Tour of Wessex Race Report

The One Day Ahead team have some solid miles in their legs after completing the 2012 Tour of Wessex over the Jubilee weekend. The event is the only multi-day sportive in the UK, challenging its riders to 329 miles (527km) over 3 days. Here is Chris;s account of the long holiday weekend:

At the beginning of the year when we were planning a list of training events to help us prepare for the Tour de France this was the one that stood out to me as being the most important. The Tour of Wessex is as close to replicating the terrain and distance (if not the weather!) that we will be faced with in France as we could find anywhere in the country. It gave us a great opportunity not only of riding as a team again but also learning how we will need to live with each other in the time when we are not pedaling our bikes (which isn’t a great deal!)

The first stage was 107 miles and included 2290m (7512ft) of ascent. We started the day a little later than most (morning promptness needs to be worked on…) but were soon wizzing along small lanes through open fields that reminded me of the open plains of Roubaix. Before long we encountered our first mechanical as Jay snapped a spoke in his front wheel (a sure sign that he is getting stronger!) Before we could even type in the number for the Shimano repair man on our phones he was behind us and swiftly changed the wheel before speeding off on his motorbike to be a hero for someone else. We soon picked our speed back up and raced through the historic town of Glastonbury passing hippies young and old. Our pace was about to drop somewhat however as less than an hour later we were faced with the notorious Cheddar Gorge. You know if you’ve heard of a climb from another part of the country that it must be something special and this lump of cheese certainly didn’t disappoint! It was a beautiful and impressive climb that snaked it’s way under towering white rock and eventually brought us out onto the exposed green highlands. Our reward for scaling this beast was our first Tour of Wessex feed station. There were to be 3 of these in every stage each coming approximately 30 miles apart. The first and the last had snacky food including flapjack, fig rolls, bananas, jelly babies and energy gels. The middle station included some savoury rolls with the chicken tikka filling proving the most popular judging by the very few that were left by the time we arrived each day (damn those extra 15 minutes in bed!) The rest of stage one flowed rather nicely. Riding on the unfamiliar wessex roads we steadily caught groups of riders that had started the day before us. Sharing what we were planning on doing in July with them brought reactions usually sounding something like “You guys are bloody crazy!” Hmmm…..

 

We were based at Somerton’s sports center and were grateful for the use of their changing room facilities after the 6 hours we had spent in the saddle on day one.  Most of us were camping but we also had the pleasure of Mick’s swanky new campervan in the evenings to cook and socialize in when the sun went down and it all got a bit chilly. We were in high spirits after the first 107 miles but were cautious too knowing that the following day was a whopping 118 miles and the weather forecast read rain rain and more rain!

 

We woke to find dark clouds looming overhead and wet grass beneath our feet but no actual rain. This was a relief as the hardest part is always motivating yourself to get on your bike in the rain. Our legs gradually warmed into the ride as we passed through rural villages looking splendid in the blue, red and white of the union jack flags draped across streets, fluttering from lampposts and hung in windows. It was a very different take of the Jubilee celebrations than most would experience but it was clear that everyone was involved and gave the ride an incredibly British feel. We sped down to the south coast towards Poole again catching groups that had set out before us. The main climb of the day was a road that scaled the south downs and our reward at the top was not a feed station but instead a stunning panoramic view of the deep blue sea to our right and the far stretching green fields and woodland to our left. And not a drop of rain so far! Jay had certainly found his climbing legs since our Cotwsold’s training weekend back in March and was the new favourite for the King of the Mountains jersey in July after collecting the points atop the south downs. The rest of the One Day Ahead team were hot on his heels however and we were all as one as we raced down the winding descent in the hope of getting our hands on the last of the chicken tikka rolls! As the miles passed by we all agreed that our legs were beginning to feel better and the absence of rain buoyed us on towards the finish. Between us we have only ever ridden 117 miles and handful of times but judging by our pace in the final hour you’d think we were endurance veterans! Young Charlie showed some true grit by hanging on despite a lack of quality training miles due to college commitments while Adnan, Mick and I showed we were strong with some decent efforts driving our group home to the finish and under the inflatable Colnago banner where our time of 7 hours was recorded. An exhausting but thoroughly vital day in the saddle and we had miraculously avoided the rain!

 

The final stage was 106 miles and was by far the hardest in terms of climbing with riders having to tackle 2763m (9066ft) of ascent. We set out a little earlier than the previous two mornings (although still managed to miss the main peleton!) but were put back after only a few miles when Jay managed to snap his chain (there’s that power again!) Fortunately we didn’t require Mr.Shimano on this occasion as I had a chain tool and quick link in my saddlebag.  Today’s stage was to take us east towards Exmoor national park and a whole lot of pain! The journey out included a few very sharp inclines that certainly separated the men from the boys and it was great to see that all One Day Aheader’s reached the top as men. Racing towards Exmoor it really felt like we were part of a team in our matching jerseys and we were all feeling strong enough to help make the pace at the front. Other riders started to recognize us as a team and some had already heard about what we were doing so the word has obviously been spread! The climb up to the top of Exmoor was a beast but will be great training for the climbs we’ll be facing in France. The gradient was never too steep but the climb was long enough to allow us to get into a rhythm as we pedaled under a canopy of trees with brief breaks in the trees giving us glimpses of how far we’d climbed. At the top we had a breathtaking view across the gower peninsula to Wales and all celebrated by taking a communal wee stop. We continued across the rolling moors towards our lunch stop in a traditionally British town hall only to find all the chicken tikka rolls had been devoured. Undeterred and instead fuelled by some tasty chicken and bacon / egg mayonnaise rolls we descended off of Exmoor and homeward bound. The only downer in the final couple of hours was to lose Charlie to a knee pain that can most likely be put down to a combination of over eagerness/ability and a lack of base miles. Hopefully in this last month he can get back on track! Adnan, Mick, Jay and I wound the pace up knowing that Charlie was safely getting a lift back to Somerton with some kind supporters. The final hour was a bit of a tear up and we really were flying at times passing by other riders left, right and center. Adnan put in some long stints through the closing miles as we rushed through the quiet lanes but it was Mick who used his vast experience and lightening sprint to spring past us in the dying meters and claim the green jersey points at the Somerton town sign.

 

Back at the campsite we got our High 5 protein recovery drinks down us and shaked hands over what we all agreed had been an epic 3 days of riding. We have less than a month to prepare our bodies and minds for the big challenge and are all in good spirits following this weekend!

 

Many thanks to the organizers of the event Pendragon Sports for putting on a well organized and challenging event and our sponsors Chain Reaction Cyles, Physioworld, High 5 and Muc Off who’s support was vital in helping us finish.

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