Posted by: Ian | May 8, 2010


It’s less than a fortnight since we returned from San Francisco and already it seems an age ago. For about a week after I got back to England I felt able to keep up a reasonable level of training momentum, aware that the Tour of Wessex is coming round soon now. Last Thursday, Emily, Gavin and I did “park loops” – a few circuits, three on this occasion, around the outer circle of Regent’s Park on the way into work. The Tempo felt fantastic and of the nine miles I cycled at the park only the second (at 3:02) wasn’t done in under three minutes. Having a larger frame than my other bikes, I find it easier to settle into the Tempo’s drops and stay there.

Last Saturday I rode around about half of the ToW’s Day Three route. This involves cycling over to the Quantocks, riding up and over them, cycling over to Exmoor, going up and down it, and then riding home. It could also have involved cycling up Cothelstone Hill at the end but my legs were too tired for that. It was one of those days when the power had sapped from me before I began and it all felt like hard work.

The crux of the ride is Dunkery Beacon at Exmoor. Together with Stu and Emily, I had experienced Dunkery Beacon before at last year’s Exmoor Beast sportive, but the ToW takes it a different way, passing the beacon to the East rather than the West. Much of the route is the same and I ground my way up the steep hill where at the Beast a large bunch of riders had dismounted at a cattle grid. Then, where the Beast’s route drops down to a cobbled ford, I stayed on the road that goes directly to the top. Twice I had to stop to get my breath back and the second time a guy came up and rested with me. Riding a very smart new Cannondale, he looked every bit as exhausted as I was. Making conversation, I asked him how much further we had left to climb. “About the same again,” he told me. On the one hand, I knew that this couldn’t be true – I had caught sight of the beacon and we were reasonably close; on the other hand, the guy, who was genuinely friendly, was an experienced cyclist who lived just down in Porlock. I doubted that my legs had enough in them to do anything like the same amount of climbing again  and I set off to find out what lay ahead. Fortunately, the top came soon. Taking it easy, I cruised along the level summit sitting up with my hands off the bars to rest my back. Presently the guy caught up with me again. “I got that wrong,” he said redundantly. We enjoyed the ride down together: there were very few cars, the Exmoor setting was beautiful and the gradient was perfect for a zippy but not scary brakes-free descent.

At the first main road, the Cannondale guy and I parted ways and I began the journey back towards Taunton. With my legs now even more tired, it was a slog. I was out of drink and couldn’t find a place to refill, and while I was still in Exmoor Park it began to rain heavily. That was when I decided to cut out Cothelstone Hill and head straight home. Even so, the run was well over 60 miles with about 1.7 km of ascent.

The next day Paula, Zoe, Heidi and I went on a mountain biking course in the Surrey Hills, staying on Saturday evening with our friends Pam and Max in Holmbury St Mary. I loved the mountain bike I used for its comfort. With huge tyres lazily inflated and a suspension fork looking like a steam engine part, it glided serenely over rocks and gnarly tree roots. The woods surrounding Holmbury provide perfect terrain for mountain biking and if I lived there I’d do it all the time.  (Actually, I bet the area around Bishop’s Lydeard is great too, and I rode all around that the prior day.)

In the morning we were being given skills training, the first part of which instructed us to ride downhill in essentially the same way that I take steep downhills on a road bike. As we started to progress beyond this, the rain broke in earnest again and, simultaneously, I incurred some kind of tech problem with my front disk brake. I stood around for about half an hour getting numb and cold while our trainer tried vainly to effect a fix. Then, barely able to feel my fingers and with everyone feeling miserable, we gave up and declared an early lunch.

In the afternoon, Pam and Max’s son Innes and friend Liam joined us for an instruction-lite ride through the woods. Staying on the wheel of the trainer, I was surprised by just how quickly you can ride through rough single tracks in the forest. It was exhilarating fun, and this is precisely why I shouldn’t get a mountain bike. The trainer rode with the abandon and righteous sense of his own ability of a man who has never had any kind of serious accident.

That evening we returned to Somerset and the following day (Bank Holiday Monday) Emily came down by train. With her, I repeated my Quantocks/Exmoor ride from the Saturday. The weather was perfect and through some quirk of biology my legs felt fresher than they had two days before. I was also more comfortable on the Felt since, reflecting on my ability to stay in the drops on the Tempo, I had flipped the stem to give me a raised handlebar. The new riding position is great.

On the level and the uphill Emily, on her Scott, rides at least as quickly as I do. On speedy downhills I apply the brakes less and go more quickly. On very severe downhills, I am unaffected by memories of rib-cracking falls. We should look for a 2-for-1 Cognitive Behaviour Therapy package where I can conquer my fear of heights and Emily can work on descents. The big uphills presented no problems this time, and Dunkery Beacon was fantastic in the sun with sweeping panoramic views across to Wales:

For the rest of the week I’ve been useless. I managed to get to work and back on the Tempo every day but with no vim. Park loops and longer training rides have been out of the question. Today, I’m having a complete rest.

Next Sunday Paula and I are doing the Cornwall Tor and I’m signed up for the 100 miles. I’m not worried at all about how long it takes me and I’ll be perfectly happy to stop after 60 or 70 miles if I’m running out of time. Even so, it’s a serious ride and my last long one on the Felt before the ToW.


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