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Dartmoor Demon 2016

After last weekend’s Tour of Pembrokeshire, it’s safe to say I was a little nervous about this Saturday’s Cycling Weekly Dartmoor Demon.  I’ve been struggling this week as things get worse, and thanks to that, and extra work and the like, I hadn’t been able to get out on the bike either though, in my defence, I’ve managed a few home workouts.  On the upside, thanks to advice from the chemists, and my magical drug cabinet, I’m taking additional pills so, whilst not entirely under control, the pain had been pushed back to manageable…and I was hoping it would remain there.  But there was no guarantee…and I’m very good at worrying…

01 directions to registration 02 registration desk

On an additional positive note, for a change, and a very pleasant one, I wasn’t going to be riding on my own.  As it turns out Gary and I are actually doing the next few sportives together, including this one, coincidentally.  And Robin, who was visiting his in-law down there this weekend, had also volunteered to come and join me for a bit.  Various people seem quite concerned that I not end up crying by the side of the road on my own again, which is really nice of them.  To be fair, I’m quite keen that that not happen again too!

03 ride briefing on the start line 04 heading off through Haldon Forest

Right then.  Friday night.  A relatively sedate affair, involving covering the front room floor with everything I might need/want, and then narrowing it down, and slowly loading up the car.  The forecast was, as seems to be becoming typical, for sunny, cold, and a bit breezy.  Which, in April, could mean almost anything.  How cold is cold?  How warm is warm when it is sunny? And this being the Dartmoor Demon, with up on’t moor to consider, and ups to climb and downs to do…well, the temperature possibilities were endless!  So I loaded up the car with the bike and essentials, and left the decisions for the morning…

05 layer stop riders 06 Rob & Gaz climbing out of the valley

Which wasn’t as early as sometimes, as HQ was at Exeter Racecourse, only an hour away.  The weather was as predicted…so I opted for the same kit as last week and threw extra options in the car in case things changed a lot on the way.  I drank the all-essential coffee, ate porridge, popped various pills, and headed out at about 6:30am, to spend a very happy hour driving down a sunny, dry, fairly empty M5, listening to extremely loud music.  What a difference a week makes!

08 pill stop riders 08 climbing slowly behind me

On arrival once again the size of my car played in my favour as, unlike those entering the racecourse before me, I was pointed towards some empty spaces right at the front of the carpark – one of the Directors’ spaces in fact.  Oooh, get me!  Well, I am a VIP right? 😉  All parked up, I decided to go register before faffing.  I wasn’t in any rush, and there was no sign of Gary yet, so I might as well take my time.  See, there were two routes today – the Epic (95 miles) and the Standard (55 miles).  As ever, I was down for the Epic, but all things considered I’d pretty much decided that I’d be better off doing the Standard route, so if I missed the Epic route starting slot, it wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

09 another long climb ahead 10 welcome to Dartmoor proper

I followed the signs to registration, carrying my helmet with me as instructed, into the main stand building.   Being such it had plenty of facilities which, seeing the queues, I decided to use first, before taking my place in line.  A few more people on the desks might have come in handy…  My turn came, and I was given my bike number, cable ties, and my timing chip was stuck on the LHS of my helmet.  Amazing how many people hadn’t brought their helmets with them though…!  I was also informed in a by now well practiced spiel that changes had had to be made to the route, so to just follow the signs, and by the way, here’s a map, updated this morning.  Allegedly…  Since this took the Epic route from 95 miles to 102…any lingering doubts about my route choice decision vanished pdq!

11 moor climbing ahead 12 amazing views up there

Back at the car, as I was mulling over kit options in the chilly sunshine, Gary appeared, on his way to registration, which meant I had one less thing to worry about.  He headed off to get sorted and a little while later, we were both ready, and heading towards the start line, feeling nervous but fairly positive.  Well I was, I can’t speak for Gary! 😉

13 trio riding high 14 rob and gaz and a map

I hadn’t really given this sportive much thought.  I’d scanned the pre-event pdf, glanced at the map, and skipped over the route profile…so I didn’t have much of an idea what to expect.  As it turns out, it was pretty much a large chunk of the Dartmoor Classic….done in reverse!  So somewhat familiar, yet completely different too.  A surprisingly good combination.  The first few miles were through Haldon Forest, and flattish, that is when they weren’t going down in a very long and lovely way…  Not a bad way to start things, until you realise that inevitably you’ll be going back up the same way at the end of the ride!  Still, plenty of time to worry about that later, right?

15 riders on the Moor 16 the long road ahead

About 5 miles or so in, Robin was, as planned, loitering with intent by the side of the road.  And then there were three – one for all, and all for one, presumably 😉  Which set us up for a fair few miles bimbling along a sunny but shady valley, chatting away sociably, and stopping from time to time to take off the odd item, answer calls of nature, etc.  Of course it being Dartmoor, it wasn’t going to stay flat for long, not if we were going to actually see the Moor.  Time to climb out of the valley first then, up a climb that was remarkably similar to Porlock Toll Road.  Long and slow and gradual and scenic and actually pretty lovely.  Which did wonders for my PMA, already boosted by sunshine and company 🙂   This was followed by a long and steeper climb towards Moretonhampstead which, I hate to say it, I also enjoyed.  Which pretty much sums up how today was.  I loved the ups, however slowly I plodded up them, because I was still getting up them.  Yes they were frequently hard work, but my crawler gear was well and truly engaged, and I didn’t even feel like I was suffering really.  Well, apart from the usual pain, but I was coping with that.  How cool is that?  And the result of all that up?  Well some of the downs were amazing, especially as they’ve always been ups when I’ve been here before and I figured I’d somehow karmically earned their fun factor 🙂

17 first food stop 18 first food stop goodies

After that climb up, or another one, or whichever one it was that involved a Donkey Sanctuary that was actually a Miniature Pony Sanctuary, Robin left us up on the Moor, after a map reading session.  Thanks for joining us Rob – I really appreciated it 🙂  While the boys deliberated over maps, I looked out on the world, and took a few photos.  Man, the views were amazing today!  Mind you it was still chilly – especially up there.  My layers stayed on all day today, even if zips went up and down, and towards the end of the day I may even have rolled my sleeves up a little 🙂

19 Gaz and gorse 20 rider on the bridge

After a beautiful descent down a climb I usually hate, it was time for the first food stop, 27 miles in, which would mark our halfway point.  The little village hall being used here only seemed to have one toilet, which was leading to a lot of hedge watering…which wasn’t really an option for me.  And which was also not that pleasant from a resident/spectator point of view… 😉  So I queued, emerged, took photos, and ate a few jelly beans.  I know I’m rubbish at eating on rides, and I’m even worse on a “short” one as I don’t see the point somehow, and besides I wasn’t hungry…which is probably not clever.  Feel free to tell me off, you won’t be the first 😉

21 20% walkers 22 another girl!

Back to the Moor please.  Shortly afterwards, somewhere near Princeton, came the route split, and I was actually a little tempted…but I was more tempted by the idea of spending a whole ride in company, and also not having to regret a rash decision later on.  Plus I’d made a decision earlier, and I’m learning to stick to my decisions; I’m getting better at it ‘n everything 😉  So it was the left turn for us.  More Moor please!  More sun, more climbing.  A lovely descent to a pretty bridge across a babbling brook and rocks, was followed by a long and kick-ass 20+% up which I wasn’t expecting, and which wouldn’t be the only one such, but I still liked it 🙂  The second of these however, wherever it was, after yet another cutesy village, was less cool.  By now Dartmoor was getting busy – a sunny Bank Holiday Weekend Saturday was bringing the grockles out in force, and the little narrow lane we were now climbing up out of there on was cluttered with cars trying to get both up and down, and precious few passing places.  Driver tempers were rising…and our presence was not helping.  Luckily by the time I had to stop and watch a few of them play car chess to get around each other, the very steep bit was behind me.  It was annoying though – I hate to lose momentum.  It’s a little weird, but the hills were going so well, I almost wanted more of them just to keep proving that I wasn’t imagining it!

23 church tower 24 refreshment on the move

Back up on top, the Moor was getting even more familiar, and coming from this direction I could see all the way to the sea.  Breathtaking.  And I was practically at the beach!  Life is always better at the beach *grin*.  Not a bad place for a foodstop then…about 42 miles in…even if there were no toilets.  Just for a change, having topped up my bottles again, I decided I’d try a Mango & Apple PowerBar Smoothie thingy.  Which, amazingly, was very nice!  In fact I put one in my pocket for later, should I need it.  My not eating a great deal might not seem wise, but it worked just fine today, which just goes to show that we all work in different ways.  Different folks, different strokes, etc 😉  Anyway it was a pretty fab place to hang out, on top of the world, while Gary adjusted his seat post, which had somehow managed to drop an inch en route.  Apparently this was not helping with the whole getting up hills thing which, miraculously and just for once, I was doing marginally better than he was.  Ooh, get me and my ego 😉

26 drinking in the views 28 sharing the road

Right then, about 12 miles or so to go.  We weren’t the only cyclists making the most of the weather, as plenty of non-event people were out too, and we were all doing a pretty good job of grinning at each other as we passed by.  After some of that, the descent off the Moor was a blast…even if it did seem a shame to be leaving it behind.  What is usually a long slow slog at the beginning of the day was a long fast flight down at the end of mine.  Such fun 🙂  However, it was a good thing that came to an end, meaning it was time to spend a few miles being flat and fairly fast, and to look for the up that would take us back to HQ.

29 Gaz is rude 30 another church tower

Which, thanks to the route change, and the map that wasn’t up to date after all, wasn’t where we’d expected it to be, and several of us became convinced we’d missed a turning as we were cycling the same way along the valley as we had much earlier during the day.  Much though I was kind of enjoying myself, I didn’t want to do it all over again!  Somewhat amusingly one of the guys who stopped to pour over maps with us had done the epic route, plus a detour, so in the time we’d done 52 miles, he’d done over 100…  *sigh*  I will never be that good.  Way to put a girl in her place…ah well, my ego probably needed that! *grin*.  We decided to carry on and hope…which just when we were about to give up hope and turn around, turned out to be the right decision, as a marshal at Lower Ashton showed us the right turn we should be taking.

31 red rider on the way home 32 rough stepped climb

So we weren’t going to be going back up the same way, but we were still going to be going up.  The sight of a large tower – which turned out to be the Haldon Belvedere – beyond and up above kind of gave it away.  How could an sportive route organiser resist sending us up to that?  So up we went, through more bits of Haldon Forest, up and up and up…  It was sort of a stepped climb.  Steeper bits, longer gradual bits, all on a lousy road surface with holes marked out in orange spray paint.  Let’s just say there was a lot of orange paint…

34 Haldon Belvedere 36 smiling near the end

As we got nearer the tower, it got steeper, and the right turn below the tower wasn’t the end of it either, but it did flatten out a bit…  It all seemed a bit gratuitous this close to the end, but at least the end was nigh.  Finally up, we were rewarded with a flat couple of miles down which to fly back to HQ, and which were well earned fun 🙂  Time to cross the Finish Line, and be presented with my medal, a bar, and a copy of Cycling Active magazine.

The pen behind the Finish Line was full of women waiting for their men to home from the sea, who presumed I was one of them as I waited for Gary, until they spotted the medal around my neck, which made for some quite funny reactions.  To be fair, and not blame them, there really didn’t seem to be many women riders out there today…which is a shame.  Anyway, Gary wasn’t far behind me, but I was able to immortalise him when he arrived.  Dartmoor Demon done.  And the refreshment van sold fizzy orange…result! 🙂

37 hello finish line 38 hello Gary

Cycling time: 4:30
Actual time: 5:15 ish
Distance: 58.6 miles
Avs: 13.0 mph

39 Gary and medal

It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a proper post-ride buzz going on.  But I did today.  I’d had a really good ride, and I was in such a good mood that I could have hugged everyone, and hugged Gary instead, who was probably a bit taken aback by that…sorry!  But it had gone so well, I’d really enjoyed it, and while those around me were talking about how tough it had been, I really didn’t feel like it had?  Also, I guess the whole good mood thing was due in a large part to it having turned out way better than I’d feared it would.  It was just such a relief to have made it around without serious pain, mental or physical; I’d been so dreading ending up down there again.  It was also great to have had company, to chat to, and share the sunshine and scenery with, which probably made all the difference.  Many thanks guys, no hedge moments today 🙂  Here’s hoping the next few rides go just as well…*fingers crossed*.

40 traditional post ride refreshment 41 goodie bag

Dartmoor Classic 2015

One of the many lovely things about the Dartmoor Classic is that that the organisers, the Mid Devon Cycling Club, put up all their guests and sponsors etc. the night before the event, and feed them too.  Which meant that rather than getting up at hideous o’clock to get down in time to register and ride on the day, I could go down to Newton Abbot at my leisure on the Saturday.  So I did.  Being earlier than hotel check-in time I went straight to registration at the racecourse, where there was plenty of parking, and plenty going on.  The event village was up and running, live music was happening outside on the Grandstand, and people were milling around here there and everywhere in the sun.  This did not mean however that there were massive queues, quite the opposite in fact.  I walked straight in, up to the Grande route tables, proved my identity with my passport, and was given my envelope.  Job done.

Registration Event Village

It was all so efficient and took so little time that I didn’t really know what to do with myself next really.  The event village didn’t have anything I could be convinced I needed, so having forgotten to get cash on the way down, and fearing the “minimum spend” card criteria that was probably in place at the catering places on site, I took myself off to the Beefeater next door instead for a pint and some lunch, having also forgotten that eating would be a good idea today.  Guy turned up a while later and, after registering himself, we had a chat for a while before going our separate ways – him to the Premier Inn next door, and me back to the Passage House Hotel a little further away.  Since I still had plenty of time to kill before dinner, after checking in and checking out the envelope and faffing a little, I spent a couple of hours overlooking the River Teign, in the sun, hydrating 😉

river view

After a very pleasant meal with everyone at the Passage Hotel Inn next door, it was time for a relatively early night.  Well…it would have been earlier had my IBS not decided that something in the usually entirely safe (and particularly nice actually) ham egg and chips I’d had was not to be tolerated, and it would be passing Go without imparting any nutritional benefit on the way through.  (TMI? Tough!)  Gee, thanks for that.  Just what I needed.  So finally I was off to bed around 11pm ish, with an alarm set for 5:30am, not off to the greatest start…

Which was not helped by, for whatever reason, me waking up at 3:30am and completely failing to find much further comfort in the arms of Morpheus.  The bed was a little hard, the room was a little warm, the open window meant it was also a little noisy, with the road outside and with other guests coming and going through the very loud fire doors…it just wasn’t happening.  Ho hum.  Who needs sleep anyway, right?

So 5:30am found me already up and drinking bad coffee.  I ate a banana and cereal bar, went through the usual pre-sportive routine, and then got the bike out and set up before riding over to reception to check out. Outside it was definitely not as nice as the day before.  Sadly.  Windier, chillier, cloudier…and the 5 minute ride to HQ made me very glad of my gilet and arm warmers!

There was a small group of us due to be starting off together (me, Guy, Steve, Rob, and two Alans I think?), if not riding so, and we all gathered slowly near Guy’s car under the Premier Inn.  I took advantage of this to nip to the toilets, and got spotted and told off by some small officious female marshal for having my iPod earphone in one ear.  Apparently I was to take it off, or else.  Or else if I was spotted with it on the route, I would be disqualified and not get a time.  Like I care…!  Oh, and having checked back through the pdf with the regs?  No mention of them not being allowed either, as I thought.  She picked on me later in queue for departure too to make sure it was gone.  Well it wasn’t.  It just wasn’t visible.  And neither was it visible anywhere where I was likely to get caught on the day either 😉  But if you think I’m slogging up hills all day on my own without some background comfort, you have another think coming.  I’m not a slave to daft rules…  It’s always on quietly in my left ear, and has yet to stop me hearing anything important!  She made me cross.  Mostly at the tone she used actually, I don’t recall still being a child…

OK, eventually, after Steve and Alan had turned up and registered, and with several pens of Grande riders already en route, we all squeezed into the next pen ahead of the Medio riders as apparently all Grande riders HAD to be in this pen.  So there we duly were.  We do what we’re told right?  Not that we were going anywhere anytime soon.  I know a rider briefing is a good thing, but this one was interminable…and I’m not sure anyone was paying attention after the first couple of minutes.  Maybe he was just killing time to allow the previous pen to be escorted and set on their way before the lead out car came and did the same for us but hey, play some music or something first and then brief?

queue in front queue behind

I was feeling a bit nervous standing there, as well as post-telling off grumpy, oddly.  Not that I could figure out why, and I did try, but I just was.  Pre-ride banter was up to standard, and it was really nice to catch up with the guys though.  Finally it was our turn to go, with a neutralised start following that car, to keep us all well-behaved through the streets of Newton Abbot, before we were let off the leash a way out of town, past the timing gadgets, ready to get on with it.

My time with the guys lasted longer than the 5 minutes I’d half feared, but the elastic between myself and them snapped after about 20 minutes.  Which came as no surprise, and I’d already said I was ok with that, which I really was and am.  Although in retrospect it probably doesn’t help to start off a very long tough ride already feeling left behind if that makes sense?  Maybe I’d have been better off starting on my own?  We’ll never know…

Right then.  Me again.  This was my fourth time doing the Dartmoor Classic, and I was up for the 107 mile Grande route I was down for. Again. But I started having doubts early on, even though I did have words with myself about mentally shutting up until I’d at least warmed up properly.  Which today wasn’t easy.  It was, as I believe I’ve mentioned, grey, chilly, and rather windy.  Better things were forecast though so…?

40mph as if climbing is hard

5 miles of relatively flat warm up, and we were going through Bovey Tracey and then up onto the Moor with the first climbing of the day.  It’s really one long climb up to Haytor, but comes in sections, which today included a closed road Strava segment timed ascent of Beckaford Hill.  I plodded up the whole thing in my usual fashion, though with rather more rider traffic around me than was sometimes comfortable.  I looked at the views – stunning as to be expected – as crawler gear engaged (I’m always worried it won’t!) and it was all going ok.  Still, my average speed was barely in double figures, the wind up there was killer, and I was still chilly.

haytor Moor rocks

After some time on top of the world fighting that wind, and a lovely descent, it was time for more up (when wasn’t it?).  Several more ups as I recall.  One of which, around Holne Chase I think, is steep and narrow and was once again too busy.  After the left turn at the top, going steeply up past walking riders, with many more doing likewise ahead, one of those decided to try and get back on…failed to do so…and crashed to the floor right in front of me.  OK, so I stopped just in time, and warned the riders climbing behind me, but guess who wasn’t going to be able to get back on either now?  I can’t remember the last time I’ve had to walk on a hill and I was NOT amused!  A short grumpy walk later I was back on my bike and back to slogging up hills into the wind…

intrepid rider blue rider and view

This is going to sound weird.  But I just got bored.  I know all these hills.  I knew
I could and would get up them.  I wasn’t suffering any more than usual.  But I just couldn’t really engage my head with the whole thing.  Or figure out why I was doing it.  With the speed I was averaging, in the wind and the cold, it was starting to look like I’d be out there all day.  And after the walking incident?  I was actually bored riding my bike and I certainly wasn’t enjoying myself, so I decided that on that basis I’d possibly be better off cutting my losses…

Moor up scenic behind

The first food stop, and also the route split, was after the very very long slow windy slog up to Princetown, 33 miles in.  Which on a route like this is not two hours in, it’s three hours in, and was possibly a little late for me on that basis.  Dave, of MDCC and training camp fame, was marshalling at the entry so I had a friendly face to say hi to on the way in.  It was busy but not too crowded, the queues for the toilets were short, and the infamous savoury Homity pie was still plentiful.  Having grabbed some and refilled my bottle, I took myself off to a patch of grass, broadcasting thousand mile stare so that everyone would leave me alone, and ate it whilst checking with myself that I really wanted to do what I thought I was going to.

water food stop

I did.  I really did.  I texted Guy so as he’d know, and after another cheery wave to Dave, I was taking the left turn and taking the Medio Route, with 34 miles to go to get home instead of 74.  So sue me! 😉  This didn’t mean the climbing was all done of course, but it did mean I’d broken the back of it.  Typically by now the sun was coming out, and finally my gilet and arm warmers came off, one by two.  After some Moor draggy ups, the long descent into Moretonhampstead meant that only one big climb was left – downs always mean ups – and this up doesn’t half go on.  But I know it, knew it would pass, and knew that the last 15 miles or so would be a down followed by a long flying finish along the valley, and hey, who knew,  I might even get my average speed up a bit? 😉

heading into the wind long road ahead

After a happy hour or so doing what I do best, I was back at the racecourse and rolling past all the spectators to go under the Finish arch.  I can’t say I was bothering to smile for the photographers, something I failed to do all day, but then I rarely buy the photos anyway 😉  It was just sort of good to have it over and done with.  Smiling on the inside?

Finish line after the ride

I headed inside to get my time, the relevant medal for a slow Medio route, and my goody bag.  It turns out my official time of 5:18:44 narrowly missed the under 5:17 standard for Silver which, in retrospect, is a bit annoying, but I doubt I’d have been able to do anything differently anyway.  Well, ok, I could have not eaten pie.  But it was good pie 🙂  And talking of good, the goody bag didn’t suck either – a DC kit bag, DC tube scarf, a Yellow Jersey Insurance Ass Saver, and an inner tube.   Nice 🙂

For all that I didn’t feel the love, it’s still a great event.  Pretty much every key junction is marshalled by friendly folk with fluorescent jackets and red flags.  The signage is good if practically superfluous as a result.  The foodstop is lovely. The scenery is lovely.  The whole thing is well organised, and friendly and helpful.  And it is a real challenge, although possibly less so fourth time around, and that’s my motivational problem not theirs.  However they did have, I think, around 1000 more riders than last year though, and I think that was reflected on the narrow roads and the hills, which wasn’t great, as I’ve said.  Would I recommend it?  Yes, definitely.  Would I do it again?  Hm…ask me again next year.

Cycling time: 5:14 (official time 5:18)
Distance: 67.6 miles
Avg: 12.9 mph
ODO: 9952.3 miles

And PS: where has rider etiquette gone?!