Tour of Wessex Day 3 - Road Cycling UK

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Tour of Wessex Day 3


Smile; you’ve got mudguards

Somewhere in Wessex

Two of everything, please

Still smiling after 11 1/2 hours in the saddle

Some people are just born lucky. Thanks to my sister’s wedding, I could not make days one and two of this year’s Tour of Wessex. Missing the second day was particularly disappointing as the route went through some of my favourite riding around the Isle of Purbeck and over Bulbarrow Hill. Furthermore, I lost the chance to make a comparison with the conditions for the Tour of Dartmoor a month earlier.

Even so, the prospect of day three, with its 200km and climb of Dunkery Beacon, was enough to get me all excited. Unsure of the likely weather conditions, I opted for my faithful Roberts P-B-P bike, with its mudguards and bottom gear of 34×27 and headed off for Mrs Lancaster’s B&B in Sparkford. That night, I met up with members of the Norwood Paragon CC as rain lashed the Somerset countryside.

The next morning, the two Tour of Wessex-riding New Zealanders staying in the B&B took one look outside and went back to bed. After a ‘full English’ worthy of the name, I tootled over to Sutton Montis, tip-toed through the quagmire of the start area and found the Paragon group just as the rain stopped. The severly depleted field was small enough to start in a couple of bunches. We left in the first one, which kept together for the first 40km or so past RNAS Yeovilton, Somerton and Langport until it reached a place called Over Stowey.

The climb out of this village to the top of the Quantock Hills is one of those ‘Hills from Hell’ ; starting at 1 in 10, it runs straight ahead and steepens rapidly to around 1 in 4, which it maintains for a good 600m. Making the mistake of staying with Marcus Brueton for far too long, I was soon breathing out of the proverbial ; nearing the summit, the road kinks left to reveal the last 100m of wall, and I had to admit defeat or throw up. Even after taking a 30 second breather I was still amongst the first dozen to reach the top, and the first feed.

For the next hour, I struggled with the urge to chunder ; just as it faded, we passed though the delightful village of Dunster, with its famous castle, and began the ascent to the beacon. This time I left Marcus to his heroics and took it steady, enjoying the view back across the Severn estuary to Wales and the sight of a small herd of deer leaping through the heather before crossing the road ahead and disappearing from sight.

I rejoined Marcus and a couple of others at the feed, and we set off on a long downhill leg along the valley of the River Quarme that ended with a long, draggy climb over to Brompton Regis. My companions were riding strongly and, suffering from a tight hamstring, I had to let them go on the climb past Wimbleball Lake.

For the next 60km I rode alone back up over the Quantocks, through endless small villages, and always against a slight headwind. The sun, however, was shining, the scenery was exceptional, and the roads all-but-deserted on this Bank Holiday Monday afternoon. There was a nasty main road section out of Langport, at the end of which I was caught by a decent sized group travelling fast under the impetus of former TT ace Brian Phillips, who was riding his first sportive albeit in the wrong age group. Thanks to a flying first day and strong day two, he placed fifth overall and so proved that years spent training with Sean Yates are never wasted. Latching onto the back of this mini peloton, I was given an armchair ride to the finish where I made sure of the sprint (what sprint ?) before relaxing in the refreshment marquee. Consuming an SiS Smart-1 gel did the trick, then.

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