Posted by: Ian | June 20, 2010

After Wessex

With the Tour of Wessex behind us and the mid point of the year only a few days away, it’s time to take stock and see what cycling there is to be had in the second half of 2010. The next sportive around here is the Tour of Exmoor, which is slated for 3rd July. Unusually, and inconveniently, this is on a Saturday and although the location, route, terrain and distance are all ideal, I have a clash and so entering this isn’t as automatic as it might be. If I do sign up, it will be for the shorter 56 mile distance. Another reason why I haven’t registered already is how unconvincing the web site is. There is confusion about the available distances, but more disconcerting than this is the thin interest – so far, with less than a fortnight to go, only 118 people have registered for any of the three rides, and only six have put their names down for the 56 mile route. At least it should give me a shot at a top 10 finish.

The star letter in last week’s Cycling Weekly questioned why the organisers were having so much trouble generating interest for the Tour of Wessex. This year they were only aiming for 1,200 entrants whereas, the writer claimed, the event used to pull in 2,000 in its first few years. According to Cycling Weekly’s online account only 560 riders started on the first day and only 205 finished all three. Part of the reason for the dropping numbers could be the greater choice in sportives around the country, but equally the coverage given in CW itself doesn’t help. The piece in this week’s magazine was less inspiring than their online write-up and, I suspect, reflects that the staff are headquartered in the South East rather than the South West – when it’s easier to get to Belgium than Exmoor you have a different perspective.

The next event that I’ve registered for, along with Emily, is the Tour of Britain ride from Minehead to Teignmouth on September 5th. This gives amateur cyclists the chance to ride some of the actual stages that the pro’s will take on the Tour; this leg follows the 150 km Stage Four of the race, which takes place on September 14th. The race website describes it thus:

Stage Four is the toughest stage of the race, a really tough day with very little flat as the route is constantly up and down on narrow, twisty roads, where we expect to see a shake up between all the contenders. There are two 1st Category climbs early on after leaving Minehead, and then the renowned climb of Peak Hill out of Sidmouth will split things up with only 40km to go. The route traces the coastline through Dawlish and onto Teignmouth, but even so there are still some lumps to tackle before the seafront finish.

Should be fun. An early start will be in order.

At the start of October there is the Blenheim sportive. Last year Martin, Emily and I did the 63 mile route. It seems unbelievable that this, our first sportive (ex Martin), was only seven months ago, and equally that we completed it in just over 3.5 hours (including one spill). This time I’m hoping to see more familiar faces in the pack. Steve and Paula have decided to enter this one, and it would brighten the day up to have someone to cheer for in the Brompton World Championships. The nice thing about the Blenheim is that its flatness opens up lots of options: blast round looking for a good time; take it easy and enjoy the food stops; go round on the Tempo, which is always fun.

None of these options is available on the Exmoor Beast, which is four weeks later on the 31st October. Last year Stu, Emily and I entered in the worst of all weathers and conquered Dunkery Beacon. Unfortunately, as Stu and I were grinding up the second of the two major hills Emily was lying in the back of an ambulance with a broken rib. This year I want to finish it. Stu feels the same and may sign up too, but I’ll understand if Emily takes a pass. There are a couple of snaps on the Cycling Photo Gallery (link to the right) taken at the top of Dunkery by the photographer at the Tour of Wessex. In those my expression is either out of shot or relaxed. More candid reportage is provided by this photo, where I was cursing the poor chap sitting there with his tripod, his sandwiches and his flask, just doing his job.

For anyone concerned about route accuracy, the Beast skirts the Beacon to the West while on the Wessex you pass it directly to the East. I couldn’t say which is the more difficult climb.

Other than registered events, I’ll no doubt be enjoying a full programme of training rides in London and Somerset. The 100 Climbs book that I’ve written about before presents a nice set of goals, and I’d hope to get through all the climbs in the South West (of which I’ve currently done four from 13) and all those from the South East (current record three from 14) in the foreseeable future. The very best training is, however, not the hills but Park loops, and I’m hoping we can recommence those this week.

Our friend Joerg who now lives in Zurich has offered some appealing cycling options in Europe too. I’ll get to those as soon as I’ve honed my diary management skills.

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