Cyclo-Sportive: North Cornwall Tor

The sun shone on cyclists in North Cornwall on what is rumoured to be the hardest sportive in the UK. With challenging climbs smattered with idyllic Cornish villages, this ride put everyone to the test

Although out on a bit of a geographical limb, the raw terrain available in North Cornwall lends itself well for a challenging cyclosportive. The North Cornwall Tor Cyclospotive, run by Kilo To Go, puts riders through their paces over three distances with a profile that looks like it has been cut out with pinking shears.

Held in the middle of April, cyclists avoid the summer holiday traffic and accommodation squeeze, yet take advantage of one of the driest months in the region.

With wall-to-wall sunshine glistening off the Atlantic Ocean with temperatures into the twenties, this year’s ride had the recipe to be spectacular. Magical scenery took riders over the Bodmin Moor and the cliff tops of the Atlantic coastline.

With over 800 people registered for what organisers openly acknowledge is a tough ride – a very tough ride they go as far as saying – possibly even too tough for many, it was going to be a big day.

As with all their other events Kilo To Go’s style is to not falsify the Tor’s difficulty; they don’t have to. Instead they simply say it how it is – that the Tor is an extreme event, the ultimate cycling challenge and thoroughly hilly ride. There are some landmark stinker climbs such as Millook (one-in-three) and Bishops Wood (one-in-3.5) that are feared by all, and many walk up them.

What’s even more interesting is the feedback the organisers get from the riders. Seasoned Etape and Marmotte riders say that this ride is simply the toughest. With only 10,000 feet of climbing how can this be?

Well, most of the ascents are short and very steep. So you end up doing a lot of hard climbing rather than gently gaining height. Cyclists feel like they are nearly always climbing or descending with very little flat relief. This is true right up to the last mile back into Cornwall’s only doomsday town of Bodmin.

Back at Bodmin’s Dragon Centre headquarters, riders recovered over pasta and rice dishes served up in the bistro. Smatterings of conversations could be heard of just how tough the ride was and the last 15 miles climbing back into Bodmin took the biscuit. One lady went as far as saying it was tougher than childbirth!

north cornwall tor cyclo sportive, 2009, british sportive

The Organiser
The whole organising team was thoroughly pleased. The overriding thing is safety and enjoyment; we seem to have got top marks for both. Nearly 800 riders took part; we are looking to attract more than 1,000 places. Our challenge is to persuade rides to make the trip down to beautiful Cornwall for arguably the toughest cyclosportive in the most picturesque terrain.

Sportive Sound Bites

Stuart Archer
It’s the most scenic ride I’ve ever done but it’s kind of brutal. You keep dropping down into these little fishing villages set in idyllic bays. It was a great ride but you definitely want your climbing shoes on. It would be good to go down there in the summer and kick around for a few days and go surfing and eating icecreams from all the shops we passed. 

Alison Coates
I loved the day and the ride was great. The weather was amazing, friendly groups and more hills than I thought were ever possible. I loved the Jaffa Cakes at the feed stations. I inhaled about a dozen of the things.

I part cycled and part walked the climb after the first feed station at Tintagel after a slow-speed wobbly as I got up out my seat and nearly landed up in the bushes. On the big 28 per cent climb I decided walking was best after just three rotations of my pedals as I realised I was going nowhere.

On one of the hills I decided I’d taken it was too slowly to start so I strategically went back down, got a running start and began the climb again. Riding at the back of the group you tend to spend most of the day on your own so there are very seldom any witnesses to novice hill techniques like this.

Karen Triegaardt
Beautiful scenery and challenging hills, I walked on two of them, but that was before halfway and I think I got stronger and more confident as I didn’t have to walk anything after that.
I thought they managed to clear the village streets pretty well considering they’re tiny and hardly hold a car, let alone a car and a bicycle. Yummy goodies at feed stations, lovely sunshine and good company – what more could we want?

Caelim Parkes
I found the weather, a few of the villages and friendly people at the feed stations excellent. The rest of the ride was dismal. The ascents out of the coastal villages practically started from a standing start. Bucket and spaders wandering through the coastal villages were more worried about their icecreams than the riders. I did make it up the 33 per cent hill yet walked the rest.

 north cornwall tor cyclo sportive, 2009, british sportive

My cyclo-sportive – Jo Perriam
It was an exhausting but challenging day in the sunshine. I had a great day but hit a real low point in the middle of the 100 miles.

I can’t remember the places I went through even though I was trying desperately to as some were so picturesque. The best bit was cycling through Bodmin Moor for the first 60 kilometres. It was an amazing road with wide-open expanses and a great yellow gorge to keep my mind entertained.

Then the route hit the coast and the spectacular scenery unfolded. The only problem was the sheer amount of descents and ascents. By the second tough hill, I was starting to feel the burn in my legs. Unfortunately they just went on and on and on.

By the final 20 miles back through woodlands and valleys, I was praying for the ride to end. Every hill was a plea in my head – please let this be the last one. But the organisers were brutal and kept the roller coaster course constant until the end. However to be fair, by this stage my legs were jelly and every little undulation seemed like a hill at that point.

I went with a group of friends and there was a mixture of responses to the saw-tooth profile; some loved it and others hated it, so much so they didn’t stay to chat after and just left. The boys in our group were a little disappointed that they didn’t receive a medal for their efforts as this ride warrants something to show to brag.

It was a great event though and I would highly recommend it. It will challenge you to the extremes, unlike any of the other sportives I have ridden. The food stations were brilliant with lots of snacks and friendly volunteers. Who couldn’t have a fun day when the sun shines like that?

For more information go to Kilo To Go’s official website

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