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!
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!. 😉 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… 😉
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 😉
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? 😉 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!
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.
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 🙂
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.
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! 🙂
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!
So that covers the Prologue. But as I mentioned before, the Tour of Pembrokeshire is about far more than one long very challenging sportive 😉 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 😉
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! 🙂
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.