The Mendips Classic is a hill-climbing enthusiasts dream. A specially designed route around this Area Of Natural Beauty, taking in many challenging climbs, including the iconic ascent of Cheddar Gorge, which featured in the 2018 Tour Of Britain.
The event is a cycling sportive organised by UK Cycling Events (UKCE), held on Sunday, July 11th. Entrants have a choice of 4 different courses that vary in difficulty.
I did the longer version of the race. An anti-clockwise loop that tackles the biggest leg-shredding climbs, and boldest white-knuckle descents in this area. The course starts and ends at Strode College, in the town famous for the Glastonbury festival.
On that note, Glastonbury doesn’t have a train station. The nearest train station is Castle Cary, 20km away from the start point. So if you plan to arrive by train on the day, you will have to factor in the extra distance. The organisers are offering free parking for those of you who wish to get there by car.
For my reccie, the temperature was an English scorcher, 24C. Only 2 x 800ml water bottles left me short of hydration. However, this isn’t something that you need to worry about, as the event will have feed stops and aid stations along the route.
The sportive begins with a 16km drag towards the City of Wells. An easy-going spin on smooth-surfaced single track roads. Other than one wheel mangler of a pothole (which the race day stewards will highlight if it hasn’t been filled in), the road surface is in great nick. You will not have much to pay attention to in that regard.
If you are anything like me, you will be nervous in anticipation of the amount of climbing ahead. But if the weather is anything like it was on my lap, it will be worth taking in the magical feeling of cycling past Glastonbury Tor, as it towers above the surrounding yellow fields.
Take these sights in at the start. By the time you are heading in the opposite direction, you might be entirely focused on getting yourself to the finish line to collect your finishers medal.
When you arrive in Wells, the course gets punctuated with the 1st hill of the day. A left turn heading up Wookie Hole Road 😏 serves as an amuse-bouche of what lies ahead. A sharp rise in altitude will have you dropping into the inner ring.
Shortly after this mini-ramp, the first real climb of the course is waiting for you – a long drag up Old Bristol Road.
Strava segment for part 1 of Old Bristol Road – The Mendips Classic – A pre-race reccy
Strava segment for Part 2 of Old Bristol Road – The Mendips Classic – A pre-race reccy
The climb has a deceptive false top. It starts to descend a little, but in truth, it is only about halfway (the easy half). The second part of the climb heads straight up through the trees. Your eyes will be scanning the road ahead to see what kind of fate you will suffer. The road bends left, and those trees obscure your view of the summit, making it seem never-ending.
I would advise you not empty the tank on this climb. It is a long day, and there is still lots of climbing ahead.
Once you reach the top, the next 10km is mostly downhill, dropping a total of 220 meters – it will be a pleasing section of road to recover on.
The route is signposted and will be directing you towards West Harptree. Before you get there, you will take a sharp right-hander that signifies the start of the next climb.
It is sizeably shorter than the last one, but it makes up for length with intensity. The gradient can get up to as much as a lung-busting 19% in places. This climb is fierce and will have you in your lowest gear once again.
Strava segment for Coley Hill – The Mendips Classic – A pre-race reccy
I enjoyed this one. The roadside trees have grown up and over the road, joining together overhead to make a natural tunnel. The canopy of branches blocks out a lot of light and felt noticeably cooler.
The route continues to head northward to Chew Magna. Most cyclists I know are also coffee lovers, and if it was a more leisurely type of day, I am sure you would be tempted to stop for a caffeine fix in some of the cafes here. Instead of a nice cuppa and a cake, you will be handed a short stinging hill before you reach the halfway marker on this beast of a course.
Strava Segment for Chew Hill – The Mendips Classic – A pre-race reccy
The course then turns to head south for the first time, taking you past Chew Valley Lake. Although the road is slightly downhill, you will feel somewhat exposed to any type of headwind on the day, making this section feel more demanding than it ought to.
Your legs will begin to be feeling heavy, which is bad news when the next climb on the menu is non-other than Harptree Hill. Another brutal test in the shape of 3.5kms of uphill pedalling, adding 171m to your total climbing for the day.
Strava segment for Harptree Hill – The Mendips Classic – A pre-race reccy
It starts to ramp up quickly as the road warps in front of you, twisting and turning through the trees. The gradient eases off, and the top part of this climb will be a good measure of how you are feeling. If you can lower the gear and blast over the top, it bodes well for a strong finish.
Carrying on to a T-junction where you will make a sharp right-hander. There is a pub opposite, usually full of locals enjoying the sunshine at this time of year. It will test your focus and determination to push on. Your reward will be seeing the 50km to go marker on the right side of the road. After that last incline, it will be a healthy motivator.
The following 10km stretch of road is moderately calm with only a few minor lumps.
If the sky is clear, you will be treated to a magnificent view of the sea and surrounding off-shore nature reserve islands of Weston Super-Mare. It really will be a sight to drink in and will make you momentarily forget how tired your legs are.
The road then begins to dive downward and will be marked with a -15% gradient sign. The daredevils amongst you will be encouraged to rev up those legs and bomb it down here, but I would advise caution because, before long, there is an awkward left-hander with some loose gravel on the surface. It could be dangerous if you are caught out of position.
However, you will get your descending fix soon. After turning left up another minor climb, there is a 2km long descent through the woods. The road averages at -6% and is not very technical at all.
If you have the guts, you can hammer it all the way down without much need for your breaks.
Next up is the finale – the jewel in the crown of this event – a memorable climb up the iconic Cheddar Gorge. The pro peloton made their way up this breathtaking road in 2018. It is legendary among locals who make a regular feature of their weekend rides.
After passing through the quaint village of Cheddar, you will begin to see the top of the Gorge ahead of you. A local beauty spot, this pavementless road is often packed with tourists. Countless pedestrians crowd the gullies and will give it the feel of a pro-race on the day.
You will be unable to stop yourself from craning your neck to look up and take it all in. It is a bittersweet climb. The rocks are a mesmerizing dreamland, but the burn in your thighs will keep your mind from floating too far away. Your heart will be racing as the road ramps up to some seriously challenging 20% gradients.
It snakes its way up the valley and is covered with fallen rocks (don’t be surprised if you see rock-climbers scaling the surrounding cliffs). Most of the challenge is in the first half before mellowing.
Before you know it, the rocks will be left behind and replaced once more by rolling countryside. Goats regularly roam this area, so you might see a family feeding on the roadside grass.
Strava segment for Cheddar Gorge – The Mendips Classic – A pre-race reccy
Congratulations!!! All the big climbs are over, but you are still 30km from the end. The course threatens to go up once again when turning right and heading eastwards towards Priddy, but after what appears to be another intimidating climb, it peters out and serves as nothing more than a slight incline.
The course starts to head back towards Glastonbury. However, the fun of the Mendips isn’t over. One final farewell in the form of a speedy descent. 240 meters of hair-raising high-speed downhill over 3.2km from New Road into the village of Draycote.
The gradient is as steep as -27% in parts, so your brakes will have to be working well. The single-track road gets narrow as it cuts through the trees. As it was my first time down this way, I was being cautious.
The last 20kms see you returning to the flatlands that you experienced at the beginning of the day. There is nothing more of note other than a few inclines that by now will feel a lot harder than they did when your legs were fresh.
The remainder of my ride, I crawling home tired and into a headwind, but very happy to have experienced this brilliant course.
You can find out more about The Mendips Classic Sportive, or view other events by UK Cycling Events. To read more cycling and adventure content, head over to www.kiramusu.com. Let me know in the comments below if you have any additional info that could help out on the day.
By submitting your information, you will be subscribing the UK Cycling Events Newsletter. The Newsletter will be sent to you via email.