The Exmoor Beauty sportive seemed to fit me and Becci’s plan to do a small number of sportives in the south west this year. Its not too far from Bath, its organisers run the well regarded Exmoor Beast and a proprtion of the entry fee goes to a local charity. Plus neither of us have ridden on Exmoor, so it makes more sense to leave route planning to locals who (you hope) know the roads better.
Things looked good from the start, the sun was shining and walking over to register we took a good look at the wonderful variety of bikes riders were preparing, checking tyre pressures and loading up with bottles and food.
Signing on was very fuss free. Don’t you find it a pain when organisers get you to fill in forms with information that you gave them already when you first signed up? Not here – our names were just ticked off by the friendly helpers and we were handed a ready prepared envelope with rider bike ID and a sticky timing tag.
There were a few ‘attractions’ at registration such as the organiser on a tannoy giving information on the route, weather, how to sign on etc all nicely delivered. There was a good little catering outfit doing breakfast, the fruit museli was tasty. A local bike chain had bikes on display and of course mechanics to lend a hand. We talked to a friendly guy about a bike with electronic Shimano Ultegra Di2 gears on display, apparently some riders have been using the system for 3 years with no need for gear adjustment! You could also get a warm up massage or buy cycle clothing. Just the right balance of stuff.
The only major oversights were lack of water dispensing facilities and the most insane queues for a couple of toilets. I didnt fancy filling my water bottles from the school janitors mop bucket cleaning cupboard or from the loos, so popped to a local shop. A water butt would be simple to provide. As for the toilets, well the organiser is an ex marine so a loo reconnisance mission should have been pretty easy! It certainly wasn’t that they were scrimping as there were an over abundance of hired in porta loos at the food stop halfway.
Right on to the ride! Well pretty tough from the word go. I don’t think we stopped climbing for 3 out of the 4 hours we took to complete the ride! There were people riding sporty hybrids, including a steel Audax bike with a Rohloff hub gear so many people were along for the ride to enjoy the scenery and the challenge rather than speed around as quick as possible.
The route was typical of moorland riding, very undulating with steep twisty descents. You had to be on the ball as the hairy descents required plenty of speed scrubbing on the brakes. You also had to be pretty spot on with gear selection to climb what felt like wall after wall following each steep downhill. There were a couple of spots where riders ran out of gears or strength and had to walk. A couple of riders even fell off mid way up a steep bit which was dramatic!
There were some really nice landmarks that we cycled past, including a really big reservoir, Exford with its ancient stone cottages and river winding its way through the village and the highest point of the moor after Withypool – this climb seemed to go on for a few miles which was quite hard after having already reached 34 miles with no real descents. The final descent on a mainish road down to Tiverton was quick but very scenic skirting along the river Exe which grew and grew as we descended down to the finish at Tiverton. We both finished in 3:55 for the 60 miles of which there were just over 5000ft of climbing.