I have to admit that I’d not ridden in Exmoor before so wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I signed up for the Exmoor Beauty. The event is billed as a tamer version of the Exmoor Beast event, which is run by the same organisers, so with that in mind and the fact that it’s only 60 miles I’d got the idea into my head that it was going to be an easy spin around the lanes and back home in time for lunch; turns out I was wrong. It may be fairly short compared to many sportives but it packs in plenty of challenges along the way and with the best part of 2,000 metres of ascent according to my Garmin, it’s certainly no soft option. I’ve not ridden the Exmoor Beast but if the Beauty is a tamer version then the beast must be a real epic.
I awoke early on Sunday to see clear skies and the sun shining so things we’re looking good on the weather front although getting into the car to find frost on the windscreen was a bit of a surprise but I’ll take cold and dry any day after the miserable winter we’ve had this year.
Sign on was a straightforward affair, there were no queues by the time I got there and I was quickly handed an envelope with my rider number for the bike and a timing chip for the side of my helmet. As well as the registration desks, there were a couple of trade stands, mechanics and refreshments on hand if needed so I grabbed a coffee and headed back to the car to start getting ready whilst the first riders were already starting to head out onto the course.
There was still a nip in the air and when conditions are like that I always find it hard to decide how many layers to wear, it looked like it was going to warm up nicely later on but it was barely a few degrees above freezing waiting in the start area and there was also the possibility of rain showers forecast for later in the day. After a bit too long faffing I opted for knee warmers, arm warmers and gilet with the hope that I’d be back before any of the forecast rain showers came.
Heading to the start area I, like most others it seems, decided a pre ride toilet visit was required which I mention as my only real complaint for the day was the lack of toilet facilities at the start which meant having to queue up for some time. It seems the organisers were aware of this and I heard them apologise several times during the start briefing so I’m sure it’s something they’ll be addressing for next year.
After a quick briefing at the start riders were let out in groups of around 50 or so and by the time I started at around 9am most were already out on the course. Being based in Tiverton, outside of the Exmoor National Park, the route heads north almost immediately towards Exmoor and it seemed like the climbing started straight away with the first 5 or so miles being mainly uphill; any concerns about not wearing enough layers were short lived as I passed several riders who had stopped to take off jackets.
What goes up must come down and there was a brief chance for the legs to recover until you hit the edge of Exmoor where more climbing awaited. The nature of the course meant you seemed to be gaining height for most of the first 30 or so miles to the feed station; you’d get brief sections of downhill but the next climb was always just around the corner that by the time I reached the feed stop I’d realised the ride was going to be a bit tougher than I thought.
One thing that struck me riding round was the level of support out on the course, I can’t remember many events where I’ve seen more motorcycle support marshals and on course first aid points than the organisers had laid on for this ride. Whilst I was lucky enough not to need either it’s a nice comfort factor to know support is there if you do need it and it gives you a visible idea of where some of your entry money goes.
The feed station at Exford was well stocked with Accelerade energy drink on offer and I was offered a small plastic bag with some cake and a banana in which meant you could quickly grab some food and keep on riding if you were out to set a good time. It was also great to see plenty of toilets available given the slight shortage back at the event HQ so I took the chance for a quick comfort break and a refill of my bottles before heading back out.
After the drink station… surprise, surprise, more climbing! I heard a few riders commenting at the start that this climb was a long one and they were right. Like most of the climbs on the course it was never too steep to be a real struggle although a slight head wind didn’t make things any easier but it was nice to be out on the moors with some great views for riders who had the energy to sit up and look around once in a while.
The reward for all the climbing being early in the route meant that from this high point there would be a lot of riding down hill to the finish with almost 400 metres of elevation to lose on the way back to the Tiverton. It certainly wasn’t downhill all the way and there were still a couple of climbs to contend with but you’re losing height all the time and once you’d hit 10 miles to go any climbing was over and it’s a nice easy downhill run into the finish. My average speed must have picked up by a couple of miles per hour due to that final run in and I ended up finishing well within the 4 hour target that I’d set myself.
Back at the event centre there was a good choice of food on offer and the chance to grab a massage to soothe tired legs, unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to take advantage as I was rushing back home for a family lunch but it seems plenty of other riders did take advantage to refuel and swap tales of the ride.
All in all, a great early season event with a challenging course. The event sold out this year at 1,000 riders so it certainly seems to have rapidly grown in popularity and I can see why.
Route – With only one route option at around 60 miles it’s not the longest sportive by any means but don’t let that put you off, it’s a well thought out route and with the best part of 2,000 metres of ascent it’s certainly no a soft touch. I especially liked the final run into the finish, some of it may be on an A-road but there was little traffic and the best bit is you’re loosing height for the final 10-15 miles all the way to the finish line.
Signage – Large yellow signs, seemed to be plenty put out that there and there never seemed to be a moment where you thought you might have missed a turn. I would have liked a gpx download for the comfort of having the route on my gps but it wasn’t necessary.
Feed Stations – One feed stop at around half distance, I didn’t stop for long, just enough time to fill up my water bottle with the Accelerade energy drink on offer, use toilets and grab a quick piece of cake. After the shortage of toilets at the HQ it was great to see plenty of toilets for riders at the feed station.
Timing – Helmet based timing chip using the popular Race Timing System, simply put a timing chip on your helmet and ride through the start and finish area to record your time.
Summary – A well run event, don’t let the relatively short distance put you off, it’s a challenging route with a good mixture of riding, long steady climbs, short steep climbs and a grin inducing rolling descent back to the finish. Coming fairly early in the season it’s a great way to test your legs and build up to either the Exmoor Beast or any of the other longer events in the summer months.
If you rode this event please let us know what you thought using the comments section below.