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PREVIEW: Tour of Pembrokeshire 2014

by Jennifer Trotman

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue

I must be mad. This wasn't even a sportive, and I was still up at 4:45am and heading out into the darkness by 5:30am. The only thing that got a decent night's sleep was my bike, all tucked up in the back of the car! But since the Tour of Pembrokeshire is run by my friend Peter, and he had asked me to come down to do the Prologue ride, who was I to say no? Plus he'd arranged for me to do it on a Bianchi Infinito test bike, and it would be rude to say no to that too now wouldn't it? 

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Prologue route

Actually, odd though it may sound, that was the part of the day that was worrying me most! I've done the Tour of Pembrokeshire twice, in 2012 and 2013, albeit extremely slowly. I know how hilly it is. But I know that, on my bike, I can do it. But on an unfamiliar bike, with a different set up, different gearing (Campag not Shimano), and probably less of those gears too. I have to admit that I was half hoping that it wouldn't fit me at all and that I'd end up riding my bike instead, which at least I'm more than familiar with. But faint heart never won fair sportive, so I was prepared to at least give it a go. 

HQ for the Prologue was in Newport, Pembrokeshire. It's just as well the satnav did the last section cross country as zooming down a dark and featureless motorway was sending me back to sleep. Once there I found Llys Meddyg almost by accident, and no, I can't pronounce it either. It's a very nice restaurant with rooms which was not just HQ for the ride but also home for the night - six hours driving in one day not having appealed all that much. The main event starts from the historic cathedral city of St Davids, which is a lovely place to visit even without a bike!

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Peter

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Shorts

I was, as ever, a little early. However, one of the few people I came across was Dan, from Bianchi, who was just starting to unload and set up bikes. Chances are that one of them was due to be mine, right? So we had a chat, and I left him with my woefully outclassed Cube, to transfer my well worn saddle and pedals across to my shiny new 50cm toy and set it up so I could test it out a bit first. As far as I was concerned it was light and pretty, but if you'd like some more technical details, which seems likely, it was a 2014 Bianchi Infinito CV with Campagnolo Chorus 11 Speed. The standard bike is supplied with Fulcrum Racing Quattro wheels and the RRP would be £4200. However, my bike had been upgraded with Fulcrum Racing Speed XLR Tubulars which would bump the RRP up to £7100. Blimey!

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Gathering riders

Slowly riders in lycra gathered. We drank coffee. And faffed. Well, at least I did. I couldn't decide what else to wear though. It wasn't as cold as I has expected, but I also knew it wouldn't be fast and flat, it would be hilly and hot and then chilly and down. Luckily I hadn't brought too many options with me so it wasn't actually that difficult to choose.

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Bianchi Infinito 

Time to see if the Infinito fitted, and worked, and if I was up to riding it. Dan handed it over, without looking unduly worried that I was going to trash it which was impressive considering how out of my league it clearly was! I carefully negotiated the riders milling around the car park to get to the road, having no wish to risk making an idiot of myself in front of an audience. I went down the main road and back and it seemed to work. The Campag changing was different, though not impossible, but the saddle felt a bit low, so Dan rectified this and I did the same again. Better. It appeared that I could ride the thing on the flat at least, and I wasn't going to head out far enough off to find a hill just to find out how that would work. That could wait. Hey, I can always walk up hills, right?

All set then. Peter organised the 25 or so riders into groups. Fast or first, medium ish, and then us - being the slow group. Well, Jim and the fast lot all looked kinda serious and I know better than to mess with that kind of testosterone! After a little longer getting all the riders ready 15 or so of us headed finally off around 9:30am. The Prologue route was set to be around 45 miles, taking in some of the climbs from the main event, as well as some more unfamiliar bits, to give us a taste of the real thing. 45 miles and 4,900 feet of climbing! When it comes to the actual Tour, there are three routes; 50 miles, 75 miles and 100 miles all with plenty of climbing.

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Rhapsody in blue

As we set off I was not feeling great, but had to remind myself that it was a cold day, on a new bike, and that we were going up hill almost straight away - so it was taking me a while to warm up. So I hung in there, chatted away, discussed my very expensive steed, with those wheels that cost more than my entire bike, with various other riders including some other lucky test riders, and waited for things to get better. Which they did. Our group spread out quite a lot, and regrouped a lot, giving me time to catch my breath from time to time. Eventually we split into two more manageable and evenly matched groups.

There was one really long climb early on that didn't bother me too much, but the first really big hill, that I recall from the main route where it comes around 42 miles in and which really hurt last year, was Moylegrove. It's wiggly, goes on for quite some time, and is also quite steep. I ran out of gears fairly early on, unsurprisingly, but I just sat down and pushed up it and although it was hard work, I did make it up. So if that was one of the worse hills, which I knew it was, me and the Infinito were going to get by ok.

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Tom

Which pretty much set the scene for the rest of the ride, with Tom leading the way (he's the skinny fast looking one in blue). Country lanes, ups, and downs. Group riding for a while, spread out on the hills, drop me off the back. Regroup at the top. Then repeat. This works quite well if you're me - as I get to pootle away at my own speed, admire the beautiful scenery, reach the top, and then get company again when I'm suffering less! The Tour is set in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, and the sea, hills, and scenery are why I come back year after year, it really is hard to beat.

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Going up and up and up

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Sun on the water

I had the odd problem changing gear under load, maybe because I didn't always get the switching right. The chain came off twice, I had to climb one, luckily short, steep hill totally out of the saddle in the lowest top ring gear, and one I had to stop altogether and spin the pedals manually to get it to change down. Nonetheless I made it up the hills, even the last killer one. I wish there had been some more flat though. Not for the usual reasons though - I just wanted to play with the toy more! On the few occasions when we got the chance, the odd sprint was fun. I don't know if it was the wheels, or the bike, but man, it was responsive. Kick off, and it kicked off! I'm thinking that given some decent flat or a sprint finish, that bike and I could kick some serious butt! 

I was a bit more cautious than I would be on my bike though, just because I wasn't sure how it would handle, or corner, or brake, and I didn't want to find anything out the hard way! Apparently braking on carbon rims is different. It certainly seemed to stop more than ok though, but with a bit of a whine on slowing, and the occasional squeal when really called into play. The inside gear levers were tricky for my little hands to change when down on the drops, and having them there under the thumbs when riding normally felt a bit weird, but I guess you get used to that. On top of that I did get quite a lot of road noise through the bars sometimes, but I think that's probably more to do with the wheels.

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The pack

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Serious riders

Yes, yes, I know, this is the least technical review of a bike that you've ever read. But man, if there was any way I could get my hands on one permanently, albeit with normal wheels that don't get blown sideways in the wind, then I definitely would! 

Talk about a great way to spend a morning. Four hours of riding a fabulous bike around lovely scenery in good company? Definitely worth the three hour drive and the early start. The only downside was having to give back my new toy afterwards! So I spent the rest of the afternoon/evening debriefing with other riders and drowning my sorrow in white wine. Which was all very enjoyable.  

However, whatever you're going to be riding it on, if you're after a great sportive that's well organised, challenging, with stunning scenery and plenty more... put the Tour of Pembrokeshire in your diary for 2014.