Event Review

REVIEW: The Taunton Flyer 2016

by Jennifer Trotman

GB Flag

REVIEW: Taunton Flyer 2016

Date: Saturday 14th May 2016
Distances: Spitfire (34 miles), Dakota (70 miles) & Wellington (111 miles)
Participants: max 1000
Cost: £25, £34, £34. £40 on the day.
Start: Taunton Racecourse, TA3 7BL
Feedstops: 1 on Spitfire, 2 on Dakota, 3 on Wellington.
Timing: Registration pack & disposable helmet timing chip posted out in advance.
Signs: black arrows on yellow background
Roads: mix of A and B roads
Photos: sportivephoto.com
Website: http://www.justevents.org/index.php/events/taunton-flyer
Goody bag: event t-shirt

HQ for today's Taunton Flyer was Taunton Racecourse, which was around 40 minutes down the M5 away.  A nice easy drive in the sunshine after a relatively late alarm call which, with a little music for company, made for a pretty good start to the day.  As ever my sat nav got me where I needed to be, and the marshals got me on to the racecourse parking field, which was already busy.  Lots of lycra emerging into the sunshine, and bikes being assembled.  It being on the other side of the road to the actual race course and stands, it looked like most people were getting ready and then going over there, rather than to-ing and fro-ing.  I decided to join them in that.  Well it wasn't like I needed to register - everything necessary had arrived in the post a week or so beforehand.  Bike number, cable ties, and helmet timing chip - job done. All we had to do was turn up and ride. We being my mate Gary and I.  Half way through faffing, I realised he was parked directly behind me, two rows closer to HQ. Very convenient! 

So there we both were, stood in the sun, having the usual conversation about the weather.  Yes it was sunny.  The last couple of days had been really nice and sunny and warm.  The forecast was for not so warm and not so sunny, improving later on.  In actuality it was a little overcast, with the sun trying to break through, a bit windy, and really pretty chilly.  But that's not unusual for 8:00am even on what turns out to be a really nice day.  Shorts. Toe covers. S/s base layer, s/s jersey, arm warmers, head scarf, winter neck scarf...but should I add leg warmers? Which I don't like, because they always seem to go baggy and try to fall down.  If the new knee warmers I'd ordered had arrived I'd have worn them, I think.  But they hadn't, and I decided to leave the leg warmers behind... 

We headed off, over the road, and walked past the stands towards the start.  There were toilets on the corner of one block, but the Ladies turned out to be locked still, even though the Gents were open.  Which was a tad worrying...but luckily further along, the main stand was open, and had that which I needed.  It was also where anyone who wanted to could sign up on the day.  There were three routes today - the Wellington (111 miles), the Dakota (70 miles) and the Spitfire (34 miles), all themed around the wartime airfields of East Devon and Somerset. Although I was, as ever, signed up for the longest route, I'd decided against that ages ago.  I'd like to get a century in soon, but 111 definitely seemed like a step too far.  The long route riders were due to be allowed off first, with us Dakotas due to start from 8:20am onwards. Judging by the number of riders gradually massing near the start, the majority were doing the middle route with us.  

It was really chilly hanging around.  Every now and then the sun would break through, and a little ripple of happy would run through the crowd before it went again.  And we ended up hanging around for quite a while longer than planned, as the local county highways department had unexpectedly decided to close one of the roads on the route to resurface it.  The organisers were madly running around somewhere, moving route signs around to match the official diversion signs so that we could likewise be diverted.  In the meantime we were not diverted...and it was all bit tedious, and we were getting colder all the time.  At least I had time to take photos of the mechanics doing their thing, and the spitfire parked up and looking awesome at the start line, right?  When we did get the go ahead Gary and I ended up in the second group to be let away, after a long and detailed briefing...and we weren't actually on our way until just before 9:00am, by which time we were both absolutely freezing. 

I knew that the first hill was 5 miles in, and since the first few miles were easy or downhill, and frequently shady, I really wasn't getting any warmer, so I was kinda dreading it.  How were hills going to be today?  Oh man it was cold...I wished I'd put those leg warmers on for sure.  We cycled through Corfe, which had no castle, but did have pretty cottages.  And then it was time to go up in the world.  Up Blagdon Hill which, as it turns out, was ok as climbs go.  Longish and gradual, with the odd wiggle.  I left Gary behind, hills being something you do at whatever your speed is, but once up on the top I slowed down and he caught me up shortly.  Lots more trees, views to the right, fairly straight and rolling for a good few miles.  However not enough trees, and not all of the time, as up there on the top, the wind was definitely worse, and chilly with it.  It was pretty though - trees, bluebells, greenery...  All very green actually. 

It was a relief to drop back down to normal altitude and have things be marginally warmer.  I don't like being cold! It was a bit sunnier by now, and every time we stopped for whatever reason, standing in the sun was almost pleasant.  Getting going again made you cold again though.  But the riding was going well, the miles were ticking down, and our average speed was higher than usual.  It didn't really feel like a sportive, more of a Sunday ride.  Mind you, quite a few of our fellow riders clearly thought it was a race...hurtling past with little warning and less manners... 

Luckily, and well before the food stop we were about to reach, most of that lot had hurtled off into the distance, leaving the rest of us to get on blissfully doing our own thing, and doing nice things like saying hello to each other, passing the time of day, pointing out potholes, and so on.  Something also worth pointing out is the number of the women doing this ride.  By which I mean lots of them, which was really nice to see.

Right, I believe I mentioned we were about to reach the food stop.  Which, at 30 miles in on a 72 mile route, felt a bit late to me, and not just on a mileage level.  It turned out to be at a school in Broadclyst.  We pulled in, and in the absence of anywhere to put the bikes, laid them down on the grass.  Inside, in the canteen, was a whole range of foods - sandwiches, crisps, flapjacks, fig rolls, High5 Isogels, and much more, not to mention water, High5 drink, tea and coffee, and tables and chairs to sit at if you so wished.  I decided cheese and onion crisps and maybe a caffeine enhanced isogel were the way to go, but we decided to sit outside in the sunshine to consume then, and enjoy the unfamiliar warmth.

Let's go ride bikes again shall me? I'd eaten, and drunk, and now I wanted to ride.  Which, having gotten nearly warm stationary in the sunshine, was not nice.  How was it STILL cold??  Just for once I'd actually paid fairly close attention to the route - and I knew that there were a few hills ahead - at c 38 miles, 42 miles, and 50 miles.  We bimbled for a bit until we'd warmed up some, and I'd gotten back into the swing of things.  Being, shortly, half way around, also helped perk me up, as ever.  And yes, there was a climb at 38 miles in...but it was just a long drag up an A road, complete with cycle lane, to fly all the way down the other side.  Easy, right?    

So when we started the next up, a few miles down the road, I wasn't too worried. But I SO should have been!  Compared to what had come before, the Greenway Lane Climb came as a very nasty shock.  Apparently there was a sign at the bottom indicating a hill was ahead, but I hadn't seen it, and even if I had, I don't think I'd have been expecting this! This climb is long, narrow, and steep.  Near the bottom I had to lose precious momentum to let a silver VW Camper past, but I managed to keep moving.  As we slow ground our way up, past walking riders, and it got a bit steeper, and with no idea of how far we had to go, I did muse out loud that I wasn't sure I was going to make it up this one.  I seriously though walking might be a possibility.  Up and up, narrowly avoiding those who fell by the wayside by stopping in front of me. 

Half way up, blocking most of the road, was that van. With a cyclist leaning on, and into the passenger window to chat.  But would they move?  Nope  I did say I was coming through, to vaguely sort of suggest that it might be nice if they moved out of the way, but he just told me that was fine, and waved me around, into the dirt and gravel on his left, to get past.  I was not amused...  Still, I kept going up and it got marginally less steep, enough so for me to keep going.  Gary took to walking at some point, but I was too busy focussing on ahead not behind to see when.  It was seriously hard work, but being one of the very few still pedalling was motivational. Higher and higher up, properly into the trees, with gravel, potholes, and an occasionally lifting front wheel...  

Two cyclists were walking ahead of me blocking the road...and I didn't have much energy for saying 'excuse me' by then...but luckily they noticed.  The gent in red moved to the left a bit, and as I went through the narrow gap he encouragingly told me to keep it up, not far to go now, and not to worry about the car behind me. Car behind me?  Hadn't even noticed there was one!  You'll never guess what it was... Yep - that van.  And was I going to move out of the way? Probably not... Especially as I thought I could see the end.  So thanks to their encouragement and a serious dose of stubbornness, I kept my line, kept pushing and made it to the T-junction at the top, feeling more that a little pleased with myself. I waved a token thank you at the VW and it finally went away. 

There were a few riders at the top - some had walked, only the odd one hadn't. Sat there in the green, surrounded by dappled sunshine and bluebells,  recovering or/and waiting for mates, they were playing "spot the still pedalling cyclist".  Quite hard to do as it happens...as most people seemed to be walking.  Go me!  A little time to chat, and commiserate was great as it gave me time to get myself together, and I was almost human again by the time, not that long after, Gary emerged.  

We were back on the top now, that being where they build the airfields that this route nominally tours around,  For a while the chilly wind actually verged on being refreshing...  We were back to rolling now, and although it was all still a little bit unremarkable it was still pretty.  I  knew another hill awaited ahead...and I even saw the sign this time, so I was prepared.  The lovely down into a little wooded valley had pretty much given it away...  What goes down, must go up!  Basically it was just the like the killer hill before, but about half the length.  And we both got up this one by pedalling.  It was to be the last real challenge on the route, which was just as well, I'm not sure a third such would have been doable! 

Mind you, fighting the headwind was quite annoying enough.  I think I'd rather fight gradients than knots.  The wind never went away today, and always seemed to be in your face.  As a lot of the route was long straight bits on wide B, or even A, roads, there was often nowhere to hide.  We like trees a lot, and their shelter made the various tree tunnels we cycled through even more attractive.  There were still carpets of bluebells everywhere there was shade, and they really were beautiful.  Where there weren't trees, it was wide open...and we even saw a couple of the airfields we were supposed to. 

The second food stop came around 59 miles in, at Upottery, which marked the Smeatharpe WW 2 airfield I think. With only around 12 miles to go, I was tempted not to stop, but that could have been unwise on other fronts, so we stopped anyway.  And I'm glad we did, as in addition to the same wide range of food and drink, and toilets, the little hall was hosting an exhibition of WW2 bits and bobs, complete with folk dressed up to match. Not your average food stop! 

Another High5 Isogel, a look around, and a drink, and it was time to go and get cold again.  Clearly it really wasn't going to get warm for us today.  Time to roll home.   And after some rolling, we were dropping down, back off the hill, which was long and easy and fast...and SO much fun   The route split was only a few miles from the end, and neither of us were up for adding an impromptu 40 miles on to our day.  The marshall pointed us in the right direction for us, and cheerfully shouted than we had 6 miles left, I think, and as we kept flying along, and down, a spectating rider told us we only had one to go...and he wasn't wrong. There we were, back at the racecourse, and our work here was done.  

Time to take photos of the spitfire properly.  Sadly we'd missed them running the engines and we'd gone by the time they did, if they did, run them again as they suggested they would.  There was a raffle somewhere, the prize being a cockpit tour and to be in there when they ran the engines, which would have been very cool to win. We queued to get our time printouts, and then we got a goody bag each with a bottle, bronze medal, and t-shirt.  We then discovered that the canteen serving hot post ride food also did cold Fanta, which was the icing on the cake, and sitting outside drinking that and finally getting warm was lovely. Taunton Flyer done. 

So, in conclusion?  Well, it's a nice enough event.  Well run, good HQ, good food stops - though they're not spaced right to my mind.  It being a sunny Saturday and with a lot of the route being more A road than B, there was quite a bit of traffic from time to time.  I much preferred the country lanes section, even the little detour added this year to avoid going through Cullompton.  I didn't notice the unexpected diversion that delayed our start - Gary says we did it, I thought we didn't - but it didn't add miles either way.  It was very much a nice long Sunday ride, rather than feeling like a sportive, and that's no bad thing.  I just wish I hadn't been that bit too cold all day!  It was still a pretty good day on the bike.  And I got up those hills *grin*.

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 7 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 10 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) 9 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 8 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?) 7 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 7 out of 10
Overall Rating 85.6%

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