Tour of Wessex... Another must do if you like a real challenge!
by tiggaMay 30th 2013
I was looking for a challenge of some sort this year and settled on the Tour of Wessex.
540km lumpy road riding kilometres over 3 days leaving the same start venue in Somerton each of the 3 consecutive days. Perfect¬... Hotel booked, both myself and Jacks entered with slightly different objectives. Jacks using it as good solid training and doing the ¬'easier¬' 350km 3 day routes and myself to test myself over the challenging terrain, elements and other competitors over the three days.
In preparation I hadn¬'t done the epic miles I had done when training for RAAM, but I managed a decent paced 130-150km ride every weekend for a few weekends in row. Throw in a weekend or two doubling up on a longer ride and one technical hilly 161km Sportive as a taster¬... It was about as well prepared as I could be.
Arriving on the morning of the race in time to register, load the bikes up with nutrition and get to the start line. I had heard that typically the standard of riders in this particular event was pretty good, so I¬'d hoped for front group start and to hook up with some faster riders and push the pace on. Typically sportives don¬'t draw a high standard of riders as it¬'s not supposed to be a race. Whilst the ¬'not a race¬' applies to the TOW¬... there is a willingness of riders to work at a good pace in a smaller group which was my aim each day. If the same riders were there on all 3 days¬... then it would be a ¬'race¬' of attrition to see who could come up the goods each day and have the fastest overall time. My main aim was a Gold standard ride for ¬'youngsters¬' on each day.
Day 1 ¬- 173km and 2194m altitude gain. (Gold standard target time 5hr15mins)
As is normal with sportives the courses are challenging taking in the country lanes and villages which scrubs off some of the average speeds of bigger roads. In fact some of the roads are so potholed you have to keep your wits about you shouting ¬'HOLE¬' everytime you passed one. To avoid a blowout, I simply kept my distance from the person in front of me unless in a small group. It turns out the first 40km of Day 1 is pretty easy terrain, a big peleton cruising the potholed small lanes until we reached Cheddar gorge climb. Top to bottom is 9.8km, but the serious hill and steeper sections were on the lower slopes. I wanted a smaller working group and decided to test some legs, mine included. The first aid station is at the top of Cheddar¬... I had enough fuel to get me to the 2nd stop and along with 7 others we pushed on. Another couple of miles down the road we hit a sharp steeper shorter climb and I pushed it again to test some legs. One more dropped off the pace and we were six! We all worked pretty well together, ¬'through and off¬' was a solid pace without being suicidal. The climb up Alfreds Tower touching 25% was a sneaky little bugger but even though I only had 39x23 gearing I felt quite strong. I felt a few twangs of cramp in the quads from as early as 2hr30mins which was a little worrying, but I managed my exertions well considering. The first time I realised this was a little more competitive than I expected was at the stop at the aid station No. 2. Refuelled and bursting for a pee¬... I thought they¬'d wait or at least soft tap if they left before me. Nope¬... with my extra large bladder emptying out they left and continued with their 5 man through and off. I chased quite hard for 5 mins HR in the 160¬'s and Power pushing 360-380W. Energy I could have done without expending in such an aggressive way. Not 10km later a spoke broke in front wheel and was making a helluva racket as is spun around smacking the frame and making the others in the group a little edgey¬... I stopped, attempted to remove it but it simply wasn¬'t budging, eventually I wangled the spoke so much it snapped and I got back on the bike to chase again. This time I couldn¬'t see them down the road, I had a wibbly wobbly front wheel and wasn¬'t sure I was going to get back to them. Again I pushed the HR up and power up to 360W holding it for a good 12-15min to play catch up. I think they were a little surprised when I popped up in the group and started taking my turn again. The six of us came over the finish line together.
Day 1 Stats: 5hr12min25sec Av HR146 Average Power 248W, 2500calories during the ride
Day 1 complete with a degree of success, a good pace but an abnormally high heartrate. Once finished it¬'s time to start refuelling for tomorrow. Eat loads, drink loads¬... a buffet style dinner at a local restaurant was bad for their business, but good for my stomach I had one bout of severe quad cramp which Jacks must have thought I was making a big deal out of, but it was a worrying cramp for only one day of riding and having done tougher longer rides in the New Forest as training. I put it down to bad nutrition/hydration although the HR was unusually high the whole ride maybe there was more to it?!
Day 2 ¬- Dorset bound 187km 2454m Altitude gain (Gold Standard 6hr00min)
Slightly concerned I was tender and a little sore from the bout of cramps I¬'d had and not feeling particularly good and only had a small bite to eat¬... a few biscuits and coffee. Again I was eager to get the first wave start¬... I had a spoke to replace, a wheel to straighten and tyre¬'s sidewall to repair. The earliest start I felt was the best for a steady day. It was a slightly downhill start, so I pushed on from the get go. Nothing silly, just a good pace. We had a good group of 5 or so on the rolling hills through Yeovil. Cerne abbas was the first biggy pitching at it¬'s steepest probably around 17-18%? No cramps yet and I pushed a little up here to see who strong on the day. A faster group had start a minutes after us and had caught us up, two of whom I¬'d ridden with the day before. Seven of us began the through and off paceline and kept a good tempo. My heart rate was fairly normal but the cramping thing was still there and with only 2hrs on the clock and potentially another 4 hours to go¬... yes I was a little concerned. By the time we got to the 2nd aid stop I had been through a couple of painful episodes and was desparate for just water. Water, was the one thing the aid station did not have. Oh dear¬... Still, the climb up Lulworth and the drop into Corfe Castle was pretty spectacular, the sun was out! What more could you want? It was a steady paced ride with one bigger/longer drag on the way home. The minute we hit that hill my quads were cramping from my knee up the inside to my groin. Painful, but surprisingly not so debilitating that I couldn¬'t ride. I tapped away a good tempo and kept the pain hidden by a happy smiley expression so the rest of the boys didn¬'t go ballistic up the hill. Drinking loads, eating loads seem to help the cramps and slowly it got better. By the end the legs felt less twitchy and likely to cramp. On the slight incline back into Somerton the hammer went down and the legs responded nicely¬... safely finished in the group thumping the final flat km at 50+km/hr. Later to find that these two who had smashed the last km¬'s weren¬'t riding Day 3!
Day 2 Stats: 187km 5hr40min40sec Av HR 132 Av Power 245W and 2900calories consumed
Back to the same restaurant for a roast buffet that night, but not without going through a bout of severe sugar low¬... so bad I broke into a sweat that even had Jacks a little concerned. She would normally turn a blind eye to the moans and groans which are the result of self inflicted from training/racing, but I certainly looked and felt quite strange. Nothing a good pint or two of coke/pepsi couldn¬'t sort out. Again, the restaurant made a loss on me that night as I ate my way through two helpings of roast and salads
Day 3 ¬- Exmoor Bound ¬- 180km 3200m Altitude gain!!(Gold standard 6hr00min)
This was the queen stage of this Tour of Wessex. Hilly as hell and can be made a whole lot worse if the weather doesn¬'t play ball. As it happens the weather was windy but dry! Dry was a bonus, windy was just nasty! This time I waited for the group of Derby Tri guys, only because I wanted to a steady start and on Days 1 & 2 they had normally been quite sensible. Day 3 and the start was pretty quick into a crosswind, at times my HR and Power were through the roof for extended periods. Good thing was my legs felt good, bad thing was I knew this was going to be a long hard day in the saddle with some tough hills in the Exmoor and long period travelling south into a headwind¬... If the weatherman was right of course!
Quantock Hill was the first steep climb at 7.5% for 2.5km and at it¬'s steepest was probably 16-18%. I actually felt quite good going up this one ticking over nicely. Over the top of that one was a 25% downhill which was proper fast. Not knowing the roads though, does means a sensible speed is required. By the time we got to the bottom it was a tidy group of 6. A couple more shorter sharper inclines and we hit a main road into Minehead and on to Portlock. Portlock Toll was the climb I¬'d most looked forward to at 5.7% for 6.7km hairpins and on this occasion a nasty headwind for the final 3km! One chap dropped off early doors, but 5 of us a tight nit group all the way up. At the top a left turn down a sharp hill and sharp right up 18% stinker and into a brutal wind that had yet another of group in difficulty. I knew this was going to be the tough section¬... technical, sharp inclines, exposed, headwind¬... the headwind was the killer, and by the time we reached the 2nd aid station for a top up I was running low on calories. Both bottles almost empty and most of my jelly babies too. Little did we know, the minute we left the aid station it went uphill for a long time¬... The next 40km were insane. Sharp uphills one after another and the 20% in the middle of all that left myself and Tim at the front with about 75-80km to go. Every hill seemed to have a gradient of at least 12%, the downhills were too steep and fast for anything but to hang on to the bike and smell the brake blocks burning. I didn¬'t actually feel bad, legs burning and tired but mentally I was quite sharp. As we went up and down what felt like every hill in Exmoor and Wimbleball area we came across the little haven of the 3rd aid station. I knew from here the terrain was much friendlier and the wind was a cross tail wind, helping us more than anything. Sugar levels dropping, calorie available to consume limited as I¬'d eaten and drunk nearly everything I¬'d taken and picked up along the way¬... With 4-5miles to go things got a little dizzy and I had to scrape the bottom of my cycle jersey pocket for the final 4/5 jelly babies that were going to get me home without passing out. Tim and I had ridden strong all day and now he was doing the work as I simply waited for the sugar levels to come back to normality. Luckily they did eventually and the final rolling climbs were easier and although Tim got away on the last drag I had enough umpff in the legs for a last big dig as the clocked turned over to 5hr59min and sub 6 hr was Gold! I made it in with 11secs to spare, and very happy to get off the bike. Not many words were said between Tim and I during the day and the brutal conditions and terrain made the going as tough as I¬'ve ridden in but we managed a chat after the finishline! He was a great riding partner for a hard day in the saddle.
Day 3 Stats: 181km 5hr59min49sec Av HR 134 Av Power 260W 3100calories consumed
Given the amount of time spent freewheeling down steeper hills and stopped at aid stations¬... To hold that 260W for 6hours on Day 3 was something I doubt I¬'ll do on too many rides!
Surprising myself with a youngsters Gold on all three days, the only person to do so, and a gold standard overall with although it¬'s not a race there was the satisfaction I had covered the three days the fastest by some 16mins.
Jacks had 3 solid days as training, getting lost on Day 2 covering an extra 8 miles and running 30mins off Day 1 and 60mins off Day 3 was a good weekend preparation for her Forestman in 4 weeks. Like me though¬... the very thought of riding the bike the next had the undercarriage twitching with pain!
Overall this event was the challenge I expected, a far tougher day 3 than I expected, some spectacular scenery and amazing countryside to ride through. I¬'d definitely like to have another crack at it