It’s 5.30am. I’m in such a deep sleep that the alarm going off on the other side of the bedroom blends with whatever I’m dreaming about. It takes a few seconds to even remember why that hideous noise was bleeping at this ungodly hour. Check out the window. It looks cold, foggy and distinctly autumnal across the Exe Estuary. Dig around to find arm warmers.
The Moor2Sea Sportive takes in some of the classic Devon roads – from the coast to the dramatic, and occasionally severe, lanes of Dartmoor. We would be taking on the ‘Extreme’ route, the crucial stats of which being the 112-miles and over 10,000ft of ascent.
We rolled out of Haldon Racecourse just after 7am and straight into a fast, steep descent. A few weeks previously, in similar damp conditions, I’d had a ‘near death’ experience on this hill when I hit a moist horse poo at pace and lost the back wheel, so today I was significantly more cagey. A few miles of flat lanes led us to the coast, past Cockwood Harbour, Dawlish and on to Teignmouth where we turned inland to follow the Teign Estuary.
At 25-miles the hills started for real. Until now we’d just had speedbumps in comparison to what lay ahead, with our first major obstacle being the 3.5-mile climb from Bovey Tracey to Haytor. It’s a popular climb and if you ever do any riding in this part of the county it’s likely to be on your route – the Tour of Britain will stage a hilltop finish at its summit later in September.
As an added twist the organisers of the Moor2Sea had created a timed segment on the climb enabling the added dimension of a ‘King of the Mountain’ competition within the ride. It’s a bit of a dilemma deciding whether or not to go hard on the climb to qualify for the KOM badge or ride within ourselves and save legs for later. In the end the ensuing competitive riding from everyone on the hill decided things for us – we couldn’t really sit back, could we? Badge bagged.
We were on the Moor with some of the finest riding roads you might find – good surfaces, incredible views all the way to the sea, not much traffic, challenging – and we struck out to tackle some of its harshest undulations. 25% is common.
By Dartmoor standards the wind was generous. On our noses, but not putting up too much of a fight. The Moor is so exposed that on some days the wind can push you along and make you feel like the world’s greatest cyclist, on other’s it’ll slap you in the face and stop you dead.
We dropped into Ponsworthy, the hard way, via a couple of brutally sharp climbs, turned right through a ford and climbed back up to to the Moor. Even when you think you’re just traversing it’s never flat, never contouring. The roads are draped across the landscape, fall into every little valley and over every rolling hill, so you’re always working hard and not really resting.
Infinite greens, yellow gorse, occasional purples from the wild flowers, blues and deep greys in the sky and the ever-present threat from maverick moorland animals which hang by the roadside and glance at you as if to say, “yeah, that’s right, I’m thinking about stepping out in front of you”.
Now it felt like the weather was shifting away from favourable. Clouds were massing and there was a chill to the wind. This is common on the Moor too. The weather is notoriously cantankerous – always changing, never stable, rarely predictable. I was prepped for rain, but had hoped we would stay dry for a little longer than this. Now we were heading West, the shorter routes had already begun to make their way home, but we were still heading out and now straight into the prevailing weather.
We climbed all they way to Princetown, the highest settlement on the Moor and then dropped down the flowing, ribbon-like road to Yelverton, with foreboding views of imposing clouds closing in from Cornwall and Bodmin Moor in the distance. We’re past halfway in distance, but not in the amount of climbing.
Now we’re heading off the Moor, past the Lee Moor quarries and down again into Cornwood. It’s a pretty fast descent made more dangerous by the road pinching and the drystone walls. It was spitting with rain now as well, so my head was doing that annoying thing where it says, “If I get a blowout now…” and plays through exactly what I’d hit, or how I’d slide along the road like a mango down a cheese grater.
Skirting south of the Moor, past Ivybridge and South Brent, we reach the next feed station at just before Ashburton. It would be foolhardy to carry on from here without refuelling. The next few miles are probably the toughest on the route as we climb back onto the Moor. I’ve ridden every road onto Dartmoor and the way from Ashburton, through Newbridge, is just about the toughest, with three separate and sustained sections of 20-25%.
We crossed the River Dart and hit the first really steep bit, wheelie inducing in parts and greasy under the trees. It’s somewhat demoralising to then lose that height and to drop back down to recross the river at Newbridge (apparently the most ‘crashed into’ piece of road furniture in the county).
Up we continue to go. Legs (and lungs) definitely starting to feel the strain, but thankfully (although it is a shame not to complete the full climb) we take a shoot-off lane and retrace earlier wheels back across to Postbridge where finally we can turn towards the finish.
And then it started to rain. Quite a lot.
The descent off the Moor into Moretonhampstead is fast and bendy, and made somewhat treacherous by wet cattle grids. Spray from the road also made things interesting, in a, squinting-and-not-really-being-able-to-see-where-you’re-going, way. Flying past the famous Miniature Pony Centre the descent might have been a bit nervy, but it was having a positive effect on our average speed.
Soon though the downside of starting the day on a big hill became clear. All routes back to Exeter Racecourse involve a steep climb, and however picturesque the Devon village of Doddiscombsleigh is, sadly my ability to appreciate it was dampened by the impending short climb up Tick Lane in the shadow of The Belvedere Castle. It’s a tough way to finish a sportive, but in an event with such climbing and such beauty, only fitting.
Our route profile looks like this…
Strava Stats of the route available here – Moor2Sea Strava Details