Tag Archives: Pembrokeshire

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2018

You would be forgiven for thinking that I don’t ride a bike anymore. Let’s face it, I practically don’t. As my health has gotten worse, I have been less and less able to ride a bike… I’ve barely even been even to use the spin bike.  That wasn’t going to stop Matt and I doing this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue ride however.  What, miss a good excuse for a weekend in Pembrokeshire, with bikes, and beaches, and all?  Not likely!  

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Which is sort of the point I’d like to make in this blog, and part of the reason the Tour of Pembrokeshire – i.e. the actual event in May – is such a great event.  Unlike most sportives it takes place on a Saturday which means you have the change to spend a whole weekend in one of the most beautiful parts of the country I know, without that mad rush for home to be ready for work on Monday..  Even if you don’t want to ride the sportive, and your other half/friends/family do. it’s not like there’s not plenty of other things to do in that neck of the woods – more of which later.  

But let’s re-wind a little, to the morning of Friday 26th January, when we were due to be at Crug Glas, the official event HQ, first thing.  When you’re aiming for bacon butties at 8:30am, and it’s a 3+ hr journey, sleeping through your alarm clock and not realising how many times you’re hit snooze until around 5:15 is NOT a good start!  You’d be amazed how quickly you can get your act together, kit/clothes on, and bikes into an already mostly packed car when you have to!  

OK, so getting there in time for the bacon was never going to happen…and as we got closer, and I dozed while Matt drove, and rain intermittently kept us company, it was looking like getting there in time to ride at 9:00 was also not only unlikely, but unattractive!  I pinged Peter (organiser extraordinaire) to warn him, in a fingers crossed tone, that I might not make it but I was on my way.  A quick check of the schedule for the day informed me that we were actually due to head out at 9:30am, and for all that the weather was looking unappealing, I did actually kinda want to ride the bike, just to prove I still could. Back to crossing those fingers…

By the time we arrived, the weather had brightened up considerably.  I left Matt parking the car outside the hotel proper and sorting bikes, since we were staying the night and the Cowshed car park was full, and nipped in to let Peter know we’d made it and would be riding, and to please not leave without us. Just as I walked in to the back of the briefing, where he was reading out who would be riding in which group, he read out my name – spotted me, and pointed me out to everyone.  Comedy timing..thanks Peter!. ūüėČ  Having had issues in previous years with losing riders en route, and with the Prologue getting more and more popular every year, we were all organised into groups of roughly 5 riders to 1 official Tour rider, roughly by ability, and by route (25 or 40 miles) with the emphasis being very much on keeping those groups together.  Not that those groups couldn’t end up riding together – but G is for group, and you should never leave your wing man, right?

 

Our group was to consist of Tour stalwart Griff, Matt and I, and three others (names escape me right now, I’m rubbish with names!), all very happy with 25 miles being the wise choice to make around here – what with it being early and the year, and it being more than a tad lumpy here!  Having checked in, and had a quick chat with Peter, there was just enough time in hand for me to rejoin Matt, for us to put every layer of kit on we owned, and to take the bikes over to rejoin our group.  Did I mention that it may well have been brighter, and it was, but it sure as hell wasn’t warm?!  And it was a tad breezy on top of that…isn’t it always?  S/s base layer, l/s winter jersey, bib winter tights, winter jacket, gilet, long finger gloves and, Matt’s leg warmers over the top of my tights.  More kind of as a precaution than anything – I tend to get cold and then stay cold – and they’d be easy to take off if necessary.  Matt, clearly being of questionable sanity, wore baggy shorts as usual…! You can take the boy off the MTB but you can’t take the MTB out of the boy… ūüėČ

 

So there we were, all ready to go and, after Matt played Good Samaritan and helped some lad who was borrowing a bike put pedals on it, we headed off into the wilderness.  Last year, on leaving Crug Glas and heading towards the coast, you’d never have even know there was a coast to head towards…  Today, in chilly winter sunshine, under brightening skies, there was the deep blue sea stretching away towards the horizon…which was enough to put a smile on even my slightly nervous face.  It felt a bit weird being on my bike after so long…but it also felt good.  I have been missing it, and I’m looking forward to the days when one day I’m able to get back into, and onto, it properly.  

I hadn’t had chance to look at the route really, but we’d established that there were two or three big climbs to be done – one out of Solva, and two at Newgale – one on the way out and one of the way back.  Which was bound to mean more than three – Pembrokeshire tends to either up or down, there’s precious little flat stuff around here!  We headed out towards St David’s, where we skirted the main town centre to head out along the coast road east.  It was a shame not to see the Cathedral…but I also know going to see the Cathedral involves a country lane detour and one of two possible killer and not short enough climbs to climb up past it, so I really wasn’t complaining!

Being on the bike very quickly got painful.  Which was bad, unsurprisingly.  But good, in that it reminded me why I’ve not been able to ride a bike for months, and helped me feel a little less guilty/cross with myself about that.  Silver linings I guess.  Which are hard to cling on to as, as the ride progressed, it got worse and worse….

Anyway, enough of my pity party, back to the road and the ride.  The coast road is rolling, with some steeper drags, and as it happens, not a lot of traffic and what there was was very courteous and respectful.  Being able to look right and right out to sea helped distract from some of the drag, and also from the fact that the first climb of the day, out of the very pretty village of Solva was coming up.  Our group stretched a little from time to time, as the climbs spread us out, with me not quite last, and the descents did the same, with me not quite, but sometimes, first ūüėČ  

 

The descent into Solva is a bit wiggly, and I wasn’t best positioned to get the most of it. Neither was I really in any rush to get to the unavoidable climb ahead.  Back in the day the route didn’t come this way, but my drive down did, and every time I drove up or down it I used to muse that I was really glad I didn’t have to ride up it.  Well these days it does, and having done it before on last year’s Tour I did at least know it was doable.  I also knew how hard it is if you’re me.  And as we left the very  picturesque and colourful village and started the climb upwards, the gradient cut in pretty much straight away, the group spread out, and it was time to sit back, engage crawler gear, and just concentrate on plodding my way up.  Matt decided out of the saddle was the way to go and disappeared into the distance.  Some considerable time, and pain, later, I finally met up with him and the rest of the group, bar one, at the next suitable regrouping point.  I was ever so glad for the bar one, as it meant we didn’t head off straight away, and I got to get my breath and composure back again!

With the group back together again, in more ways than one, we set off again.  A few more miles of draggy saw us to Newgale, for yet another lovely descent to be followed by a climb!  As you arrive and start descending the whole coastline opens up in front of you and the beach stretches out ahead of you, beckoning.  Don’t get too distracted by it though, there’s a really really nasty hairpin wiggle on the way down, which would be bad even if the road surface was good, and it isn’t, so it’s even worse!  Think of slowing down as an excuse to look at the view? ūüėČ  Once at the bottom the road heads along the beach, divided from the sea by piles of grey stone,  which block out the view until you start to leave the beach towards the other end.  Rather than carrying on up the main road climb, which was on last year’s Tour, we turned right to continue further along the beach, and climb away from the coast that way instead.  No rush though, we slowed down somewhat to enjoy the view, listen to the waves, and have my camera tell me it was full and refuse to take photos of those stunning views! (not amused…turns out later that the memory card had popped out a little – it wasn’t full at all *grrr*).

It turned out to be a nicer climb than t’other one in some ways.  Longer, but more gradual, sort of stepped, with occasional steeper bits.  Matt kept me company this time, which made things feel a little easier.  Had he been with me up Solva I’d have been tempted to ask him for a helping hand, something I virtually never do or permit…now that he was with me, I found it easier not to need one. Perverse I know…  And..then…climb done…or so I thought.  Turns out there as another similar one shortly afterwards, after the left turn inland, which no-one seemed to have thought to mention…told you there were bound to be more than three climbs!   Ouch!

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Somewhere around here, where the 25 mile route was to split from the 40, the other female member of our party was struck down by the puncture fairy.  We all pulled over in a convenient gateway, where a Tour marshal and his extremely cute small child happened to waiting, and various manly MAMILs helped get the job done, using a surprising number of different bike pumps.  Meanwhile I enjoyed the chance for a break, out of the wind, to enjoy the sunshine and be glad we only had 10 miles or so left to go.  Having said that, Peter’s routes have often proven to be somewhat longer than expected, so I was mentally aiming at it being more like 27 miles than 25, so as to not be annoyed if that happened! Praemonitus, praemunitus…or something like that anyway.

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Time to head back then.  Which involved looping us back round, down the much more enjoyable decent to Newgale from the other side, and more beach loveliness.  It took a while to warm up again after the break, but retracing our steps back up that wiggly hill out of Newgale was bl**dy hard work, relentless, and seemed to go on for ever. It warmed me up though!  Every time you thought you’d reached the top, you hadn’t, and the photographer, who’d been popping up en route all morning, was predictably sat half way up after one of the worst stretches to capture the moment for posterity.  I may have smiled.  Or gurned… Once again Matt kept me company, once again it hurt like f*ck, once again we both made it to the top eventually.  

We regrouped, headed back along the main coast road for a bit, where we stretched, and regrouped as usual, and then checked the map and route ahead to make sure we weren’t going to get lost.  One right turn later and we were on to virgin territory.  Which did involve us getting a tad lost, or at least not entirely convinced we were in the right place and/or going in the right direction a couple of times.  Maps and gadgets were consulted but, with only a few miles to go, it wasn’t too stressful an affair. I was pretty sure I could see Crug Glas in the distance anyway, which helped.  Somewhere in amongst those wiggly lanes was a fair killer of a hill, which took the last of what little was left in my legs and then some.  Except it can’t have been a hill because there were only three hills today right?  Sure felt like a hill to me…  By now I was definitely in “I need to go home” mode.  Stick a fork in me and call me done.  Too much ouchy on many fronts, but hey at least we were all still together, and I was warm enough, right?  It was definitely a relief to find ourselves on the road back to Crug Glas, and a welcome surprise to discover, upon turning into the drive back up to the hotel, that the route had indeed been 25 miles or thereabouts!  Result! The work part of the Prologue was over and we’d suffered but survived. That’ll do me ūüôā

Right then.  Time to park the bikes up outside the hotel and, with a little time to spare, head inside, have a shower, and freshen up.  The faster/longer groups probably weren’t far behind us to be honest, race snakes one and all, but luckily lunch was set for a fixed time, not for when everyone was back!  Here’s the photo that a nice lady took of us, to prove that we survived.

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Being off the bike, my body and soul stopped having to hold it together, and lost it fairly monumentally.  I thought it hurt on the bike but holy crap, did it ever hurt now!  Unbelievable sort of mind-numbing amounts of pain…  Luckily I carry a fair arsenal of analgesia, but it took me quite a while to get on top of it, get it together, have a shower, and put on civvies.  Which, as I said before,  made me feel rather better about not having been on the bike for quite a while – because this is how it feels when I do, so I’ve not been being lazy, I’ve been being sensible, so there!  Still…  Ho hum, hopefully I’ll get back to it eventually. Put me back on my bike!

Wrapped up in comfortable warm clothes, we headed back over to the Cowshed for the eat, drink, meet & greet part of the event.  Catering for both this and the Tour is always good, and today was no exception.  It’s a two part buffet.  Jacket potatoes and/or wraps, filled with whatever you want – pulled pork in my case, or various other options.  To which you can then go and add salad, pasta, cheese, whatever floats your boat.  It was very tasty and very necessary. Even I ate most of my wrap!  I could have eaten it all I suppose, but then where would I have put the sticky treacle pudding & custard?  Yes yes, I know I shouldn’t, but I did. I figured I’d earnt it, and bl**dy lovely it was too! ūüôā 

We chatted to our group, who’d we’d ended up sitting with, and also to a few others, over food and the odd pint of rehydration therapy. Andrew Mathias then gave us a motivational talk about his circumnavigation of the UK coast, which was really interesting, and mad, if you consider he’d not been riding a bike for all that long.  I’d call it the folly of youth (cos I’m a grumpy old woman), but since he was doing it for a very good cause – the Paul Sartori Foundation – I won’t. Especially as he raised ¬£5,403.04 for them!  Quite surprisingly, given the ride, good food, and a warm darkened room, Matt even managed to pretty much stay awake!

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So that covers the Prologue. But as I mentioned before, the Tour of Pembrokeshire is about far more than one long very challenging sportive ūüėČ  It’s a weekend in Pembrokeshire for both riders and their families, to stay and enjoy the whole area.  After all it can be a long way to travel for just one day, so why not make the journey even more worth while?  When it comes to staying around St Davids, there are plenty of places to stay locally, up to and including Crug Glas itself (which is amazing!), and you can also book a space for a tent, caravan or motorhome on site if that’s more your thing.  And when it comes to activities, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has teamed up with Preseli Venture for coasteering and sea-kayaking or surfing and Falcon Boats for wildlife boat trips.  It’s not all about the bike you know ūüėČ

You and yours could join the guys at Preseli Venture for a full or half day of family friendly coastal adventure. Try coasteering, sea kayaking, and surfing – it’s your chance to see this beautiful coastline from a whole new perspective! You can enjoy a hot local lunch while you’re there, and even stay in their 5 star eco lodge which sleeps up to 40 people. It includes a private lodge bar with music, pool table, outside seating, cosy lounge and lovely bedrooms, with a range of different sized rooms.  Hardly slumming it! ūüôā

If that sounds a little bit too active for you, how about taking a trip with Falcon Boats for the wildlife trip of a lifetime around the Pembrokeshire islands? Discover the RSPB reserve of Ramsay Island, head out to Grassholm to see gannets, and maybe porpoises, whales & dolphins, or North Bishop to see the shearwaters and puffin colony. Seeing a whale in the wild is on my bucket list, so I may have to give it a try – how cool would that be??

Back to the Tour, which is where I’ll be on May. This year’s Tour has four routes – opening up the stunning scenery and roads of Pembrokeshire to everyone, whether you want to do 25, 50, 75 or 100 miles.  The Tour of Pembrokeshire really is one of THE best sportives you can do.  Quiet country roads, with challenging climbs, swooping descents, amazing scenery and the sea all around.  It’s why I keep coming back for more, year after year.  Sadly it’s looking like I may only be up to the 25 mile route this year but…with free parking, amazing feed stations, delicious free post-ride food, free hot tubs and showers on site, free beer (if you do the right routes!) and live music around the course and at the finish, what more could you or I ask for? I’ll be there, wearing my very fetching Tour of Pembrokeshire Castelli Women’s Team Jersey in the hope it makes me look like I know what I’m doing.   See you there?

*official photos – i.e. the good ones with ToP marks ‘n all are used by permission from the Tour of Pembrokeshire and are ¬©huwfairclough. 

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2017

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Somehow, without noticing, some things just become a habit.  Well, not so much a habit as a tradition actually, a word which has less negative connotations.  And somehow, the Tour of Pembrokeshire has become just that.  Traditional.  I don’t always ride the whole event.  I don’t always ride the whole event when I’ve signed up to do so, I’ve frequently been forced to bail to shorter routes!  But I do seem to always do the Prologue ride.  It’s the first thing of the season.  OK, so this year my season is massively unplanned, and disorganised, and up in the air.  That didn’t stop the Prologue being the first thing on my calendar however.

So a while ago Matt and I made our way as far as West as you can go without falling into the sea, to St David’s and beyond, to the fabulous Crug Glas (which I love), the hotel where both the Prologue and the event itself run from – albeit from the Cowshed venue on site.  It’s a bit of a trek – 3 hours plus driving – and it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys.  Having been doing ok, in annoyingly alliterative, tediously typical and practically predictable fashion, I was heading for a seriously bad patch.  Which is just one of the reasons Matt was accompanying me; to play chauffeur, since driving long distances is unwise normally, and not doable at all if I’ve had to resort to the heavy guns.  Having had to get up at 4:30am in order to get to our destination by 9:00am, it’s not like I’d have been awake enough to drive anyway – I’m not really a morning person ūüėČ  Sadly driving is actually more comfortable than being a passenger…it’s a bit of a Catch 22 thing…so though it was safer that I not be driving, it did make things somewhat worse…

Anyway Matt got us to the seriously freezing carpark outside the Cowshed, in time and without incident.  And man was it ever cold.  Oh, and wet, and so windy the little windmill on the farm was spinning so fast it looked like taking off was actually an option.  Marvellous…*sigh*.  Ah well.  First things first.  Time to head inside, nip to the salubrious toilets, sign the register, and say hello to a few familiar faces – organiser Peter, and Jim, and the rest of the team, back in charge after a brief hiatus last year, and after all this time, also friends of mine.  Fellow Cyclosport writer Sean was also there, with a different hat on, and a nasty chest infection thingy which meant he was going to be playing support car, and not riding.  Half his luck… ūüėČ

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We didn’t have a lot of time to spare before the various groups of riders were due to be let go, so we skipped coffee and headed back to the car to unload and reassemble the bikes, and put on every layer we had brought with us.  By the time we were ready I couldn’t feel my fingers well enough to zip up my overshoes, which hardly boded well for the day ahead!  As we finished up, various groups were starting to gather in the courtyard, only just leaving Matt enough time to get our bottles filled up.  There were two route options available today – 45 miles or 28 miles – with groups of varying abilities being set up for each route.  What with everything – my health, the weather, it being early in the season, etc…we’d decided that 28 miles sounded like more than enough.  Well, considering the average speed that the terrain around here usually results in, even that was likely to take over two hours so…discretion, valour, etc.  Besides Peter was to be leading the slow, short, group, and I thought that it might be a good time to catch up with him a bit.  By the way if you don’t like these excuses for our route choice, I’m sure I have others… ūüėČ  He also announced to the group, as we set off, that I’d be helping them learn a bit about group riding etc.!  News to me…and as if!  I may, just about, know what I’m doing for myself, but I’m by no means qualified to educate anyone else!  Ah well, I figured I’d try, but that no-one was likely to need my kind of help anyway, especially not with Peter around.  (And I was right…they didn’t!).  Off we headed out for what turned out to be a fairly typical Prologue ride.  Unlike the event proper, it’s not the world’s most organised affair.  Our group had about 19 people in it, and keeping that kind of group together is virtually impossible even on a good day.  Today, on narrow roads, with varying abilities, lousy weather, and a fair few drags, it was literally impossible…  

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…so the group stretched, broke, reunited, got rained on, the rain got worse, the wind got stronger and was mostly (as ever) not at my back.  But the scenery was still stunning, and beautiful and lovely – when you could see it.  The route has been changed so that we didn’t come up past the cathedral the usual way, which is a shame, but St David’s was still lovely.  The company was good.  It was sociable.  And I felt pretty good – in that my legs at least were ok.  I was wearing lots and lots of layers, and keeping mostly warm and dry, though as the ride went on, I did start to cool down.  But I just can’t go up hills when the pain is there, as up makes it worse, and because my body is fighting on another front, there’s not as much in the tank as there ought to be.  But I’m kinda used to it these days.  Resigned to it.  Sure, you’ll drop me on every single hill, and I will zone out and plod and just watch the road ahead of my front wheel, and get there eventually.  But I’ll catch up on the flat and, on any downs that there are, drop you like a stone ūüėČ  Sadly there weren’t many of those today though, and the road conditions were such that care and attention and caution was called for.  So I was slow out there.  Matt kept me company the whole way around though, so even when the groups split up, and when we got totally separated from them towards the end, I wasn’t on my own.  OK, so I had to yell to get his attention a couple of times when he hadn’t realised how far behind him I’d dropped, but essentially he was always there, joining the roll call of those who have had to drag me around Pembrokeshire.  Hey, at least this time around I didn’t end up in tears! ūüėČ

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En route I did get to chat to a few of the other riders, notably Tori James, the youngest British and first Welsh woman to climb Mount Everest, and part of the first all female team to race to the magnetic North Pole, amongst many other things; she’s the official Tour of Pembrokeshire patron, and would be giving us a talk later.  But mostly it was a bit too horrible for chatting much.  Typical Welsh weather some would say ūüėČ  And I was, and am, SO glad we didn’t go for the 45 mile ride!  Maybe it’s one of those things too – bad weather for the Prologue, good weather for the Tour?  I certainly hope so, since I’ve agreed to do that again this year, and Matt’s coming along for the ride too.  He has no idea what he’s letting himself in for… ūüėČ

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To be honest, I wasn’t planning on doing it again.  Been there, done that, would have the t-shirt if there was one.  But it turns out that a fair few changes have been made to this year’s event.  On the Saturday, for the main event, there’s now a new 133 mile route, dedicated to local rider Paul Ties and Tour of Pembrokeshire stalwart, who is sadly no longer with us.  There’s also the Fred Rees Skoda 60 mile route and the 84 mile Mavic route, and they’re all new and different.  And that works for me.  The option to do whatever route is appropriate on the day – and to not be repeating what I’ve done so many times before, whichever route I do.  And no, I will not be attempting the Paul Ties route – that would be insane!  On the Sunday there’s also a 40 mile family/recovery ride route for those who feel less ambitious, or who want to spend a weekend riding with friends and family.  Whichever route you or I do, it’s a great event, in a beautiful place, that’s really well run & organised, where I can catch up with friends, and stay at Crug Glas again.  So yes, I’ll be doing the Tour of Pembrokeshire in May.  

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Anyway, back to the ride, albeit briefly.  It all sort of passed in an increasingly damp blur…  Somewhere near the end, as mentioned before, we got both separated from the others in our group, and also slightly lost.  So when we reached the entrance road to Crug Glas again, albeit a few miles sooner than expected, and it was still raining, and blowing a storm, and my fingers weren’t entirely there…there was no way we were doing anything other than turning left for a very unpleasant final couple of miles riding fully into that blasted, blasting wind to get us back to HQ.  Prologue ride done!  We weren’t the first back, as there were a couple of other rather shell-shocked looking riders loitering around, one of whom was heard to comment that if he’d known it was going to be like that he wouldn’t have turned out for it.  I don’t suppose he was the only one thinking that today!

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Since lunch etc wasn’t due for a while, and the other groups weren’t back yet, the best thing to do seemed to be to go and check in to our very lovely room.  I should mention that I’ve been lucky enough to stay here a few times now, and I totally love it.  I never get to stay places this lovely, being usually a budget hotel gal, and this is just so far from that!  Once again Room 1 was mine, and it was just as fabulous as ever, complete with large windows, four poster bed, fireplace, and general classic luxury.  The large copper bath beckoned…but running that would have taken too long.  What was needed right now was a very long hot shower, and clean, warm, dry clothes, with some time sat by the fire to pull myself together again!  Once re-heated, re-dosed, refreshed, and reassembled, lunchtime was fast approaching, so we headed back over to the Cowshed to refuel.  Everyone else was also back now, and equally ready to carry on with the second act.  

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The social part of the Prologue was far more enjoyable than the ride for sure.  A two course meal of beef/veg bourguignon followed by various choices of sticky pudding, with a bar, and good company?  What more do you want?  There were a few formalities to be done; thanks given by and to the organisers, and also some feedback gathering for them, to see what we’d all thought of the routes and so forth.  Then Tori took to the stage to tell us about her adventures, and her exploits properly qualify as legendary.  And probably motivational too, if you’re not me – I know that kind of thing is way out of my league, especially these days.  Beside which, polar expeditions? Everest?  That all sounds awfully cold to me…and I think we’ve already established that I don’t do cold very well ūüėČ  A few of the others in the room had possibly also struggled earlier – thanks to the combination of exertion, warm food, and a dark warm room, a couple of heads were definitely seen nodding…including Matt’s!  Well dragging me around is very tiring… ūüėČ  

But all good things come to an end, and finally the 2017 Prologue reached the end of the road. As people slowly dispersed, it was time to say our farewells, arrange to rendezvous with Peter et al at the Sloop later, and head back to that lovely room to chillax for a while.  Another Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue under my belt.  As rides go I’ve definitely had better, but the apr√®s ride more than made up for the ride!  See you all in May!

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PS: Typically the next day was amazing.  Blue skies, sunshine, blue seas…we even went to the beach and Matt went swimming!!  Ah well ūüôā

Tour of Pembrokeshire 2016

Life frequently does not go according to plan. ¬†(Which, as an aside, is presumably why we like it so much when a plan does actually come together, right?) ¬†So it turned out, at fairly short notice, that I would be doing this Tour of Pembrokeshire weekend on my own. ¬†Something which, considering my current issues with both driving and riding, did have me somewhat worried. Marvellous… ūüôĀ

Luckily I’d booked Friday off a while ago, so I had the whole day to get myself sorted, and get myself down to Pembrokeshire. ¬†There was¬†no time pressure, and I would¬†have plenty of time to stop and take a break, or maybe even visit something, on the way down. ¬†Although I wasn’t looking forward to the drive, having had a truly bad week, I was actually feeling a little better, which was good, and positive, and so forth.

So after extra sleeping, and faffing, and packing, on Friday afternoon I spent three and a half hours driving through wind and rain down various motorways, heading as far West as you can go. ¬†Not nice. ¬†Honestly, what is it with me and going to Pembrokeshire?!! ¬†I was not amused… ¬†I was also not enjoying myself on several levels. ¬†What with the weather forecast for the day, I’d decided visiting castles was probably out, so I’d left a little later than maybe I would have done otherwise. ¬† And hey, just for once the forecast was right. ¬†Which is neither here nor there. ¬†It just meant I didn’t have a visit to somewhere planned to break up the ride, so I had to¬†take a break from it all at Swansea West services, which I am more than a little familiar with by now, and chill out in Costa for a while with a caramel mocha. ¬†I figured that that, on top of the energy drink I’d already had, would hopefully get me there in one piece…

Crug Glas 3 inside the Cow Shed

Which eventually it did. ¬†I arrived at Crug Glas, the Tour of Pembrokeshire‘s new HQ and also my home for the weekend, early eveningish, and discovered my friend Peter, previous MD of the Tour, and ( I think) still owner of Pembrokeshire Bikes, helping out near the entrance. ¬†I parked up near what would be the Bike Park the following day, and went and said hi, before checking in, and relocating my car to the hotel car park. ¬†Which put it closer to my room, well out of the way of sportive chaos, and actually visible from my hotel room. ¬†I left my bike there to sleep in peace though – my room was far too luxury to have my bike parked up in it! ¬†As it turns out, it was the same room I stayed in for the ToP 2013…very lovely, and complete with an amazing bath which there and then I resolved to actually use this time around at some point!

Registration Perroni and pills

Time to go register, in the little marquee set up next to the¬†newly renovated outbuilding¬†next door to the hotel – the large and very swish Cow Shed. ¬†Which wasn’t as easy for me as everyone else was finding it. ¬†I went to my desk, but they had no record of me… ¬†It turns out that, thanks to my guest status, my name was on a specific list. ¬†Which wasn’t currently around. ¬†So my name was down¬†but I still wasn’t coming in… ūüėČ ¬†Nowt for it than to go and install myself in the bar and make myself comfortable until everything worked itself out.

5 rider pack 6 Cow Shed menu

Which, while chatting to Peter again, over a rather expensive pint of pre-ride hydrating Perroni, it did. ¬†A nice lady called Elizabeth found me, and I was presented with my route card, bike number, helmet number, cable ties, free High5 gel voucher, and post ride food voucher, all without having to leave my seat. ¬†Bonus! ¬†I did have to leave to go and cash in my gel voucher though, and have a look at the few stands and tempting bikes on display though. ¬†N + 1? ¬†ūüėČ ¬†After a while spent chatting to various people back at the bar, it was time to carb load, even if I gather ‘they’ are currently saying that carb loading is rubbish… ¬†Food was on offer at ¬£10 for a main course & salad & bread roll…or ¬£8 if you’d booked beforehand. ¬†Which I had. ¬†So I had a massive bowl of gluten-free pasta carbonara which was actually (and though I shouldn’t say it, surprisingly) really nice. ¬†Not entirely IBS safe but half the way there, and hey, apparently I should eat before I ride… ¬†So I did. ¬†I passed on dessert though even if it would only have cost me ¬£3. ¬†Best not to overdo it right? ¬†Job done then; time to head back to my room, faff a little more, check the weather forecast even more, and get an earlyish night.

I slept! ¬†‘Rah! ¬†Must have been the very high and comfy four poster bed…*grin*. ¬†Which didn’t make the 5:50 alarm call any nicer. ¬†And it was only 5:50 so I could hit snooze, pretend to ignore it, and actually get up at 6:00am ūüėČ ¬†So alright already, I’m up! ¬†I checked the weather forecast again – cold, dry, sunny, northerly winds. ¬†I looked out of the window to see what the actual weather actually looked like. ¬†Sunshine…! ¬†Hm… ¬†Time to make coffee, from a little bag. ¬†Which was a new one to me – but a huge improvement on the usual powdered option. ¬†Can’t help it, I’m a coffee snob ūüėČ ¬†So breakfast was coffee, a hobnobs flapjack, a banana, and shiny pills. ¬†Gotta love my diet, no? ¬†I could have had breakfast over in the Cow Shed, at ¬£1 per item, with¬†porridge, bacon, etc. all on offer, but I’m lazy, and prefer to stick to what I know. ¬†As for getting dressed in kit – well, layers of course, right? ¬†But how many and which ones? ¬†I looked out of the window again. ¬†At the continuing sunshine. ¬†At the riders parking up in the field beyond, walking over¬†to register, in an assortment of outfits, but many of them being in shorts. ¬†It’s that awkward time of year when sunny can actually be really warm… ¬†But, having opened the window to check, it wasn’t warm yet, even if it was going to be. ¬†And I’ve done the ToP many times and never been warm, and most of my recent rides have been cold, and the forecast said… ¬†Oh I hate decisions!

7 gathering pre ride 8 start line scanning

I opted for essentially winter kit but with a short sleeve base layer and a lighter weight mid layer. ¬†And nothing in my saddle bag, kit wise, so as to give me room¬†to try and stash anything I chose to remove en route. ¬†Thus attired I headed downstairs to wake the bike up and add the finishing touches to both it and me – bottles, gadgets, food, gels, the usual. ¬†The tannoy was announcing the countdown to the 100 mile route leaving slot – 7:00-7:30am – and I reckoned I’d be there in time enough. ¬†It took me a while to attach the somewhat flimsy number to the bike, and even longer to get the helmet bike chip cable tied on. ¬†It doesn’t help when you manage to get it around the helmet straps first time around and have to start over…! ¬†It’s a good thing that, as a hardened sportive veteran, I carry both scissors and spare cable ties with me. ¬†Not my favourite variety of timing chip it has to be said, and according to the instructions if you didn’t return it for some reason you’d be liable for a ¬£10 fine too! ¬†So, all done, it was chilly but not that bad, and the sun was shining…and I was half tempted to run back inside and change…but I didn’t. ¬†Would I regret it…? ¬†Oh man, I hate decisions!

heading out towards the sea the beach before Fishguard

Finally sorted, I walked over to HQ. ¬†There was a queue for the portable toilets outside, so I nipped inside, where there wasn’t. ¬†Time to get to the start line then. ¬†The first groups had already gone, so there were just a few of us doing the same. ¬†With no ceremony at all, someone scanned my chip, and I was sent on my way…just like that. ¬†Considering the comprehensive pre-ride rider briefing pdf, I guess they figured an actual rider briefing was superfluous… ¬†Which was fine by me, I didn’t want to hang around getting cold anyway. ¬†7:15 and I was off. ¬†Blue skies, bright sunshine, long low shadows hiding the road, way before the locals were hitting the road… ¬†It all felt a bit unreal, or surreal, or something. ¬†The routes have changed a bit this year, and not just because of the change of start venue. ¬†I thought I might notice more, but I can’t decide if it was all new, or just that I’ve forgotten large chunks of my previous Tours, which is quite likely considering how long it usually takes me and how much hard work I always find it!

11 up hills 12 views

As ever, I tried not to think too much early on. ¬†It was cold, but sunny. ¬†The scenery was as ever, gorgeous. ¬†I was feeling ok. ¬†I recognised bits. ¬†It seemed easier than previous years somehow. ¬†But maybe that’s because the route was different… ¬†So hard to tell. ¬†But I was feeling ok…in fact at some points I was feeling like maybe it was going to get too warm and I’d have to find a way to dump layers somewhere, cos I was getting warm and I don’t ride well overheated. ¬†Should I do the 100 miles? ¬†Because I should, and prove that I can, and prove everyone wrong, and I haven’t done 100 miles yet this year, and I was feeling ok, and it was sunny and…. ¬†But maybe I shouldn’t push it, and it might not turn out nice, and I have a lot more sportives to come, and I should do the 75…

Thus went my head for the first hour or so. ¬†The first few bits of up came and went ok. ¬†Even those nasty little kicks up that come after swoopy dips down to the coast – all good. ¬†Even good enough to smile for the inevitable official photographers lurking on them. ¬†Well I did know those bits were there, so was prepared, and and in the right gear etc…unlike quite a few… ūüôā ¬†The downs called for a little more caution than usual, thanks to the shadows hiding the road surface under all the trees, and pothole paranoia looming large. ¬†But all in all, along the quiet country roads, in the sunshine, looking at the sea, I was a fairly happy bunny. ¬†Hey, life is always better at the beach…so I really enjoyed the bit from Goodwick to Fishguard ūüôā

13 moor climbing ahead 14 riders passing me by

The first route split – for the 50 mile route – came about 16 miles in at Llanychaer. ¬†That wasn’t an option however. ¬†Turn left, go over the little bridge, and straight up the 25% climb instead. ¬†Well, not straight up, it’s definitely more hair pin-y…and steep…and it hurt. ¬†Sadly literally, not in the “I’m crap at riding and so this hurts” sense. ¬†More in the, ‘there’s a little black hole lurking in my insides that is now imploding in a painful and¬†energy sapping way‘ sense. ¬†Hard to explain but I know what I mean. ¬†I don’t know if black holes implode or explode however, and if you’re a science geek, feel free to correct me safe in the knowledge that I will ignore you. ¬†Still, I got up the darn thing, and things settled down, however¬†my 75 mile vs 100 mile internal debate had gained some weight on the lighter side, which is some way to being an oxymoron… ¬†But I carried on, and things carried on being mostly ok. ¬†At some point I even took the over gloves and winter neck thing off… ¬†All good. ¬†I’ve done this ride a lot of times…and the weather has never ever been this good! ¬†However it didn’t get warmer… ¬†And as we got higher from time to time and hit the northerly winds, it frequently got chillier… ¬†And then warmer going up. ¬†And then chillier again… ¬†Or maybe it was just me? ¬†Plenty of people still seemed to be surviving in shorts and short sleeves…madmen all of them.¬† And that’s not sexist, there weren’t many women out there, and I didn’t see any of them in shorts!

15 ready for the descent to Newport 16 Llys Meddg food stop

The first food stop was at Llys Meddyg¬†in Newport, where this year’s Prologue ride ran from, about 25 miles in. ¬†There were volunteer cadet/guides/whatever around, offering to hold your bike for you while you sorted yourself out. ¬†Which was nice in theory, but felt a bit weird. ¬†Yes, please take my bike, and then just stand there, until I see fit to return and take it away again. ¬†Clearly I’m not used to having staff…so I declined politely and no doubt awkwardly, and parked my bike up by a fence instead. ¬†Food of all varieties was disappearing as soon as it appeared – pasties, bananas, boiled potatoes, jam sandwiches…all being topped up as I watched. ¬†I nipped off to the hotel’s outdoor toilets, returned, and opted for the root vegetable option. ¬†Variety right? ¬†Nice too ūüôā ¬†From where I was standing I could see the route split. ¬†And I kinda wanted to do the long route. ¬†I’ve always tried to. ¬†And I was currently feeling like it might be possible. ¬†But I was also still pretty cold. ¬†Bearing in mind my current average¬†speed, I could be adding an extra three hours on to my ride. ¬†On my own and out in the cold. ¬†And it had been a pretty bad¬†week. ¬†But I was feeling ok. ¬†And I hate bailing… ¬†Did I mention I hate decisions? ūüėČ

17 food stop staff 18 world wide views

But I bailed, if you can call it that on this ride. ¬†To be fair, I know 100 mile rides that are easier than 75 miles of this one! ¬†I think if¬†I’d had company, it might have been a different call… ¬†But I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and¬†I had decided I should play it safe, not least because I have a sportive every weekend for the next 4 weekends after this one. ¬†Besides I’ve never done the 75 mile route…that’s a legitimate reason to do so, from a reviewing standpoint, right? ūüėČ

OK then. ¬†So long¬†Moylegrove. Farewell¬†my favourite coast bit. ¬†Auf wiedersehn Poppit Sands. Goodbye extra hills… ¬†To be fair I’d already had some climbing. ¬†Some coast. ¬†The lovely descent to Newport. ¬†And hey, as someone pointed out much, much later, I did do all of those bits on this year’s Prologue, so who needs to be doing them twice in a year anyway? ūüėČ

19 going up in the world again 20 riders behind

Further North and further up was further colder. ¬†(And I know that adjective doesn’t really work but…hey, my blog). ¬†The few winter bits¬†that came off went back on again. ¬†And came off again with more ups. ¬†And on again after…and btw, zips are great things… ¬† There was quite a lot of climbing ahead as it happens. ¬†Lots of lovely long slow ups, to wide open moor lands, where the whole world stretched out under blue skies. ¬†Which was cool. ¬†I was going up fine. ¬†Not fast, not as fast as the steam trains occasionally going past me. ¬†But happily enough for me. ¬†My legs and my lungs and my form was feeling pretty good, and I was doing my best to enjoy myself.

But something was rotten¬†in the state of Denmark. ¬†I was still cold. ¬†And, in retrospect, when I did get off the bike to stash/retrieve layers, eat, take photos, whatever, my balance was off. ¬†(Why do I never remember that’s a sign that at some level I’m overdoing it?) ¬†My next pain killers were due at 10:30, and I’m usually ok with those – once I’m on them, and taking them regularly, all is sorted… ¬†Not today. ¬†Hills were making things hurt more, however well I was going up them. ¬†The pain got worse, and in a big way, but I couldn’t take more pills yet… ¬†Being cold wasn’t helping; I cope less well with anything when I’m cold. ¬†And I think I get colder when in pain, because my body is busy coping with other things. ¬†Vicious circle, etc. ¬†Finally¬†the time came, having plodded my way up a long and very lovely hill with beautiful views, when¬†I could¬†stop. ¬†It was finally that time. ¬†10:30ish, around 3:15¬†in. ¬†So I found a quiet little off the road bit, with a bank so I could hide from the biting wind, got off the bike, lost my balance, and pretty much lost it completely. ¬†Which I wasn’t really expecting. ¬†Only it was hurting SO much, and I was cold, and I was in the middle of nowhere on my own with a long way to go… ¬†Cue massive meltdown. ¬†I sat there for a little while, hugging my knees, it being the closest I could get to foetal position I guess, and sobbed my heart out for a bit. ¬†Not my finest hour…good thing I was out of easy sight. ¬†Honest, it’s no wonder no-one wants to ride with me! ūüėČ ¬†Hey, maybe in company I’d have done the stiff upper lip thing…we’ll never know…

Even in the middle of nowhere it turns out I wasn’t alone though. ¬†You gotta love technology. ¬†A mate of mine had pinged me mid-ride to see how I was getting on…who then got it both barrels! ¬†(sorry!). ¬†But having been sent hugs and reassurance, mentally slapped myself, taken a gel, and of course the next dose of pills, with ibuprofen thrown in on top for good measure, I started to get it together. ¬†Let’s face it, I had¬†no other option, it was time to carry on. ¬†Well, you don’t call the broom wagon for that kind of thing do you? ¬†To be honest, if someone¬†had¬†been there to swoop down, pick me up, take me home, and tuck me into bed to sleep until it was all over…I’d have gone. ¬†But hey, back in the real world…

21 second food stop map 22 sheltered valley

Typically, all of 5 minutes further down the road was the next food stop, conveniently tucked away out of the wind… ¬†And yes, I didn’t need to stop again, but I did. ¬†Well, I had to get my chip scanned anyway, right? ¬†Once more I dodged¬†the ‘staff’, I ate¬†potatoes, and then I spent a spell sitting on a picnic bench warming up in the sun. ¬†Hey, my time was going to be rubbish anyway so what did a few more minutes elapsed time matter? ūüėČ

Right, time to get going again. ¬†It was about 37 miles in, so that was half way, and that always helps mentally. ¬†Having had a good look at the map on the display I knew there were only a couple more climbs ahead, and even another food stop. ¬†That had to be doable, especially now I was a bit warmer, and the pills would hopefully¬†cut in soon. ¬†So…let’s get it on, right?

23 more views 24 rider behind

And it did get easier eventually. ¬†Shortly afterwards there was a lovely long stretch along a sheltered valley, all green trees, blue skies, yellow flowers and most importantly, none of that bitter wind! ¬†Bliss…I started to feel a bit warmer. ¬†And on the flat I was going pretty well. ¬†I liked that. ¬†Inevitably there was a long climb out of the valley at the end, but even that was ok. ¬†I’d rather be a bit warm than too cold, and I CAN do hills! ¬†And, as some of you have probably noticed by now, I actually quite like them ūüôā ¬†OK, I like them more when they hurt less, but that’s not the point. ¬†There was another food stop, about 25 miles from the end,¬†where I stopped because I thought I should, not because I needed to, but with that long a gap ahead I thought I should make sure I was topped up with drink. ¬†And potatoes ūüėČ ¬†There was clearly going to be musical entertainment here too shortly, but having started early and taken the shorter route (clearly not the only one to do so!) that wasn’t quite up and running yet.

25 riders ahead 26 views to the sea

And now I had 25 miles more to do. ¬†That I can count down. ¬†That I can do. ¬†Especially when a lot of it was both familiar and fairly flat. ¬†Turns out I could still fly along on that, as my¬†slowly increasing average speed demonstrated. ¬†There was, as there had been all day, plenty of support en route. ¬† Cowbells, people clapping, small children waving, one with a sign saying “Be determined, you can get around this course”. ¬†Colour me determined ¬†ūüėČ ¬† The pills were finally¬†working, the legs were still working, the sun was still shining, and I’d even rolled my sleeves up a little. ¬†Go me! ¬†However there was a nasty climb at Whitchurch which sort of stopped play for a while. ¬†Having joined up with a lot of the 50 milers by now there were a fair few walking riders for me to overtake though. ¬†I went past a walking girl, and said hi…because today most riders were friendlier than usual. ¬†Most of those¬†who’d gone past me all day had found time to say “hi”, “morning” or whatever, or at least “on your right” and I had been doing the same in my turn. ¬†She heard me, turned, and said on seeing me, “oh wow you’re doing so well”… ¬†Now admittedly she may not have been referring to the fact that I was still pedalling up the hill while she was walking. ¬†She may have thought I was on the 100 mile route and must have been going some to be going past her already,¬†which clearly I wasn’t. ¬†But a little bit of me did think¬†you know what? ¬†All things considered, I sure as f*ck am…! ¬†And then pedalled on to the top ūüôā ¬†¬†*grin*.

27 third food stop 28 flatter on the way back

The final big hill being done, the last few ups on the way back, some which¬†I remembered from previous rides, ¬†didn’t even really register with me this time around. ¬†I was on my way home, and there was to be no stopping me. ¬†The route after this¬†has definitely changed – it¬†now goes back in straight through the countryside to come in through St Davids (past the old Oriel y Parc venue) and back to Crug Glas HQ in a far more sensible way. ¬†It’s flattish too. ¬†At times¬†I could¬†see the sea stretching out far beyond, tankers lining up out there along the coast, islands, blue water, blue skies…very lovely ūüôā ¬†After St Davids, heading back sort of NE, the last few miles back into the head wind might not have been a lot of fun, but I was¬†nearly there, so it was ok. ¬†Put my head down, get on with it. ¬†Hey, I wanted to get back before the next dose was due! ¬†I had picked up a couple of riders at the traffic lights just before St Davids, and we played tag for a bit before I dropped them for a while…and then there were two of us again for the final stretch, counting¬†down the last few miles. ¬†Then it was back down the drive, past various supporters to the Finish line, to have my head scanned (well people have been known to say I need my head read!). ¬†My timing number was removed, and I was¬†given my commemorative coaster and some sort of fruit drink. ¬†Job done.

30 the drive home 31 waiting to be scanned at the finish line

I walked slowly down the road towards HQ, and had a brief chat to Elizabeth who I’d met the day before and who had ridden the 50 with Peter for charity. ¬†There were happy riders everywhere posing for photos, sitting outside on the grass in the sun, eating, drinking, with music blaring – and there was a really nice atmosphere. ¬†Which sort of passed me by. ¬†I bumped into Peter himself and we agreed to meet for a beer shortly. ¬†I was feeling a bit other worldly myself…and very gently walked my way to my car to tuck the bike back into bed, before joining him¬†in the bar. ¬†On the way in I met¬†Jim, a friendly, familiar ToP team face. ¬†He asked me if I’d had a good ride…and I tried, but oh man, talk about an awkward question… ¬†I’d like to have lied, but I was a bit raw at the time, and I sort of explained, and he gave me a not awkward hug, which I really appreciated. ¬†Peter appeared as if by magic and took me off to the bar, but I had to leave him there queueing to go and sit down, where he joined me with the Perroni¬†I had so earned! ¬†However when asked once again how I was and how it had been, by a friend? ¬†Yep…lost it completely…again *sigh*. ¬†Which brings the tally of complete meltdowns today to two. ¬†I guess you don’t know how hard you’ve been holding it together until you don’t have to anymore? ¬†Sorry Peter! ¬†Chapeau to him for coping so well too. ¬†And I got it together fairly quickly I think – I don’t do weak and girly for any longer than I absolutely have to, and besides my lager would get warm, right? ūüėČ ¬†We got back to talking about the ride more generally and how it had gone for us all. ¬†Not that I had much to contribute. ¬†Yes, I’d done it, and I’d love to say there was some massive sense of achievement which, I suppose you could argue that there should be. ¬†72 miles on top of all that…? ¬†But I just felt disappointed by myself, wiped out, tired, & emotional. ¬† F.I.N.E? ¬† Ah well….

32 the fabulous bath

Although food wasn’t my problem today, I figured it wouldn’t do any harm to eat, and it would be a shame to miss out on my free pig roast roll (beef was also on offer) from Gwaun Valley Meats. ¬†The marquee outside was now housing them and the massage team, and I’m glad I¬†queued for that which I was entitled, as it was lovely, and by this point I’d ceased worrying about safe food! ¬†ūüôā ¬†(For those that wanted something else, the same ¬£10 meal option was still available in the Cowshed, along with cake, tea, coffee etc). ¬†Having got it together a bit more, eventually I took myself off with another beer, to take refuge in that massive bath as I’d promised myself I would. ¬†Which was, as hoped, truly awesome. ¬†Tour of Pembrokeshire done. Again. ¬†Well. ¬†Kinda ūüėČ

coaster

It was, and is, a great event, with the best weather I’ve ever seen for it. ¬†You should do it. ¬†It just wasn’t a great, or the best, me. ¬†The really ironic thing is that according to Strava, I actually had a pretty good ride. ¬†Some PRs, some 2nd bests, up a lot of the climbs, and of course downs, around there. ¬†With a max speed of 51.4mph! (not that I believe that…) ¬†And other than the obvious I felt pretty good out there. ¬†It’s just SO frustrating! ¬†Even writing about it is a bit upsetting…it’s the first time it’s ever been like that for a ride, and what with ‘it’ getting worse as time goes on, I do worry about what that means for the rest of my very full season… ¬†But hey, don’t go borrowing trouble right? ¬†Hopefully I’ll be back again next year, and I will kick the ar*e¬†of the long route!

Cycling time: 5:37
Actual time: 6:23 (I think)
Distance: 71.4 miles
Avs: 12.7 mph

PS: – apparently the timing system that actually turned up – chip to be scanned manually on helmet – wasn’t what was ordered…so a little critical leeway should be granted for that… ūüėČ

The Tour of Pembrokeshire 2016 Prologue

Right then, where was I? ¬†Well, certainly not riding the bike as much as I’d like to be. ¬†It finally got cold for a bit there, so the risk of ice was rather a deterrent. And there’s been other rubbish weather, and other factors. ¬†Not the least of which being that I’d ended up with my head stuck in that place where you’re convinced you’re just crap at the whole riding thing. ¬†Again.

So I was somewhat apprehensive about dragging my arse all the way over to Newport to do this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue on Friday 22nd January. ¬†That’s the Newport¬†in¬†Pembrokeshire 3.5 hours away, not the one just over the water by the way. ¬†Not only is it a bl**dy long drive, it’s also seriously hilly over there, my form had been rubbish, the weather had been horrible and the forecast was dubious… ¬†Let’s face it, it did not look like being a¬†whole heap of fun!

I went anyway. ¬†It’s what I do. ¬†I got up at stupid o-clock, in the pitch black and went west. ¬†A¬†longer than planned¬†drive there, through Storm Whatever, in torrential rain and scary winds, did not perk me up any. ¬†Apparently my little car can swim! ¬†Negotiating my first proper flood ever, I over-did the speed, under-estimated the bow wave, and very briefly had water over the bonnet…oops! ¬†I made it through, but after all of that, I was seriously wondering if I would be riding the bike at all. ¬†Maybe I could just turn up, partake of the sociable elements of the event, and come home again…?

However as I got much closer to my final destination the weather started to clear, finally ending up behind me, and Pembrokeshire started to look much more attractive. ¬†Day had arrived, the skies had cleared, and by the time I arrived at “restaurant with rooms”¬†Llys Meddyg, which was both HQ for the event and my home for the night, it was bright, dry, and rather surprisingly¬†considering the freezing temperatures early in the week – it was warm! ¬†Well, by comparison anyway. ¬†How does 14¬įC sound? ¬†Sounds good, right? ūüôā

Llys Meddyg

Although I was staying at the hotel, its¬†car park was chokka, there was, as you might say, no room at the inn. ¬†I blocked a whole heap of people in, unloaded the car into the lobby, and then¬†parked up across the road and got the bike sorted. ¬†My recently¬†fitted mudguards¬†had¬†survived the journey, and I managed to get the front wheel back on and all chafe free fairly easily. ¬†Leaving the bike outside the hotel I was allowed to get into my room earlier than usual check in and so could faff a bit. ¬†Having travelled down in kit there wasn’t too much to do, but considering how warm it was, I decided the base layer had to come off as I was baking already! ¬†Back downstairs riders were gathering, milling around, drinking coffee and generally getting in each other’s way going to and fro. ¬†I signed the relevant sheet of paper and picked up my emergency map, but passed on¬†the coffee. ¬†Well, there wasn’t going to be a coffee stop en route and I didn’t want to need one, if you see what I mean! ūüėČ

comparing Van Nicholas

The time came for us all to gather outside rather than in. ¬†There were around 40 of us, about to be split into three groups on two routes. ¬†The longer route – c. 54 miles – would have a faster group and a slower group. ¬†The shorter route – c. 24 miles – would be just one group. ¬†Shorter, slower, sociable. ¬†As you’ll have gathered by now, my PMA was pretty much AWOL, so it was definitely going to be the latter group for me! ¬†Even with the sun shining, and the unseasonable warmth I decided I’d be better off taking it easy and enjoying it, than risking the longer route. ¬†I know 24 miles is nothing, and sounds pathetic. ¬†I know 54 miles really isn’t that far either. ¬†However, as I mentioned earlier, Pembrokeshire is NOT¬†flat. ¬†Which is by way of being a serious¬†understatement. ¬†I’ve done the Tour proper a few times, and the Prologue a couple, and I know that 54 miles around here is easily equivalent to 100 miles somewhere flat! ¬†So…discretion, valour, limits, etc…

Joshua Fiddy's briefing

Time for a briefing from Joshua Fiddy, one of the Tour of Pembrokeshire organisers, who welcomed everyone and gave us an introduction to the ride. ¬†Each group would have two of the team with them which, in our case, would include Peter, previously chief organiser of the Tour of Pembrokeshire. ¬†There would be, and was, a support vehicle out en route with us in case of punctures, mechanicals or other problems, staffed by staff from Pembrokeshire bikes in Narbeth. ¬†All very supportive, all very sportive ūüėČ

Wet roads under dry skies up we go

We were set off in shifts. Short slow, slow long, fast long; so as to keep the groups all a bit closer together overall than would happen otherwise. ¬†Off we went into the as gorgeous as ever Pembrokeshire countryside. ¬†¬† It was just so lovely to be cycling somewhere different, and to be feeling warm! ¬†Dry overhead, if not under wheel. ¬†After the first climb I realised I was also feeling relatively on form, and not only was I not¬†getting left behind I was actually near the front of our group and feeling pretty good. ‘Rah!

contrast the beautiful coast

Being familiar with the general route, I knew roughly what I was in for for a while at least, and settled into it. ¬†In no particular order… ¬†The hairpins and the ensuing slog upwards at Moylegrove went up and on for just as long as ever, although it didn’t feel like quite as much hard work as sometimes. ¬†The wiggly descent down to the sea, with stunning¬†views, made my spirits lift and my face smile, as usual. ¬†A descent that quite a few people missed as the left turn for that particular diversion came amidst another descent and what with the groups getting spread out and somewhat muddled up, well..if you didn’t know the turning was there…you just went flying past. ¬†I’m glad I didn’t ūüôā ¬†The descent to Poppit Sands was much fun, and I still think it’s an adorable name for a place, don’t you poppet? ¬†All in all, even with all the ups, I was¬†having a good time ūüôā

Poppit Sands Lovely descent done

It has to be¬†said that, as you may have gathered, the groups did not stay together. ¬†What with missed turns, varying abilities, and the odd bit of getting lost even when with a leader, things went a bit to pot. ¬†One such error led to us going up a most impressive, and new to me, hill out of St Dogmaels, which was steep and long and, very very oddly, which I loved! ¬†I didn’t want to turn around and go back and see if we’d gone the wrong way. ¬†I just wanted to keep going on up it and see if it was doable. ¬†Hello crawler gear ūüôā ¬†And it was totally doable, and I totally did it,¬†and once t’were done, there turned out to be just three of us left when we gathered at the top! ¬†The support vehicle stopped to chat briefly, and assured us we were on track…which would only turn out¬†to prove that they were a little lost too! ¬†Still, the other lady in our three knew the area, I soon recognised some familiar tarmac, and with her help and some guess work we were back on track in no time. ¬†Bae_hawk_t1_xx245_inflight_arp

And thus it remained for the remainder of the ride. ¬†Three of us, with a vague idea of where we were, a map that turned out to be barely legible and therefore not a lot of use, and a lady who knew better, and who, come hell or high water or, in one case another massive flood that we had to ride through, would get us back to base. ¬†Which she did. ¬†And even somewhat lost, and slogging back into a head wind, it was still lovely. ¬†Warm, sunny, chatty… ¬†There were two fighter trainer planes, Hawks I think, hurtling around the sky Top Gun style, making a tremendous noise and (I reckon) having even more fun than I was. ¬†Yet another reason for me to *grin*.

Some more ups, some more downs, and then we were back on the swoopy main road to Newport, and I let rip for a little while, having been taking it easy all morning, just for the fun of it…I do like to hurtle sometimes ūüôā ¬†It was a ride that did wonders to revive my PMA and unexpectedly was just what I needed. ¬†It was so nice to be enjoyably reminded that I can ride a bike, I can go up hills, and that riding a bike is fun¬†ūüôā

climbing back inland

We three, we happy three, were the first back to Llys Meddg, unsurprisingly. ¬†With our lunch not due until mid afternoon, at 3pm, this left me with plenty of time to stash the bike away, have a lovely long shower, and chill out in lazy be-robed fashion in my room for a while. ¬†Bliss ūüôā ¬†By the time 3pm rolled around, a lot more of us were back, but by no means all, and there was a steady drip feed of returning riders as the afternoon progressed. ¬†Lunch turned out to be, in Peter’s judgement at least, the “best shepherd’s pie he’s ever eaten”. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but then I’m no shepherd’s pie connoisseur. ¬†It was pretty good though, and the sticky toffee pudding with cream afterwards was more than pretty good, it was fantastic! ¬†Presumably that’s why it’s an award-winning restaurant? ¬†I’m not sure I’d entirely earned such gratuitous calorific intake, but hey, it would have been rude not to…

There was a lot of the usual cycling banter over food, and drinks afterwards, and gradually riders peeled away one by one to head for homes. ¬†I on the other hand was staying over, so Peter and I took a trip to see the new venue for the 2016 Tour of Pembrokeshire, at Crug Glas, a little way out of St David’s. ¬†As we left, the last of the riders was just rolling in… ¬†Anyway, back to the new venue. ¬†Not only is this a (having stayed there before) very superior boutique country house hotel in scenic grounds, but it now has a new purpose built/converted barn affair, for weddings, events, and as it turns out, sportives. ¬†It’s very nice, and very swish.¬† The new venue means that everything can now be all in one place – free parking, registration, start/finish, food afterwards…the works, which has to be an improvement. ¬†There’s even a bar…

And that’s not the only change to the event. ¬†The three routes – 50, 75 & 100 miles – have been tweaked for 2016, to make them flow better apparently which, having done the Tour several times before, I’m quite excited about, because when I’m back there in April, I’ll get to try them out and discover some new roads. ¬†Not that this will make 100 miles, and over 10,000 feet of climbing, any the easier mind. ¬†But after the Prologue, I can honestly say I’m looking forward to it, even though it’s gonna hurt! ¬†I have been quoted in various places as saying that the Tour of Pembrokeshire is a “must-do event” and I really do think it is. ¬†Brilliantly well organised, stunning scenery, and a range of challenging routes. ¬†What more do you want? ¬†See you on April 23rd. ¬†Go on, sign up, you know you want to ūüôā

Cycling time: 2:00
Distance: 23.2 miles
Avs: 11.6 miles
ODO: 17830 miles

map outside map inside

Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue 2015

ready to go again

Early, oh so early, on Friday morning, as the sun was slowly rising in the east, I was following the slowly waning moon west. ¬†Anyone would think it was sportive season which, it being January, it¬†so isn’t. ¬†But it was time for this year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire Prologue ride, which meant being in Newport (no not¬†that Newport) by 10:00am. ¬†Hence the unpleasant¬†5:30am alarm call, to get me out on the road in time to head towards the equally unpleasant weather that was forecast. ¬† There’s a reason sportives are generally later in the year…but having said that, last year’s Tour of Pembrokeshire was in April and boy, was the weather hideous. ¬†And hey, it was only a forecast, right? ¬†Besides, it’s not just about the ride, the¬†Prologue has a hefty social element to it, with lunch all together afterwards, and it’s run by those who are now friends of mine¬†so even if cycling around a wet and windy Pembrokeshire didn’t exactly appeal, in for a penny in for a pound, right?

Llys Meddyg Mavic

So welcome to Prologue HQ, at Llys Meddyg in Newport. ¬†Parking was at somewhat of a premium as riders were already gathering, but I was assisted in squeezing my little red car into a little space in the hotel car park. ¬†Since I was staying there that night, I guess I was entitled ūüėČ ¬†I stuck my head inside, made my presence known, and headed back to the car to get ready. ¬†So far the weather wasn’t too bad, and¬†it was pretty mild, which made the inevitable faffing a lot easier. ¬†I had considered washing the bike beforehand but, all things considered, I figured it would have been a waste of time. ¬†Oh and let’s face it, I’m lazy ūüėČ ¬†So out it came, complete with mud, and on went the necessary layers. ¬†I think there were forty other riders, or thereabouts, all milling around doing similar; registering, drinking coffee and the like.

As the time to depart drew near, we were sorted into ability-based groups, with me firmly in¬†the softie group. ¬†I still had/have a stinking cold and inability to hear, haven’t done much exercise in a couple of weeks, and riding at all was possibly less than advisable, let alone doing it and trying to keep up with others. ¬†Besides, it looked like we were going to be a fairly sociable group, to be led by mein host Peter & his son Tom on their tandem, and there was even another girl for company – Nikki – which made a nice change.

Riders gathering Peter briefing

And that’s pretty much how it worked out. ¬†Fairly sociable, stopping and starting to regroup, and just about slow enough for me. ¬†Yes, the downhills were fun, but there isn’t much flat, and why is it I always forget how hilly Pembrokeshire is? ¬†It is. ¬†Very. ¬†Hence the slow. ¬†Even doing the softie route, which meant¬†cutting out the last big climbs, our 34 mile route included over 3000 feet of climbing! ¬†Man there was a lot of up – a real taster of what the real Tour is like. ¬†Sadly there was absolutely nothing in my legs, and going uphill literally hurt. ¬†I had lead for legs, but that’s unsurprising really I guess.

looking for a sign softie group

The first half of the ride was fairly pleasant, that not withstanding. ¬†It was¬†still¬†mild, only occasionally damp, with the odd hint of blue sky, and of course the scenery was as lovely as ever. ¬†It is beautiful around there, especially around the coast. ¬†For a little while it looked like we might make it around our loop before the weather came in. ¬†We did not. ¬†Oh no. ¬†Definitely not. ¬†In came the rain and serious amounts of wind. ¬†The sort that knocks you sideways, pushes you backwards, and generally just makes everything harder whilst completely failing to be behind you at any useful point in time, if at all. ¬†Hence the lack of photos. ¬†It would appear that this is the kind of weather I bring to Pembrokeshire, and as I coated yet more roads with snot, and coughed my way up yet another hill, I did wonder what on earth I thought I was doing, and why on earth I was doing it…

The last half of the ride was definitely a slog. ¬†I’ve done much longer rides that didn’t feel as hard work as this one did, and it was a great relief to get back to Newport and stuff the (even muddier) bike back in the car. ¬†I was geknackert. ¬†It is just possible that, considering my current being ill state, cycling 34 miles of wet windy Welsh hills was not¬†the¬†best idea ever… ¬†Still no-one ever said I was the sharpest knife in the drawer ūüėČ

route map

Cycling time: 2:54
Distance: 33.4 miles
Avg: 11.5 mph
ODO: 7449.7 miles

Once I’d checked into what turned out to be a¬†very large & lovely room and I’d had a long hot shower, I felt restored to as close to human as I was going to get, and it was time¬†to rejoin everyone for pheasant casserole & post ride debriefing downstairs. ¬†It sounds like those that had braved the full route had had some hairy times in the wind up on the mountains, making the route we took seem like a very wise choice. ¬†Not that I feel we needed that vindicating, as I’m just happy we didn’t have to do any more climbing! ¬†I know, girly wuss ūüėČ ¬†The apr√®s ride more than made up for my dismal¬†performance on the ride, and what’s more, I felt like I’d earned it!

The Tour of Pembrokeshire 2015 takes place on 25th April and over 1100 have already signed up. ¬†It’s a great event, that I’ve done several times, and it promises to be just as good and just as challenging as ever. ¬†Due to other commitments, this year I’m not doing the Tour proper, but that¬†probably means they’ll have their best weather ever! ¬† It’s one of my favourite events, and if you haven’t signed up already, why not do so now¬†and make the most of the inevitable sunshine?¬†ūüėČ *grin*.