Event Review

REVIEW: Tour of Pembrokeshire 2014

by Jennifer Trotman

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As this year's Tour of Pembrokeshire approached, day by day the forecast worsened. No matter how many times I hit refresh, or how many different weather websites I looked at, things were not looking good...  

After the long drive west to St David's, with the B&B duly checked into, and a quick glass of white wine enjoyed as I left the pub for bed, the rain was already falling. As were my spirits, if I'm honest. When I dragged myself out of bed with the 5:30am alarm, the forecast had, quite impressively, managed to deteriorate yet further. 

So, time to faff over kit whilst drinking coffee and eating cereal. Full winter layers, waterproof in the saddlebag, toe covers and lightweight over-shoes, mitts and over-gloves... I know 10c is not that cold, it is however, when you're soaking wet and being blown around by 30+mph winds. 


The route ahead

I was actually staying in St David's - a lovely city - which meant only a short ride to the start at Oriel y Parc. Rider registration and start times had been staggered by route distance. We, being myself and the ever-tolerant Chris, hadn't made it down in time to register the night before, so we were aiming for a 6:30am registration and the earliest possible 7:00am start. I hadn't realised that registration was actually at The Grove Hotel opposite, unlike previous years, which will no doubt teach me to read the copious emails that came out beforehand. Having said that, a few signs pointing the way wouldn't have gone amiss; I resorted to asking someone for directions. 

Sign on kit

Registration was pretty quiet, and I was given my number and ties easily enough. Sadly the lady who did so didn't also tell me what to do next. So I tied the number on my bike, wondering whether the flimsy blue garden twines were going to be long enough or strong enough. I then realised there was no timing chip in the envelope, so wandered back in again to figure out that I needed to find the timing team, tell them my number, and get my SPORTIdent chip hung around my neck. I also searched in vain for a rubbish bin to stash my leftover envelope in, but couldn't find one, which was a tad irritating. 

In the corner the outriders and support team were getting briefed, and there was time to look at the route profile and wonder if it was too late to bail and go back to bed. Hey, no-one would notice right? Well, actually, since you have to get your chip checked at several locations on the course, sadly they would. 

Due to the staggering of the riders, and also possibly the staggering nature of the forecast, there was no great queue to get underway. People were already leaving as we crossed back over the road so we looped round, joined them, and then were on our way. Time to do my third Tour of Pembrokeshire. Third time lucky? Ha! 

The start line

Started out ok

Well for a while it all went well. Yes, it was extremely windy, but it was dry, the scenery was nice, the climbing had yet to get going and I wasn't feeling too bad. The first couple of dips down to the coast took several by surprise, but the advantage of experience meant I knew they were coming so was in the right gear to climb out again, although I was nearly taken out by someone not quite so lucky after he stopped, tried to get going again, failed, failed to uncleat, and failed to stay upright. 

First food stop riders

The weather was slowly deteriorating. The first feed station at Fishguard was full of riders wearing shorts and making me feel cold just looking at them. All the volunteers helping were well wrapped up though - just like me. I nipped into the toilet, grabbed half a banana and the odd cold potato, and we headed off again. 

Things weren't going great by now. Occasional showers, lots of wind and I wasn't feeling great either. Half way up one of my favourite climbs through the moors before Newport I had to give in and take painkillers. As we stood there and I caught my breath, and tried to get it together, a nice clearly bored marshal offered to take our photo. The scarf behind me stuck out at 90 degrees illustrates the wind nicely! There was an odd bleak beauty to it all up there though.

On we went. Sadly the descent to Newport was a nightmare - something all of the good descents today shared - because 30+mph crosswinds are never, never, ever fun when you're already doing 30+mph downhill! 


Moor climbing

Windswept pill stop 

There are two route splits, but there's not much distance between them really. Although doing the 50 mile route didn't really appeal, I had half been considering the 75 mile, and that second split came at around the 33 mile mark. We pulled up and deliberated. The cheery marshal told us we were both young enough to go the distance. Nice try...flattery will get you everywhere, and maybe it would even get me around? For all that I might have been feeling like bailing, it's a long way to come to only ride 75 miles. I have many more events ahead this season, and I needed to get some serious mileage and time in the saddle under my belt. Besides which, Chris hadn't dragged himself all the way across to the end of the Welsh world just to nurse me around the short route. I decided we were going left. 100 miles, here we come. 

The beautiful coast 

Riders flying by

And for about 17 miles or so, all was well. There was even some sunshine amongst the showers. We got to to my favourite bit of the whole ride, along the stunning coastline which makes me smile every time, and this time was no exception. But then the showers got heavier, and the gaps between them shorter. The second feed at Poppit Sands was a bit of a melee until a couple of bright sparks set up two hoses and started filling riders' bottles with those instead. Riders could be found sheltering from the wind behind all manner of buildings, trying to eat food in temporary peace. 

Second food stop 

Poppit sands

Time to go again, and tackle the long slow climb along and out of the valley that I also quite like. The spectating residents in the house near the bottom informed us that we'd done 48 miles already, which was probably supposed to help, but actually meant we weren't even half way yet! 

Here comes the rain again, and this time it really didn't stop. I put it off for as long as I could, but had to stop in a petrol station and put my waterproof on and take a gel. My waterproof was a godsend. And it definitely kept me warmer. 

Third food stop 

The third foodstop at Boncath was seriously well provisioned. Potatoes, ham wraps, bread & jam, faggots, malt loaf, bananas, the list goes on....  The poor girls staffing it, from the Guides or some such, looked frozen solid and I did feel a bit sorry for them. The weather threatened to get worse, so we resorted to hiding out to let the worst of the latest instalment blow over. However, if you stand still you just get colder, and I had to get going again, like it or not, because I was freezing. That stop came somewhere in the middle of what turned out to be 5 hours of rain. At some point my twingeing left knee blew up completely, and I had to take more painkillers as soon as I could, because every left pedal stroke was killing me. 

It was just hours of relentless horribleness. I don't mind climbing, but I mind climbing it one-legged, and the pills had only reduced the sharp stabbing to a duller one. I think there were hours when I didn't actually have a single coherent thought, just followed the signs, and the flashing red light, or beacon, that was Chris' rear light! Such a shame, because I do love some of this route, especially the climb over the Presellis. Not today though. There were some fairly long unremarkable sections in-between too which would normally be forgiven, but today just seemed to drag and bore simultaneously. Kudos to the organisers though, it was impressive that the large luminous route signs were staying put in the conditions. 

I have to admit we cut out the 10 mile loop that takes in the fourth food stop and the Gwaun Valley. It was definitely a case of enough already. Riding a bike is supposed to be enjoyable, and this just wasn't. Having said that, we still weren't near the end. We hadn't reached the 5th foodstop yet, and I knew it's another 18 miles in after that! Another couple of hours of slogging were ahead of us, with a very brief stop at that final feed where a very loud disco trailer was playing and the resilient staff were busy being cheerful and helpful. 

Every year I hate the last section. I know "they" do it to bring you around St David's and back into the city the pretty way past the Cathedral, but it just goes on and on, over more lousy road surfaces, floods and potholes. I have no idea what the time was, but finally we were cycling up the final steep bit past the Cathedral, just relieved it was finally over. We rolled up the high street and over the Finish Line outside the Grove Hotel, handed over our chips, and were presented with our souvenir coasters - always a nice touch. Tour of Pembrokeshire 2014 - done. Thank goodness for that, and many thanks to Chris for (yet again) putting up with me! 

ToP Coaster 


St Davids... in the sun!

I've no idea what the après ride food was like, or if there were more goody bag things to be had; all I wanted to do was go back to my room and get warm, so that's exactly what I did! I spent a while wrapped up in the duvet trying, and failing, to warm up; but it wasn't until I sat in a hot bath for a while that I was restored to myself. Still you can't blame the organisers for this ride. It was just one of those days at the office. These may be two of the most well-earned pints ever, and they weren't the last! And of course, the following day the weather was much nicer - see? Typical.

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 8 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) 8 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 9 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) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 8 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 90.0%