Rearing its ugly head right at the end of the season, the Exmoor Beast offered a tantalising way for many sportive riders to end their year with what could be classified as one of the toughest sportives yet devised in the UK.
First run in 2007, the Exmoor Beast classes itself as “one of the best and most challenging sportives of the year,” for a big end-of-season challenge. It’s run by a team of experienced and professional event coordinators, so it was no surprise that a slick operation was in evidence when RCUK rocked up on the Saturday to pick up our timing chips and numbers.
Following a staggered start on Sunday morning, with the first competitors departing under dark skies and low sun at 7am, riders were given until 8am to make their way out onto the course, setting of on a route that would eventually go down as one of the mightiest challengesthe RCUK team have experienced.
With two routes, 100km or 100 miles, on offer, riders could bite off as much as they felt they could chew. With the split coming after 50 miles, however, all the riders traced until then the same challenging route,which took in some stupendously scenic parts of Exmoor. There were inspirational views across to Wales, remote back country lanes, the tough ascent of Porlock Hill and even a cobbled ford crossing that pitched some riders off their bikes and left them with wet bums!
While the first 50 miles flew by relatively smoothly, the altitude climbed was clearly taking its toll on riders, with the first feedstation coming shortly after. The sheer selection and quantity of hearty food on offer seemed to make up for its apparent lateness in the route, with most stopping for a well earned rest and to take on some hot soup.
It was at this point that the 100km and 100 mile riders would separate, and going by the accounts of riders who rode each finishing section, the ride was equally as tough, if not more so, on the final leg as the first half. Riders were treated to yet more incredible landscapes, ranging from the bleak to the jaw-dropping, though most riders were concentrating more on the gradient of the plentiful supply of leg-busting climbs, which seemed to differ only slightly from ever-so-steep to long and painful.
The two RCUK riders who braved the 100 mile ride experienced a tortured time and ran the entire gamut from easy pedalling to grovelling up climbs having coughed both lungs right up. The route, with its well-surfaced roads and combination of undulations and long descents, encouraged those seeking a fast time to push ever harder, and the lack of frequent and strategically placed feed stops, usually natural breaks in the rhythm of a sportive, meant the ride exacted a huge toll on the riders.
The Exmoor Beast was about as tough as they come in the UK, though one rider with local knowledge reckoned it steered clear of even more strenuous climbs, so God alone knows how much tougher the route could get. The organisers tell us there will be changes to the route and start/finish HQ for next year, and the location and frequency of the feed stops is going to be investigated, which should remove the tiny niggles the RCUK team felt after over 7hrs of riding. If you’ve not considered the Exmoor Beast before but fancy the challenge of a late-season sportive that is guaranteed to test your fitness to the limits, then sign up for the Beast next year. You’ll not be disappointed.
For those interested in the route and how long it took me, you can view the downloaded data from the Garmin Edge 705.
“The Exmoor Beast has now established itself as one of the toughest and best organized events in the calendar,” says organiser Marcus Di-Vincenzo. “We have to change the venue to Butlins in Minehead and redistribute the feeding stations and it will then be the best in the calendar. With the right venue and the right route next year, we will make it to 2000 riders with great stories to tell.”