Date: Sunday June 24
Distances: 65 / 106 miles
Entry fee: £27
Website: Dartmoor Classic
As with all successful events, a combination of the right people in the right place with the right product and a passion to make it work are what has made the Dartmoor Classic what it is today. This is a cycling event conceived, planned and organised by cyclists. Cycling runs through it like blood through a body, and that’s the X-factor that makes the Dartmoor Classic bigger than the sum of its parts.
I’ve been exposed to the geography of this event several times over the last few years while covering sections of various routes for Cycling Weekly’s ‘Ride’ feature. Ron Keegan is the driving force of Mid-Devon Cycling Club’s figurehead organising duo; he is supported by Ken Robertson, who takes care of planning and logistics.
Together, they make the experience a good one for me and the guest rider and anyone else concerned. They care, they want this to be the best sportive in the country, and it shows.
Plenty of cyclo-sportives have well-thought-out, clearly marked routes set in beautiful parts of the country; they have a great goodie bag; they might have trade stands, refreshment tents and entertainment, but some fall short because they think that’s all it takes.
It’s not. The foundation, the most crucial thing, the thing that the Dartmoor Classic has mastered, is making sure that, whatever happens on the day, the experience of taking part is as good as it can be.
They certainly had their work cut out this year. The weather was not good, not for the end of June. It was raining and windy, but just half an hour before the scheduled start at 7am, the organisers found out that a massive tree had toppled over during the night and was completely blocking the route.
The tree fell at Holne Bridge and blocked off a key section of both the 65-mile and 104-mile routes. Dartmoor Classic chairman Stewart Bergman had to decide whether to cancel or divert. Ken Robertson knows every inch of Dartmoor and he was asked if he could come up with an alternative that wouldn’t add or take away from the ride distances. He was confident he could and set off to mark out a 12-mile detour. In the meantime, all the marshals on the blocked section were contacted and redirected to new posts, while those who wanted to start at 7am were delayed by just 15 minutes.
The rides are just part of the Dartmoor Classic story. Everything really starts the day before at the registration village, which has always been at the Abbrook Park Sports and Social Club in Kingsteignton, but next year will move to a new venue, Newton Abbot Racecourse.
The village was great. There was a live band, plenty for kids to do, good coffee, tasty burgers and they even had me selling a few books, which paid for the burgers. It was great to talk to people who were taking part next day, and who would all fair better than me.
Event sponsor Specialized had a stand, as did the sportive emergency service, Steve Joughin and his friendly Pro-Vision staff. He was wisely modelling a rain jacket that was selling like hot cakes, along with overshoes. You don’t take overshoes to a summer event, do you? I mean, it was June. How bad can the weather get?
‘Terrible’ was the answer. The cold light of dawn was a stark contrast to the warmth created at Abbrook Park. Pleading unfitness, I opted for the 65-mile route and had high hopes of being able to stagger round it. Even the rain, which was heavy early on, didn’t dampen my optimism, but a puncture while riding to the start did. Oh dear. This could go badly wrong, and it did. Another puncture at around 30 miles ended my day. Luckily my long-suffering wife was close by, so drove out and extracted me from the battlefield while the more heroic fought on.
Luckily for this report, I lived in Devon for a while and I’ve ridden most of the Dartmoor Classic’s roads. So what I can say is that, if you can get in – the 3,000 places for 2013 filled up in just five days – you will be in for a treat.
Black-and-yellow direction signs, with some very useful warning ones, and an army of yellow-vested, red-flag-waving marshals will guide you around a peach of a route. Two peaches, in fact. On a half-decent day, Dartmoor is gorgeous; even on this windy, wet one, the area had an austere beauty. The lanes around Dartmoor are a little world of their own too. It’s hilly, though, and hilly in a never-ending, up-and-down sort of way that makes riding here tough, even without the big set-piece climbs thrown in.
Riders start in waves with the 104-mile hardmen and women asked to go early; the 65-milers begin later. Timing is by chip so there’s no pushing and shoving and you’ll get one of the most entertaining ride briefings from Torquay’s answer to John Bishop, the redoubtable Ron Keegan.
Both distances share the route to and from Princetown, the crossroads of the moor and home of the still impressive and quite frightening Dartmoor Prison, but there’s a long climb to get there. Dartmoor was in a wild mood; even the hardy sheep and ponies that live on top of its wide-domed summit were sheltering behind the famous tors.
Dartmoor is the largest exposed area of the Cornubian batholith, which is granite that was intruded into local rocks as lava, where it cooled and solidified, exposed much later when the local rock was eroded. There’s granite under most of the South-West but it breaks the surface only on Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor and in three smaller areas of Cornwall, plus the Land’s End Peninsula and the Isles of Scilly.
Tors, outcrops of granite, look like piles of huge boulders sticking out of the thin soil skin. They give Dartmoor a haunted look that has inspired myths like a pack of headless hounds that run loose on the moor, the Dartmoor Black Dog, and the Hairy Hands that attack travellers near Two Bridges.
Princetown was the first food stop, where the products of event sponsor SiS and bananas from Fyffes went down well.
This is where the 65-mile and the 104-mile routes split, with the longer route heading south-west, then doing a north-to-south loop around the edge of the moor before heading back to Princetown; the 65-miler heads north-east across the moor from Princetown.
Both routes do that section, and by the time the 104-milers were on it, things had dried out and the weather was getting quite bright. The moorland road from Two Bridges is mostly downhill and it leads to what I think is the best part of both routes – best not just because it’s near the finish.
Doccombe is a beautiful climb.
It twists and turns upwards out of Moretonhampstead to just over 300m, then you swoop down much wider bends into the Teign Valley, which is a real jewel. The Teign is great company to have beside you on the mostly flat final 12.5 miles. It splashes and bubbles along merrily, and if it has rained a lot, then just before Whetcombe Barton you might hear the huge Canonteign Waterfall crashing into a tributary shortly before it joins the river.
At last you are in the welcoming arms of Abbroke Park (Newton Abbot Racecourse, next year) where you’ll be given a gold silver or bronze medal depending on your time, a Dartmoor stone trophy and a great goodie bag. In 2012, you could have your picture taken on a podium with two podium girls from a local modelling agency – all about maximising the experience, they say.
Britain’s favourite sportive
What has the Dartmoor Classic got that attracted your votes and made it your favourite cyclo-sportive of 2012? I think it’s the quality of the experience on the day that swung it, but that’s a quite glib phrase that hides a lot of work, and it was work that began many years ago.
Mid-Devon is an old club, over 80 years old, and a good one. A lot of good racers, the likes of Jeremy Hunt, Yanto Barker and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, to name a few, were nurtured by Colin Lewis’s school-of-hard-knocks methods. Lewis was a Sixties Tour de France finisher, a top British-based pro during the Seventies and later a hard competitor for many years in Mid-Devon colours.
The club didn’t make its name solely by taking part in races; it has always promoted events too, and promoted with flare. The Launa Windows stage race became one of the most prestigious in the country during the Eighties. The club still puts on the South-West opener series each year, the Springtime Pursuits, and the Totness Vire Two-Day.
The events team could rest on their laurels but they haven’t. Mid-Devon started successful initiatives to get youngsters into cycling, and they saw the potential of a cyclo-sportive to help their racing members. Part of the money raised from entries goes to the club and helps them tackle projects they otherwise couldn’t.
Once they decided to organise the Dartmoor Classic, they did it with typical passion, and brought to bear all their organising experience and flare. While I’ve name-checked Regan and Robertson extensively, a lot more Mid-Devon members and associates make the Dartmoor Classic happen, and they deserve praise too.
Of all the things that go into a perfect sportive, organisational experience and ability is the crux. Passion is great, but if you don’t know what you are doing, your event will flop.
Flair is great, but what looks good needs substance too. Mid-Devon put all three into the Dartmoor Classic: a passionate determination to make the experience all it can be, flair to attract sponsors and market the event, and it’s all backed up by years of solid organisational experience and ability. Oh, and the Devon countryside helps too.
New venue for 2013
By moving the registration village from Abbrook Park to nearby Newton Abbot Racecourse, the organisers have avoided the uncertainties of proposed land development that were hanging over them. Abbrook Park is the venue for Mid-Devon’s kids’ section, Abbrook Aces, but the site manager Steve Sanders tells us: “With the number of participants and supporters increasing year on year, the move is in the best interest of the event’s future.”
Less than two miles from the original start, the racecourse is an unrivalled venue in the area, and future participants and visitors to the event will benefit from its permanent facilities. Inevitably, because the routes leading to and from the racecourse are more urban than those surrounding Abbrook Park, there are some traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to be negotiated.
Despite the move, most of the Dartmoor Classic’s established route will be maintained. “With the slight shift south, there would need to be a tweak or two if we are to maintain similar distances of the past few years,” Ken Robertson says. The 2013 event will be run again in association with Specialized, and full details can be seen at www.dartmoorclassic.co.uk.