Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Knights of the Round Table... the Tour of Wessex

Just like the pros at last week's Criterium du Dauphine, my pre-TdF shoot-out was at the Tour of Wessex over the last May bank holiday weekend.

What a cracking weekend it turned out to be… once I actually got there. Turns out I had been given a major part in the Friday night's stately half term traffic procession down the A303. Rolling onto a thermarest at midnight, having gorged on service station sausage rolls, is not exactly the ideal preparation for a weekend of hard riding.

Even before a crank was spun in anger, there were two excellent side benefits to taking part in the ToW. Most importantly I got to ride with my old pal Ben for the first time in a long time. Ben and I know each other from our days living in Cambridge. We both caught the roadie bug and an insatiable desire for lycra at the same time. A load of UK sportives and triathlons later, and a baptism of fire at the Marmotte, Ben decided to swan off to New Zealand for 18 months. I was bitter but more than that gutted at my riding buddy’s departure. The ToW was a chance to get over it and stop dropping his abandonment into every other conversation. Secondly, I had hired a Transit to act as our bike store, workshop, kitchen and tent failure mitigation strategy. Forget your top end sports cars, there is no better feeling on the road than flooring a Transit, Yorkie bar in the glove box, Daily Sport on the dash and a precious cargo of carbon fibre in the back.

The positives at the ToW just kept coming. Clear cold nights and sunny warm days, fantastic scenery, fast moving peletons and all round decent clientele. It was certainly one of the best organised and most friendly events I have attended – a real festival of cycling.

On both days that I rode, I felt good form and more improvements. The sun helped as did the quality of the riders taking part. It was great to be working on the limit for a lot of the time. On day one, Ben and I managed to latch onto the back of a London Phoenix group and we were hanging on for dear life. To be consistently moving that fast in an organised group is an exhilarating experience. The whirring of chains and the hum of tyres on tarmac was our soundtrack to fiercely focussing on not losing that back wheel.  The day had everything, tight Ardennes style lanes, a stunning climb through the Cheddar Gorge, technical descents and chocolate box villages dappled with sunshine. 108 pleasurable miles.

After tucking into Ben’s recovery nosh and getting a half decent night’s tented sleep, day two started well. Inspired by my new Italian fluro look and getting the white pumps out for the first time this spring, everything felt good. I bottled out of latching onto the London Phoenix train at mile 7 thinking the pace was too hot. Softly softly catch that monkey. That was a mistake. Losing Ben early on due to his non-existent training miles, I found myself riding on my own for a lot of the time in the first 40 miles. Serves you right for starting last and not jumping on the train. Fortunately by the time we had reached the Dorset coast at mile 50 and gone over the major climbs, there were plenty of groups to get stuck into. All was looking good until mile 105 when the back wheel went pop and my ambition deflated with it. Punctures are a pain but a fact of velo-life. Some are shoulder-shruggers others infuriating. This was an “infuriator”. Twenty minutes later after a swearing match with a CO2 canister and having dealt with my tantrum, I re-mounted and limped home. C’est la vie.

And again, just like the majority of pros withdrawing from the last stage of the Dauphine, keeping one eye on Le Tour, Ben and I decided enough was enough – day three would not be required. Instead we packed up, fully serviced the bikes, headed home for some recovery and a local ride on the holiday Monday. Mine involved taking the Transit down B&Q to collect some garden furniture, but like I've said before, it's tough trying to live like a pro.

Great weekend – cheers mate.