CW's very own Richard Windsor tackles Cycling Weekly's hardest sportive the Dartmoor Demon
Distance: Short 35 miles, Standard 55 miles or Epic 95 miles
Major climbs: Loads. Notably Dartmeet and Widecombe
Terrain: Extremely hilly and undulating
Best bit: Well-stocked feed stations and easy course signage
Worst bit: Dartmeet climb
Even worse: Widecombe climb
If the Dartmoor Demon isn’t the hardest event in the CW sportive series, then it must come seriously close. I started to lose count of the amount of times I saw a morale-crushing sign warning me about an impending 20 per cent gradient up ahead, and that was just on the standard 55-mile course.
The only other option was to ride the 95-mile course, something that would have taken better legs and a stronger mentality than I carried with me that day. The standard course included a tough 1,677 metres of climbing, and I couldn’t even consider doing almost double that.
Nevertheless, the difficulty of the course (aside from having me face down over my handlebars most of the time) had no bearing on the brilliant aesthetics of the surroundings. If you’ve never seen or cycled Dartmoor, it’s a unique experience that is recommended especially for the ever-stretching vistas, where you can see the road laid out for miles ahead of you.
The entire day was blessed with sunshine, but strong winds are often inevitable on the moors and created some difficulty in the most exposed areas, as you fought through cross and headwinds to the next climb.
I started off with the first group of the day and was pleased to be able to ride as a group, at least for a short while, though it certainly brought a false sense of security. Things broke up quickly as the group hit the first climb at 14 miles; a long but steady effort that gave no indication of the steep ascents that were to follow.
In hindsight, it would have been better to at least look into the course before taking it on. But as I rolled out alone from the welcome relief of the Science in Sport gels and flapjacks at the first feed station around 25 miles, I had no idea that two of Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs were imminent.
Hitting Dartmeet was a shock. However, once I was over the 1km beast with a maximum gradient of 20 per cent, I was convinced the worst was over. Then came Widecombe.
Not that Widecombe is any steeper than Dartmeet, but coming so closely after it (less than 10km) was the real hammer blow.
Seeing riders sitting at the side of the road gave me little encouragement halfway up, but the sight of the next feed station at the top spurred me on. Like everyone though, the climb descended into nothing more than a slow grind.
I spoke to many other riders on the finish line who agreed this was the toughest part of the day, despite another hard climb coming towards the end.
While two punctures put a sour note on my day, a personal lack of preparation didn’t detract from the feeling that this was a well-organised and directed event.
A recovery drink from SiS and some hot food indoors at the host venue, Exeter Racecourse, was well received by all at the finish, and as the leg pain subsided, everyone could feel a sense of achievement at completing such a punishing course.
If you’re looking for your next bike-based challenge then check out the remaining events in the CW Sportive Series.