Weather permitting…

Tour of Wessex , Somerton, [Ancient capital of] Somerset – Saturday, 28th May to Monday 30th May 2011

 

Organiser, Nick Bourne, his wife Sam, her parents, his mother May, sister Emma, son Alfie and baby too make this year’s ‘Tour of Wessex’ a truly family affair… Helen at Claud the Butler gives a ‘Claud-centric’ insight into three days of fierce cycling action…


Let's get acquainted...

 

It’s a May bank holiday in England – this can only mean several things – leaden skies, intermittent downpours and terminal traffic chaos.

 

Having braved the latter to arrive in the vicinity of Somerton some nine hundred or so riders from the UK, France, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Jersey, South Africa, Mexico, Germany, Argentina, Belgium and Northern Ireland (forgive me, I may have missed a few accents along the way…) were left to deal with the sharp end of the former – the best that an English ‘summer’ can throw at them.

 

It’s a Saturday morning. Day one. At 5.30am precisely Mr and Mrs Butler rise from a cosy tent and head for a large marquee some fifty paces away, somewhere in the middle of a sports field, somewhere in deepest Somerset. By 6.00am crisp linen (thank you, May…) has been draped over trestle tables, muesli, toast, tea, coffee, and large quantities of chopped banana have been prepped and industrial quantities of cinnamon porridge are bubbling away on our gas burners.

 

Home cooking

By 6.45am riders begin to arrive, moving silently along orderly queues with looks of grim determination on their faces – how to stoke enough fuel to propel them round the first leg of an epic three day journey that would see them looping around Hardy’s imagined Wessex, Somerset  (day one), Dorset  (day two) and Exmoor (day three) in concentric circles.

 

Toast is ladened down with nutella, peanut butter, strawberry jam, marmite and marmalade, sometimes all at once. Cinnamon porridge comes to the lip of bowls, brimming over with piles of chopped banana and honey. Muesli is smothered in yoghurt and chopped fruit, and extra toasted hazelnuts go into the mix. The tea is pure PG builders and the coffee fair-trade granules. Workman-like. It has a very specific job to do. I’ve seen nothing like it since Guide Camp circa 1976.

 

Claud's sound system-mark 1

By eight-thirty we’re scraping the last of the porridge out of giant pots and planning the day ahead in Claud.

 

The weather, as predicted is cold and windy, but mercifully dry. Cakes? Check. Coffee? Check. Recovery Soup? Certainly.

 

One hundred and seventy three kilometres of headwinds, hills and mind-over-matter later and these heroic men and women of the road make it back to Somerton. It is six hours later and counting. The verdict at Claud’s serving hatch is universal, ‘Tough out there…’ – usually spoken by riders with blue lips and chattering teeth, faces covered in a fine spray of mud.

 

The ‘recovery’ soup (Mr Butler’s potent mix of lentils, quinoa and other revitalising goodness) disappears in next-to-no time. The first batch has been a trial of sorts – ‘is this what riders will want?’ We have our answer. Mocha coffees, double shots and cakes fly out of our H van…pistachio cake, carrot cake, chocolate brownies, date and oat bars, pecan and choc-chip cookies all disappear in a flurry. And we get chatting. Riders tell us of punishing climbs, vicious headwinds and leg-sapping finishes…but coffee, cake and a massage later and our heroes are back, contemplating the next day ahead, encouraged by the promise of better weather.  Thank you, Met Check.

 

'cTb' Date & Oat Wraps...Ready to go...into those back pockets.

Sunday. Day two.  Deepest Dorset and the delights of Durdle Door lie in store today. The mood at breakfast is chipper, and we’re welcoming familiar faces now… Breakfast comes and goes without a hitch, everyone re-fuels and last, but by no means least, we have a class comedian in the form of a tall, rugby playing Irishman who hobbles into the dining tent complaining of ‘a sore arse…’ ‘Perhaps you could try  cream?’ suggests Mr Butler delicately. ‘Cream?!’ snorts our man in utter disbelief, ‘that stuff’s for communists…’. It’s seven thirty on a Sunday morning and he brings the house down.

 

The weather today is kind, and the riders in their formations are high on adrenalin. The first half a dozen riders are back in blisteringly fast time. They slump triumphantly onto the grass in front of Claud, bikes scattered all around. These guys are hot – and they know it.

Slumped indeed

 

The mood today is buoyant, the wind has stayed away and the rider’s who refuel at Claud have a whole other vocabulary today, ‘Awesome, fantastic, going well, legs feel good…’ Claud’s ‘pop-up’ café becomes the unofficial meeting point for the ‘Cent Cols Challenge’ club too – we’re eager to chat about our up-coming September in the Pyrenees – and CCC riders, past and future are happy to team up and chat over coffee and cakes. Phil Deeker’s riders are a special breed that’s for sure…pass the word on.

A Cent Cols Challengers gathering

 

Monday morning dawns and the ‘porridge’ routine is underway once more. This time the weather has turned. And not in a good way. Wind and driving rain, sullen skies and the slippery hills of Exmoor are what lie in wait for a field of just over three hundred riders. The mood over breakfast is certainly more pensive, there is talk of descents and the danger of accidents, but there is also a quiet determination from a hard core of riders who intend to finish, come what may.

 

They head off to face the elements stoked on porridge and caffeine, waterproofs zipped to the chin. Nick announces a ‘fifty mile’ bail-out for those who sense that Dunkery Beacon may be a climb too far.

 

We finish breakfast, clear the decks and head straight for Claud – some of these riders may well be back sooner than they anticipated. And so it is… a steady trickle of riders pull off the road, through injury or mechanicals, or just the need to keep cycling a pleasure.

Met Check was right

 

The rain gets into everything. It is relentless and energy-sapping. But rumour has it that over two hundred riders are still out there, battling it out over Exmoor. At Claud we’re kept busy with a constant stream of riders returning – many of whom are ‘friends’ now. These are ‘bonding’ conditions. No doubt.

 

Let's celebrate with a 'cTb' coffee!

Riders come back drenched, exhausted, blue with cold, fingers too numb to grip the pound notes stuffed in their back pockets – but elated all the same… ‘Congratulations’ we say, again and again as familiar faces return. These athletes are heroes. And tonight they’ll pack up and head off back to lives (and offices) where most people will have no idea of the incredible journey they’ve undertaken in just three days in a pocket of the South West known as Wessex.

 

But you know who you all are…it was the greatest of pleasures to meet you.

Chapeau to every one of you…

 

Claud in his element

 

 

 

 

The Tour of Wessex raises money for the charity ‘Help For Heroes’ – an organisation concerned with the rehabilitation of members of the armed forces and their families.

 

Cent Cols Challenge, organised by Phil Deeker, sponsored by Rapha.

 

Tour of Wessex/Pendragon Sports organised by Nick Bourne

 

 

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2 Responses to “Weather permitting…”

  1. Mark Edwards 6 June 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    Great write up of the event.

    That savoury recovery soup really hit the spot after a day of forcing down sickly gels and energy bars.

    Looking forward to seeing Claud out on the road during the Cent Cols Challenge, he (and his owners) will be a very welcome sight.

    Mark

  2. Richard 7 June 2011 at 10:36 pm #

    After a 100+ painful miles, what can one wish for but a great cup of coffee, smiling faces and good humour… claud you are the man! my saviour and shining light on what was a grey day.

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