Last weekend I rode the Exmoor Beauty sportive with a few friends. After riding in last year’s punishing 100 mile Exmoor Beast, I had initially been put off entering the Beauty as it sounded like a watered-down version. Then I checked the event details of the Beauty and saw it was 70 miles with over 2000 metres of climbing and I realised that maybe the Beast had needed some watering down.
Like all sportives, the day started with a hearty breakfast at some ungodly hour. Eating porridge at 4.45am while your stomach is still sleeping doesn’t exactly feel natural, but I guess that’s what coffee was invented for.
The week before the event I had replaced the rear tyre of the Fuji bike. It had slipped several times during climbs and had started to show some significant signs of wear. It irked my inner thriftiness to be replacing something which wasn’t actually broken, but seeing as this is almost certainly the first time the words “thriftiness” and “cycling” have ever being used together, I once again ignored my instincts. Once you can feel comfortable turning up to work on a building site wearing tights, then nothing else in cycling can really phase you! Nonetheless, once I had the new tyre on, it was pretty obvious that the old one had been ridden to within an inch of its life.
I took the first few miles of the event at a relaxed pace, riding alongside Justin and Rachel. The night before the event I was reminded by Ms BikeVCar that I hadn’t given my body any rest recently due to the “stupid Strava challenge” and that the last thing I should do at the Beauty was engage in “willy waving” by trying to match Andy, and potentially injure my depleted body. With these wise words still ringing in my ears, and only 5 miles into the event, I put the hammer down and set off to chase down Andy.
It took about 5 miles but I eventually spotted him ahead. From 10 to 50 miles we rode together through savage weather on the moors. At times it was a struggle to keep moving forwards against battering winds and rain. We formed a group of about 10 riders and took it in turns to suffer the worst of the headwinds while the others sheltered behind. I was mostly riding on my limit which meant that a couple of times I was forced to drop off the back in order to recover, before expending a colossal amount of the energy I had recovered, just in order to catch back up. This certainly wasn’t the most efficient way to ride but it was all I could do to keep going.
At 50 miles, with frozen fingers and soaked to the skin, I felt a loss of control to the rear wheel and looked down to see a flat tyre. Not seeing the need to make Andy freeze himself further I let him go and pulled over to carry out the repair. Being a brand new tyre it was a complete bugger to remove, and I was almost in tears on the umpteenth occasion when a tyre lever pinged off across the grass verge. A number of riders passed by asking if I was ok, to which I shouted back “Yes, thanks” – this was clearly a lie.
And when a local kindly stopped to ask if I needed a lift anywhere, it took inner strength I didn’t know I possessed to politely turn him down. “No, I don’t want a lift in your nice warm van, I want to be kneeling down in this river of a road, close to tears and fumbling with a non-compliant tyre, but thank you” 😉 Eventually I got the blasted tyre off and completed the rest of the repair with surprising ease.
The last 20 miles were a war of attrition. I found myself preferring the climbing to descending as it gave a chance to warm up my frozen bones. I eventually made it to the finishing line in 5 hours & 5 minutes where I was able to calculate that my puncture repair had taken 15 minutes, and not the hour it had felt. I was only 20 minutes behind Andy, 6 minutes ahead of Justin and 13 ahead of Rachel putting us all in the top 100 of over 700 entrants. A great result all round, but also some real lessons in suffering.
The event had started and ended in Butlins, Minehead. After putting on some dry clothes we sat at a cafe to refuel and silently surveyed the hideous nightmare of a Butlins weekend in full flow. Suddenly my puncture experience didn’t seem quite so bad!