Tour of Wessex Day 3

Ok, another night of letting MadForm chill me to the bone after a bath, and having the Skins compress my muscles back to where they’re supposed to be.  No pasta – but risotto.  Still twice though, and followed by the usual pre-bed porridge.  Another early night, a better night’s sleep…and the alarm goes off to bring me, and you, to Day 3.  And this is the day that had been worrying me.  112 miles, so marginally shorter than Day 2 but…with 50% more climbing!  After two sportives already done.  Blimey!  On top of that, the weather forecast was not good which, let’s be honest, was predictable, because there’s no way the whole three days were going to be blessed with sunshine, now was there?

ready to go

We were at the start line a bit ahead of time this time around.  There was no-one to meet, just ourselves to sort, and unsurprisingly by now we were pretty practiced at getting ready to go.  We were both wearing more layers today as although the sun was still out, the wind was blowing and it wasn’t even close to warm.  I opted for my new long tights too – as since my legs hadn’t made it out from under my leg warmers for the two previous days, there wasn’t a chance in hell of them needing to come out today!  Good thing I’d tested them out beforehand then – wearing new kit for 100 miles can be a risky thing.  Opting for longs was to prove to have been a good choice, as was swopping my light weight jersey for a slightly heavier one.  You can guess which gilet I wore though.  Well if it ain’t broke…? ;).

We lined up in the start pen, without the chaos of the previous days.  We were earlier, and there were also less riders it seemed.  I was actually feeling nervous.  Real butterflies in the tummy nervous.  Which although not that pleasant, I know can be a good thing.  It’s just not a feeling I get very often these days.  But if it wasn’t a big thing that I really wanted to do, that would make me nervous as a result, then why would I be putting myself through it?  Precisely.  So, nervous I was.  The timing guy was doing his jovial thing again as we advanced forward, which broke the tension a bit.  And we also didn’t have to wait around as long as in previous days, so I didn’t have time to fret too much anyway.


So, off we went.  Day 3 was underway.  Just one more day to get through.  It’s just a day, right?  After an initial leg sapping and GB dropping drag out of Somerton, there wasn’t much to worry about for the first twenty miles or so.  Well, not on the gradient front anyway.  We ended up fighting the rather more challenging wind with an ever changing range of little groups, and making reasonable time across the Levels.  GB was not feeling the love at all so, even with groups, we were often best left to get on with it our way rather than trying to keep up with anyone, or in fact having to make conversation with anyone.  I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing and be nice to complete strangers at the same time.  Small talk might have had its place on Day 1, by Day 3, it really didn’t, not for me anyway.  Yes, I’m an anti-social cow – everyone knows that!

green sunny climb climbing and more

In order to get to our real goal for the day – the hills of the Quantocks, and Exmoor – we had to first negotiate Bridgwater.   This is frequently not a good place for cyclists to be, but apparently the inhabitants wake late there, and there weren’t enough of them up and about to provide any hindrance, which came as somewhat of a relief.  Well kinda, but not, in that I knew that meant we weren’t far from having to go up in the world, and I really wasn’t sure how my legs were going to react to that.  OK, so I was feeling pretty good.  Very upbeat, positive, quite good all ’round…but hey, massive hills are a whole different thing, right?  And when we reached it, it was a doozer.  I could give you the stats….but let’s just say it went on for a very long time, in consistently steep fashion, with false finishes, twists..the works!  And I could do it!  OK, so I wasn’t going to be winning any fancy jerseys for my performance, but I made it up.   GB was a little behind me and the group I was currently in, having taken a break before the climb started.  I could tell when he’d caught up though – I recognise the tone of his cough by now ;).  Even with a head start and feeling crap, he still caught up…!  But I was pleased – the first of the day’s big climbs done, without my legs buckling from under me…see, I even look happy :D.

quantock climbers me

We were happily riding across the Quantock Common, cussing the wind and exposed nature of the place somewhat, in fairly good humoured fashion, when one of the riders behind me locked his gears up somehow and went crashing down on his right side.  How he didn’t take anyone else done with him I’ll never know…  We stopped to sort him out, one of the group going ahead to the food stop to inform “them”.  We gingerly picked him off the road, got him sat by the side of the road, and called the organisers to get someone to pick him up.  Explaining where we were seemed harder than it should have been – apparently “we’re on the common after the first timed climb” wasn’t quite clear enough, so I had to do quite a bit of explaining myself, and last I heard they were sending someone out.  A friend of his turned up, and they headed off to try and find somewhere a little exposed to wait, before he added hypothermia to his list of possible injuries.  He was tempted to carry on….he may have done, even if he probably shouldn’t have.  I know I’d find it hard to stop if that was me on Day 3 and I wasn’t actually physically incapacitated…bit like me, my chipped shoulder bone, and the last day of the L2P!  Mind you, I wouldn’t have wanted to have an accident like that and then have to be able to stop on the next descent….which was Crowcombe Hill!  Wow – that’s steep.  And hard and fast…and the speed a few went past me at?  I’m glad nothing came the other way!  Brave…but stupid, if you ask me.

on the Quantocks first food stop

Anyway we left him there, looked after and catered for, and made our way down and up to the first food stop at Crowcombe Village Hall.  There were no toilets, officially, but one of the young lads there was very kindly taking pity on the ladies around and letting them into the disabled toilet – via keypad – one at a time.  Thank you – it was very much appreciated!  There was no sign of the other riders we’d been with who’d gone ahead so, as ever, when we left, then there were two…

We came down from the Quantocks at Washford to the joys of a long stretch on the A39 – all the way past Dunster, through Minehead, and out to Porlock.  I’m pretty familiar with this road, and it’s a busy one.  Luckily the traffic were, surprisingly considering the number of cyclists around, being fairly tolerant.  There’s a long climb out of Minehead, but a lovely long flying bit to get to Porlock, which I’ve always wanted to do fast, so I left GB behind for a bit to enjoy it – he wasn’t enjoying himself as much as I was at the time.   We had a bit of a stop at the bottom of the toll road, which was about 48 miles in, to take on gels, and refreshment, and see if we couldn’t sort out GB’s PMA and/or killer headache.  Well…we tried anyway.  I was feeling good, positive, like we could do it.  He was feeling seriously rough, but was determined to carry on.  So carry on we did…

toll road official signs toll road scenic sign

So on to one of my favourite climbs – Porlock Toll Road.  I’ve said that before, and everyone’s always gone, ooh, bet you won’t say that on Day 3 of the Tour of Wessex.  Well I’m sorry, I still loved it.  It’s long, slow, gradual, and scenic.  It was also sheltered from the growing yet worse wind and the deteriorating weather.  The road surface is lovely, there are precious few cars, I get to see the sea, and there are even hairpins!  What more does a girl want? 😉

toll road riders first hairpin

sea views from Porlock Toll Road porlock wiggles

I pootled my way up taking photos, letting GB do things his way.  The higher up we got, the worse the weather got.  We became more and more exposed, and that wind just gusted away, knocking me sideways from time to time.  The Cinelli hates side winds – it’s proper skittish.  GB got into a rhythm and ended up back in his customary place – ahead of me.  I stuck to just taking it easy – he’s not very good at doing that!  Eventually we ran out of Toll road, and hit Exmoor proper.  I was trying not to smother GB with my maternal tendancy to make sure everyone is ok and see if there’s anything I can do, so did my best to button it as we headed across to Exford.  I went past him at one point, as he was feeling sicker than ever.  Apparently he actually was, and then after that he felt much better.  TMI? Sorry! :P.  Whatever works, right?  He certainly kicked my arse on the lethal steep climb that comes after the descent in the middle there somewhere .  Those training rides in Exmoor paid off – as I’m really glad I knew it was there (as did the photographer!) otherwise I’d most certainly have lost my chain trying to get into the right gear.  Which was the lowest possible gear, and even then I nearly didn’t make it, as my legs suddenly did the lactic acid heavy losing it thing.  All I could do was keep asking them to go ’round and hope that they would listen to me.  It was a close run thing…

bleak moor view cow

It was horrible up there.  See – even the cows were windswept!  15 miles or so of slogging into that headwind on bleak exposed moor land would be bad enough…and then it rained.  Oh marvellous.  So I got to get wet and then freezing cold as well.  GB was well into perked up by now and was drawing away on a regular basis.  He’s just inherently a lot stronger than I am – I don’t know how he does it!  We had a brief period of respite at the lunch stop, 57 miles in, which happened to have public toilets nearby, always good.  We ate, drank, I took yet another gel.  I wasn’t massively chatty.  Everyone was looking a bit shell shocked, and there were not a lot of shiny happy people around.  At least they still had bananas this time.  I’d have loved a cup of coffee, but then hanging around to drink one would probably have been a bad idea.  We were trying to get away from the bad weather, not travel along with it!

Green tunnel lunch stop

Off we went again.  I don’t remember the details.  Just a lot of riding.  A lot of climbing.  I remember being very cold.  Miserable.  Beyond flat.  Even a tad weepy.  Not like I couldn’t make it…because come hell or high water I was going to make it.  It just felt like it was going to take a very long and unenjoyable forever to do so.   GB was back to his usual self now, and I spent quite a lot of this bit on my own, which I have to say wasn’t helping cheer me up much either, though he did wait for me in between times.  And I never want to hear anything about Wimbleball Lake ever again.  I’m not so keen on lakes that I need to slog my way up gratuitous hills just to see one!


The final food stop was at the gatehouse of Cedar Falls, which contained one inside loo, thus causing a certain amount of queuing.  This probably wasn’t helped by the fact that it was warm and toasty in there and so hard to leave…  ;).  Riders were making tea and coffee in the kitchen, which all seemed oddly domestic and surreal at the time.  I forced myself to eat more – a banana, a gel – as I figured I needed to fuel myself back.  The last thing I needed to do was wipe out as well, and that had threatened to happen several times already.  It’s a good thing I know the signs these days, it means I can deal with it asap.  Still, we couldn’t hang around, we had places to be.  But man, I was so cold as we left…

Cedar Falls gatehouse wet food stop

It may have only been 25 odd miles from the end, but at some of the speed we’d been doing, that didn’t feel as much of a relief as it sometimes does, especially with a 6pm timing cut off every day (which seems a bit harsh if you ask me).  However daft it is, we both kinda wanted to make it in before that, and I have to say I didn’t think it was likely.  But GB did, so I let him lead the way.  I made him stop from time to time so I could take the next gel, and then I just followed him in.  I even took my turn at the front occasionally.  But it was pretty much a head down push for home and don’t talk much job.  I guess having a goal is good sometimes!  Knowing the route, he knew where the flat was, where to make the most of shelter, etc….forewarned and forearmed.  As we went along, I gradually dried out a bit, warmed up a bit, and possibly even perked up a bit.

Guy towing me home

We came back into Langport, having been passed by the last of the motorcycle outriders, leaving nothing but the mechanics and the broom wagon (and actually quite a few other riders!) behind us.  The Tour of Wessex was closing up…  And we kept on.  There were a couple of final drags on the way back to Somerton that I would love to have burned it up, but I just couldn’t…it wasn’t in my legs.  But I got up them in my own slow sweet way, caught up with GB after the tops, and we made it down the last fast flying descent to turn right into HQ, negotiate the leaving traffic, and make it over the finish line at 17:58…  There, by the skin of our teeth.  The mat was still there, even if the inflatable arch wasn’t, something beeped…and we’d made it.  Of course being so late in the day, everything was being packed away.  No welcoming committee, no audience…nothing.  A very anti-climactic way to end such a day.

But I was so happy we’d made it.  GB would probably have liked to head straight for home, but instead, true to our negotiated settlement the day before, we packed up, and went and got our medals, a cup of coffee, and some food before heading for home.  He felt crap, I felt great – it was over!  Day 3 done!  I had to do something, not just leave.  Besides which, I’d earnt that medal!  They were dismantling the tent around us as we sat and I ate my roll free bacon roll – also known as just bacon.  GB was talking, I was listening…just really proud of us both for having done such an amazing thing.  To have survived in fact. Day 3 is a sportive that would be hard at the best of times, on a good day, on its own.  On a day like that, as Day 3 of an event with two days already in the legs?  Just awesome.

Cycling time: 8:34 hrs.
Distance: 112.38 miles.
Avs: 13.1 mph.
Climbing: 2791 m
ODO: 2193.00 miles.