Monday, 22 September 2014

Tour of Devon and some chance encounters

As we usually do, my mate Simon and I planned on cycling out to go and watch the Tour of Britain's Devon stage, which this year was on the 11th of September 2014.

I cycled into Plymouth at first, and in Yealmpton I bumped into Denis, who like me also cycle commutes. This was an unplanned meeting, and Denis normally rides in along the A379, while I take the back lanes. On this occasion he decided to ride with me. Not long after, we bumped into Felix, a member of the Yealm Rouleurs and fellow cycle commuter.
Again it was an unplanned meeting, the three of us rode together into Plymouth, where Denis and Felix split off to go to work, while I went to have a coffee.

After my coffee, I set off for the Plym Valley cycle path, riding along Embankment Road, when I bumped into Roger, another Yealm Rouleur and cycle commuter. Yet again this was an unplanned meeting.

Following this series of chance encounters, I cycled up the ever-gorgeous Plym Valley. Before long I was through the tunnel and had to exit the path onto the road where they were building the new ramp to Clearbrook. I headed up the steep and nasty little hill and soon was in Yelverton, where I met Simon.

Simon was quite unwell, and didn't feel capable of cycling, so we agreed he'd drive and find a good spectating spot, while I'll cycle out. We were planning on a quiet spot, away from the crowds this year.

It wasn't long before I was riding through Dousland, where to my surprise I saw even more Yealm Rouleurs waiting at the junction coming from Burrator. We said our hellos and I rode on. Shortly after, I had a very close overtake from a farmer driving a tractor and trailer. Clearly my attempts to communicate with him in finger language worked, as he turned off the road soon after, got out of his tractor and was waiting for me by the side of the road.

As I came within shouting distance he began to swear, shout and rant. I cycled right up to him and calmly pointed out why he was entirely in the wrong and I was rather surprised when he suddenly changed his attitude and apologised! Mind you, that may have had a lot to do with the fact that a whole bunch of cyclists came riding up the road, including the Yealm Rouleurs, who asked me if I was OK.

I cycled on at a reasonable pace from there, over the cattle grid and past Sharpitor. Soon I was descending into Devil's Elbow, before starting the climb into Princetown. I said goodbye to the Yealm Rouleurs here, as they were heading to Merrivale, while I was heading towards Two Bridges.

I do love Dartmoor and it was with a smile that I cycled past Two Bridges. About five miles later I found Simon, who'd found an excellent spot, and even parking for his car nearby. One of our requirements for an "ideal" spot was decent mobile data coverage, and the spot he found us did indeed have that. This meant we were able to follow the race live on his phone, and also on my phone, once ITV 4 started broadcasting it live.

While several cyclists rode past in either direction, only a single other cyclist stopped and shared our spot. We had a great view of the riders coming over the brow of the hill, down into the dip, then uphill to where we were.

It wasn't all that long before first the police outriders started coming past on their motorcycles, then some team cars started coming through and then suddenly we could see the TV helicopter, followed by the riders coming over the hill.

Though we picked an uphill, so they would be slower, they still barrelled past much faster than what I'd be able to do, and in just a few minutes even the broom wagon had gone by.

The only unusual thing that happened what a police motorbike was dragging a stick along (the rider seemed blissfully unaware of this!) and the stick just tapped my foot as the rider came roaring by.

The upside of a spot like what we had is that you don't get trampled by other spectators, and nobody pushes in front of you. The downside of course is that there are no sponsor tents, freebies being given away, etc. Even so, it was great, though as anybody who ever watched a race like this would tell you, it's over in a few minutes for most spectators.

Simon hopped in his car, while I cycled off towards Dartmeet. Dartmeet is where the West Dart and the East Dart meet and simply become the River Dart, which gave Dartmoor it's name, of course.

It is a beautiful part of the world, but the climb up from Dartmeet is a bit steep! For significant sections I struggled to keep the front wheel on the tar as I cycled up the hill. I headed off to Ashburton, and from there to Buckfastleigh. As I still had time, I decided to head off to Totnes.

I've never cycled to Totnes before, and I didn't know the road from Buckfastleigh, but it wasn't a bad road to cycle. Close to Dartington I veered off on NCN 2, which is a traffic-free shared path. I'm in two minds about that path: yes, it's gorgeous in parts, and it's always nice to get away from traffic, but it doesn't have a good surface between Dartington and Totnes. Far worse than that, there's a cycle bridge that's closed for repairs, with No Cycling! signs further along.

Imagine driving along a road, then encountering "Road closed" signs, with no legal way through, a *massive* detour that isn't signposted, but with the option of driving a very short stint on a perfectly good road despite signs saying you're not allowed to drive there. What would most drivers do?

Of course, drivers would never encounter such stupidity as it seems exclusively reserved for cyclists. In particular, South Hams District Council seems to be very anti-cycling, treating cycling at best as a slow, leisure activity. Needless to say, I pretended that I'd failed to notice any "No cycling" signs and simply rode on! Various other cyclists I encountered appeared to also have missed the signs.

I had a late lunch by the river side in Totnes, and as the tide was out I could see a few bikes stuck down in the mud. Apparently that's how some people there dispose of their bikes!

I set off for Avonwick along a busy A road that I know well from having driven it many times, but I certainly wasn't looking forward to cycling it. As expected, I got a lot of close overtakes. Thankfully I was on that road for just over 5 miles before turning off at Avonwick, heading towards Ermington.

This is a nice road to cycle, scenic, plenty of hills to make it interesting though none severe enough to make it feel like punishment. Before long I skirted the edge of Ermington, then did a short stint on the A379, before turning left towards Holbeton. The bit on the A379 is uphill, and while I generally like hills, I've never liked this one. This is odd, because it isn't very steep, it isn't very long, and (for the A379) it isn't very narrow.

Once I turned left, I was basically on the home run, and soon enough I was home, having cycled almost exactly 75 miles for the day.

It was a good day out, spent cycling through gorgeous parts of the world. And I can't really ask for more than that, now can I?