Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Inaugral Exmoor Beauty

Whilst 38,000 runners headed into the Big Smoke and readied themselves for a very long, crowded marathon around London, about 800 cyclists headed to deepest Exmoor for a new event on the cyclosportive calendar. In fact, possibly the most poorly named sportive ever: The Exmoor Beauty. Deep down I knew it would be hilly; there isn't a flat way through any part of Exmoor, but I thought, and hoped that this contrasting event to the very aptly named Exmoor Beast might just be a little easier. How wrong I was.

I had convinced fellow tri-clubber and Wimbleball-competitor-to-be, Mark to come along with. He didn't really take much convincing to be honest, his only stipulation was that he would be allowed to "wear his race face", which I thought seemed very reasonable. We popped out for a "warm-up ride" the day before and unwittingly discovered what we were quite sure was the longest climb in Exmoor. We celebrated our find with a hearty pub dinner and a spot of the local brew, whilst praying our little outing hadn't done too much damage to the legs for the ride ahead.

After polishing off a generous portion of breakfast and scoffing a few sweets, the inevitable 'what to wear' drama began. A big, blue blob and some very blowy-looking winds on the weather forecast had me layered up in a full on jacket, overshoes and winter gloves.

Within about a mile I immediately regretted those decisions. The sun was beaming down and the first climb on the course had me sweltering. With only two tiny pockets I couldn't ditch any kit; so everything was unzipped and every vent was opened. The second big climb was a bit of an epic and I couldn't bring myself to stop pedalling and think about trying to peel off any layers. If anybody rode the course and saw a small, red-faced girl looking angrier by the second, that could have been me. However, my luck changed (sort of) and after about an hour and a half, the moors were covered with thick, grey clouds. The wind picked up, the skies opened and for about fifteen minutes I was really, really pleased with my clothing choices.

When I arrived at the feeding station, it was raining hard. The food didn't even make me that happy, it was a bit disappointing compared to a lot of other sportives; a banana, a teeny chunk of maltloaf and a sliver of flapjack barely touched the sides so I didn't hang around for too long.

Another killer climb commenced and soon enough, we were atop the moors on what should have been a  spectacular passage with outstanding views. An enormous headwind was ruining my life a bit and as my speed dropped, and dropped, I started to have a sense of humour failure. It was a very tough traverse and every cyclist I met along the way was feeling it too. Eventually though, we hit the end of the end of the road and it turned into a long, wide and brilliantly fast descent. I had taken my glasses off as I hadn't really been able to see through them with the rain.As I started downwards though, hail and sleet were forced into my eyes and I couldn't see a thing. I lasted as long as I could by contorting my face and only opening one eye at a time before admitting to myself that I really did need to stop and put them back on again if I wanted to remain alive. As I stopped, a chap whizzed past me exclaiming "I can't see anything either!!". Fortunately I saw him at the bottom, so he had remained alive too.

The course never stopped throwing enormous hills at you. In just 70 miles, there was over 5700ft of elevation gain, it gets to the point where you just expect a big ascent to be waiting for you around every corner. The one that really got  me though, was the approach to Dunkery Beacon. The road winds up slowly and we were all rewarded with a bit of a tailwind to assist with the ascent. As you turn one corner and look up, you can see a road leading right up to the top of the Beacon, a road that winds upwards forever. My heart sank, my legs were tired and looking up, I really didn't think I would be able to make it. As I got closer though, I realised that was a walkers track and the road skirted around the side at what was actually a very pleasant gradient indeed. Phew!

A glorious, meandering descent followed, but unfortunately another cyclist had had what looked like a head on collision with a car. Everybody was sidling past the ambulance slowly and after witnessing it, every single rider noticeably slowed down. It was a good thing they did because the ride down the other side of the Beacon was steep, wet and full of tight turns. I was very nearly taken out by a chap who managed to hit the side verge and then throw himself into the middle of the road, missing me by literally a couple of inches. My heart was pounding, and after checking he was okay, I continued downwards, with my fingers firmly squeezing the brakes.

The last ten miles were comparatively easy, but the route followed a small, muddy single-track road that required a lot of concentration. I was actually delirious as I rode back into Minehead; amazed I had made it after wanting to stop so many times and pleased to have survived after seeing some pretty traumatic sights, it had really been an emotional rollercoaster as well as a serious physical challenge!

In summary: it isn't a beauty, at all. It is however, definitely worth a go; just take it easy on the descents!


  1. police are looking for info on the silver car involved with the collision described here. if any of you had camera's attached or could describe the vehicle. contact crimestoppers.

    on a positive note. nice to see the majority of participants had fun and have a great experience to remember or learn from for future races.

  2. Having done two beasts, I would say this was more challenging, not helped by the weather and two punctures

  3. The cyclist involved in the accident is in a critical condition in hospital, I hope he recovers. I was surprised by the number of riders not seemingly aware that it was a Sunday afternoon and the roads were open. There were some prize idiots on the descents.