Oh, how it rained
Rock-hard trophy for rock-hard finishers
Shred’s Andy Carnell tries to bite off a chunk of Devon Bread Pudding
RCUK editor thinks it’s February
A welcome sight
I have never sat in the bath for 6 hours. If I had, I would expect to get cold, my skin would start to shrivel off my around the edges of my toenails, the tips of my fingers would start to go numb and I would feel an insatiable hunger. I know this because I have ridden the 2007 Dartmoor Classic.
In the run up to this year’s event, which was to be my first ever cyclosportive, the forecast pointed to nothing but torrential rain and flooding. I knew it, I expected, it but nothing really makes you realise it until you are sat on the start and it dawns on you that you are already soaked and you haven’t turned a pedal. What would be required would be some outside influence on the negativity brewing in the back of my mind to keep me upbeat and up to the challenge for the remaining 103.9 miles. These things came in abundance. I can’t compare this event to any other as it was my first ever cycling event of this kind, but it lacked nothing. Course marking was perfect, the marshals were like road angels, the feedzones were well stocked and every now and then we rode past spectators who would cheer you on despite the rough conditions.
As we set off we knew it was a lengthy ride to the north of Dartmoor and our first check point. Fellow mountain bike racer Andy Carnell and I soon dropped the start group we set off in, some 15 minutes and 300 riders or so from the 8.00am start group. With around 1300 riders taking part, the roads of Dartmoor were going to be pretty busy, but it was amazing how soon riders spread out with the occasional new rider joining our group of 10 riders and others dropping off the back with punctures or tiredness, like fallen comrades. To be honest we didn’t give them much thought as we dug in against the elements and it is at this time you are glad that you have your usual riding buddy with you to provide a familiar wheel on less familiar terrain. At checkpoint one at North Tawton, some 36 miles into the ride, people were fairly upbeat. For some, riding the 100km option, this would be the half way point as they turned for home; for us it was just a big bite of our 100 miles but one that was as tough to chew as the Devon Bread Pudding dished out in the feed zone.
The ride from North Tawton to Tavistock was emotional. Devoid of views thanks to some savage weather, it became a quiet place where our whittled-down bunch kept up the banter but the overall speed was starting to ebb. A near collision with a woman who just didn’t bother to look to the right at a roundabout gave a welcome shot of adrenaline to the legs and gave us something to talk about but we were all looking forward to getting over the climb from Lydford Gorge and on into Tavistock and the turn for home.
For Andy and me, Tavistock is a regular stomping ground. We weren’t sure how they were going to get us from Tav’ to Princetown and we were praying that they didn’t opt for the murderous climb that takes you straight up onto the moors. A smile and a welcome point of the flag from a marshal directed us to the right out of Tav’ and onto a much gentler, albeit five-mile climb up to Princetown with our final checkpoint of the day at the base of the climb. At Princetown we see the welcome sight of the Shred team van parked up in the village square. Inside it we know there are towels, dry clothes, hot coffee and food and whilst we pull over to say hello to team support we know that we can’t get off the bikes. If we had got in that van then we never would have got out again (I later heard that there was a bet running that we’d have quit at Princetown).
The road from Princetown should have been an easy ride, but when the gradient drops the speed rises and for some reason Andy has perked up a bit and drives the speed up, by this point my legs are starting to feel the cold and I begin to ponder whether I have packed enough food in. I eat everything I have in the hope that in 30 minutes or so my energy levels may recover. The road rolls on to Two Bridges and then Postbridge. The climb out of Postbridge is the low point in my physical and mental state; I think I have hit the wall but the wind is kind to me and scoops me up, I take off my helmet and remove the sopping wet hat I am wearing as the rain subsides and for the first time that day I feel remotely human again. From here it is a descent interspersed with climbs but thankfully when you have gained 40mph on the descent you roll over these climbs for free. We cruise at a fast pace, pretty much free of other riders and it looks like it’ll be a 20 mile two-up time trial to the finish. The sun gives us a little wink now and then and whilst we are pretty quiet, with a gentle head wind, the pace rarely drops below 20mph back along the Teign Valley and then end of our first cyclosportive. We’d nailed it in just over 6 hours and felt a little beat up but pretty happy with ourselves.
If you’d have asked me in the first 30 minutes whether I’d ever do this event again then I would have laughed in your face, but like all great classic events you know the total challenge itself is far greater than the momentary satisfaction you get from riding along a road for 103.9 miles. For two mountain bike riders this event was a change from the normal terrain but the challenge was as tough as usual. We’ll return and perhaps on a sunnier day. I guess next year we’ll try to get under 6 hours…
Small report in next issue of Shred Magazine (as well as a load of stuff about mountain biking) www.shredmagazine.com
Knowing that it would be typical Dartmoor weather, I prepared for the first edition of the Dartmoor Classic by sticking my trusty Roberts hack, which was built for the 1999 Paris-Brest-Paris, on my roof rack. Fitted with mudguards, rolling on Mavic Ceramic rims and boasting a 34×27 bail-out bottom gear, this was the machine for the torrential downpours and savage gradients expected during the event.
Chatting to Colin Lewis, former Tour de France rider and president of the event promoting club Mid-Devon CC, before the off, I drew attention to my compact transmission. ‘You’ll be needing that bottom gear before the day is out,’ was still ringing in my ears as we left Kingsteignton in the lead group. By the top of the climb out of the Teign river valley, the group had been thoroughly shredded by Mid-Devon CC’s president, who promptly climbed off. Thanks.
A small band regrouped on the run out of Moretonhampstead, sticking together until North Tawton. Here, the more eager of the riders rushed through, leaving RCUK’s editor with a solo ride for the next hour. Somehow, the roads were empty of traffic; perhaps the local motorists were all indoors, mindful of the apocalyptic weather that was even then forcing the army to evacuate participants in the Ten Tors youth expedition off the moor.
Cyclists, of course, live for such conditions, and some 1200 or more signed on in the knowledge that they would be in for a hard day. Caught by Weston Wheelers Stephen Chmiewliski and Russell Bazley, I was towed back up to my group in no time, only to have to let it go again on the stiff climb out of Tavistock. Ah, well; time to settle down for the long haul back across the middle of Dartmoor to Moretonhampstead.
As Steve Toze says, this was a hard bit of road, especially on the drag out of Postbridge. Helicopters chuntered overhead as army trucks and coaches waited to pick up their pedestrian cargo; meanwhile, lone cyclists plugged on across this remote road as thought the weather was no more than a mild shower. Looking back, I could see a small figure perhaps a mile behind; the same view greeted me ahead. Once clear of Postbridge, the whole ride started to feel a lot better. The short climbs were taken at speed, the sun came out, fitfully, and Moretonhampstead hove into view after a superfast descent preceded by a road flooded for 200m.
What fun, and by saving myself earlier on I still had something in the tank. Removing my waterproof, I got stuck into the stiff climb out of the town and began the descent back to the River Teign thinking about getting inside six hours. This meant riding the last 10 miles like a time trial, which hurt. It was worth it as I flogged myself past the gravel sheds outside Kingsteignton, took the left turn at the last roundabout and crossed the line in 5hr 56’ to a round of applause – without ever succumbing to the urge to use that bottom gear. After handing over my transponder, I headed inside the headquarters building, ordered a well-earned bacon butty and reflected on a fantastic first edition of an event that deserves to become a fixture in every British cyclosportif’s diary.