Sure, you'll drop me on every single hill, and I will zone out and plod and just watch the road ahead of my front wheel, and get there eventually.  But I'll catch up on the flat and, on any downs that there are, drop you like a stone ;)  Sadly there weren't many of those today though, and the road conditions were such that care and attention and caution was called for.  So I was slow out there.  Matt kept me company the whole way around though, so even when the groups split up, and when we got totally separated from them towards the end, I wasn't on my own.  OK, so I had to yell to get his attention a couple of times when he hadn't realised how far behind him I'd dropped, but essentially he was always there, dragging me around Pembrokeshire. 


En route I did get to chat to a few of the other riders, notably Tori James, the youngest British and first Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest, and part of the first all female team to race to the magnetic North Pole, amongst many other things; she's the official Tour of Pembrokeshire patron, and would be giving us a talk later.  But mostly it was a bit too horrible for chatting much.  Typical Welsh weather some would say   And I was, and am, SO glad we didn't go for the 45 mile ride!  Maybe it's one of those things too - bad weather for the Prologue, good weather for the Tour?  I certainly hope so, since I've agreed to do that again this year, and Matt's coming along for the ride too.  He has no idea what he's letting himself in for...  


To be honest, I wasn't planning on doing it again.  Been there, done that, would have the t-shirt if there was one.  But it turns out that a fair few changes have been made to this year's event.  On the Saturday, for the main event, there's now a new 133 mile route, dedicated to local rider Paul Ties and Tour of Pembrokeshire stalwart, who is sadly no longer with us.  There's also the Fred Rees Skoda 60 mile route and the 84 mile Mavic route, and they're all new and different.  And that works for me.  The option to do whatever route is appropriate on the day - and to not be repeating what I've done so many times before, whichever route I do.  And no, I will not be attempting the Paul Ties route - that would be insane!  On the Sunday there's also a 40 mile family/recovery ride route for those who feel less ambitious, or who want to spend a weekend riding with friends and family.  Whichever route you or I do, it's a great event, in a beautiful place, that's really well run & organised, where I can catch up with friends, and stay at Crug Glas again.  So yes, I'll be doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire in May.   


Anyway, back to the ride, albeit briefly. It all sort of passed in an increasingly damp blur...  Somewhere near the end, as mentioned before, we got both separated from the others in our group, and also slightly lost.  So when we reached the entrance road to Crug Glas again, albeit a few miles sooner than expected, and it was still raining, and blowing up a storm, and my fingers weren't entirely there...there was no way we were doing anything other than turning left for a very unpleasant final couple of miles riding fully into that blasted, blasting wind to get us back to HQ.  Prologue ride done!  We weren't the first back, as there were a couple of other rather shell-shocked looking riders loitering around, one of whom was heard to comment that if he'd known it was going to be like that he wouldn't have turned out for it.  I don't suppose he was the only one thinking that today! 


Since lunch etc wasn't due for a while, and the other groups weren't back yet, the best thing to do seemed to be to go and check in to our very lovely room.  I should mention that I've been lucky enough to stay here a few times now, and I totally love it.  I never get to stay places this lovely, being usually a budget hotel gal, and this is just so far from that!  Once again Room 1 was mine, and it was just as fabulous as ever, complete with large windows, four poster bed, fireplace, and general classic luxury.  The large copper bath beckoned...but running that would have taken too long.  What was needed right now was a very long hot shower, and clean, warm, dry clothes, with some time sat by the fire to pull myself together again!  Once re-heated, refreshed, and reassembled, lunchtime was fast approaching, so we headed back over to the Cowshed to refuel.  Everyone else was also back now, and equally ready to carry on with the second act.   


The social part of the Prologue was far more enjoyable than the ride for sure.  A two course meal of beef/veg bourguignon followed by various choices of sticky pudding, with a bar, and good company?  What more do you want?  There were a few formalities to be done; thanks given by and to the organisers, and also some feedback gathering for them, to see what we'd all thought of the routes and so forth.  Then Tori took to the stage to tell us about her adventures, and her exploits properly qualify as legendary.  And probably motivational too, if you're not me - I know that kind of thing is way out of my league, especially these days.  Beside which, polar expeditions? Everest?  That all sounds awfully cold to me...and I don't do cold very well   A few of the others in the room had possibly also struggled earlier - thanks to the combination of exertion, warm food, and a dark warm room, a couple of heads were definitely seen nodding...including Matt's!  Well dragging me around is very tiring...  :)



But all good things come to an end, and finally the 2017 Prologue reached the end of the road. As people slowly dispersed, it was time to say our farewells, arrange to rendezvous with Peter et al at the Sloop later, and head back to that lovely room to chillax for a while.  Another Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue under my belt.  As rides go I've definitely had better, but the après ride more than made up for the ride!  See you all in May! 





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