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Tour of Pembrokeshire 2012 REVIEW

by Jennifer Trotman

Date: Sunday 13th May 2012
Short:  50 miles (2985ft climbing) - feed stops at 24/35 miles
Medium: 75 miles (5413ft climbing) - feed stops at 24/50/60 miles
Long: 100 miles (7939ft climbing) - feed stops at 24/46/58/78/89 miles
Entry fee: from £20 (all routes)
Start: Oriel y Parc, High Street, St Davids, Dyfed, SA62 6NW.  Ample car parking (not all free).  Mechanical assistance available at start.  Catering: free tea/coffee available at start, café at HQ venue, free cawl at finish.
Participants: 629 signed up by close of on-line entry on May 9th.
Timing: Timing chips on lanyards to be worn around the neck, scanned at start and finish, top and bottom of hill climb, and stops along the way.  Timing provided by SPORTident UK Ltd.  Timing slip at finish.  Results online by the next day.
Signs: a mixture.  Small black on yellow signs, large black on luminous yellow signs, some handwritten signs, black on white, for route splits and road surface warning.  
Roads: Quiet country lanes with awesome scenery, but frequently less than ideal road surfaces.  
Afterwards:  timing slip, free food voucher (welsh cawl), Welsh slate commemorative coaster. Massages (pre-booked) available.  

The pitch:

The all-new 2012 Tour of Pembrokeshire promises to be the best yet, with a brand new venue, three fabulous new routes and a family treasure hunt ride on the Sunday.

The ride:

St Davids is about as far West as you can go from here without falling into the sea, and it's a good 3 ½ hours drive for me. As a result I opted to stay over the night before, which meant I was able to sign in on the Friday afternoon, rather than first thing on the morning of the event, which made a nice change.  The start venue at Oriel y Parc was being set up all ready for the following day, and I was by no means the only one signing in early, so there was definitely an air of anticipation building.  

Oriel y Parc


Being all signed in all I had to do on Saturday morning was get up, faff briefly about layers, and ride to the start line.  Due to the sun that was already shining, and the uncharacteristically optimistic forecast, I opted for socks, legwarmers, shorts, short sleeve Cyclosport jersey, winter jersey, mitts, and Cyclosport gilet.

Did I mention the sun? Yes, sun!  Sun, on the morning of a sportive! Oriel y Parc was no distance away, and it was pretty nippy as I made my way there, but when you're on your bike, the sun is shining, and the sea is glowing blue in the distance...well, I think it's safe to say there are far worse ways to start a Saturday morning.  As always I was early but as there were only 3 (unisex) toilets, there were some queuing issues, which meant that being there early was a good thing.  Being early also put me right near the front of the queue for the start, which I always like.  Sooner started, sooner finished!


Queue for the start

After a brief welcome from the organisers and Valero, the main event sponsors, we were underway at 8:00am on the dot, with our timing lanyards being scanned by the marshals as we passed under the start banner.  I've done two events in a row using that timing method now, and although it has its advantages, dangling timing chips still irritate me!

Off we went, through the quiet streets of St Davids and out into the even quieter countryside. The first half an hour or so was pretty flat which, if you didn't know better, could easily lull you into a false sense of security.  It does mean you get chance to warm up your legs a bit though, which is both nice and, as it turns out, essential, because the route then drops down to the coast at Trefin, kicks up out of it again in a steep wiggle, and voilà, the climbing has begun.  

The route was advertised as being 104 miles and c.2400 metres of climbing - so this was never going to be a flat ride.  All the routes, profiles, event details, instructions etc. were on the website well in advance, so there was no excuse for not knowing what was going on, and forewarned is most definitely forearmed.  To use my favourite understatement for the day, West Wales is a bit lumpy...  As I was doing this ride on my own, I had already decided just to view it as a long day out in the saddle in the sun and not to push it, so I settled down to enjoy the scenery.

Lighthouse view

Two riders by the coast

Look at that sky!  And the sea too!  Just gorgeous...

About 15 miles from the start there was a timed hill climb, but since that involved a) stopping to be scanned at the bottom before going up and b) considering yourself to be competitive at some level, I gave that a miss.  Some people were clearly enjoying the challenge though!  The lady scanning chips at the top was warning everyone about the dangerous descent to follow, and she wasn't wrong.

It was steep, wiggly, gravelly, and involved farmyards. Just as well it was dry, and even so I gather a couple of riders came a cropper going down there.  

Right now I should warn you that I may well lose track of which climb was which, because for most of this ride if you weren't going down you were going up, and if you were going down, you almost didn't want to be doing so for too long because you knew that payback would be just around the corner!  So bear with me if I get them a little muddled...

The first of five - yes five - foodstops was in a pub car park in Fishguard, about 24 miles in.  Refreshments on the outside, facilities within - perfect.  I don't ask for much really.  Half a banana ingested, one gilet stuffed in the saddle bag, and it was time to go again, with many miles left to ride.

First food stop in Fishguard

One of the many nice things about this ride was the route card given to all riders:

Route card before

Every hill, every food stop, all marked out so you knew what was coming up.  I checked it at each food stop, and thus knew that in this case there were three big lumps between me and the next food stop.  For me it's all part of making the ride mentally doable.  Counting the miles until the next food stop, the minutes until I next have to eat, calculating how far through I am - quarter, third, half, over half and on the way home.  Breaking it down into manageable chunks and avoiding looking at the bigger picture at all costs.

Talking of pictures...


That's scenery that is...and there was a lot of it.  Wales is not just lumpy it's big!

Not easy to capture on my little camera as quite clearly I'm a cyclist not a photographer.  Unsurprisingly, it was time to go up in the world again...

First view behind me

That would be the view behind me...

First stretching climb

...and that would be the climb stretching off into the distance ahead of me.  Time for some serious plodding, with zips undone, on and on and pretty relentless fashion...but the views at the top were awesome.  

Amazing view

Coastal headland

Can you see the down coming...?  Yes, there was a well earned and lovely wiggly windy descent all the way to Newport. This was very much a rural ride, not an urban one, and we only skirted the edges of town before heading back out into countryside again..  

About to descend to Newport

As you can see, the sun was definitely shining.  There wasn't actually supposed to be much wind, but there certainly seemed to be enough cold air moving around. And by around I mean usually in my face.  Maybe technically speaking it wasn't wind, maybe it was "coastal breezes", but whatever you want to call it, they clearly get a lot of it up there, and there was more than enough of it for me!

Wind blown tree

It stayed on the nippy side all day really - just the right side to cool you down after the massive hills though, so that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.   I spent a while chatting to a fellow solitary rider.  He was from Bridgend and this was his first sportive.  I had to point out that he'd picked a pretty challenging ride for his first one, but it was early days yet, and I'm not sure he believed me...  

Slogging up yet another hill, into yet more wind, could be enough to get you a little depressed, but then you go down a bit, around a corner, and this is waiting for you:

Coastal descents

Gorgeous coast

Does it get much better than that?  Just awesome, no?  I know I've been known to joke about stopping to enjoy the scenery, as being an excuse to take a break, but in this case it really was the view I stopped for.  Breathtaking, and it definitely put a smile on my face.  Time to move on, somewhat reluctantly, and head for the next feed stop.

Signs to show the way

As you can see, that involved a left turn, to the very cutely named Poppit Sands, where the food station was down on the beach at the RNLI base there.  Generally speaking the signs were pretty good - there was a mixture of these small ones and some very large ones - black arrows on luminous yellow.  There were a few places where a CAUTION sign would have come in useful, and a couple of places where more signs would have been good.  The main shortcoming was the route split signs which were mostly handwritten black on white, which is fine for "loose road surface" warnings when you're going slowly and have time to pay attention, but they're not what you see when you're flying along and your eye is attuned to looking for yellow/black signs.  Quite a few people ended up doing routes that they hadn't intended to...but luckily I wasn't one of them.  The garmin file I had downloaded proved to be accurate though so if that had happened I'd hopefully have been able to rectify things.   Anyway, back to the course.  46 miles and another half a banana under my belt.

Second food stop at RLNI Poppit

The sands at Poppit

There was, for novelty value, a small amount of flat riding alongside the river here as we headed inland to find some more hills to climb, and started to loop back around.

Boats at Poppit sands

If I recall correctly the next section involved some fairly long steady climbing through dappled woodland roads.  It was that funny mid-sportive no-mans land where you're a long way from the start, but nowhere near the end either...  
By the time we reached the third foodstop at a very tempting country pub in Boncath, it was definitely time for some sartorial adjustment.  Time for the leg warmers to come off - job more than done!  I stashed them in the ever-expanding saddle bag, ate another half a banana, and with a seriously wistful backward glance at the pub garden I was off again...  At least this was 58 miles in, so the halfway mark had come and gone, seeing another mental hurdle overcome.

Third foodstop at Boncath

Having checked the route card I knew that the biggest climb of the day, over the Prescellis, was coming up next.  When the hills you're climbing up have burial mounds and cairns on them, it's a safe bet that you're a long way up...and since it's a climb of around 6 miles or so, you've probably still got a long way to go.  I was worried it would be too steep for me, as I definitely have a gradient threshold, but it wasn't.  It was most certainly hard work though!

Blue riders

It just kept going up.  Every time you turned, there was more up to go.  They have more than enough up to go around...

My shoulder view

I distracted myself by taking photos, and doing my best to remember I was supposed to be enjoying the day out, so I admired the ever expanding scenery, the wheels went around, and the hill got climbed. 

Sweeping views

Views from the Prescellis

I briefly stopped at the top, along with others, to appreciate how far I'd come.

Riders recovering on the biggest hill

This was the highest point on the Tour, and although there was a still a chunk of miles to do, and a fair bit more climbing, it definitely felt like I'd broken the back of the ride.  And then you get to go down...and it was quite some down!  There were some cracking descents on this ride - some of which were a little too technical for me to enjoy, but others were just awesome.  I'm not the fastest downhill, but I did have fun.  Maybe this sign applies to me?

Cyclists slow

Green views

More views, and more climbing, before discovering the fourth foodstop lurking in a sheltered valley at Pontfaen, where a rather fat chocolate labrador was roaming around in the hope of grabbing leftovers from cyclists who were far more interested in feeding themselves than a dog.  78 miles in, if you're counting...

Fourth foodstop at Pontfaen

I stood in the sun eating yes, you guessed it, half a banana, and the radio happened to be playing "Beautiful Day" by U2 in the background, which seemed appropriate.  A few of the riders I met here had missed the route split, and had ended up doing the long route instead of the medium one.  Given the weather they didn't seem too cross about it, but wow, if you hadn't trained for it, that was going to hurt!Shortly after this the long route re-joined the shorter ones.  The flat fast stretch along  the bottom of the valley was fun, but the long steep climb out of it was exactly that.  Quite a slog, given the miles in the legs by now, but at least it was the last climb, right?  

Moor views

Tilted camera

The advertised 2400 metres of climbing had come and gone, and there was still up going on. Maybe not massive ups, but still... There were three of us now.  I'd somehow ended up with the man from Bridgend again, who ruefully agreed that I hadn't been joking when I said it was a hilly ride, and just by the way his posterior was in tatters.  Apparently I'm allowed to quote him on that.  Our third musketeer was another lady rider - there only were 19 of us - also doing her first sportive.  I felt like an old hand!  We reached the last food stop, at 89 miles in, to be greeted by Father Christmas.  No, I have no idea why either.

Fifth foodstop at Letterston

Father Christmas

My first sportive, "Bridgend rider"

That left us with 15 miles to do, hopefully around an hour or so riding, which I knew was essentially rolling.  To be fair, that doesn't mean flat though, and at that point, any sort of incline most definitely feels like a climb.  We rolled together, more or less, for quite a while, though we did split up from time to time. 

With about 8 miles to go I started to get hints of bonking being an option.  I had two choices - try and tough it out, stick with the guys, and hope to get back that way or be sensible. I was sensible. I dropped back, and ate a packet of my jelly beans. Judging by how good they tasted I must have really needed them, and I span my legs for a while to give them time to cut in, which luckily they did.   As I got my act back together, I found myself leapfrogging another rider and once this had happened a couple of times, we started doing it properly, taking turns at the front, and generally making those last few miles that bit easier and more pleasant.

Altura wheel guy

The last little loop takes you teasingly around and away from your goal, which you can see but not touch, so as to bring you back into St Davids from the bottom with a last little kick of a hill up past the Cathedral and through the gatehouse.  A very scenic and attractive way to round off a ride, but I'm glad I knew it was coming - last minute hills are not good!

Cathedral off kilter

There wasn't time to take a better photo - otherwise I'd have ended up riding into the Gatehouse not under it, which I'm thinking could have been a tad embarrassing.  

St Davids gatehouse

Getting to the finish line was but a formality now, but it was nonetheless a welcome sight.  My timer chip was duly scanned, my number clipped off for me (nice touch that), and once both were handed in, I was presented with my official time slip, a voucher for a free bowl of cawl, and a lovely Welsh slate commemorative coaster, which is both attractive and useful - definitely one up on a medal or water bottle!

Finish line

Yes, it was a long day in the saddle, and it was quite a bit hillier than advertised, but it had coast, hills, estuary, moors, woodlands...every kind of beautiful scenery under the sun, actually under the sun!  As events go, from a route and scenery point of view, it's hard to beat.  Shame about some of the road surfaces though - but that's the standard trade off - you either get quiet rural roads with dodgy surfaces or more busy and more major roads that are smooth...  

I just missed my 8 hour ride time goal, but considering the parcours, I'm still pretty happy with how it went.  Having rolled up my sleeves, and removed various layers, I'm less happy with the most ridiculous sunburn lines I now have!  Still, I didn't walk, I didn't bonk, and my day wasn't as long as some - the final rider in had been out there just under 11 hours.  Chapeau!  Now that's a long day!

Cycling time: 8:01:56 hrs
Distance: 105.38 miles
Avs: 13.1 mph.
Official time: 8:35:15 - 98th of 167 finishers. 9th of 19 women. Bronze.

Route card after

As you can see, my route card looks a little less pristine now...I think I may have perspired on it whilst it was stuck in my back pocket....!

1 Comment

30th May 2012 10:57am Edje wrote:

Great write up of a really good event and nice pictures too that show what a great area Pembrokeshire is to ride in.