Event Review

Tour Of Pembrokeshire 2013 REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Essentials:
Date: Sunday 28th April
Routes:
*    Short:  50 miles (3444ft climbing) - feed stops at 24/35 miles
*    Medium: 75 miles (6600ft climbing) - feed stops at 24/50/60 miles
*    Long: 100 miles (9500ft climbing) - feed stops at 24/46/58/78/89 miles
Entry fee: From £20, depending when you booked. £40 on the day (sold out in advance).
Participants: c.1100.
Start: Oriel y Parc, High Street, St Davids, Dyfed, SA62 6NW.  Ample car parking.  Mechanical assistance available at start. 
Catering: Free meal in the café at the end.
Timing: Timing chips on lanyards to be worn around the neck, scanned at start and splits along the way.  Timing provided by SPORTident UK Ltd.  Timing slip at finish.  Results online by the next day.
Signs: A clearly way-marked route with clear signage.  Large black arrows on yellow background, assorted warning signs for riders and road users.
Roads: very quiet picturesque route on scenic country lanes, very little traffic.
Professional photography of the event by SportySnaps.com.
Marshalls and motorcycle outriders.
Goody bag: Welsh sycamore commemorative coaster.

The Ride:
The Tour of Pembrokeshire starts from St David's, which is almost as far west from here as you can get without falling off the world, so the only sensible way to do it is to stay over the night before and after and to make a weekend of it. This is made easier by it being, somewhat unusually, on a Saturday. This was my second time doing the Tour, because I loved the area last time, and it's a great place to spend some time, so I'd like to say I spent the night before sleeping like a baby and awoke fresh as a daisy, raring to go. However...in reality, the howling wind kept me awake on and off all night!

rainy windscreen
Rainy Windscreen

When the alarm went off at 6:00am on Sunday morning, I'd finally managed to be asleep for a while, so it wasn't exactly welcome, though it didn't exactly come as a shock either. I got my act together, and dressed for the wet and windy gale that was still blowing up a storm outside, before starting the day the porridge way, washed down with black coffee. My ride partner for the day, and chauffeur for the weekend, Chris, turned up complete with car and bikes at 7:00am as planned. We drove the short few miles to the start, passing the first few riders already heading off into the wind and, at the time, rain. None of them looked happy. Well who would? It wasn't exactly motivational.

bike numbered
Bike Number, Big Enough?

There was plenty of free parking at Oriel y Parc, where we faffed and assembled the bikes. The rain got properly nasty for a bit so Chris insisted we take refuge in the car for a while rather than getting soaked before we'd even started. He had a point and, since that was the last we saw of the rain for the day, it was a very good call. It's just as well we didn't set off any earlier isn't it?

removing mudguard
Removing Mudguard

start line
Start Line

As we hadn't been able to get down to St David's until late Friday night, Peter Walker, the organiser, had very kindly registered the pair of us and handed over our numbers and lanyard chips from Sportident the night before, so we didn't have to register on the day - removing one step from the usual pre-ride prep. Instead we headed straight for the start line, a short walk away, but long enough for Chris to discover his back mudguard was rubbing. After a period of fiddling, he managed to get the darn thing off and stash it in a bush to collect it on our return. This of course gave me time to go to the loo - and this year they'd opened up extra toilets at the venue so there was none of last year's queuing - result!

Heading off was a low key affair. Various marshalls were at the start line to scan our chips, and then off we went. Ready for what was always going to be a long day in the saddle, even on a good day. I didn't regret a single one of my garment choices, as we headed off into the 25mph freezing cold NE wind, sometime around 7:30am. Due to the state of some of the roads, the route had been altered a bit from last year, and the first hour or so definitely seemed easier as a result. Not easy, just easier. None of this ride is easy. There's precious little flat, and an awful lot of climbing - around 9,500 feet apparently, and possibly even more than that.

early views
Early Views

first food stop
First Feed Stop

The first food stop came around 20 miles in, at Fishguard, at the Pendre Inn. After a couple of hours cycling in the sunshine fighting the wind, stopping seemed like a good idea. Well, how do I review the food stations if I don't stop at them?  I grabbed the usual half of banana, and I used the toilets because hey, I review them too ;). At this point I was still feeling pretty good. Positive. A bit disappointed with the average speed that was happening, but at that point that was pretty much down to the headwind I think. One fifth of the way through (ish) and time to be on our way again.

climbing
Climbing Ahead

climbing behind
Climbing Behind

With the wind blowing like billy-o the weather changed all the time. When there was sun, the temperature struggled up into the nearly pleasant, when it clouded over it dropped into the distinctly nippy. Going up the long hills warmed you up, sometimes too far, and then the descents chilled you right through. Nice. Not. But beautiful. The scenery over there is just stunning. As usual, my photos are going to fail to do justice to it.

Some of the long slow hills I actually found easier than before. Not that my stats show that, but that's not the point. I actually quite like long slow sloggy hills. I even made it up the steep nasty ones, like the wicked bendy one that came just after the 75 & 100 mile routes split off from the 50 mile route. I'm glad I knew it was coming though, or I'd have been in the wrong gear for sure. Last year the route split wasn't well signed, this year the signs were great, and there were several very vocal marshalls making sure you went the way you thought you wanted to go.  In fact signage throughout was pretty good. There was the odd junction where it would have been nice to see the arrow a little earlier, but other than that it was really good. There were plenty of Caution signs, and for the traffic, Slow Cyclists signs. A lot of the junctions were marshalled too, as well as the splits, with friendly faces cheering you on - which always helps.

yellow and blue
Stonking Scenery

coastline
Great Looking Coastline

Between the first two food stations came my favourite part of this ride. I think it's the main reason I did it again. Somewhere amidst the endless climbing into the sky, comes a down to the coast, where the view is simply awesome, you can hear the waves crashing on the rocks, and if it doesn't make you smile, maybe you shouldn't be there. We smiled. And stopped. And took photos.

second food stop
Second Feed Stop

The next food stop was at Poppit Sands, which, as the name implies, was down at the beach. A nice down too. The first of the timing splits came just before, lurking marshalls jumping out to swipe our chips, before we headed for the lifeboat station and more supplies. I wasn't yet feeling in need of rescue, though I'd possibly have liked to call them out later in the day!

After a brief period of respite, cycling along the riverside and admiring the boats, the route climbed again. Surprise, surprise. Up and up and up, following a rather attractive stream, with waterfalls, hints of babbling brook, dappled shade, all very picturesque. At the top I stashed my gilet in the saddle bag, where the over gloves were already hiding, before we headed off into the hills again.

I must have been concentrating for the next section, as the camera seems to have remained resolutely in my bar bag until the third foodstop at a pub at Boncath. We spent a bit longer here, enjoying the sun, eating bananas, and, if you're him, welsh cakes and more. They even had cold potatoes, so I had one. There were pasties and other goodies too. I did stash my head Buff in the bag too, as I was getting a bit overheated on climbs at this point, and it was about the only thing left to easily take off!  The stop had a blackboard which very handily had the route map on it, amongst other things, showing the obstacles to be overcome between you and the next food stop, which in this case included the biggest climb of the day, to the highest point. I'm sure it has a name, but it temporarily escapes me.  Besides, it was one of three such lumps ahead of us, and that was all that really concerned me.

third foodstop
Third Feed Stop

skyto sea
Sky To Sea Views

sweeping view
Sweeping View

I was getting a bit tireder now, and my legs were feeling heavy.  If Chris hadn't been nursing me around, I don't know if I'd have made it, and there could well have been some sobbing by the roadside moments! However hard I was finding it, I was still enjoying myself in an odd way. I love the route, the scenery lifts you, there's plenty to admire as you're climbing those massive hills at glacial speed, and the other riders, such as we saw, were mostly chatty and friendly. Well by this point all the race snakes have finished, so it's just other people all in the same slowly sinking boat as you. It's odd, for hours you ride along practically having the roads to yourself - there was precious little traffic - and then you get to the next food stop and suddenly there are cyclists everywhere!

fourth food stop
Fourth Food Stop

fourth food stop
Tea and Coffee On Offer

And oh, was I glad to see the fourth foodstop. Mostly because, as well as fodder and faggots and portaloos, they had tea and coffee!  I'd been dreaming of a coffee for ages...anything that wasn't sweet to be fair...and a cup of coffee was just what I wanted. Those three lumps had taken a long time, and taken quite a toll too. There was quite a festival atmosphere to the place, a little sun trap of a refuge tucked down on the side of a valley, away from the headwind that should have turned into a tailwind half way round and somehow never did, with music playing and brightly coloured cyclists flocked around. It was not the easiest place to leave, that's for sure.  After a stretch along the valley (aka wind tunnel), it was time for yet another vicious climb. Again, one I knew was coming, and that I knew I could do, which always helps massively mentally. Slow but steady, as ever.

time to go up again
Time To Go Up Again

coffee
Another Climb

I knew the last stretch is a lot flatter, so I was just counting the miles (and hills!) down until we got to the last food stop from whence it would all be downhill, metaphorically speaking.  By now my chain was squeaking away, and apparently the application of oil would have been a good idea, but I didn't have any and neither did the fifth and final foodstop. This was once again at a pub, full of normal people drinking away a sunny Saturday afternoon, and probably laughing themselves silly at the stream of lycra clad eejots traipsing through their midst to the toilet and back!

fifth feeds top
Fifth Feed Stop

So, 13/14 miles to go, according to the foodstation guys. 18 according to me. And I'm was right. It beats me how we managed to spend so many miles heading into a headwind and still get around and back to the start again though!

final few hills
Final Few Hills

sunset
Low Sun

As I said, the last stretch is, as these things go, a lot flatter, with just a couple of draggy hills in it to take the last out of you. I was starting to feel a bit weird, wobbly and like falling asleep on the bike, and though I tried to ignore it, I realised that would be foolish in the long run, and had to stop, take a gel, and get it together for a bit. After a little while of spinning along and letting the gel cut in, my legs woke up again, aided and abetted by the fact that they could sense the end was nigh, and see St David's in the distance, and the final few miles into the slowly setting sun weren't too bad. As the well hidden cathedral finally hove into view, we were marshalled through its grounds and up one final hill to get us across the Finish Line, many many hours after we started.

st davids
St Davids Cathedral

town gate
The Town Gate

Talk about slow! Just under 9 hours riding - pretty much exactly an hour more than last year. And with stops, our time was 10:11. Not good. We stashed the bikes back in the car, threw on some civvie layers, and headed a little glumly back to the cafe for our free meal. There was soup or stew on offer I think, but I went for cake. Gluten & dairy free cake, which they let me have in lieu of stew. It seemed like a good idea, and very nice it was too. I think I'd gone one step beyond though - I was a bit zoned out and also freezing cold. After checking in with Peter to say hi and see how it had gone, it was time to call it a day and head back to the hotel for a shower, food, and sleep, which I actually managed to do in that order.

finish line
Finish Line

Quite besides the amount of climbing involved, the big issue today really was the wind. But for all that I suffered, I'd go back and do it again, just for the scenery and the challenge.  It's a lovely event, well organised, friendly, and not corporate. I think maybe the 75 mile route next time though!

cake
Cake

timing slip
Timing Slip

drinks coaster
Drinks Coaster



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) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 9 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) 8 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 95.6%




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2 Comments

KevinBlackburn
30th April 2013 11:51am Herbie wrote:

Great review and what sounds like a great event - maybe on my radar for next year now! Haven't seen/heard the term 'billy-o' recently used, other than by the 'Dragon-in-law' - so that was quite appropriate!

Edje
2nd May 2013 11:22pm Edje wrote:

Great write up Jennifer and good to meet you and Chris over dinner that night with Peter. Best wishes, Jim (Mr Signs!)


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