Posted by: Ian | April 23, 2012

My 2012 Exmoor Beauty

Yesterday’s 69.3 mile Exmoor Beauty was my first good chance this year to see how my cycling form has survived the winter. Given the crap weather recently, I thought about taking my titanium Astraeus out as I’m more confident that it will survive a spill than my precious carbon Cervelo R3. But I really wanted to take the R3 and the forecast wasn’t atrocious so I did.
Having chosen which bike to use, my second choice concerned which wheels to go with. I love my Fulcrums and they cope well with lumpy terrain and gusty crosswinds. I also feel more confident of their braking performance on sketchy, wet downhills – my Zipps, which still feel new, also brake perfectly well although they can make noises that I don’t care for when conditions are very poor. But I wanted to take the Zipps so I did.
I loaded the course into my Garmin 800 and checked that it had started as we set off. The BBC weather site predicted that reasonably stiff winds would continue to come in from the West. This essentially meant that the first half would get tough and the return easier. As expected, the initial flat ride out to the East, before the route turned North and then West, was favoured by the wind and was quick. Less happily, my Garmin was playing up. While it was in my pocket before the start I must have hit buttons that set heart rate alerts on, and at a stupidly low level. The consequence was that most of the time I had a heart rate warning blocking the screen. I didn’t figure out how to cancel this until after the ride. This in turn meant that I didn’t notice until three miles into the route that the Garmin had stopped 5 seconds after it started, which also screwed up some of the navigational info.
Other than that, things went well until Elworthy Hill. Nothing especially went wrong there either, but it was hard! Over recent months I’ve gunned up similar hills pretty swiftly but then I’ve not cared if I tire myself out. Yesterday I was more concerned about not killing myself for the rest of the ride and I found it difficult to gauge how far to dig in. It’s 1.3 miles at 10%; I think I get another go at the same hill, which I’ve only previously ever descended, at the Somerset Gran Fondo in a couple of weeks’ time.
Up on the top the sun gave way to cloud and wind, and on the long descent into Wimbleball Lake the rain and hail began. Dulverton came soon where I resisted the temptation to dive into Lewis’s tea rooms. From Dulverton, I usually take the steep climb back up onto Exmoor by the pretty little road that cuts the corner of Andrew’s Hill, which we wound up yesterday, but the gradients are similar. Standing on the pedals, my back wheel was slipping on the wet road. Seated, the front wheel was sometimes coming up off the road as I pulled on the bars. I’d earlier passed a guy on Cervelo R5. Around here he re-passed me and I noticed that his back wheel was built around a CycleOps PowerTap hub.
The next 20 miles across Exmoor were tough. The rain and hail were not so bad – it was the constant headwind that sapped the spirits. I was also lonely, not so much missing human company as wishing I had someone with whom to share the burden of cutting a path through the wind. The R5 guy stayed more or less the same distance ahead of me for the whole crossing, visible through the rain in his vivid Lampre colours. I passed maybe two or three people and two or three people passed me. Nonetheless, I do love that road and recalled crossings in better conditions.
Soon after turning out of the wind on the road towards Simonsbath I felt a potential cramp coming on. Peanuts had been recommended by someone commenting on this blog before and I had them to hand. In the gusts I couldn’t open the ziplock bag I had them in so I pulled over to eat them at the roadside. They did the trick but the R5/Lampre guy slipped completely from my sights.
After Simonsbath the wind did indeed become a big help. The road undulated but where it was flat I felt I was flying. The Zipps came into their own and were fantastic. One disappointment is that there were no chain gangs when the conditions would have suited one perfectly. I did manage to catch the odd wheel in a party of two or three but then the lead rider would typically bury himself until he was dead without making way and then fall off the back.
The last sustained ascent was the crawl up the back of Dunkery Beacon. I rode for a while with a younger guy who was going well but had been getting stomach cramps. As we went over the top I looked down the familiar hill that I’ve climbed up several times but never descended. It was narrow, wet, windy, open to traffic and very steep. Nonetheless, a flat-backed rider whizzed past at God-knows-what speed. I admire his skill and confidence. Maybe I’d have been bolder with metal rims.
From Luccombe I was expecting to join the A39 but the route was far better than that. Keeping to the country lanes, there were a few short ramps that, coming at this point, added a final sting. Beyond those it was a blast to the end. By now I was aware (Garmin notwithstanding) that I would come in around the five hour target I’d vaguely set myself (if only because I had to drive straight from the finish to pick up Heidi in Taunton). The wind got taken out of my sails a little by a road-blocking tractor that held me up on the drop down from Dunster. Even so, I lost way less time than I had saved from avoiding punctures and came in at 4:59:29.
Today the results have come on line and here’s a chart showing finishing time in minutes for each of the 611 riders who completed the course. (153, or 20% of the entrants, didn’t start or started and didn’t finish.)


The red box marks me, in 43rd place. The average time (either mean or median) was about 6.5 hours, with 80% of the finishers making it round in between 5 and 8 hours.
The organisers did a great job planning the route. To my eye it’s much more scenic than the Beast and, while I’d just about ride up Dunkery Hill than down it, this is all in all a better ride.



  1. I’m aiming for the 100 miler. Same bike. If it’s fogy……….Lampre gear, if it’s clear and not too cold ………….Chard Wheelers [ red with yellow trim]. So it’s likely to be the Lampre gear, chosen years ago for it’s hiviz properties. I’ll go as early as possible. I’ve heard they are putting coconut matting over my favourite catlle grid at the base of Dunkery Bracon. I can’t see that working. Someone always puts their forks down them.
    I punctured on the top of the moor about an hour after passing through Simmonds Bath last year.[ Open Pave CGs]. It took 4 mins to change in the mud and rain. It’s either the same tyres again or the CX version with a smaller carcass but slightly better rolling resistance.

    • I’ll look out for you (assuming I don’t have any delayed post-JOGLE soreness). I’ll only be doing the 60 miles and I won’t be starting super early but if I spot a Lampre or Chard Wheelers kit on an R5 I’ll say Hi! Ian

  2. I,m the R5 /Lampre guy!
    At 86Kg that climb up Andrew’s Hill out of Dulverton was a s*d.I didn’t try to stand up it as I knew i’d slide. I don’t like to go the other way down it on the Beast when its wet as I feel I’m on the verge of both wheels losing grip against the heavy braking. I finished in 05:10 so you must have passed me in the end.

    • Thanks for the note. How do you like the R5? I love my R3. It’s quite likely, I guess, that I didn’t re-pass you but simply started later.

      • I cannot claim to feel any difference between the R5 and my previous R3. I took all the gear off the R3 to build the R5. I still have the R3 frame and have promised it to my 14 year old when he grows just a couple more inches.

        I ran Open Pave CG’s with the green central band. Didn’t get a puncture but close inspection of that green band showed a lot of flint embedded in it after the ride. I think the coloured bands are a bit slippery in the wet. I really don’t enjoy the stupid steep descents on wet leafy roads! I crawled down Dunkery Beacon and had hated the drop down to Jury Hill on the West of Dulverton and yet in the TT’s I’m quite happy to drop on dry roads at 50mph on tri bars.

        The weather could be interesting again for this year’s Beast…….I hope there’s no ice!!

        I live in Taunton and ride with the Chard Wheelers on some Sundays but, spend a lot of my time on TTs and triathlons.

        Congrats on the JOGLE!!

      • Thanks! I hope your son turns into a keen cyclist – what a great frame for him. Are you doing the 60m or the 100m at the Beast on Sunday?

  3. Yeah I got a flat on a Vittoria Open Corsa. Practically brand new too – had probably only done 150 miles on the tyre. Meant it was a bugger to get off with freezing fingers

  4. Great post. I also did the Beauty. The weather was pretty savage and I found myself enjoying climbing more than descending. On a climb i started to warm up! The puncture I sustained at 50 miles was also a kick in the nuts! I finished in 5:05 so not too far behind you 🙂

    • Thanks! Anything in the region of 5 hours qualifies as Not Hanging Around and that’s a great time to get with a puncture. It would be good to see a survey of punctures sustained on the more rideable tyres in events like this. I rode on Vittoria Open Paves and was lucky.

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