T’was the night before a sportive, and all ’round the (5 star luxury) house, the wind was howling like a bleedin’ banshee and I was not sleeping. They say it’s important to get your excuses in early, so here are a few of mine. I didn’t sleep well the night before. I didn’t eat well the week before. I didn’t eat well the night before – the downside of being away from home for a sportive – so my pre-sportive routine was all off. And I was on the tramadol which cannot be said to be performance enhancing because if it was it would be on the UCI/WADA banned list and I’ve checked and it isn’t. How am I doing for excuses so far? When thinking about doing this event again last week, I did joke, looking back at last year’s blog, that as a goal, I should take that time, and add an hour on to it. Ah, many a true word is spoken in jest…
So, there you go, foundations for the Tour of Pembrokeshire 2013 could possibly be said to be a little bit shakey. Think King Vortigern and his constantly falling down castle. That involved a red Welsh dragon too didn’t it? And Pembrokeshire is in Wales. Sort of.
Right. Ok…here we go.
When the alarm went off at 6:00am on Sunday morning, I’d finally managed to be asleep for a while, so it wasn’t exactly welcome, though it didn’t exactly come as a shock either. I got my act together, and dressed for the wet and windy gale that was still blowing up a storm outside. I somewhat perturbed the nice hotel people by not letting them cook anything for me, and just using their microwave to make my porridge, which I duly ate and washed down with essential black coffee – determined that at least one part of my routine would continue as normal. My ride partner for the day, and chauffeur for the weekend, was the indomitable Chris, aka Figgy, who turned up complete with car and bike at 7:00am as planned. We drove the short few miles to the start, passing the first few riders already heading off into the wind and, at the time, rain. None of them looked happy. Well who would? It wasn’t exactly inspiring PMA…
There was plenty of free parking at Oriel y Parc, where we faffed and assembled the bikes. The rain got properly nasty for a bit so Chris insisted we take refuge in the car for a while rather than getting gratuitously soaked before we’d even started. He had a point and, since that was the last we saw of the rain for the day, it was a very good call. It’s just as well we didn’t set off any earlier isn’t it?
As we hadn’t been able to get down to St David’s until late Friday night, Peter Walker, the organiser, had very kindly registered the pair of us and handed over our numbers and lanyard chips from Sportident the night before, so we didn’t have to register on the day – removing one step from the usual pre-ride prep. Instead we headed straight for the start line, a short walk away, but long enough for Chris to discover his back mudguard was rubbing – something to do with new tyres, bigger profile I think, I wasn’t really paying attention ;). After a period of fiddling, he managed to get the darn thing off and stash it in a bush to collect it on our return. This of course gave me time to go to the loo – and this year they’d opened up extra toilets at the venue so there was none of last year’s queuing – result!
Heading off was a low key affair. Various marshalls were at the start line to scan our chips, and then off we went. Ready for what was always going to be a long day in the saddle, even on a good day. I didn’t regret a single one of my garment choices, as we headed off into the 25mph freezing cold NE wind, sometime around 7:30am ish. Due to the state of some of the roads, the route had been altered a bit from last year, and the first hour or so definitely seemed easier as a result. Not easy, just easier. None of this ride is easy. There’s precious little flat, and an awful lot of climbing – around 9,500 feet apparently. That may not sound like a lot to you, but it does to me!
The first food stop came around 20 miles in, at Fishguard, at the Pendre Inn. After a couple of hours cycling in the sunshine fighting the wind, stopping seemed like a good idea. Well, how do I review the food stations if I don’t stop at them? (Can you spot another excuse for my sloth – there were five food stations and we stopped at every one!). I grabbed the usual half of banana, Chris started his marathon eating session, and I used the toilets because hey, I review them too ;). At this point I was still feeling pretty good. Positive. A bit disappointed with the average speed that was happening, but at that point that was pretty much down to the headwind I think. One fifth of the way through (ish) and time to be on our way again.
With the wind blowing like billy-o the weather changed all the time. When there was sun, the temperature struggled up into the nearly pleasant, when it clouded over it dropped into the distinctly nippy. Going up the long hills warmed you up, sometimes too far, and then the descents chilled you right through. Nice. Not. But beautiful. The scenery over there is just stunning. As usual, my photos are going to fail to do justice to it.
Some of the long slow hills I actually found easier than before. Not that my stats show that, but that’s not the point. I actually quite like long slow sloggy hills (sshh, don’t tell anyone I said that). I even made it up the steep nasty ones, like the wicked bendy one that came just after the 75 & 100 mile routes split off from the 50 mile route. I’m glad I knew it was coming, or I’d have been in the wrong gear for sure. Last year the route split wasn’t well signed, this year the signs were great, and there were several very vocal marshalls making sure you went the way you thought you wanted to go. In fact signage throughout was pretty good. There was the odd junction where it would have been nice to see the arrow a little earlier, but other than that it was really good. There were plenty of Caution signs, and for the traffic, Slow Cyclists signs. Which I took to taking offense at, after I’d seen enough of them! Actually it did sometimes confuse me – am I supposed to be going Slow for some reason, or is that aimed at the cars? A lot of the junctions were marshalled too, as well as the splits, with friendly faces cheering you on – which always helps :).
Between the first two food stations came my favourite part of this ride. I think it’s the main reason I did it again. Somewhere amidst the endless climbing into the sky, comes a down to the coast, where the view is simply awesome, you can hear the waves crashing on the rocks, and if it doesn’t make you smile, maybe you shouldn’t be there. We smiled. And stopped. And took photos :). There were quite a lot of photo stops today (yep, more excuses).
The next food stop was at Poppit Sands, which, as the name implies, was down at the beach. A nice down too. The first of the timing splits came just before, lurking marshalls jumping out to swipe our chips, before we headed for the lifeboat station and more supplies. I wasn’t yet feeling in need of rescue, though I’d possibly have liked to call them out later in the day! Yes, time for more banana, and a quick chat to Rob who happened to be there and who spotted me as I passed by him on my way back from the toilets.
After a brief period of respite, cycling along the riverside and admiring the boats, the route climbed again. Surprise, surprise. Up and up and up, following a rather attractive stream, with waterfalls, hints of babbling brook, dappled shade, all very picturesque. At the top I stashed my gilet in the saddle bag, where the over gloves were already hiding, before we headed off into the hills again. I must have been concentrating for the next section, as the camera seems to have remained resolutely in my bar bag until the third foodstop at a pub at Boncath. We spent a bit longer here, enjoying the sun, eating bananas, and, if you’re him, welsh cakes and more. They even had cold potatoes, so I had one. I think there were pasties and other goodies too, but being gluten free, such things tend to pass me by. I did stash my head Buff in the bag too, as I was getting a bit overheated on climbs at this point, and it was about the only thing left to easily take off! The stop had a blackboard which very handily had the route map on it, amongst other things, showing the obstacles to be overcome between you and the next food stop, which in this case included the biggest climb of the day, to the highest point. I’m sure it has a name, but it temporarily escapes me. Besides, it was one of three such lumps ahead of us, and that was all that really concerned me.
Chris commented that it would appear that Pembrokeshire is where they hid the leftover hills when they were designing our isle. On that basis, if Slartibartfast made fjords, then I reckon there’s a mouse somewhere called Slartibartslow who’s rather proud of his landscape folding ability. Somewhat bizarrely this discussion came at around the 42 mile mark…which amused me when I looked down at Bella and saw that.
I was getting a bit tireder now. I definitely had lactic legs, or tramadol legs, or both. And the pills weren’t entirely working but I couldn’t take anymore for a while, so it was just a case of hanging in there until I could. I’m still amazed that Chris hung with me the entire way round which, considering he could have done it in half the time, is very generous of him, and seriously appreciated. I don’t know if I’d have made it around otherwise, and there could well have been some sobbing by the roadside moments! However hard I was finding it, I was still enjoying myself in an odd way. I love the route, the scenery lifts you, there’s plenty to admire as you’re climbing those massive hills at glacial speed, and the other riders, such as we saw, were mostly chatty and friendly. Well by this point all the race snakes have finished, so it’s just other people all in the same slowly sinking boat as you. It’s odd, for hours you ride along practically having the roads to yourself – there was precious little traffic – and then you get to the next food stop and suddenly there are cyclists everywhere!
And oh, was I glad to see the fourth foodstop. Mostly because, as well as fodder and faggots and portable loos, they had tea and coffee! I’d been dreaming of a coffee for ages…anything that wasn’t sweet to be fair…and a cup of coffee was just what I wanted. Those three lumps had taken a long time, and taken quite a toll too. There was quite a festival atmosphere to the place, a little sun trap of a refuge tucked down on the side of a valley, away from the headwind that should have turned into a tailwind half way round and somehow never did, with music playing and brightly coloured cyclists flocked around. It was not the easiest place to leave, that’s for sure. But the only way is up, she said, and after a stretch along the valley (aka wind tunnel), it was time for yet another vicious climb. Again, one I knew was coming, and that I knew I could do, which always helps massively mentally. Slow but steady, as ever.
My new plan is to take gels as I near the end of a ride, and the time had come. I took one, which helped, in a kind of paper over the cracks sense. I ended up taking another one later, another reason it was good Chris was around as I didn’t have many with me and one of those turned out to have fructose in it, which I can’t do. Luckily he had plenty. He pootled along next to me as I moaned my way ’round (he says I moan, I swear I’m just making conversation), getting nearer to the end. I knew the last stretch is a lot flatter, so I was just counting the miles (and hills!) down until we got to the last food stop from whence it would all be downhill, metaphorically speaking. By now my chain was squeaking away, and apparently the application of oil would have been a good idea, but I didn’t have any and neither did the foodstop. The fifth and final stop was once again at a pub, full of normal people drinking away a sunny Saturday afternoon, and probably laughing themselves silly at the stream of lycra clad eejots traipsing through their midst to the toilet and back! Father Christmas, as you can see, was in mufti this year…
So, 13/14 miles to go, according to the foodstation guys. 18 according to me. And I’m always right. It beats me how we managed to spend so many miles heading into a headwind and still get around and back to the start again though!
The last stretch is, as these things go, a lot flatter, with just a couple of draggy hills in it to take the last out of you. I was starting to feel a bit weird, wobbly and like falling asleep on the bike, and though I tried to ignore it, I realised that would be foolish in the long run, and had to stop, take another gel, and get it together for a bit. Poor Chris! After a little while of spinning along and letting the gel cut in, my legs woke up again, aided and abetted by the fact that they could sense the end was nigh, and see St David’s in the distance, and the final few miles into the slowly setting sun weren’t too bad. As the well hidden cathedral finally hove into view, we were marshalled through its grounds and up one final hill to get us across the Finish Line, many many hours after we started.
Talk about slow! Just under 9 hours riding – pretty much exactly an hour more than last year. And with stops, our time was 10:11. That may have been the final straw…it was certainly a tad depressing. We stashed the bikes back in the car, threw on some civvie layers, and headed a little glumly back to the cafe for our free meal. There was soup or stew on offer I think, but I went for cake. Gluten & dairy free cake, which they let me have in lieu of stew. Which rhymes. It seemed like a good idea, and very nice it was too. I think I’d gone one step beyond though – I was a bit zoned out and also freezing cold, which Chris didn’t believe until I placed a hand on his arm, which apparently felt a lot like the hand of death! 🙂 I was then made to wear his very fetching hat which I’m fairly sure did absolutely nothing for me but may have helped warm me up a bit. After checking in with Peter to say hi and see how it had gone, it was time to call it a day and head back to the hotel for a shower, food, and sleep, which I actually managed to do in that order.
Over the course of what little remained of the day, we did the usual post ride dissection. Chris had eaten more on a sportive than ever before – a litany that included fig rolls (of course!), ham wraps, welsh cakes, and much much more. I on the other hand did 108 miles on one flapjack, 1.5 bananas, and three gels, though I did drink more than usual. Hm, I’m thinking that’s possibly not very clever. I used to be able to get away with that, but now that I don’t really eat properly the rest of the time and there’s less of me than there once was, I just don’t seem to have the reserves for that anymore. Which would probably explain why I spent the following day with a killer dehydration headache, feeling like a piece of limp spaghetti, incapable of much by way of coherent thought! The big issue really was the wind…I think I can still hear it now! For all that I suffered, I’d go back and do it again, just for the scenery and the challenge…but I think maybe the 75 mile route next time! 🙂
Cycling time: 8:55 hrs.
Distance: 107.6 miles.
Avs: 12.1 mph.
ODO: 1498.15 miles.
Official Cyclosport review.