The first of which events was the Tour of Wessex on the May bank holiday weekend located in Wessex, Somerset. A 3 day event covering 335 miles and 25,000ft of climbing. I've heard of this event before, with riders from phoenix doing this for the past few years, however never actually considered doing it. As is often the case this was Lucinda's idea, seemed like a great idea to me though.
For the true festival feeling we opted to camp, so filled the car with everything on Friday afternoon and set of for Somerton and base camp along with what seemed to be everybody else from London... We finally arrived some 4.5 hours after we set off, but in the daylight so set up camp and generally faffed around. Dieter and Neil from LP also joined Lucinda and I later on Friday evening and set up camp, including a huge dome/festival tent and all the camping equipment. Need to work on getting more kit I think.
Day One - 107 Miles - 7,200ft Climbing
8am start time meant a 6am alarm, which allowed plenty of time for faffing, cooking porridge and making sure both bikes were ready to roll. 7:30 arrived and everybody was starting to line up so I quickly grabbed supplies and headed to the start and the front group. The idea was to ride with Neil and a number of RPR riders (Justin, Marcus, Jamie & Kris) and ideally stay in the front group, and try and be the first riders back, a big ask maybe given the quality of riders, but one I was confident I could do.
I hadn't really had much time to study the routes, but knew that the first two days were the easiest (relatively speaking anyway) so was expecting the pace to be fairly hot from the off. Apart from a small 1.9 mile climb at mile 3 the first 24 miles were pan flight, up until Cheddar Gorge, a 2.5 mile climb at 4% average (total was 6.7 miles at 2% average). I knew this would be the section of the route where an attack would be mounted and I wasn't wrong. I was feeling strong as a group of 15 or so riders upped the pace on the front and we started to pull away, Ed Fowles of Hackney CC attacked hard and got a few hundred meters from the main group, which I was now pulling up the climb, slowly I reeled Ed in and passed him after a few miles, now on the flatter section of the climb. I had no idea where the top was so a final attack towards what I though was the top but me clean by 100m. I slowed to see what the lead group was doing, only to see about 10 riders (Including Neil from LP and Kris from RPR). This was good, and I thought hopefully we could all work together until the finish. Over the next 15 or so miles the pace remained high, the terrain rolling and the group generally working well together, albeit Neil doing more than his fair share on the front (no surprise there) Mile 50 was Alfred's Tower, a 1.4 mile climb at 7% av, peaking at 25% the first hundred yards were quite easy, and wasn't expecting the hill, until Neil came up alongside and informed me this was a bloody steep section, and he wasn't wrong! The group, now at 7 riders, all crested the climb together, and all looked to not enjoy that, not just me then, thankfully! There was a feed station at the top and after a few words were exchanged we all agreed to refill bottles and grab some food then head off again, well that was apart from one chap who rode off. We were now down to 6 riders, but managed to form an organised chain gang over the next 10 or so miles until we hit another short, yet sharp climb, and this time an attack from Paul Newton of Derby Mercury caught everybody napping as he rode off the front, thinking this wouldn't stick I didn't do anything and neither did any other riders, but then he was gone. So now 5 riders left and a organised chain gang to try and reel these two lone riders back, yet despite this they stayed away and after a largely flat final 20 miles we crossed the line some 6 minutes down from the lead 2 in 5:13 hours and 9th finisher. A great day, quick pace and a really fun route! But bloody hell my legs felt heavy! Time for a sit down and a bear and enjoy camping in the sun.
Day Two - 116 miles - 7,300ft of climbing
After trying to stay awake with Neil, Deiter, David H and Allen and failing at about 9:30pm I knew today was going to be a tough day, I was tired and my legs felt it, but then I guess everybody was in the same boat. That said I was still aiming to stay in the lead group today and was good to see the lead riders from yesterday on the start line. Off we go, and this time down to the coast and Bournemouth, in a day that is known as the easiest (ok, it's still 117 miles) I was looking forward to another fast paced ride. As usual Neil was sat on the front doing far too much work, so I pulled alongside and suggest maybe some of the 40 other rides in this group should take a turn? No? ok. Then at mile 20 *bang* A tyre explodes in the group, and it's Neil's. Crap he's on tubs... I slow, pull over and go back along with Tomasz (another rider in the top 10), the pitstop didn't work, so it was a roadside tub replacement, and after 10 minutes of faffing seemed to work and stay on the rim.
So we're now 10 minutes down, but with the aim of still working together for the remaining 97 miles and trying to catch the lead group, this is going to be hard! Then at miles 30 another bang, and this time Tomasz has a flat, a very quick tube change meant we only lost 5 minutes, but the riders we had just over taken had now passed us again. Now slowly accepting we were probably unlikely to catch the lead group we settled into a solid pace and working a chain gang system very well. To say today was flat would just be wrong, with a few punchy climbs, especially Milton Abbas at mile 80 (1.4 miles at 6%) we had still maintained a high pace and picking up another rider around mile 60 certainly made the chain gang of 4 an efficient system. For the last 20 miles though I just wanted the ride to finish, a super aggressive position may look good and be beneficial in crits, but after 5 hours by back was starting to become sore, and the weather was setting in, in what had been a very nice few days weather wise so far. Never the less we upped the pace as the terrain was flat, and I think we were now all feeling the burn, thankful to finally see signs for Somerton we crossed the line in 5:54, some 22 minutes behind the lead group, which had apparently split into a group of 4 and a larger group of 25 riders! Shame, but day two was such a great route, and probably more enjoyable than the first day. After a few moments early on in the day my legs felt great and was looking forward to teh final day, although Neil and I were now out the top positions we were still aiming to ride in the lead group, you never know, we might get a 30 minute break going...
Day Three - 112 miles - 10,500ft climbing
Billed as the hardest day by quite some way I was looking forward to this route which headed out towards Devon, The longer climbs should suite me and I was confident i'd stay with the lead group. The first 20 miles were pan flat, very windy, and lots of riders in a group of around 35 not willing to do anything, que 4 of us doing the work on the front again, but ah well, made for a more interesting ride. We arrived at the first hill, and what I though was the first major climb of the day, so attacked hard and managed to get a big gap, only to go around a corner and not see the road go up anymore. Ah well, I sat up and waited for the group. The road was a tight twisty singletrack section which made for some great descent, however upon coming around a tight left hander Neil (2 riders in front of me) hit a car. The car had come around the corner too wide and the group didn't have enough time to slow so Neil hit the wing mirror and then the floor, which meant the rider behind him rode over him! Both wheels were destroyed, but riders seemed ok, I stopped along with Tomasz, to make sure Neil was ok, he seemed to be, albeit slightly dazed and shocked. As he had to wait for neutral service Tomasz and I set off in hot pursuit of the lead group, and good 5 minutes up the road, we rode hard for the next 10 miles picking up Ed Fowles and a few other along the route, now forming a group of 10 or so riders, with 3/4 doing the work. This sections was quite flat and the pace not too high as we knew the hardest bit was to come, the Portlock climb and Exmoor. The second feedstop was at miles 48, at the bottom of the Portlock climb, a private toll road of 4.1 miles and 5% average, total 1,200ft in climbing. Now just three of us on this climb as the rest had stopped we had a good pace and I was feeling good as we picked up some riders who had fallen off the lead group, we must be close now? As we reached the summit we saw the lead group of maybe 15 about 1 miles up the road, we were close. A small descent and the bang, i'm sliding along the floor, all I can hear is me sliding on tarmac, what happened? I have no idea, time seemed to slow down a bit and I remember looking at my ahdn as I slid. I finally come to a rest some 10ft from my original impact point. I'd hit a rock, I could see the bugger. This had knocked me off balance, caused an instant pinch flat and i'd gone down, hard. As I laid on the floor I could hear Tomasz and Ed coming over and the car driver behind picking my bike up and rushing over, "are you ok mate" no idea... I didn't really want to move, but after what seemed like minutes, but must have been seconds I was lying on the grass verge clutching my hand. This was the worst road rash i've ever had, all the main contact points had hit the floor, and as a result were not looking good. I could move though, and whilst Ed & Tom waited for the medics (thanks guys) I checked myself out, nothing broken, and the bike was fine! The medic motorbikes arrived, wrapped me in an emergency blanket, whilst it was sunny the wind was up and I was already getting cold and bandaged me up. So that was it really, the end of day three for me. I was then picked up by the mechanics car after being assessed, and that I was going to be fine, albeit sore. The TOW team did a great job, looking after me and my bike, which was a very slick process and i'd like to thank the bike medics, mechanics, organisers and St John Ambulance for taking care of me. Not a service i've had to use before, and one I hope I don't have to again, but they did a great job.
3 days done, well 2.5 really. I now need to do this next year to try and finish. A really great event, made better by camping, good weather, beers and good chat. Thanks for reading if you got this far
More information on TOW here: http://www.pendragonsports.com/Tour_of_Wessex_2015