Right. Here we go. Bear with me, this could take some time.
This Bank Holiday weekend was the Tour of Wessex 2014. Something which I had, unfathomably, agreed to do again, shortly after finishing the last one. It can only be presumed that such things work in the same way as labour does, in that the mind must block the pain away somewhere, thus allowing the human race to continue, and cyclists to race (sorry ride) again. What was I thinking? I have no idea. I quite clearly remember saying I’d never doing it again after having done it, since I’d done it, and didn’t need to do it again. Nonetheless…
Someone asked me last week if I was excited, looking forward to it. Hm. I’d actually been giving that quite some thought without coming up with a satisfactory answer. I think ambivalent probably summed it up. Looking back I think I was worried I wouldn’t make it at all; that some failure, be it mechanical or biomechanical, would stop me in my tracks. None of the novelty, trepidation, or excitement of last year, just a sort of background worry…and the weather forecast wasn’t helping any. As someone on Facebook commented, the weather is never great for the Tour of Wessex, you can practically set your clock by it. Well, it’s an English Bank Holiday weekend, what else do you expect? It looked like a reverse of last year’s weather, with nasty weather on the Saturday and better for the Sunday and Monday. Which for Saturday meant not very windy, but not warm and most definitely wet. It’s fair to say that the prospect of spending another day getting soaking wet on the bike far from appealed, and that waterproofs were not going to be optional.
Three days of cycling is like faffing cubed. The front room floor was covered with kit as I tried to cover every eventuality whilst avoiding having to wash everything every day. But eventually I was as ready as I was ever going to be. Andrew had checked over the bike on Thursday, Chris changed the brake pads last week, and Karen, my physio, had strapped up my knee that morning. Nothing left to do but eat and try and relax and get some sleep. Some chance…
After a restless night, I gave up trying to sleep 20 minutes before my 5:45am alarm clock was due. Time to go and put on the layers I’d decided on, and put others in a bag full of options in case I changed my mind once there. It didn’t look too bad out there, but I wasn’t counting any chickens. Good coffee drunk, bike and bags loaded up, and I was on my way, feeling more than a little stressed. Still, the drive was ok, down roads I would later be riding on, the weather hadn’t yet arrived, and my music was doing a good job of cheering me up a little. I arrived in Somerton with time to spare, and parked up on the playing field as instructed, fortuitously right next to Jon who was chatting to Guy who had arrived earlier yet was somehow parked further away. Our little group had agreed to meet by the children’s playground at 7:30am, and there we were right next to it, early. Handy.
First things first, to go and collect my registration pack as because I was doing it for work, I hadn’t registered on-line like everyone else. For those, registration packs were sent the week before, so thus avoiding the need for people to register on the day. Not that everyone had twigged this, there was a queue of people at the Pendragon tent being told they didn’t need to be there! I however did, so I filled in the form, collected the pack, and headed back to the car.
I have to say I found this year’s handlebar mounted timing chip much better than last year’s saddle mounted sticky flappy one, and it was the only thing to be attached to the bike, or me, which was nice. That done I faffed. Well, what else was there to do? It didn’t feel that cold, but I knew rain was due, and I was more than usually indecisive. So – the final score line was long tights, light overshoes, s/s base layer, s/s jersey, and soft shell jacket (it has detachable sleeves so could double up as just a gilet later if necessary). And of course the waterproof – tucked securely into my saddle bag. Decisions made and layers donned, we all headed over towards the start, with the inevitable queue for the far too few toilets taking up some of the time to be killed.
No-one else seemed to want to advance into the pen and the start line, so our little ACG posse, by now joined by Martyn and Mark, decided we might as well. If you see any official photos of the start line – the front row of riders is us! This amused us more than it probably should have done, but did mean we got to spend lots of time watching the antics of photographers and journalists, all keen to get photos of Michael Eavis and the Aerial Atom that were to start off the event.
By now of course it was already raining intermittently, a sign of things to come. The nearby speaker played an odd mix of frequently less than cheerful rock, although Chasing Cars was fairly apt, we got damp, and the time ticked down…
Finally after the usual rider briefing, which we all probably know by heart by now, the commentator counted us down from five and we were off, and following Mr Glastonbury Festival in the Aerial Atom out of the gate. For 10 seconds I led the Tour of Wessex! 😉 Disappointingly the Atom instantly went left where we went right – not much of a lead out train! Ah well, time to stop fannying around and ride the bike then.
Today’s route was never going to hold much by way of novelty for me – it’s my patch, my turf, my backyard. Even so, and having done it before, we nearly missed the right turn near Butleigh where a sign seemed to have gone amiss. It’s a good thing someone always seems to have downloaded the route! I’d like to have taken photos of Glastonbury Tor as we passed by, but it was in the clouds, and I was in the rain, and really, it didn’t seem worth it. Besides, every time the road went up, I got dropped, and dropping back to take photos would have made things even worse, I’d never have caught up! This, by the way, was to be the trend for the entire three days. Keep up on the flat, get dropped on the hills, fail to catch up, and then get dropped completely unless some poor soul took pity and waited for me.
Which, for the first part of this day, the group did, or had to do, on a regular basis. I did my best though, and enjoyed the downs and the flats when I could, and I was very grateful to them for waiting for me – it was not a nice day to be out there on your own, even on familiar roads. On the upside, as we went through Glastonbury itself, the Atom reappeared, and I had to undertake it, as traffic stopped it hurtling off as it would like to have done. Yes, not only did I lead the Tour of Wessex today, I was also briefly faster from A to B than an Aerial Atom. Faster than a speeding bullet, that’s me 😉
The route sadly included the same horrible road from Godney to the bottom of Mudgeley Hill as last year, with potholes and gravel on either side, which had me holding on for dear life as riders insisted on squeezing past us to gain those extra precious seconds. One group of them, unlike most, did at least warn me they were coming through. I warned them that that was all very well but I still wasn’t moving out of the middle of the road – that being the only part of that road that was still road! It was still raining, quite a lot, I was getting wet and cold, and I informed the group that if it was going to keep on doing that, that I was probably going to do the “short” route. I just didn’t see the point of putting myself through another day of misery…and to be honest, they were probably quite pleased to hear that I wouldn’t be holding them back all day!
Unsurprisingly the group dropped me going up Mudgeley Hill. I was doing my best to catch them up by making up time on the drop back into Wedmore when, where the road takes a sharp right turn to drop into the town, I came across Jon and Guy. It wasn’t clear what had happened at first, other than that something had, but as it transpires, while following Guy down the hill Jon’s wheel had probably hit a drain cover, or something, and whatever had caused it, he’d come down hard on his right hand hip and shoulder. The bike was ok, bar a little mudguard and brake straightening, but Jon was a little worse for wear. How much worse remained to be seen…
Martyn and Mark had retraced their steps to join us, and we headed off as a group towards Cheddar Gorge. Jon was definitely feeling it by now, not his usual speedy self at all, as well as being troubled by a niggling worry that he’d lost his keys when he came down. Between us spreading out and him dropping back to check his pockets, it was every man for himself by the time we started what is to many an iconic climb. Today it was an iconic river. Which is of course why it’s a Gorge in the first place. I swum up it in my usual fashion, too busy watching the road for rocks and water and other riders to have much time for photos or scenery appreciation. In case you’re wondering – it’s frequently very pretty!
Somewhere along the top towards Priddy the weather brightened up a bit. I may have been riding on my own, but it wasn’t too terrible. I like the Mendips and there were bluebells and I wasn’t feeling too bad since I wasn’t having to keep up with anyone else. Besides, the first food stop was due, at the Hunters Lodge, and I knew the chances were I would find the others waiting for me there, which I did. It was a bit of a free-for-all – or maybe even a scrum – when it came to the food. And the queue for the toilets didn’t appeal at all, though I gave in and joined it, needs must ‘n all that. In the meantime I gave Jon some of my ibuprofen – I travel equipped – and chatted the future through with the guys. Guy and Martyn were on the Long route. Jon was not looking good, and I was for the short route, so Mark decided he’d join me and Jon would join us, and so two headed off and then we were three.
Off and down Old Bristol Road which was a little too congested to be much fun, as a support car had stopped halfway down to help someone needing wheel help. Luckily I was being cautious at that point, so it wasn’t a problem, and the riders backed up for a bit as traffic going up squeezed past traffic going down. At the bottom Jon bailed – very understandably – deciding to take the most direct route for home possible, and have his t’other half take him back to collect the car from Somerton. A very wise move, especially as by now it was raining again. On that basis Mark decided he’d go back to his original plan and do the long route, and I decided to stick to mine, and to pop in and see Chris for coffee which he’d offered as an option if I needed it.
I hadn’t realised, until I got inside and got coffee inside me, how thoroughly wet and cold I was. I should probably have put that waterproof on, right? D’oh! I was soaked to the skin and freezing cold and shortly shivering. Luckily Chris has nearly as much kit as I do, so I swopped several of my damp layers for his dry ones. Some considerable time later, having drunk more coffee, wrapped up warm, with waterproof & overgloves on, and I was as close to human as I was going to get, facing another 40 odd miles in the rain on my own. Still, warm and wet and better than cold and wet! Oh, and they were possibly the best cups of coffee I’ve ever had!
Being behind everyone was quite nice in a way, I spent many semi-happy miles reeling in slower riders, as we headed through Shepton Mallet, Bruton and Evercreech, not necessarily in that order. There was the usual traffic around the Royal Bath & West Showground, and from there on in, lots of diesel on the road – usually on the racing line, making me wonder if the Atom had been through this way too. It was considerably lumpier than I was expecting, and neither my head, heart, nor body were really in it. But I slogged along again, options being somewhat limited really. One day soon I expect I shall mention a hill climb without also mentioning the smell of wild garlic, as the seasons change (they do do that, right?), but not today, as there it was again, damp and ever-present. England’s green and pleasant land being unpleasantly watered.
Somewhere on one of those long climbs, momentum was interrupted as police marshalled us around an ambulance dealing with a poor soul about to be taken away, rumour has it having required CPR. Well accidents usually happen downhill not up slow hills, but whatever happened, I hope he’s ok. It was sobering nonetheless. Somewhere not long after came the route split. Go left and do an extra 40 miles in the rain, with the added joy of the King Alfred’s Tower climb? Not on your nelly. Nope, I turned right and headed for home.
My world shrank to being me, and my bike, and my music, and getting to where I had to go. I never really got warm. I drifted a bit from time to time and had to remember to eat or take gels. I didn’t stop at the last foodstop, as I had what I needed with me, and didn’t want to risk getting colder standing around. Believe it or not, I wasn’t actually miserable, but I was pretty focussed on getting it over and done with. As the time passed, groups of the fastest riders from the long route started over-taking me, which didn’t do a lot for the ego, but at least proved I was still going in the right direction. At least the odd one had the courtesy to say hi, and the occasional rarity even chatted briefly before leaving me behind. This is not a good event for such things – far too many pretend-pros, some seriously bad manners, and occasionally some actively dangerous riding!
The country lanes carried me back past the orchards and vineyards around Wraxall, where thoughts of cider and wine were very motivational. Yet another reason to get home… It wasn’t hot enough for mirages by a long shot, but visions of a cold pint of lager were quite sustaining! There were also posters everywhere for a forthcoming production of a “Comedy of Errors” which seemed oddly pertinent…
And then it was the last flying downhill down the hill up which we’d first climbed that morning, and then the slow slog back up to Somerton that by now definitely felt steeper than it is, and then there I was, over the Finish line, and done. Not much to celebrate maybe, other than survival! There was definitely to be no hanging around for me though, even if I probably wouldn’t have had long to wait for Guy and Martyn, considering the speed they’d been doing. I went straight to the car, stripped off as much wet stuff as possible, put on my Skins, loaded up the car, drove gingerly over the now very muddy field to get out, and headed for home.
Cycling time: 5:06
Official time: 6:07
Distance: 73.0 miles
Avg: 14.0 mph
ODO: 4785.8 miles
So Tour of Wessex Day 1 done. I’d been so wet that all my finger nails had split! Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman ;). Many, many thanks to Chris, without whom I don’t think I’d have survived! It was a relief to get home to an email from a post A&E Jon, battered not broken, though words like “mis-aligned collar bone” were used, and apparently the bruise on his hip was properly spectacular! Still – it could have been worse, and I’m very glad it wasn’t. As for me, I had a long hot bath, re-strapped my knee, since all the wet had not been conducive to continued adhesion, put my Skins back on and enjoyed finally being warm again. Well, apart from the chill that comes from applying Madform muscle cream of course but hey, it helped last year, so I wasn’t going to pass up on that. Instead I just applied less and more judiciously. I also washed all my kit and put it on radiators to dry; shoes, helmet and all, and ate jacket potatoes and porridge and the like, while waiting for my fellow Cyclosport writer Sean, due to ride with us for the next two days, to arrive so that I could go to bed. He did, I did. I’m probably a pretty lousy B&B hostess, but hey, I’m thinking crashing here is probably one step up from camping down there in the rain and mud would have been ;).