The Kinesis Hell of the West - 80(+) kms of the finest riding Dartmoor has to offer. Initially billed as a cyclocross sportive, the varied nature of the course meant that it was a toss up as to what would be faster: cross or mountain bike? The start line featured a massive array of bike types, from race ready cross bikes, to full-suspension mtbs and I even spotted a handful of fixie riders (absolute nutters). As I’d brought my Kinesis KM810 along, I was hoping for plenty of rough stuff to make my big tyres count. Turns out, I wouldn’t be disappointed.
After a short neutralised section, the hammer was put down by fellow Kinesis-Morvelo rider Bruce Dalton who strung the field out along the first gravel section. Then we hit a 20% tarmac climb, our initial momentum barely taking us up the lower slopes. Hang on! We have another 80km of this?!
Over the top, I was joined by Steve Ferguson and together we bombed the first off-road descent. I may have been having too much fun bunny hopping off drainage channels and loving my mtb in general though, as we somehow managed to blow past a crucial turn.
10mins later, amid much umming and arring, having just climbed up what is probably the steepest, loosest climb in the area, we realised our mistake and back tracked to the turn. Being 15-20mins down barely 5km into the race wasn’t how I’d imagined the race panning out, but the thought of 80km of moorland trails with plenty of riders to catch spurred me on. It was game on for sure!
The next couple of hours passed by in a blur as I got down to the business of clawing my way back to the front. And then there was the wind. Boy, it sure was windy up on the moor and there was no one to hide behind either as I was solo. The tarmac stretch into Princetown was particularly demoralising until I got close enough to sense the malt loaf on offer at the feed stop.
Dartmoor was wild and windy on the day
Steve had somehow managed to get off course again, and we hooked up for the rail trail section out of Princetown though he did end up being on the front most of the time. Hell, I wasn’t going to complain!
There followed a gruesome climb back up onto the moor top. I was rideable...but only just. I was struggling for traction among the baby head sized loose rock and more than a little thankful that I’d brought my mtb along.
The main climb on the back side of the course had the crossers off and pushing
Yep, it was rough in places
Back into Princetown and onto the home stretch (or so I thought. I ended up covering 97km) I now had the bit between my teeth. Sparse time checks from marshalls kept me motivated and pushing hard. 5mins...3mins...8th....5th
I finally caught up to Jay Horton at which point I asked the fateful question: “anyone ahead of you?”
I had thought I’d come across teammate Bruce Dalton at some point, but it turned out he’d punctured right back at the start on the first off-road descent. With only clear air in front of me, I took off hoping to use the vicious climbs up Widecombe to increase my advantage.
A long road section kept the kms ticking along nicely on my computer, this time aided by the massive tailwind, and then we dropped down on some lovely contouring singletrack before the final few rollers back into Parke Estate.
But the excitement didn’t end there, oh no. There was a fateful intersection in the trail, barely 400m from the unsighted finish line, with a sign which had obviously been blown around.
I went right for about 1 minute...hmmm, this doesn’t seem right
I went left and encountered some steep steps and a couple of walkers. Have you seen any cyclists come this way? No.
Back at the intersection again, and who do I see coming from the right (wrong) fork. Jay Horton. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. After nearly five hours it had come down to this.
Like two duelling cowboys, we looked at each other wondering who was going to make the first move. I bolted up the correct path this time, and gave it everything I had on the last rise, hoping I wouldn’t see a wheel come round. Thankfully, I didn’t and was able to come into the finish first, still reeling at what had just happened. Excitement to the last...
It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off after that and the satisfaction to kick in. I’d just won a lovely pro6 frame and wheelset, I had a bottle of Dartmoor Brewerie’s finest in my back pocket (I still had to drive back after all) and most of all, I had just spend 5hrs riding hard over some incredible terrain. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday. I’ll be back next year you can be sure of that.
Grinning like a Cheshire cat
For 5 years, racing was my life and I went all the way from a newbie bonking after 40 miles, to a full-timer plying my trade on the Belgian kermesse scene. Unfortunately, the pro dream wasn't meant to be and these days, you're more likely to find me bimbling about country lanes and sleeping in a bush on the side of the road.