|Exeter Cathedral (© Charles Miller CC2.0)|
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So which one's the Queen Stage this year? Yesterday's 184km trek through the Welsh mountains from one ancient castle to another, or today's 180km among some of the most challenging terrain in England from a Roman city to an age-old port? Whichever way you decide, you'll have to agree it's a close-run thing - both stages have everything necessary for a great cycle race: testing climbs, deadly descents and killer corners for a challenging parcours along with plenty to look at along the way. One thing's for certain - Britain might not have natural beauty on the scale that France, Spain and Italy have, but there's plenty of it in smaller portions and this race is undoubtedly among the greatest after the Grand Tours.
One fact about Stage 5 that's well worth knowing if you happen to live in the area - although the race itself loops far up into the Devon countryside to complete its full 180km, the start and finish lines in Exeter and Exmouth are only about 18.5km apart - that's 11.5 miles, a distance easily covered on a bike. Why not watch the start and then show your support for the riders and your appreciation of the bicycle itself by showing up at the finish line to welcome the winner with your own trusty steed by your side?
|Like any successful city, Exeter recognises the need to|
embrace the modern and that contemporary architecture
can be as beautiful as the ancient. The newly-built Court
complex is as fine a structure as the cathedral.
(© Derek Harper CC2.0)
As we all know, the secret to Roman success was to make use and develop what they found in the lands they conquered, combining it with their own contributions to ensure local support and avoid having to start afresh as would be the case had they have ransacked and pillaged - this was very much the case here. More than a thousand Roman coins and an extensive baths complex have been discovered in the city and traces of the Roman walls remain, showing that they strengthened the trading routes and nurtured the old Celtic town into what would have been one of the most modern cities in Europe at the time. However, as tended to be the case throughout the country, Exeter entered a long period of decline during the Dark Ages when the nation became subject to rival kings and split into several warring states. There is no documentary mention of the city at all from the Romans' departure in the 5th Century right up until 680, a period of more that 250 years; however, the city didn't completely fall apart: the 680 documents records that St. Boniface - patron saint of Germany and the Netherlands and, according to some traditions, the inventor of the Christmas tree - was educated at an abbey in Exeter (in fact, he was born just 13km away at Crediton, site of a Catholic church that preserves a shrine to him.
If you like cathedrals - and whatever your opinions on Christianity and religion in general, you've got to admit that they're spectacular objects - the assembly point at the beginning of the neutral zone is going to be among your favourite spots anywhere along the 2011 parcours, because it's right in Cathedral Yard as depicted in our photograph of the church at the start of this guide (50°43'21.70"N 3°31'54.38"W). From here, the riders move out onto South Street, following it north for the short distance to a tight left turn onto the High Street - in fact, it's so tight with the widened footpath along the left side of the road that we may even see an early crash and pile-up here. The High Street becomes Fore Street which becomes New Bridge Street and joins the gyratory system based on the two wide bridges - the roadbook doesn't mention if both routes will be open, but the route to the right - against normal traffic flow - is considerably shorter. The road passes under the railway - not over, as Google Maps shows - and becomes Cowick Street, then changes again to Dunsford Road past the yellow box junction. The route turns right onto Tedburn Road at the bottom of Pocombe Hill, shortly before the A30 bridge and reaches the end of the neutral zone- where racing begins - by the nursery, 4.9km after setting off from the cathedral (50°43'14.47"N 3°34'48.44"W).
|Tedburn St. Mary|
(© Derek Harper CC2.0)
Half a kilometre later, the peloton arrives at the first of a series of three roundabouts in 3.7km, taking the second exit at the first two and the third at the third. Note that the roadbook instructs riders to take the second exit at all three - however, this will lead onto the A30; whereas the third exit on the final roundabout leads into Cheriton Bishop and the start of the stage's first sprint beginning at the Mulberry Inn Pub (50°43'25.00"N 3°44'19.08"W).
|House at Crockernwell (© TubeStudio CC3.0)|
|Almshouses, Moretonhampstead. Don't be fooled by the|
stone carved with the date 1637 - dates on buildings often
refer to a momentous happening in the lives of past owners
or, as is the case here, to the date of a restoration or
refurbishment. In fact, research has revealed the Alms-
houses to be at least two centuries older.
(© Penny Maes CC2.0)
The A382 continues through the town, but there's a tricky section in the middle where a tight left leads to a crossroads 25m ahead at The Square, followed by a narrow passage - the several bus-stops nearby increasing the probability of spilled diesel on the road, making the initial corner even more potentially hazardous. In the rain, this section could be treacherous. Note the old tollhouse on the left just beyond the village where travelers would once have had to stop and pay to use the road - a method of funding road maintenance largely replaced in Britain by road tax except for a few sections such as bridges and tunnels operated by private concerns. The following 9.3km pass by wooded slopes, fine homes and some very, very beautiful countryside.
|Sts. Peter, Paul and Thomas of Canterbury in|
Bovey Tracey, built by the family of one of
men responsible for the latter saint's death
(© Derek Harper CC2.0)
Those following the race on television won't see much of Bovey Tracey unfortunately, because the route takes the third exit at the roundabout on the western perimeter and heads off on the B3387 in the opposite direction and immediately begins the first of the stages climbs; Category 1 Haytor Rocks. The riders take the left path at a junction 0.59km after the roundabout and cross a cattle grid 2.6km later - note that since it lies under overhanging trees, the rungs may host algae and other slimy stuff, meaning that they'll be even more dangerous than most. Riders would be wise to stick if at all possible to the sections kept clear by car tyres and avoid the edges or middle. The highest point is 2.85km along straight roads with few bends, through Haytor village and bt a carpark l(50°34'37.84"N 3°45'12.92"W). Hay Tor itself, one of the many granite outcrops left exposed after surrounding softer rock eroded that characterise the area, can be seen rising up to the right of the road.
|Hay Tor (© Smalljim CC3.0)|
The drinks station is 1.9km after the top of the climb, coming 165m before a cattle grid - which, in our opinion, is a mad place to put it. Drink and feed stations are notorious blackspots for crashes in cycle racing as riders scoot back and forth from their team mates to the team officials, carrying large numbers of bidons on the way back. Each team has its own preference to whereabouts in the zone its particular station will be, but all the same placing it so close to such a hazardous feature as a cattle grid seems as inadvisable as it is easily avoidable to us.
1.1km after the cattle grid, just around a left bend, the road enters a very steep descent with a gradient of 20%, dropping 70m in 0.5km - those with the bravery to do so will get up to very high speeds here, so keep your eyes on Thor Hushovd of Garmin-Cervelo who hit incredible speeds on the descent into Lourdes during this year's Tour de France, enabling him to win the stage. Those who are not so comfortable on steep descents will be extremely cautious here.
|St. Pancras, Widecombe - a woodcut depicting|
the Great Thunderstorm of 1638
After passing straight through the oncoming crossroads and junction while climbing, the route enters another very steep descent at the 56.1km point. The steepest part comes at a crossroads shortly after a left-handed bend by farm buildings (50°33'19.24"N 3°49'47.15"W), dropping 50m in 0.68km to Ponsworthy. As if that wasn't enough of a hazard, there's a very narrow bridge (this is the reason the village has remained so unspoiled - tourist coaches can't get to it) at the lowest point just as the race enters the tiny hamlet and the Ponsworthy Splash, a ford - there's a narrow, dry footway which one or two riders may be able to take, but the majority are going to get wet.
|The Coffin Stone (CC from Geolocation)|
|Fox Tor (© Herby CC1.2&others)|
|The ancient clapper bridge, Postbridge|
The first part of the road ahead is straight, but a couple of tricky bends lie 3.46km away by a carpark. The first, a wide right, wouldn't normally be hazardous were it not at the end of a fast descent and in an area where there's a fairly high possibility of the sheep, cows and Dartmoor ponies which roam semi-wild about the moors leaving slippery little presents on the tarmac - there's another cattle grid at 82km, too. The second,a left, is 0.27km further on; the same potential hazards being compounded by the much tighter turn. There are two more 1.58km ahead; the first being a tight left and the second a tight 90 degree right 0.27km later, just before the road passes the Miniature Pony Centre, another attraction worth knowing about if you need to bribe children into behaving themselves while you watch the race.
|Dartmoor, covering 954 square kilometres, has been a|
National Park since 1951
Moretonhampstead makes its second appearance as the race reaches 87.5km with the peloton taking the second exit at the roundabout to ride onto Court Street, staying on the left of the road to line themselves up for New Street and a left turn at the oncoming T-junction onto the A382 which they'll follow over two crossroads to the feed station at 96.9km - the same route as earlier, but ridden in the other direction. It begins at a sign for a campsite (50°42'20.18"N 3°51'8.80"W and ends at the 30mph zone signs just beyond Whiddon Down.
The roadbook instructs us to take the second exit on the roundabout onto the A3124. Problem - the A3124 is rather a long way from here. Thus, going on the supplied left/right directions, we think they mean the A382. It then tells us to turn left 0.4km later onto the A3219. Problem 2 - the A3219, also known as Dawes Road, is some distance away in Hammersmith, West London. The B3219, meanwhile, is in the right spot. This leads over the A30 and north to a crossroads 8.8km away just south of North Tawton, where a right turn carries the peloton onto the A3072 - the book gets that one right. It's long, straight and - in comparison with the beautiful moorland roads earlier on in the stage - rather boring for the 5.4km section into Bow. As it happens, the distance is roughly the same as that between the A3219 and Bow Street in London - we wonder if that's where the mix-up began?
The road passes straight through with the peloton staying left at the junction near the end of the village to remain in the same road and arrive at Copplestone 5.3km later, site of the 3.2m tall intricately carved menhir known as the Copplestone Cross, first mentioned in 974 but evidently much older. It looks rather incongruous and dejected, standing on a junction in the middle of the town.
The race continues straight ahead at traffic lights, crossing the railway bridge as the road becoming the A377. There's a potentially dangerous left bend under overhanging trees 2.6km after the bridge, the the remainder of the section past Barnstaple Cross into Crediton - birthplace of St. Boniface, remember? - 124.3km from the start. The unusually late second sprint starts 0.7km later on Western Road, just outside Queen Elizabeth's school. We hope that the inmates will be allowed out to watch the race, because we'd have been too annoyed for words had a major bike race passed by our schools and we hadn't been permitted to watch. Once over, straight ahead leads onto the High Street and Union Road, then the peloton turn right onto East Street just past the Church of the Holy Cross and the Mother of Him who Hung Thereon, site of St. Boniface's shrine and commonly known as Crediton Parish Church for obvious reasons.
|Traditional Devon cob houses, Silverton (© Penny Maes, CC2.0)|
Arriving at a roundabout, the riders take the second exit onto School Road then repeat 0.3km later to join Park Road. This leads to a crossroads 0.8km later where they go straight through, keeping right to arrive at Ellerhayes, following the road to a T-junction 146.1km from the start, just over a bridge crossing the M5 motorway. A right turn leads into Broadclyst 2.3km later. Just south of Broadclyst and contiguous with it is one our very favourite British place-names, Dog Village. At a junction 1.2km ahead, the riders turn left onto Station Road, staying right past Broadclyst Station until they arrive at a T-junction and a left turn towards Rockbeare. The final sprint begins 2.3km at Cranbrooke Veterinary Surgery.
To the south of Whimple - not in the town, as the roadbook appears to suggest - the road reaches a roundabout. The peloton take the second exit to pass under the A30, arriving immediately at a second roundabout where they once again take the second exit, leading them out onto the B3180. They pass straight through the crossroads 2.6km ahead. After 164.7km, the arrive at a junction with the A3052 where they need to turn left and then right 40m later to get back onto the B3180. Having passed along the fantastically named Outer Ting Tong road, the race travels through a tight right/left Z-bend and to a junction with the B3178. They turn right here onto Salterton Road and head into Exmouth, continuing straight through several traffic lights before reaching a roundabout 179.6km from the start and taking the second exit onto Carlton Hill.
|The Clock Tower, Exmouth, built to commemorate Queen|
Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897
While their is evidence of trade with overseas taking place in Exmouth during pre-Norman Conquest times, including a number of Byzantine coins found on the beach in the 1970s, Exmouth didn't develop into a town until the 13th Century; progression having been held up by the shallow waters at the edges of the estuary and the economic power of Exeter. The modern town came into being during the late 18th Century, when sea-bathing became a fashion among the rich and trendy; making it the oldest seaside resort on Devon. The modern docks were built in the 19th Century and parts of the estuary dredged so that larger vessels could come into port. It was connected to the railways in 1861, facilitating the beginnings of mass tourism and a golden age during which it became increasingly wealthy - many of the grand buildings date from this time.
Predictions: It's almost certainly a stage for a climber, though none of the climbs today compare with the high mountain passes of the Tour de France so it could also go to a strong all-rounder. However, those two steep descents will permit any rider with the confidence to ride them fast to build up a good time advantage - which is why we favour Thor Hushovd on this one.
Weather: Not looking too bad, though it's not going to be particularly warm with lows of around 13C and highs up to 17C. It can get colder on Dartmoor, so spectators planning to watch the race there should take extra clothing. The wind, blowing from the east, will be very light throughout the race - though once again, things can change quickly on Dartmoor. No rain is predicted anywhere, nor are giant thunderstorms with ball lightning either produced by the Devil or otherwise.
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