Posted by: Ian | May 17, 2010

The Cornwall Tor

Fortunately, Paula and I had a change of plan regarding the Cornwall Tor shortly before we began it. Paula had signed up to enter the Tor’s Short course as her first sportive since, at 44 miles, it seemed less daunting than most. For the same reason, I eschewed the 44 mile course: with the Tour of Wessex coming up in a fortnight, I wanted to be daunted, so registered for the Long course. As the ToW approaches, though, my training priority has changed from accumulation of miles to avoidance of injury and by the weekend the prospect of a boastfully hilly 100 mile slog looked far from prudent. Simultaneously, Paula’s appetite to do her first sportive alone evaporated too, so on Saturday we agreed to do the 44 mile route, which Paula decided should be called the ‘A’ course rather then the Short course, together.

On Saturday evening we drove down to Bodmin. From Hill Farm House it took less than two hours and in the perfect sun of the early evening the West Country was beautiful. Until we arrived in Bodmin. I’ve never been into the town before and it was like driving into a song by The Smiths.

Upon our arrival we first found the leisure centre where the race would start and which was open for pre-registration. The organisers cheerfully told me how to switch from the Long to the Short/A route by direct annotation on the race listings, from which they could directly update the computer. Next, we went
to find our digs for the night.

Paula had booked us into a pub right in the town since the pretty guesthouse in Blisland that I had favoured was full. Once we had made our way through the bar (or Fight Area) to our room I challenged Paula to name anywhere we had ever stayed that was as dire. Her only suggestions were all in the Third World, and in my opinion even the places where we’ve slept on concrete floors encircled by protective ant powder under mosquito nets had much more going for them. Since the local band “Relentless” were due to play directly under our room until 11:30 I insisted on going out for dinner.
The town was as dreary by foot as by car, although colour was provided by the teenagers spilling out of Weatherspoon’s in Pirate Wench attire. I presume it was fancy dress and not another sign that this small corner of Cornwall hasn’t Moved On. The chances of finding anywhere decent to eat looked slim. The evening was saved by a recommendation from the bouncers at Weatherspoon’s to try our luck at the restaurant in the old Jail, a few blocks away from the bars and shops. It was a haven, as if the town had been turned inside out, drawing in the non-criminal population for sanctuary and casting the prisoners onto the street.

We cycled a mile or so to the start in the morning and, having pre-registered and already fitted our transponders, went straight to the start gate. Immediately after our little bunch was waved away one woman tumbled off her bike in the throng behind us before even making it out of the leisure centre but no one was hurt. The ride began on a hill and throughout we were rarely on level ground. Realising what a roller-coaster it was, I was soon glad that I hadn’t left Paula to ride it alone. Geographically, it was similar to south Somerset around Hill Farm House. None of the hills was especially long but it was all up and down with several wicked 25% gradients.
We didn’t enjoy the spectacular sun of the previous evening but the weather was kind to cyclists: it was cool and raining just heavily enough for me to keep my Stowaway on for the majority of the ride and the heavy downpours were very brief.

An early highlight as we were zooming down one of the hills was seeing a barn owl fly off ahead of us – the first I’ve seen for several years. Later we saw alpacas (I think, rather than llamas); Paula was more excited than me but I was grateful, at least, that they were easier to photograph.

Another highlight was how friendly all the riders were. This was familiar to me but a big bonus, if not a surprising one, to Paula, who appreciated the atmosphere of mutual support and encouragement. I like checking out the bikes and chatting occasionally to the other riders. One guy was on a Condor Fratello, which is essentially a Tempo with gears. Last year he rode from Land’s End to John O’Groats on it and found it very comfortable. I’m also entertained by how many guys stroll around in uncovered Lycra; I can’t imagine what internal and intra-family “good look/not a good luck?” conversations occur before they leave home. Really it’s touching, even hopeful.

We progressed along the route at a steady, consistent pace. Paula made it up most of the hills and on the very few that she walked a little there were others walking and she got back on the bike as soon as the gradient relented. Here’s a snap of Paula on her Trek Madone cycling through a pave section in Port Isaac.

For me, it was probably good not to be storming around at a high intensity level. I didn’t have my usual shoulder/upper back ache, though my recent stem adjustment helped here too.

Very near the end there was a climb of unexpected severity. With my legs still fresh I was able to enjoy it. Right afterwards the road took us over a pair of cattle grids. On the second of these, despite slowing for it, I felt the air shock out of my front tyre. Normally I would have changed the tube right away but with only a couple of miles to go I hoped I might manage to nurse the Felt in. Over the final downhill stretch to Bodmin I kept my hands very light on the bar and my weight on the saddle. This worked until I came into town and took a left without stopping at the roundabout to get onto the final road back to the leisure centre. As I turned I saw the front tyre deform dramatically and the wheel skidded across the road. I just about stayed upright but knew then that I had to do something about it. I pulled onto the pavement, got my tyre gear out and turned the bike upside down. Another rider stopped right by me at a pedestrian crossing. “Unlucky,” he said. And then, as if it had been a prediction, he fell off his bike.

When we finished Paula was emphatic that it would be her last as well as her first sportive. Stu felt the same after the Beast. In both cases we’ll see. Personally, I enjoyed it and was pleased with it as a training ride. Over the 44 miles we covered 4,500 feet, or 1.3 km, of ascent. This is less than half the length of any of the days of the Tour of Wessex but the rate of ascent per mile is greater.
Checking my Garmin, I found that I had burned 1,826 cals with an average heart rate of 127 bpm. My riding time was 4 hours flat. This afternoon the preliminary results were posted that show our elapsed time was 5:30. This compares to just under 3 hours for the fastest and about 6:40 for the least speedy (excluding the DNF’s). Considering that Paula has done only a few hundred miles cycling this year, that’s pretty good: for comparison, I will, barring illness or accident, pass the 2,000 mile mark for this year this week. Funny thing is, the organisers didn’t reclassify me so as things stand I’m still listed in the 103 mile event. I came third.



  1. […] the ascent up Haleakala (and the ride down), the Hell of the Ashdown, the Puncheur (kind of), the Cornwall Tor, the Blenheim, the Beast of Exmoor, the Tour of Britain ride, and (my favourite domestic event this […]

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