When is 100 miles not 100 miles..?
This is a question that organisers of sportive events must ask themselves when they plan out the routes for their events. The truth is that if I tell someone I have ridden 100 miles then they are impressed. It could be 100 miles on the flat or 100 miles of punishing 25% climbs. They don’t care; 100 miles is still 100 miles, even when it feels like 200.
After last year’s rain soaked assault on Dartmoor I was back for some more. A time of 6hrs and 2 minutes last year had to be beaten. What I didn’t know was that at some point in the past 12 months the organisers had made a deal with the devil; they promised him a much tougher course in return for hot, sunny weather with temperatures in the high 20’s.
I joined 1,200 other riders and, due to becoming some kind of local celebrity (without even realising it), was graced with number 6 and a place in the first wave out at 7.45am. As I locked up the Shred van the temperature gauge was already reading 16 degrees C and it was barely gone half seven. It was going to be a hard day at the office.
With Shred team mates Jonny Yates and Ed Warren, we pedalled out towards Dartmoor with a relatively short-lived flat section before the unrelenting climbing began. The first two hours seemed to be spent riding climb after climb interspersed by muddy tracks, dirt roads and short fast descents. After a couple of hours we were overjoyed to hit the main road near the A30 and have a decent road section towards Okehampton, where we did our best to work the front of our small group and drive a decent pace into the first checkpoint.
As we rolled out of the checkpoint, after a stop that could be measured in seconds rather than minutes, we rolled onto cycle paths – the enemy of nice road bikes – and a puncture quickly followed. The next 30 miles would be spent busting some more back lanes and cycle paths – we looked forward to hitting Tavistock and feeling a little more like we were on the way home.
Lydford Gorge (big climb) came and went and a few more climbs before Tav’ left us feeling pretty tired; we had about 65 miles in the bank but did we have another 35 in the tank? One thing was for sure – the unrelenting climb up to Princetown, which on any normal day would be an easy ride out to the Tor Cafe, was feeling more like an ascent of Mont Ventoux. Both my water bottles were empty. I had my team mate Jonny further up the hill, Cycling Weekly’s Huw Williams fifty yards or so up the road and my other team mate Ed unraveling off the back. I just held my line, stayed in the saddle and pedalled as best I could.
Princetown brought a welcome drink station and a chance to drop more food into my pockets that I probably wouldn’t eat. After four and a half hours I was sick of the taste of bananas and energy foods. I would have preferred a bacon sandwich. Jonny and I looked at each other and looked at the watch. One and half hours to pedal 30 miles was do-able, we did it all the time, and so we pedalled out of Princetown, put it into the big ring and buried ourselves for the 28 miles to home.
I would have been overjoyed if this was the end of my tale – perhaps the underdogs had prevailed and beaten the clock and the distance. We knew the road home and were expecting a tough climb through Dartmeet but what we didn’t expect was a couple more cherries on the top of this cake. Dartmeet looks like a battle zone, the 100km riders strewn broken along the side of the climb. We look up and can’t see a single person riding up the hill and, as we look back, we realise a car has stopped dead to avoid a woman who has fallen over sideways at the foot of the climb. We stop to make sure she is ok and then dig in for the kind of punishment that you’d struggle to match a crime to. Coming over the summit we think ourselves lucky that the bulk of the climbing is done but we are wrong. Two more tough climbs follow and I realise that I haven’t got a single climb more in my legs.
As we hit Haytor it becomes evident that the day’s climbing is finally done and we start our descent back into the valley floor and the road home. We hit Bovey Tracy and realise that we have only got 7 or 8 minutes to get back to make the gold medal time of 6.20. We ride ourselves into the ground, taking turns on the front until we are literally hanging over the bars. We roll into the finish at 6.22.
The Dartmoor Classic is immaculately organised, marshalled and signposted. It is an opportunity to ride through some of the UK’s most beautiful areas; I have lived in the West Country all of my life and I am still amazed by it. This year’s event didn’t really play to the strengths of the region – the relentless climbing and descending dished out a savage lesson to the fit and an even worse lesson to the unfit, but it also meant that you spent most of your time away from the vistas and tucked away in valleys or shrouded in trees.
Like I said at the start, 100 miles is still 100 miles and I think perhaps organisers of these events need to consider that sometimes riders just want to unhook their best Italian road bike, put on their white Sidi’s and sunglasses and go out and ride a comfortable 100 miles in under 6 hours, see some awesome scenery and meet some like minded people. Maybe capturing the essence of cycling in this way is a far greater challenge?
D A remembers…
I have to be honest and admit I was dubious about the merits of the organiser’s decision to append the word ‘Classic’ on to the title of an event that is only in its second year. Surely that’s running before you can walk.
But local knowledge from growing up in Devon and spending many long, sunny Sundays MTBing around the moors removed any ignorance about how damn right tough the area is. In fact, it’s surprising, given the rise of sportive events, that Dartmoor has only recently been added to the very long list of event locations.
So did the event earn its Classic title? After over six and a half hours of lots of trudging up hill and blitzing the roly bits in between, I can honestly say I’ve never worked as hard. Admittedly, a 21-mile hilly time trial the previous morning and The World’s Biggest Mixed Grill the night before weren’t ideal preparation and not a plan I’d think Fabian Cancellara will be following anytime soon, but ill-thought-out plans aside the event was a corker.
Mostly on quite country lanes, the organisers’ revised route took riders through impossibly beautiful countryside, with hills steeper and more frequent than I think anybody was prepared for. My ride was one of a struggle against the heat (I don’t cope all too well when the temperature is up in the high 20s or above) and trying to shovel down enough food to avoid the bonk. But I failed to avoid it and endured a miserable stretch about halfway round, only to be presented with the second feedstop at Princetown. At the top of a huge hill. When where I wanted it was at the bottom. Something that’ll be rectified next year I surely hope. [Dave can’t remember the rest of the ride… ed.]
The editor’s tale
It was hard… very hard. So hard, in fact, that on one of the series of ridiculously steep climbs after Dartmeet I managed to pull a hamstring and then get cramp, basically because I could not, by then, ride out of the saddle.
At the second feed I happily spent 15 minutes waiting for DA to come in (just to make sure he was still riding) and, having done the same at the first feed, was a little peeved on getting around in 6hrs26 to find that the Gold Standard time was a tight-wad 6hrs20 for what was, by any standards, a viciously demanding route.
On the other hand, I found out for the first time just how good NutriGrain bars taste mid-ride, kick-started my 2008 suntan and tucked DA away to the tune of almost 20 minutes despite the fact that he had me on the ropes for the first hour. Must have been the effect of the 20oz mixed grill he tried to eat the previous night…