Posted by: Ian | June 5, 2012

My Tour of Wessex 2012

In my last post I gave some stats based upon our three days of riding at this year’s Tour of Wessex. It was a fabulous event, though a tiring one with a total of 337 miles over the three days of the Jubilee weekend. Unlike the last couple of years, the rain held off for essentially all of the time Joerg and I were riding, enabling us to enjoy the fantastic Wessex scenery that is so extensively sampled by the entirety of the route. The stand-out points for both of us were:

  1. The rise up on Day Two to get the second view of the sea. We didn’t get the stunning views over to Poole harbour that I’ve experienced in the past when I did the Wessex with Emily but nonetheless it was still a metaphorical (as well as physical) high point, especially as it marks the end of a stiff climb.
  2. Soon after that, the view of Corfe Castle from the end of the fast descent. I should say that Joerg resets my definition of “fast descent”, being far more fearless than I am on steep, swinging runs like this one. Our top speeds were similar (about 48 mph) but he hit the 40’s on a wider and more exciting range of descents than I did.
  3. Porlock Hill and onto Exmoor on Day Three. Here we did have crystalline blue skies, affording panoramic views over the north Somerset coastline. Initially these came from under the pleasant shade of the woods on Porlock Hill and then later as open vistas across the moorland.

Climbing Porlock Hill consolidated a lesson that I learned over the course of the three days: I prefer steady ascents to choppy ones. I had always thought that I enjoyed Somerset’s short, sharp up and down ramps because that’s what I’m used to. But on this year’s Wessex I found them simply draining and was always pleased to get onto a long steady drag, either up or down. On Porlock Hill itself I simply picked my gear and cadence at the bottom and ground up it effectively. (Sadly, my Strava time includes me stopping to re-pack my pockets at the bottom before the climb began, so no prizes there.)

The charts I gave in my previous blog show the increase in fatigue over three days. It’s also evident from the ratio of miles that we covered at 20 mph or greater: on day one it was about half, on day two a third and by day three only a quarter. To be fair, though, the days did get also harder.

To counteract the fatigue Joerg and I resolved to draft when conditions were favourable, as well as to catch the odd wheel. We were pretty good at the drafting but opportunities for energy saving by catching a wheel proved more sporadic: there’s very little chain gang discipline at these events. Joerg, being German, has the phrase Belgischer kreisel, or Belgian gyroscope. This is, I think, the same as our through and off. We British sportivistes are, it seems, rubbish at it, as I’ve written before, and it costs us a good couple of miles an hour on the flat stuff.

Over the three days Joerg and I each had a low period. For me it was towards the end of Day Two. We’d been taking turns in a line with a few other riders – nice guys wearing a fair amount of Rapha – when I slowed down and lost touch putting on my jacket while swerving through village lanes. Catching back up took a lot out of me and I was exhausted for ten or twenty miles; I relied on sticking to Joerg’s wheel.

Joerg’s low point came during the cruel journey from the middle of Exmoor to the final feed station on Day Three. At the feed station he looked spent but no sooner had we left than he was restored to full power for the final twenty-odd miles to the grand finish.

Personally, I don’t find the food and drink at the feed stations very useful apart from the bananas and the water. In preference to the jelly beans, pasties and biscuits, I reluctantly subjected myself to a three day dental assault of gels and bars against a backbone of my chosen brand of sports drink.

The results from the event are not yet posted online and I may write more when they are. Irrespective of what they show, Joerg and I were both happy with our performances. The routes were fantastic and easy to follow from the signs. For anyone who was, perhaps, a little frustrated with the “information” given in advance, I append some suggestions I’ve emailed to the organisers for next time…

1. Check the route lengths! On yesterday’s ride you advertised a route length of 106 miles on the info pack and 109 miles elsewhere on your site. The actual distance was over 112 miles. For many riders, especially those who don’t know the area and are expecting the end to come at the distance given, these last few unexpected miles at the end of day three can be devastating. Two years ago you had an even greater error on one of the days and I limped to the line with many other riders who were cursing the extra miles. Please please please try to get it right in future, and if you do get it wrong, do so the other way round!
2. To protect yourself against errors on the part of yourselves and/or the participants, put some countdown signs up. The signs you have were great but 20 miles/10 miles to go signs would also help.
3. Fix the GPX files you post on your site. The ones you have are not recognised as valid by at least several of the most common cycling sites. The only site I could get that could read them at all (ridewithgps) showed a misalignment between the distances and the elevation profiles, reflecting file errors. (The same applies to the TCX files.)
4. Link to a better mapping site (why not the standard Garmin Connect?) for showing the route.
5. Check that your rider info manual and your website show the same data. They didn’t this year: the maps on the rider info pack were plain wrong, showing last year’s routes.
6. Use miles or kilometres but don’t mix and match. On the paper handouts given to riders you show the elevation profiles in kilometres and the total distances, and distances to feed stations, in miles. This made it virtually impossible to know whether the feed stations came before or after the climbs.
7. Use the same scales for the three days’ profile charts so that it’s easy to see how the days and hills compare.
8. Give an explicit warning about the turn at the bottom of the hill into Crowcombe. It’s a real accident blackspot. Last year my wife helped a rider who had a bad spill there and this year she had to call an ambulance for another rider who did the same. Neither of them were young turks who were ripping up the descent.
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Responses

  1. Great post. We did ok with a few pacelines but I think the through-and-off is a step too far for many. Other than constantly having to chase down surges and almost losing my bottle and my teeth when smashing through potholes without any warning it wasn’t too bad 😉

    I think the signage was generally excellent along the route. Most turnings had signs before and after the junction which was very good. We never made a wrong turning in 340 miles which says something. But I know the extra miles were very unwelcome for a lot of people and seem to be a classic sportive error. Countdown mile markers would be a great addition next year.

    • I agree – the signage on the course was excellent. However, the other material (gpx files, rider info, mapping website, handout) simply wasn’t good enough for an event that, as I recall, cost £90. My heart went out to any people who didn’t know the area and who, on mile 330, approaching Langport, were looking around expecting to see the finish line.


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