Posted by: Ian | September 14, 2010

Tour of Britain stage 4 pro-style

I took a day off work for the curiosity and pleasure of seeing how the pros would cope with a hill that I know well. I wondered if they’d breeze up it, chatting idly amongst themselves as some of them did when we watched them pass near to Hill Farm House last year (captured in this site’s masthead photo); but I hoped instead to see them sweat and struggle.

As we wrote in a couple of posts below, Emily and I cycled the Tour of Britain Ride from the North Somerset to the South Devon coast just over a week ago. Today the pros did the same route. Even with the whole day off I could only realistically watch them fly past one spot. I was tempted to get over to Peak Hill near Sidmouth, which is the last of three King of the Mountains stages in today’s leg. Although my Garmin trashed all of my stats from my Tour ride, Peak Hill was timed so I know I made it up in 8:30, just failing to sneak into the top quartile of riders who completed the day. As I wrote then, I regretted not trying a bit harder.

In the end I chose to station myself at the top of the hill leading up to the Wellington Monument. It’s the last part of the route that still lies in Somerset and holds the big advantage that I can easily cycle there – so I did. Planning the day, if the term can rightly be applied, I pictured myself gunning up the hill at high speed and parking up just beneath the summit. Recently, I’ve felt very easy on the bike, as though I have more power in reserve than usual. On a Sunday ride with Zoe and Paula two days ago I punctuated a generally leisurely pace with a short burst of riding up to Ash Priors at almost 900W, which is higher than I normally hit.

I hadn’t, though, counted on the fact that today I would be taking my camera with me: I’d hoped to get Paula to bring it with her in the car but she left the house this morning while I was still asleep so I had to cycle with it slung over my shoulder in my courier bag. Since the top of Monument Road lies under the cover of trees I wanted to use a decent lens and the weight of my D90 + 70-200mm lens + Chrome bag exceeds half the weight of my bike. It’s surprising what a difference it makes, although when you think about the investment that cyclists make in shaving grams from every piece of equipment it shouldn’t be. Consequently my ascent up Monument Road’s final steep ramp was more workmanlike and less glorious than I’d hoped. Still, I had an enjoyable ride over, notwithstanding the drizzle, keeping up a good average cadence and power.

I parked my Felt against a tree and stood at a place by the roadside that I’d decided in advance would give me a good vantage point to study the expressions of the riders as they approached the top. Monument Road is a mean little hill. It’s not even marked as such on the route map and it’s not actually very long. But when you’ve never ridden up it before it’s sharper than you expect, steepening as you get nearer the top until finally you turn to see a wicked 20% double hairpin facing you with no sight of the crest. Last year, I brought Stuart and Emily up it as part of a training ride for the Exmoor Beast. When the final ramp revealed itself Stuart’s spirits were crushed and he got off and walked, only to be further crushed when he discovered how close he’d been to the top when he dismounted. So a good place then to watch the pro’s.

I found myself standing next to a keen cyclist and cycling fan called Darryl, which made the couple of hours standing there more interesting and jolly. Soon Paula turned up too, having driven, and brought a flask of tea, making the event even better. The crowd that amassed was large enough to generate a good atmosphere but cosy enough to afford clear views of the road below us. Darryl was getting Twitter updates from the Rapha team and the Tour of Britain organisers, which gave us some insight into events on the hilly miles over Exmoor leading to Wellington; even though poor reception caused significant delays in the news, it’s the first time I’ve experienced a compelling benefit of Twitter for non-ADD sufferers. My Dad also called through with internet race news while we waited for the bubble to reach us.

And then they did. First, at 1:47, an echappe of three riders muscled round the double bend, which was then overcast and dark. Three minutes later the peloton appeared, led by Team HTC Columbia. Three minutes seemed like a very long time. Then, a further massive 15 minutes later, the rest of the riders appeared in a sorry grupetto.

The central question of the day: Did any of them make it look easy? Answer: No they did not!

If you’re reading this on the day I post it you can see who was in the leading three, and how they got on, on the ITV4 highlights. Here’s the HTC Columbia boys trying to make a go of it:

Notice the guy on the right with his tongue lolling out like a tired dog.

Next, here’s one of the guys who led out the final group:

Does it look easy to you? The group behind don’t look much better. Even Sky’s Steve Cummings isn’t looking in any way fresh.

And on the subject of Sky, being a rock star turns out not have helped today:

And it doesn’t get easier being right at the back:

When they’d all passed on I cycled back. Without a bag over my shoulder I felt much zippier and had an even higher power/cadence run along the top of the Blackdown Hills and down Blagdon Hill into Taunton, comfortably beating Paula in the car on the 8 mile run home.

This evening I’ll put my feet up and watch the highlights on TV.

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