2014 Etape Eryri Mawr – Sunday 15th June – 104 miles / 8600ft climbing

etape-eryri-mawr

Following on from Dan’s article about the Velodrome, those who partook in this exhausting spin only to be cycling 160km miles on the Etape Eryri were, at the start, beginning to wonder if that was such a good idea, well at least I did with 2000+m of climb stretched ahead of us. We were in for the Etap Eryri Mawr.

A gang of the VC Melyd crew, namely Alan, Sarah, John, Alex, Sally, Anthony and Darren waring and myself met near the event start to pick up our packs from Rob whom had kindly picked then all up for us the day before.

There is always a sense of nervous anticipation when starting these events, for me at least, also for me this being the first time of doing it. It was good to be with friends from the club and it felt good to be wearing the club colours at last, a big thanks to Sarah for lending Sally and myself the tops.

The atmosphere at the start was great, music pumping, along with the adrenalin. Richard was there with the cash converters crew too, getting in some training for his big event and we also met Mark and Julie Allen at the start, so a good turn out from VC Melyd.

We started off in groups with Alan, Darren John and Rob setting off together, followed 10 minutes later by Sally, Sarah and myself and then Anthony, Alex, Julie and Mark after that.

The first bit was a rather pleasant flat section adjacent to the Menai Straits, we ambled along at a steady pace having a chat. The weather was a little misty, the route easy to navigate with well marked out roads and happy cheery volunteers holding back the traffic and telling us when the roads were clear.

There was a sharp bend and then the route took us inland, away from the coast and unto the hills. We were soon caught by Anthony, Alan, Julie and Alex and rode together as a group for a short while but groups and couples formed at the timed hill climb with Sally and Julie setting a mean pace with me trying to keep up!

The mist dropped around about this time and there was an absolutely amazing rolling descent with the dappled light through the trees casting an amazing light and into the first feed station in Bedgellert. Sally and I headed in, almost missing the turn, followed closely by Alex…soon to see the others sailing past, had they missed the turn or just gaining some extra time!. Alex headed off in haste whilst I had some food then Sally and I headed off and found the group waiting for us.

There was a bit of a climb into Rhyd, I’m not quite sure but think there was another feed station in between Maentwrog and Gelliydan, anyways, I was all ready for another feed but as soon as I had gone over the timing chip Sally was saying that she wanted to go on, we had been riding together so wanted to keep with her (but secretly thinking that I could do with a little stop but hey ho here we go). The others did stop so little splinter groups started to form, Sally and I, Mark and Julie, Sarah, Alex and Anthony…oh and not forgetting the fast group at the front (Alan, Darren, Rob and John).

I think for me, 2hrs in and 60km done, the road from Gelliydan to Trawsfynydd and then the A4212, felt like a bit of a slog. One has their peaks and troughs and this was one of mine, Sally was heading off into the distance, I just put my head down and got on with it. Sally waited for me on the turn into the B4391 and we had a little breather whilst looking at the other riders heading along the road we had just conquered, we couldn’t see any of the other VC Melyd lot so we headed off again.

The route continued through the park taking in elements of the Ffestiniog360 and Alan’s Big Day Out.

Sally tackled the relentless hills with comparative ease.

Our little splinter group started to tire at different times. A lack of water wasnt helping. Mix and match at the feed station saw the creation of a remarkably welcome cheese and crisp roll.

Where was the accordion player we had seen a few weeks before?!

Heading back up from the Chocolate shop Pentrafoelas, and off away from the newly surfaced beach of a route to the top of Llanrwst we descended down instead. Then up through Betws y Coed – past the falls, and another feed station Capel Cerrig before the turn into the valley of the relentless headwind where we met up with Julie and Mark again. Pen y Pass surprisingly coming as a blessed relief from the headwind – climbing up and over and feeling far more myself.
Heading back towards Caernarfon – practically in sight … before turning left and up, up to the climbing centre, again the Ffestiniog360 route, before dropping down again towards the town.

Best Parts:

A great event because of the organisation, scenery and people I was doing it with, nice descents and the crisp rolls.

Worst Parts:

Worst bits hmmmm the road adjacent to traws-whatsitcalled and getting stuck behind a slow van on the descent from pen y pass snowdon cafe. Neither of which were the fault of the organisers.

Would I do it again:

Yes would def do again…. How about the Xtrem!

Words kindly put together by Donna Warren.

Dragon Devil – 300km / 16000ft climbing

I had just completed a 50 mile challenging ride in the mountains of Eastern Spain and was wallowing in my cycling prowess having conquered mountain pass after mountain pass. That’s not quite reality but sets the scene better. I had returned from the ride through many a mountain pass but I’d got lost, was on my own in the middle of nowhere in the height of summer and running out of water. I’d done good though and made it back and was enjoying the inevitable banter on Strava as I sat in the local pub making use of their “free” Wi-Fi. It was costing me a small fortune in beers. After much banter and more beer my phone went “ting…ting” and the txt message I received led to some serious cycling! It was Simon Parkinson simply asking if I fancy doing the “Dragon Devil” the UK’s toughest cycling event. He needed to know ASAP as it will sell out and there were very limited numbers going up for sale. Beer talks! Beer gives you courage! Beer makes you think you’re something you’re not….I asked him the usual how far and how high and then said yes, go for it! About 200 miles he said and “silly” hills and lots of them. Before I new it he had all my personal details needed to pretend to be me and log on and register. I still say that was ID theft and deception.

Simon duly registered us both and was over the moon with getting in. I asked him who else was doing it with him. His reply was quite telling as I read it through the haze of my hangover in the unforgiving bright morning sun. “just you, as you’re the only one daft enough to do it” came the reply. It was too early to grab another beer.

Spurred on by the daunting task ahead of the now renowned “Wiggle Dragon – Devil’ 300k and 11,000 ft. of climbing my training began. I addressed this by progressively getting in longer and harder rides. Going beyond the 100 and further is testing and takes some planning particularly if you’re on your own. I managed a good few group rides of around 100 and joined in with a fellow club member training for an Iron Man and the Hollywell Avengers on a 140 odd mile ride. That was good to help understand the eating/drinking and efforts needed. I coped well with the longer rides as I progressed and was enjoying the benefits that the improved fitness and stamina was bringing me.

I had to up my game though as 300k is a long way and the Brecon Beacons are demanding. I looked at the profile in detail and decided I needed to push myself that little bit harder both mentally and physically so that I better understood how I would react. I was happy that all the training I’d done would stand me in good stead for my final training challenge.

I mapped out a lovely route starting and finishing in Rhyl, it was just short of 180 miles and took in the hills through the Denbigh Moors, over to Pentrefolas and into Snowdonia. Through the mountains and then onto Pen Llyn along the south coast through the hills and valleys. I planned to ride to the tip of the peninsula and stop in Aberdaron for a snack. I had plenty of food on board and had worked out exactly what I needed to eat and drink during the solo ride.

I got to Aberdaron in good time, average speed was around 18.5mph the conditions were good and the wind was light though in my face through Snowdonia as usual when you go that way. I stopped for a snack, ice-cream and cake included, then hit the hills to get as far as I could to the tip of the peninsula. It’s stunning there, truly stunning, we are blessed. The hills, valleys and coastal views are spectacular. Picture postcard. As I started back from the tip an RAF Hawk could be heard buzzing around, I caught sight of it a few times. I love to see aircraft flying around, always have, so my head was bobbing around trying to catch a glimpse of the pilot in training as he manoeuvred his black machine above me. I heard it behind me and it came low and close at it went past, a great sight and very loud. It was probably about 500 ft. above me and seemed to follow the line of the road that was ahead of us both. I was watching it with fond memories in my mind of watching the Red Arrows at RAF Valley as a kid when the Gnats used to buzz the crowd. The Hawk went high and almost out of sight but still in front, my gaze wondering between it and the road ahead. The aircraft then went into a steep dive, it was going really quickly, it was quite a way in front of me at this time and was more of a black dot. It levelled out very low, I’m guessing at about 300 ft, maybe less and I lost sight of it a few times as it traversed the landscape in front of me. I could hear it approaching and could tell it was slowing down by the pitch of the whining engine as it changed slightly. The aircraft came into full and unobstructed view directly ahead of me and was directly following the long road ahead of me. Every hair on my body stood on end as this fantastic flying machine hurtled directly towards me, my legs were not shaved so I got added extras. It was me and him, just the two of us going head to head. Bike vs Jet. It seemed to last forever but it was only a few seconds. As he was just in front of me and over the centre of the road he tipped is wings very quickly at me and then went into a vertical climb. I was was clearly in his sights and well and truly beaten. Bike vs Jet, I know my place! What an experience to become a moving target for a trainee pilot to play with, I was honoured and the pain of 90 odd miles cycling through the hills had disappeared, literally gone.

The lack of pain was short lived as I hit the testing climbs of the Northern road along the peninsula. It was tough getting back. Tougher than I had anticipated. It took a lot to keep at it and not to simply sit up and spin. I needed to push myself and condition myself for the ride that only I was daft enough to do with him.

The journey home was hard but I got back to Rhyl safely and in one piece as planned. It was 176 miles and 11,000ft of tough climbing and the average speed was above 17.5mph. I was happy with that but wasn’t prepared for how my body was reacting. My good lady wife, Debs, had cooked me the perfect recovery meal. Everything I needed which would be supplemented by my usual concoctions of powdered protein, carbs and home made isotonic drinks. When Debs opened the door I could not string two words together, I moved my mouth and knew what I wanted to say but a could just muster a mumble as I felt myself coming down off the high that had got me through the last 20 odd miles. I managed my supplements and a small drink, showered then sat down for my much needed and spot on recovery meal. I physically could not eat, I couldn’t chew or swallow the food, my body would not take it on. I left the whole meal which was wrapped up in cellophane and placed in the fridge. I crashed on the sofa and was then subjected to the most awful leg twisting cramps I have ever had.

The morning came and I was ravenous, I could’ve eaten a scabby horse between two dirty mattresses. The recovery meal was on my breakfast table after it’s visit to the microwave and it didn’t touch the sides. Then came the next unexpected reaction. Once I’d finished eating my body seemed to shut down as it just wanted to digest and nothing else. I sat at the table virtually asleep, I dragged myself to the sofa and was in the land of nod for at least an hour.

So, lots learned, a very valuable experience and one I fully debriefed withe Alan O. I wasn’t sure that I’d done things right or indeed my reactions on the ride and after the ride were right or to be expected. I was re-assured and the learning points were valid indeed. I was duly advised to think about curtailing the long rides now as the event approached so that I had time to recover and my body would be in a better place come the day.

I have never ridden my bike so infrequently on the two week build up to the event, I did the Ffesiniog 360 which was the biggest ride at about 63 miles and a few club runs and the odd hour here and there. Nothing like I had been doing. I did well in the 360 so felt that the training was working but that was nothing like the challenge that loomed.

The weekend soon came and Simon picked me up and we headed off to South Wales. I was full of trepidation and nerves. On the way we talked out the admission by, Wiggle that this was not their finest hour and they had in fact measured the mountains wrong and the Devil event would no longer be a mere 11,000 ft. of climbing, it was now 16,000 ft. of climbing. Yikes!

I’d never tackled that many hills in one ride, and they were big climbs, the profile looked like a magnified hacksaw blade. We both agreed we were daft but we just smiled and and looked to crack on with it.

The hotel was good, they geared it up for cyclists for the weekend. We could only stop the night before as Simon had a course on the Monday. Saturday night was tame, one pint of Guinness for me and a couple of shandies for Simon. We ate well though. Having done the London 100 Team Time Trial with Simon last year on fish and chips we decided we would go for something better. I went for steak and ale pie with lots of potatoes and pastry and Simon had the pasta. Not sure it was better than fish and chips but was was a good hearty meal. I’d planned my eating for the morning which was to start at 4:30 am.

Now then I’ve stayed with fellow cyclists before and a good nights sleep before a big ride is a must. So in with the Calms and ear plugs after scoffing the pre-bedtime supplements I slept well and the alarm woke me for my first feed. I’m terrible without food so it was vital that I had my eating sorted for the morning. I started eating carb bars and cereals (not that refined rubbish) very early then we went down for breakfast where eggs and breads where devoured. My aim was to be on the line having had enough time for the carbs to start taking effect. It all sounds very scientific but its not, It’s what I’d learn’t about myself when training. I knew what worked for me.

We wore ‘Red’ cards on the front of our bikes. Red signified the “Devil”. We didn’t see another red card on any bikes in the hotel and there were lots. They were mostly orange cards which was for the shorter but still challenging 140 mile route. That “daft’ thought kept springing to the forefront of my mind.

Getting to the event was easy, about fifteen minutes in the van then kit up and onto the line for 6:50. There were no dramas and everything had gone well. The parking was well marshalled. We were being briefed on the line and the morning was fine. It was overcast but the cloud was light and high. Short sleeve jersey and bib-shorts were the order of the day. I wore the VC Melyd kit with pride. That said I was a worried about the shorts as I hadn’t tested them on a very long ride always being cautious and opting for the expensive tried and tested big brand kit. I needn’t have been concerned. We were told about feed-stations and asked to refrain from littering and urinating at the roadside. Just as the announcer was talking one fine looking yet clearly nervous cyclist promptly moved a barrier to one side and relieved himself of that morning’s tea and coffee whilst mumbling about pre-ride nerves. A good start met with a lot of shaking of heads.

Off we went in the second wave, a good few minutes behind the first wave of about 50 or so riders. The timing chip activated the bleep as we passed the start gate. We were off. the start was undulating and quick. Myself and Simon worked our way slowly to the front of the pack and started to pick off early stragglers in the first wave. As we approached the first climb I was feeling strong and we sat behind a group of about 20 or so riders as we made steady progress. There was a rider on the front who had been there a while, he was leading out well and setting a fair pace. As the incline increased and the tarmac continued to crawl below us the pace started to slow. I indicated to Simon that we would push up and increase the pace as it was too slow. Steady on to the front of the pack was needed and as I drew along side the lead rider he looked up in surprise and said to him “Hi, we are going to up the pace and do a stint on the front” he seemed chuffed that we we there. I sat on the front and upped the pace by a few mph whilst we continued up the hill. Myself and Simon alternated at the front at the now quicker pace and we soon had a large gap develop between us and the main bunch. The other rider who was on the front at first stayed with us but wasn’t for chatting too much. As I looked back down one of the many switchbacks it was clear that we were riding at a much quicker pace and that suited me a lot. Simon was happy for me to set the pace up the hills and we kept it sensible.

Now I can’t remember all the names for the climbs, well all bar two, which were plain nasty, but we were doing a nice figure of eight through the Brecon Beacons going up then down. Remember that magnified hacksaw blade? Well it was cutting into us. The first descent was long and fast, this is where I let Simon take over. Well, it’s not a case of me letting him, he’s off! Being an ex semi-pro downhill mountain biker it takes all my energy and wits to hold onto his wheel. I can’t always do it though as its hard work and I don’t have the technical skills he clearly does.

We soon hit another climb and we shared out the pacing and shelter. We worked well together taking equal turns and keeping a good pace. At the top of the second big climb there was a feed station. We had by now caught up with the fast riders from the first wave and there was about eight of us as we hit the summit and saw the feed-station. To limit our weight and because of the spacing of the feed-stations Simon and I only carried one bottle each and we’d only taken enough gels to get us to the first feed station which was 3 each. Wiggle always put on a good show and the feed-stations were sponsored by Powerbar so we were looking forward to a pocket filling experience. As the road flattened out with the feed-station on the left Simon and I pulled in as planned to get a re-fill and the gels. There were no gels, just water and some bananas and sweets. I asked where the gels were and where the energy drinks were. They assured us they were at the next feed-station. As we stood there in dismay filling up with just water my eating plan was going to pot. I needed to keep my head straight. I grabbed some bananas in lue of the gels as we saw the fast group disappear into the distance working a pace-line.

Off we went trying to catch them. We took turns on the front and put a lot of effort in chasing the out of sight group down. It took us about 40 minutes of hard cycling to catch the group, because of the speed and effort we had put in I ended up going straight to the front and upping their pace. Not the best move in hindsight but adrenalin had got the better of me.

We soon hit the next climb and we were off at the front setting the pace. This time no one stayed with us and the gap got bigger and bigger. We had some good stretches of undulating roads and Simon was in his element. I had started flagging and was clinging on at times as he weaved through the lanes. Clearly his strong point and didn’t I know it. Simon was good as I flagged hoping the next feed was around the corner. I felt my blood sugars dropping, I knew this feeling, I’d trained, I needed the food and drink and quickly. I had my emergency banana which perked me up and we got to the feed-station in good time. We were both feeling it by now. This was a special feed-station put on because of the extra climbing. There was pasta, potatoes, Powerbar bars, energy drinks, sweets, cheese on toast and biscuits. I was a different man inside of five minutes and we headed off at about 105 miles in.

The climbs were now getting tough, really tough, we hit the renowned Devil’s Elbow. This was a timed KOM. I was riding a compact up front and an 11-27 on the back. I had seen the climb and I knew I would need the high gears. Simon had a standard up front and an 11-30 on the back. The climb is like Gweany Hill on steroids. It was about 120miles into a ride where we’d done some testing and very long climbs through the Black Mountains already. It wasn’t funny. I had to use the 27 on the back for the first time, and boy did I need it. All my weight pushing through the pedals to keep my momentum especially through the hair pin bend. As we got towards the top of the climb I was able to sit down again and and relax as my quads felt like they were exploding.

More hills came and more hills went, climbing was the order of the day and we headed deeper and deeper into a valley. It was a descent yet steady, undulating even, quite deceptive really. There were one or two other riders around as our use of the feed-station to eat properly had allowed others to get around us and ahead of us. We came up to a rider in the valley and he said “my arse is killing and it’s the Devil’s Staircase next..haha” as we got level. I simply waved and said hello. Simon grunted something under his breath, I didn’t hear what he said and neither did the other chap. In fact I’m not sure he said anything but I asked him if he was ok. It’s fair to say it was time to have a sense of humour failure. We were now deep into the ride, must have been about 125 miles and silly amounts of tough climbing. Simon, with his best angry face looked at me and said “Well, it’s not even funny is it, why would you laugh….plus who cares about his arse” …. or something similar. I have poetic licence. He went on to tell me he was suffering and in pain, his feet were in agony and every up hill pedal stroke was starting to hurt his feet.

Devil’s Staircase I hear, right I thought, the Devil lives downstairs but we were now at the bottom of a valley with nice big mountains either side. I think we were about to climb up from Hell. Simon managed a small smile when I went through my reasoning. We continued on a descent and took a right hander onto a small road, a car was coming down but we had enough space. All I could see was vertical tarmac. This was no staircase it was a wall. So now there was two of us having a real sense of humour failure. We had a frank conversation with numerous expletives about the the sobriety of the people who designed the course. I was quickly back on the 27 and grinding away out of the saddle. The climb was tough, very tough. I was feeling strong though, stronger than I did during the middle of the ride. The food was being digested and was doing its bit. Simon coped well too even though he was clearly slowing and struggling with the pain. It was my turn to take the lead and pace the hills to bring him along. Our team work was paying off, we were riding to our strengths and taking the other one along when we needed to. We reached a hair pin and it looked like the top, Simon was behind me and put in an almighty effort to get past, which he did, though it didn’t last when he saw the wall continue with no end in sight. I assumed my position in front on the hill and carried on, quads near bursting and pedals being stamped on. We got to the top and didn’t say a word as we saw the very technical looking descent. Simon moved to the front. We were by now understanding what we needed to do for each other without talking.

We carried on and Simon did good turns through the lanes whilst I paced up the hills whilst trying to give him some shelter to repay him for keeping the speed up through the undulations. Mile after mile passed and we ended up back at the extra feed-station having done the top part of the figure of 8. More food was needed though I was feeling good and strong. I was looking back to my training rides and I knew what I had to eat and what pace I could go through the hills. I was happy with how I was feeling.

We had about another 50 or so to do and looking at the Garmin and the climbing we’d done already we had a fair few climbs to get to 16,000 ft. I can’t remember the numbers but I remember quickly working it out and thinking about the Black Mountains and the length of the climbs. Simon was sitting down resting his feet and eating. I didn’t mention the climbing so we just chatted about general stuff. That was best for both of us. We may have mentioned the sobriety of the organisers again an few times though.

The last leg was upon us with one more option to stop for water. As we went with a one bottle strategy, formula one tactics, we were going to have to stop to refill. As we rode we joined in with the “orange” label riders. The sensible ones. The ones that weren’t so daft to do the “red” route. Simon was by now in agony and it was taking some determination to work through the pain. The soles on his new Sidi shoes were too thin and he could feel the pressure of the pedal stroke and his feet screamed with every downward stroke. I could see he was in pain. Simon is a machine when it comes to riding, a beast in fact, and to see the pain in his face like never before was worrying. We never even mentioned stopping. How dare we.

We pinged off the orange riders like Mario on acid bouncing over barrels. It felt good. We had done so many more miles and climbed so many more hills yet we sailed past people as if they were stationary at times. This helped us a lot. The adrenalin was flowing and we had the end in sight.

The last big climb was in front, I could see the road winding up and switching back ahead of us for as far as I could see. The roads over the Black Mountains are lovely climbs. As I looked up it was easy for me to see the route and assess the climb as there were worker ants dotted all the way up steady making their way to the top. There were Giant ants, Specialized ants, Cannondale ants and even Pinarello ones. Simon was swearing quite loudly by now but we were still managing a good pace. It was time for me to be strong and set a steady pace for the whole of the climb. I took up my position without us talking about it, I set my gear and went into auto-pilot. No-body, not one rider over took us on any hill so far during the day, we had set the pace and we would continue to do so. It was time to play Donkey Kong and get to the top level.

We pinged passed riders all the way up. Some looked on with detest and some cheered us on with “go-on lads” other just swore under their breath with single syllable swear words as that’s all they could muster. We got to a switch back and Simon shouted, “you’ve another gear” I turned and saw the pain in his face as the gap grew. We weren’t too far from the top and I knew if I slowed so would he. I remembered the beast in him and I knew he would fight the pain to try and keep up. I signalled for him to hurry with the usual flappy hand by the side movement. I’m sure that must have wound him up. Simon had dragged me for miles through the middle section and I needed to encourage him now to climb, climb, climb. The road levelled slightly and what I thought was the top wasn’t. I heard a woman shout to riders behind me “come on you’re almost there”. I had the benefit of seeing that wasn’t the case as there was at least one more switchback in view. I ploughed on determined to keep my pace and not change gear. I had found my rhythm and was keeping it.

I got to the top and riders were stopping and putting on jackets and gilets for the descent ahead. I didn’t need such luxury and my sweaty body was about to get cold, really cold. Simon quickly caught up with me on the descent and assumed his racing position after he cursed the woman spectator. “What’s with these people, nearly the top my arse, why would you do that to people, we were nowhere near the top”. Okay, he wasn’t happy.

I slotted behind him on the windy and steep road down whilst occasionally popping up and out into the wind to take a bit of speed off save over taking. I learned quickly that drafting him downhill then over taking will only end in tears as we get faster and faster. I know my place. We both soon recovered and warmed up as small hill followed small hill and so on. It was the order of the day and we took turns helping each-other along.

On the lanes, as before Simon was in his element and he dragged me along like I was on a lead to the last water stop. It was very busy so we didn’t stay too long. We wanted a fast ride back to the finish so off we went, both of us doing long hard stints pushing our way through traffic. The heavens opened. It chucked it down. Big heavy nasty rain drops that hurt when they hit you. The roads became saturated and there were big puddles very quickly. We were soaked through to the skin but there was nothing we could do. I had a small jacket in my pocket but before I could even think about stopping it was too late. It soon stopped and we battled on.

A few tagged on though were not doing their turn. I left it a while once we had done about four turns each and Simon was on the front when I did my waggly come on hand gesture to signal for a rider from behind to come forward. I wanted a chain-gang. No such luck, so I shouted “Do your turn, come on from behind”. One rider came up when it was safe to do do and slotted in front of Simon. At last we had help and he held our speed well. The three of us alternated but wen I came to the back again I saw the forth rider with us, well there were four of us by now, he was not wanting to move up and take a turn. I wasn’t going to let this happen as we were all very tired and sore so I did my hand thing again. Nothing, no reaction. Simon was on the front and approaching parked cars and oncoming traffic so our usual hand signals and shouts were relayed down the line. We are very good at that having had a sound education riding with local clubs and learning from the best. The rider behind me though didn’t take any notice of the signals, the shouts or the traffic and decided he would do his turn on the front at that very moment. He went passed me as we slowed and Simon was moving out to make a safe distance between us and the parked cars whist being aware of the oncoming traffic. I now was second in the line and the rider was overtaking me and was heading for the space Simon needed and was moving into. As loud as I could I shouted “Si, on your right!”. He knew what this meant and deviated slightly to his left whilst then holding his line. It was like Marsh Tracks for him I thought. The rider got to the front without saying a word but with a bit of saddle shuffling. It was a posh bike and he had tri-bars. They are not usually permitted on road events but hey, he was there and was taking his turn. I was behind Simon when the rider went to change gear to put the power down. I could see that’s what he wanted to do, we all do it, a nice steady increase in power whilst it’s your turn on the front. It was about time too I thought.

My happy thoughts were very quickly shattered as I narrowly missed Simon as he narrowly avoided hitting the tri-bar rider. The rider in front, in haste to put the power down on a smaller cog at the back had used the wrong lever and was suddenly spinning on the small chainring. Nightmare. We were on a busy road, we couldn’t end the ride like this. Quickly composed the three of us managed to get passed him and there wasn’t a collision. We didn’t shout, curse or swear, we simply carried on towards the finish line taking long turns on the front. We crossed the line to be greeted by thousands of people in the events enclosure and were presented with our finishers medals and packs. We shook hands with the mystery 3rd rider. we were all as grateful as each other for the help we had received in the last drag to the end.

We’d managed 188 miles, 15,427ft climbing with an average speed of 18.5mph. We were happy with that. It was pasta time then back to the Bipper van for a wet wipe show down and hit the road. We were doing this in style. We had some healthy and meaningful discussions about never doing it again, about questioning our own sanity and about wondering why we do such daft things. I told simon he was no longer my friend. Well, I used more words than that, and they are not printable but suffice to say we had a good laugh.

The banter and chat all the way home was good humoured and we recalled in detail our failures, goals and achievements. We rode to each other’s strengths, it was strong teamwork and my training had paid off and Simons sheer determination to get through the pain was amazing. We stopped for dinner on the way home, a lovely hotel in some town on the route. We walked in there like a pair of John Wayne lookalikes who couldn’t find their horses. I had to explain why we couldn’t walk and the waitress’s smile soon returned.

Looking back it was one hell of a ride and very aptly named. The toughest Sportive in the UK? it most definitely is the toughest ride I’ve ever done. It was brutal. Would I do it again? I’m not sure. Maybe.

— Words from, and massive kudos to, Darren Wareing.

dragondevil

Manchester Velodome – June Coaching

Manchester Velodome – June Coaching

A 2 hour Indoor Velodrome session in mid June on one of the hottest days of the year, a day before the Etape Eryri, what sort of Idiot would book something like that. Well I guess the sort of Idiot sitting here writing this.

Needless to say compared with my previous velodrome outing of 35+ riders, hands in the air to join this session were a bit thin on the ground. The club velodrome sessions at the world class facility in Manchester are typically oversubscribed 5 fold, so when the available sessions are Emailed out to organisers, you can almost hear the frantic hammering of keyboards across the North of the UK to secure the best slots. With a lower than normal Melyd show of hands, enter the sessions saviour, Sally Cunliffe who rallied round brilliantly and recruited some extras from outside the club making the session a definite go !

So at 2:30pm 13 riders met up at the reception area of the rather smart new look Velodrome reception area.

Some first timers had already peeped through into the track area and had the expected “the banking doesn’t look that steep on the telly” sort of expression going on. Soon enough though paperwork was completed, cycling kit donned and then the normal “getting to know you” time as the first timers familiarise themselves with the track bikes and the nervous realisation of…yes there really are no brakes…no, you really cannot stop pedalling (if you want to stay on the bike)..and of course the other less obvious pitfalls of fixed wheel bikes, like when pushing a track-bike the pedals will inevitably come round and crack you on the shins (something I really should have learnt myself by now!).

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At 3 o’clock the Melyd session was a go and riders with previous track experience were allowed to start lapping the track freely, inevitably an impromptu through and off group formed with Darren, Dave Tudor, David Wynne, Anthony and myself. All these lads have many more road miles in their legs than me, and it soon started to feel apparent that the short sharp anaerobic efforts needed for my mountain biking didn’t really transfer that well to the measured efforts needed to hang on to a chain gang when Darren and Dave Tudor were putting the big turns in on the front…Ouch. What started out as 5, soon became 4, then 3 with just Darren, Dave and an increasingly crimson coloured me left, finally the pressure valve finally blew in my legs leaving Darren and Dave to duke it out for bragging rights…Welcome back to the world of track riding Dan.

Whilst this “light warmup” session was underway the track débutantes were getting their briefing from the designated track coach. The track coaches for these club velodrome sessions seem to come with two very different styles, the “I’d like to put the fear of God into all the beginners and spend the first 25 mins talking” type, and then the opposing “just get up there on the track and get on with it” type. Luckily our coach this time was the latter, and by 3:15pm everyone was up high on the same boards and banks of this track where the greats of the sport like Wiggins, Hoy, Pendleton, Cavendish have all spent so much time pedalling round.

With varying levels of confidence the entire group now spent some time riding at their own pace round the track, with only Donna’s occasional shrieks of delight or fear (hard to say which 🙂 reminiscent of a badly angled brake pad to break the whirring of chains and creaking of wooden boards.

The main bulk of these sessions is taken up with structured through and off and pursuit catch exercises, which are demanding of fitness and also give a great experience of close quarter riding which everyone always seems to get a real buzz from.

With the structured part of the session done the usual format is to finish off with a competetive element to the session, sometimes a 20 lap scratch type race, but more often a one lap (250 metre) time trial with flying start, lucky for me the shorter sprint challenge was chosen by the coach. At last I thought, a chance for me to level the playing field against the super strong endurance engines of Darren and Dave, history in the club suggests that the mountain bikers do pretty well in shorter formats.

Our names were noted down by the coach and entered onto a start sheet. Unlucky for Darren he found himself lining up first off having never done a flying 250 before! Knowing he would be one of quickest, I don’t mind admitting I felt better watching him approach the start line on his flying start already down low on the track instead of the proven technique of attacking the start line having come down the banking on the final corner gaining extra speed into the first turn, ha ha a schoolboy error, I smugly thought to myself 🙂 Despite this Darren posted a great time.
Step up the other big challenger Dave, and a moment to break the competitive tension with the days comedy moment, the call to the start-line by our fairly elderly track coach for Dave Tudor went a bit like this

COACH: Ok next to go is Steve.
DAVE: My names Dave.
COACH: No it cant be, it says here Steve.
DAVE: No really its Dave, is it possible that you could have misheard me and written it down wrong, as opposed to me forgetting my own name?
COACH: HMMM.

And then an awkward pause, where you could almost believe the coach was thinking “Okay Steve, we’ll agree to disagree”

Trigger and Rodney all over again 🙂

To his credit Dave/Steve put this behind him and using the off the top of the banking start, he set the time to beat.

Finally my turn to go, and with some moutain bike fitness on my side, yet secretely hoping that my 42 year old legs dont receive the pain signals from my brain until the lap was over, I started my run from the highest point possible on the track, and set the quickest time of the group for the win.

Whilst all regrouping and recovering from this effort, I heard the words that I was dreading… “can we all have another go”, surely theres no time to go for another run, I rather optimistically hoped, coach looks at his watch, “yep we have time, lets go again”.

Then the reality hit, Daves probably 25 years younger than me. 42 year old legs dont recover like they used to without industrial sized dosages of Sanatogen, a radox bath and an early night after John Cravens Countryfile. This combined with the fact that Darren had watched us all go after his first run using the off the bank technique and he certainly wasn’t going to get sucker punched like that a second time. I started to believe my reign as track sprint champ going to last 5 mins, not 5 months?

Needless to say Darren improved by over a second but just fell a fraction short of my first lap time (possibly conscious of not putting everything in and destroying his legs for the Etape Eryri he was planning on riding the following day)..one down, one to go..despite my shock at having to go again, I managed to improve slightly, but with Dave/Steve looking mighty swift on his second lap, I knew it was going to be decided by fractions. And so it was to be, Dave beating my time by a small margin, on his last run, Top work fella.

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Despite everyone classing the second run as a bonus run and not counting toward the result, I knew the younger man had beaten my time fair and square, and looked fresh enough to go again 5 times over, where all I could consider was some cod liver oil, and a nice nap.

A short cool down session followed, and the 2hr sessions was over in what felt much shorter time than it was.

Everyone yet again mightily enjoyed the session. For those more experienced in track riding there is so much opportunity to get some valuable track time, to keep those fixed wheel skills going, plus get an amazing intensity workout, and for first timers a friendly, no pressure introduction to velodrome cycling that ensures everyone heads back on the M56 from Manchester still grinning and planning the next session.

The session for me was a great opportunity to catch up with the road guys again after 2 years of almost exclusive mountain bike, also to meet some guys and girls I haven’t had the chance to before, and an opportunity for me as an ordinary club cyclist to ride the same world class venue as my cycling heroes, albeit without the stands full of roaring crowds 🙂
I will attempt to secure another booking for the winter, as I know this Summer date clashed with peoples other riding and work commitments, which may explain the lower than normal take-up, but I am sure if I can bag that elusive 2hr weekend, or early evening slot for Dec/Jan, we’ll be packing the Velodrome with Melyd colours again.

Final two mentions, first to Sally, who without her efforts rallying around to fill the final places that without may have put the session in doubt, (thanks Sally you made the job of organising the session a lot easier) and secondly to Donna, whom I hadnt met before, yet who’s screams whilst riding the 45 degree banked corners early in the session took me back to the days of working at funfairs etc in my youth……

Scream if you wanna go faster 🙂

— words, and track session organised by Dan Liddle.

 

Bristol Bike Fest – 7th-8th June 2014

Bristol Bike Fest – 7th-8th June 2014

An intrepid bunch set off on Friday to tackle the 12 hour Bristol Bike Fest , Justin, Dan, Jason and Paul made up the ratpack team of four looking to defend last years 7th place in the charmingly titled Old Gits category    , whilst Jan and Lucy were entered in the womens pairs.

In usual VC Melyd style Friday evenings carbo loading went well.. that was until those in the neighbouring tents complained about the singing at 1 am!

Saturday was forcast to be pretty grim and the torrential rain certainly added spice to an already slippy 6 mile parkland XC course. The Le Mans start suited jason our designated first lap man and we were off to a flier.

Lucy had a cleat issue and had to ride unclipped for her first lap. Progress went well after that. Transitions generally went well apart from a no show from jJse…. eventually hunting him down. Llucy missed Jan – Teading to Jan riding three laps at one point!

The day went on with fairly consistent lap times in weather that ranged from monsoon to tropical sunshine, by the time the twelve hours were up we were all keen to find out how we’d done. Jan and Lucy stormed to an impressive victory in the womens pairs two laps ahead of their nearest rivals. We managed to maintain the status quo with a most respectable 7th (again) out of 35 teams.

bristol-bike-fest-QOMsABOVE: Queens of the Mountain

JustinABOVE: JustinDanABOVE: Dan

team73ABOVE: Paul

JasonABOVE: Jason

Ffestiniog360 64mile – Sunday 25th May 2014

Circle Of Hope 100mile – Sunday 4th may 2014

Circle Of Hope 100mile – Sunday 4th may 2014

I have to admit I am sentimental about the Circle of Hope ride, since it was the first sportive I did when I started cycling 2 years ago. At that time, the idea of cycling 50 miles with over 4000ft of climbing seemed a real challenge. The friendly nature of the ride, coupled with the chance to raise some money for a good cause (North West Cancer Research) has brought me back again and again.

Offering 2 distances (50 and 100 mile) it starts in Hope and wends its way over the tops past Llandegla: sweeping descents to Corwen, before turning up towards Minera and the ford at Worlds End. Descend the other side and you have a choice: back to Hope for the shorter 50 miles; or onward over the flat Cheshire plain for the (allegedly) 100 mile route. This year approx 250 riders, with a fair smattering of Melyd and other local clubs were ready at the start. The motorcycle outriders and police escort mean it’s a fast start as people surge to the front (which is the last I see of Alan and Darren before the finish).

As the ascents start, it’s a question of keeping in the bunch and saving your energy. That and avoiding the wheel of the idiot in front who clearly cannot hold a line or keep a steady pace. I consider sharing my opinion with him, but he is quite large and might come in useful for drafting later on, so I stay silent and drop back an inch or two.

 

The miles pass quickly in a group, and soon we are making our way up to World’s End. I have done it several times but it’s always longer than you remember. Just as I’ve had enough, an ambulance hovers into view. Ah yes, the ford is upon us. To cycle or not to cycle that is the question, whether it is nobler to glide through and risk an unceremonious dunking, or just get off and walk. I decide on the latter, just as a guy walking across in cleats shows that even this is not without peril and nearly comes a cropper.

Then its back on the bike for the short and steep ascent over the cattle grid. Relief that you’ve now done all the climbing gives way to terror/ exhilaration of the fast descent back down .

Then its right onto the Cheshire plain. Sally Donna and Gary are waiting at the bottom (yes I am a cautious descender) and off we go for a flattish 50 miles. A group from Fibrax Wrexham are in front and we latch onto their chain. In their slipstream we average over 20mph, and we’re loving it. A few miles further on however , and the legs are starting to complain. Luckily Malpas and the second feed station are in sight – the guy manning it looks surprised when a hoard of locusts eats everything in the back of his car, tyre jacks not withstanding

No time to delay, Donna wants to get back to take Boris for a walk, so we are all flat out trying to chase her down. No time for a stop at the ice cream farm this year. But the result is we are back at the finish in just over 6 hours (15.5 mph average – best ever).

But, But, my garmin says only 96.4 miles done – clearly the course setter is a man and prone to exaggeration. There’s nothing for it, I’m going to have to keep going, which is why had you visited Mold on Sunday you would have seen me riding in circuits round Tesco’s car park, before shouting “Yes , 100!”

If you’re thinking of doing a sportive or charity ride, Circle of Hope is a great one to start, small friendly and with a course that allows you to decide on the day between the 50 or 100 miles. See you next year!

Written by Sarah Overson

The Fred Whitton Challenge Bike Ride – 11th May 2014

The Fred Whitton Challenge Bike Ride – 11th May 2014

It all started last year when a group of us decided to do the route of the Saddleback Fred Whitton Challenge over 2 days – a relaxed reccie really. It was great fun so when the opportunity to enter the real event came up, my name went on the list.

The event was started by the Lakes Road Club in memory of their most active member, Fred Whitton who died at the age of 50 in 1998.

FWC-route   girls at the end

In January this year, a few of my friends were ‘lucky’ enough to receive places in the event, starting and finishing at Grasmere (famous for the Gingerbread Shop). A five mile flat warm up southwards through Ambleside then sharp turn left turn and a rude awakening up ‘The Struggle’ to ascend the Kirkstone Pass and down to Keswick, over Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose Passes.

The event is always oversubscribed and the 2000 places are a lottery. During the months leading up to the event on Sunday 11th May 2014, we had a Facebook Conversation about the training rides being undertaken. I quickly realised everyone else appeared to be doing stacks more than me, so booked on the VC Melyd training week in Spain in mid March. That helped enormously, but was ever so slightly early, meaning my training had to not only continue but also to increase.
Reading the organisers description of the event was off-putting – with all the warnings e.g. “Honister Pass – descent starts extremely steeply, so brakes on immediately and don’t let your speed get up – very poor surface and a chicane” and “Hardknott Pass – ultra steep and twisty and very poor surface so take it REALLY slowly”.

By early April I was totally terrified, probably exacerbated by Facebook conversations and hearing how terribly difficult the challenge is. Also, in order not to be disqualified we had to be 60 miles in, at Braithwaite, by 12 noon and 83 miles in at Calder Bridge by 3.30pm. So, there was no choice but to start at 6am.

When the alarm went off before 5am I sprang out of bed to meet the first challenge of the day – breakfast at such an early hour (for me). Thankfully, no dogs to walk today.

Arriving perhaps a little early at what had been, the day before, a water logged event car park on a sports field, I sat in the car looking at the rain lashing down and wondered if my pals would notice if I didn’t show up.

“No, Cunliffe, we are here now, (after some not inconsiderable effort) just shut up, woman up and get ready. You have cycled in atrocious conditions before” (said the parrot who sat on my shoulder the whole journey).

Met my pals, some of whom looked decidedly nervous. It stopped raining (temporarily). We crossed the start line at just gone 6am. Right girl, no going back, well, not until the 60 mile marker, when the cut off time is missed. Best thing is to find someone to chat to – whilst you still can!

Trundled up Kirkstone Pass and flew down the other side, all pals lost en route. A girl overtook me so decided to catch her up. She seemed glad of a bit of company. She had started 30 minutes after me so was obviously faster, so a good person to stay with, if possible. The next few miles were spent trying to stay with her then, to my surprise, dropping her on steep bits then being dropped as I had to stop to remove boil-in-a-bag waterproof jacket.

fred whitton photo me

Attempts to wheel suck various male cyclists along the A66 were reasonably successful and essential given the headwind.

Sailed along the beautiful Borrowdale Valley, but concerned about constant rattle coming from the machine. Then came the decidedly sudden and rude steepness which is the vertical ascent of Honister Pass. Others were floundering. Weaving. Visiting the verges. (Parrot – “don’t even think about putting a foot down, we can do this). Okay. Done. Jeepers, the descent. Hold on tight (Parrot – “outside leg down, weight back, look where you want/need to go and steer”). Okay. Overtaking other riders – there’s a first and a good feeling!

First feed station – phew, needed that. 60 miles is quite a distance before re-fuelling, good job it wasn’t hot. Bike check – nothing obviously wrong, can’t source the rattle. Well I appear to be here HOURS before the cut off point, so better carry on.

Then came the long, slow ascent of Newlands Pass, followed by Winlatter Pass. Here supporters lined the road, yelling words of encouragement. Particularly enjoyed the “go on girls” from the women. No fear here, just enjoyment.

The middle bit, taking in the marvellously named ‘Fangs’, Swarth Fell and Cold Fell provided opportunity to admire the beauty of the countryside – especially the extremely brightly coloured spring flowers. Rain came then stopped, came then stopped. Decided to leave off the heat-inducing and draining waterproof jacket and risk it as cold was not an issue. Wet trickles down the backs of legs were a bit distracting.

Second feed station – bikes abandoned on the tarmac. Rows of delicious looking sarnies and cakes. Hot drinks. Sobbing female who complained to her man that she wasn’t as fast as she hoped. Time to go, me thinks, knowing full well there is torture ahead.

Uumm, not pleasant this bit. Getting nervous. Why? Can always push and the cleat covers are in back pocket. (Parrot – don’t even think about it). Start chatting to a chap going at my pace. He did it last year and kindly told me not to be nervous.

Red telephone box comes into sight, road winds steeply up mountainside ahead, dotted with cyclists. Over cattle grid. Right Cunliffe, this is what the training has been for – GO!!

The ascent of Hardknott Pass was a bit of a blur. Can’t believe this but I actually encouraged a pusher to get back on his bike – why could I even speak?

Grind, crunch, puff. Up we go – 30%+ in places. Loads of yelling from supporters. Brilliant. At top, marshall advises me to be careful as there is an incident a 3rd of the way down. Brakes on. Look ahead. Ambulance. 2 dead bikes. Tarpaulin over riders. Very, very scared. Hairbin bends (lots), 30% descents, hold tight. A couple of girls on foot said “Well done that, lady” as I successfully negotiated an excruciatingly tight and steep hairbin, in true mountain bike style. (Parrot – you have just got to do it).

As gradient lessened I felt elation and enjoyed the valley between the two worst passes. Another cyclist said I would be over Wrynose Pass before I had noticed (what was he on!?). On the final steepest part before the summit a young girl saw I was in danger of slowing down to a stop and walked/ran alongside me offering encouragement. How could I stop with her doing her best for me? Sadly, no breath to thank her. But it worked.

Some thoughtful organiser had put a sign saying “10 miles to the finish) just after the summit. Brilliant. The heavens opened. Torrential. Sally and Parrot both agreed – “Let’s go – FAST”. So we did. Taking no prisoners. All the way to the Grasmere finish along a busy main road – absolutely drenched. A friend waiting for all of us said ‘you look like you have just popped out to the shops’!
Elated!

The Good Bits
– Having been terrified and seriously considering bailing – it was a superb event. Happily riding the majority of it on my own.
– Roadside support from local people e.g. one chap said ‘you are the first woman’ – response: ‘oh year, right!’.
– Friendly and extremely helpful marshals.
– Well signed.
– Good food.
– Being pretty well prepared with the right clothing – and, eh, bike.
– Whatever my pre-ride training was – it seemed to work.

The Less-Good Bits
– Seeing the accident at Hardnott Pass.
– Gel wrappers on the road – we had been asked to carry litter away with us.
– Waiting anxiously for the others at the end as news of the accident spread, but no-one knew who was involved.
– Wish I had put more effort in and done it faster – but I didn’t know I could do it and didn’t want to burn out.

The Next Challenge
– Given the chance – try again next year to improve on the time.

The Stats
– Distance – 112 miles / 180km
– Ascent – 3,950 meters / 12,959ft
– Total time – 8 hours 51 mins
– Position – 4th woman out of 21 in my age group
– Position – 24th woman out of 104 women finishers in total.

Written By Sally Cunliffe

FWC-completion

The Cheshire Cat 100 – Sunday 23rd March 2014

The Cheshire Cat 100 – Sunday 23rd March 2014

The alarm went off at the usual Sportive-O’clock and from the comfort of the duvet it was apparent that it was either hard rain or hail going on outside. Snoozing the alarm more than once – it was now more than time to get up, and out, and over to Crewe. This was to be my first sportive of the year, and peeling back a curtain to dare to see what manner of meteorological delights were occurring outside… it was going to be a long day… my first 100.

The start for the 2014 Cheshire Cat was the football ground, not too far from the station or a tonne of places to be dropped off with clear signposted routes to the Stadium. Dropping off, train, or long term parking all pretty much dealt with – there is not really that much demand on a Sunday at quarter-to-early – and as such there didnt seem to be a lot of complaining going on.

Gillet, arm warmers, winter longs, overshoes, full finger gloves and a neck warmer… somehow this was not the Century I was looking for.

Number on me, on bike, seat post, tag on helmet – no need to check in, hung bike on ample rails, just toilet stop (no queue!) and good to go. I am not sure who was less impressed the people living across from the stadium, or the cyclists waiting (in the well organised holding pens for the ride to start) – as an overly enthused chipper voice (given the weather and the time of day) boomed over the PA system. The attempts to rally the crowds was mainly met with silence, comments on the weather and the odd murmoured ‘you missed your QR mate’.

Sure, the sun was out, but it was not feeling it. Stewards not used to clip clopping riders a little bemused, stood around in large cosy jackets commenting on the fact people had been waiting for 30 mins to start. The nod was given and we were off. Out in the third group from the first pen.

The groups were clearly very mixed, even given the start time and distance. The almost fluid motion of people moving forwards and backwards, and holding position in the streams of riders leaving the stadium, passing through the all but empty Sunday morning town and on the way out.

The big fuss was the first climb of the day – Mow Cop. I am a heavy rider – hills rarely fill me with joy – however – living in North Wales and having seen / ridden some expletive worthy stretches of tarmac in my time – I was wondering how bad exactly could it be. In short, its a silly place to build a road. What were they thinking – PUT A BEND IN IT. Having had it pointed out to me as we approached off to our side – like a glimmering wet sliver of metal on the side of a hillside, straight – Roman style, just up. It kicks up a little to a gradual climb to start with , then a left, and there it is infront of you, like a ramp, and the worst of it being you can see it, there, taunting you, and you have to really look up to see the top. There is no subtle blade here – this is the blunt instrument… there is no hidden pain its all on display.

A local said on the way in to it that there are no faster parts, just sit in from the get go and do not try to rush any of it – it continues to climb at the top after the stupid steep section. Seemed rude not to heed the advice really… although I didnt really have a choice in the matter – getting up was more important than doing so quickly. Overly warm, and with an uncomfortable amount of leaning over the front of the bars – I ascended. It continues after the “OUF!” to make up the mile of ascent (the timed ‘killer mile’ as they put it – but beyond that flat, open, plenty of space for people to cheer you on 25% section but nothing of a comment worthy nature. I overheard an older woman by the side of the road ask “What is the name of this road?” to another member of her party. “Purgatory” I said back… as the photographer snapped her chuckling and me grimacing.

Now the route profile suggested that the big climbs came early in the ride, and that they did. That all sounds great in a ‘get them out the way early’ kind of way… I would urge any of you to reconsider that – as basically you are now ‘done’. Any further climbing beyond a hillock comes as an unwelcome surprise, and you are carrying them around in your legs all day. Dismissing that as a great idea would be foolhardy. I, am that fool.

small_cheshirecatroute

Fantastic views running along the ridge lines, trying to figure out what and where you are going to and over next. Overcast and moments of sunshine, and wondering whether you really needed the longs and the gloves proper. Trying to stay cool.

The roads are mostly dry with standing water, and few muddy sections thankfully. Surface questionable at time – but nothing you wouldnt want to take a winter bike over. It is afterall spring.

Then came the first feed station – between hills three and four, right at the bottom, down a muddy bumpy/gravel/potholled lane to a wonderful view of a lake. The temptation to just spend the rest of the day here was large. The sun was out, the clouds were skudding along the sky, and the water looked serene – if a little damned cold. Food was sufficient but there was no variety – functional – and plentiful, bannanas, gels (yo uhad better like apple), high5 and plain water barrels… oh and the curiosity of iced cupcakes…. really? Having loitered far too long – back on the bike and a spot of CX back up to the route.

Alas maths has never been my strong point.In my head there were three climbs and a feed station. There were four. So up, up, up we went again – that solace you get from continued climbing – the fact that despite you are going so slowly and people are passing you – that you are, in fact, making progress, not walking (as some were by this point), and to be fair its not all that bad – at least the weather is holding off.

The now familiar passing game ensues. Where they will overtake you uphill, you on the flat, down – to the point neither of you can be bothered, and you end up chatting for a bit.

As we got over the last lump – high enough to be passing an ever-so-bleak concrete based transmitter mast – the clouds enveloped us and the wing whipped through horizonal hail.

There was much yelpying, screetching and general vocalistations as peoples descents were reduced to a slow crawl or stop – not even half way. Generally looking where you were going was a painful business. A collection of riders gathered at a junction like penguins weathering out a storm waiting for more to arrive at the back to shield them. Then on again.

The next feeding station – more of the same. Made good progress with a fast moving train, potholes everywhere, loads of spray. Chain starting to make a noice like it no longer loves me.

Lost that group – most disappointed. The ride now turned into the wind for what seemed like the rest of the ride. Humour, and etiquette appears to have been in short supply for this as groups got larger, and finding yourself at the front of a group often meant just that… they would drop back if you tried to drop off the front. The wind was merciless, but the sun was out between clouds, and the hail was gone – of that I was thankful.

Last feeding station – confused marshals as we rode by – I just wanted to push on, as did the group I was with.

Its apparent that between 75 and 100 is the hard part. It could have been pan flat with a tailwind and I think that would still be the point the wheels started to come off – just time in the saddle, and earlier day now starting to tell.

A tiny more spirited group formed, and we just plodded onwards hoping for a finish line as we watched the miles tick away. Pace prozaic, seated, and as-long-as-we-get-there.

A smile raised amongst our small group to see an event photographer who had either intended to look sodden and dug in like a sniper, or – more likely had sunk into the side of the road and despite all the layers was looking decidedly moist and fed up in the fine rain…. I know which of us I would rather have been! Not far now.

As we passed 100 miles on all of our computers with what was that moment of not mentioning it… and then… …apparent to even the least local that “this was not Crewe” as we are surrounded in green… there was a dip in spirits… but soon enough we rolled into the outskirts, and then through lights towards the stadium – now busy with afternoon traffic. Someone who had not been out in the hail and headwind probably thought this was a great idea at the time – one word for you “thanks”.

2KM to go, then 1KM to go, some lights, a junction, and then – finally waiting foot down to turn right across weekend traffic and under a finish line…. it kinda spoils the moment… – and pretty much putting pay to a rather late in the day effort to pick up the pace with the finish in sight…. but the first sportive of the year in the bag.

Less elation – more thank-god-thats-over. Hang up bike, formally get results while collecting Mow Cop medal from the people at the desk who gave you your time for that sector. Yay.

Here is a question for you – why does no one ever have a feed at the finish station? Ever? Just me think that would be welcome? Maybe.

A well organised event all in all – on our doorstep – and weather / time of year aside – worth taking in.

small_cheshirecatprofile

The good bits:
– Lack of faffing around on arrival – read the pack sent to you – sticker up and go;
– Generally no grief from traffic or locals;
– Signage was good, never really had any moments when I was beginning to wonder if I had veered of course;
– Good mix of riders doing the longer distance;
– Well supported event despite the elemtns;
– Well thought through use of space, bike park, starting pens, group starts;
– Sticker based RFID timing chip;
– Support from complete strangers who turned up to see a thousand pain faces on Mow Cop.

The not so good bits:
– Route meant that having got the climbing out of the way the remainder of the route was more open, and what felt like consistently into wind;
– Food – Banana, Gel, Cupcakes. Sure the High5 and water were on tap but sometimes variety really helps;
– Location location location – it would have felt better to have the feeding stops I did stop at more accessible / closer to the route;
– Miscommunication – Mow Cop “stay right if you can make it, stay left if you are in doubt” – “those riding go left, those struggling keep right” …. erm?

Would you do it again?
Yes why not – would have been a lot better given two things – neither of which in the organisers control:
– A group of mates / club to ride with;
– Weather – less hail and wind would have gone down a treat.
… otherwise seems rude not to – its on our doorstep, and is a great way to kick round of March and start the Sportive season.

Organiser:
– Kilo To Go
– Wiggle

— Words – Anthony Hogbin

Etape Cymru 2013 – Sunday 8th September

Etape Cymru 2013 – Sunday 8th September

Heading over to Llangollen the day before – collect my start pack and sign on. It as rammed – so many people, a stream of people heading in and out with that look of ‘being part of something’. Stopping to take pictures of or just simply look at the Mavic support vehicles that were parked up outside. If this was anything to go by it was going to be very big day out indeed.

The morning came, and what was to become the norm for sportive starts in our household and my long suffering girls – an early start to get somewhere to be dropped off, and be starting the day after smelling more than slightly of milk sick.

There was MUCH queueing to get into the event. Road closure meant access was limited, and what there was was slow moving. The stewards were busy trying to usher people to the other end of the parking space, and a fair percentage were looking to drop off and run… the “arrive around an hour early” was now down to about ten minutes.

Bike hung up, queued for the loos. Early morning starts, port-a-loos, before a sportive – its not a pretty thing. Oh dear me no. Clip clopping on mass across the open area to the staring lanes. Being encouraged into briefing areas, briefed, moved forward, counted down to – the noise of a mass of cleats engaging – and gone. A timing antenna beside the road bleeping frantically as a sea of RFID chips went through its eye-line.

Great morning, quite fresh, cool even… glad of thicker arm warmers and 3/4 lengths. Sun out. Pretty much ideal.

Winding lanes heading out towards Llangollen. Heading slowly up and up over Panorama Walk. I have not been up there before – the views really are something. The route runs around the hills that you see behind Llangollen – up by the castle-on-the-hill-you-keep-meaning-to-head-up-to-some-day. A good steady climb and a rapid descent with open views to the foot of the Horseshoe Pass.

Sold as the main event on the ride – its the best known of the ascents on the ride. Many many many times I have been up the other side, either Nant-Y-Garth or Shelf, then down before up to the Ponderosa for a brew and be one of the few with two wheels and no engine. But never up from this side. So here we were.

The climb went up past the pub, through the trees where there was a fair amount of passing going on, and then the left where it opens out, and you can see into the valley below… and more concerning to the thin like of brightly dressed riders way way way up in front of you – and to be fair not all that far away – just UP. Staying seated and plodding on people stopped coming past so quickly now – this was starting to slow up – and out of the saddle for the 25% section and through the steep right hander pushing towards the top. Now up where the riders I could see where this was quite the confidence boost.

Ponderosa and down… at this point the whole roads closed thing came into its own…. gentlemen – pick your line.

Not stopping at this feed station – pressing on toward Corwen. The (large!) signs beside the road now started appearing – bravo Wiggle / Human Race – “Calm down mate its not a race”… it read as I started to gather pace. Okay – maybe later.

Feed station – and I stop at this one. drinks, oats, water. Nom nom nom, and off. It was kind of frenzied like someone dropped meat in the piranha pool. There was so much… I remember thinking “who would want buttered new potatoes, or haribo, or …” the list went on – it was all going – and quickly.

The route back from Corwen was new to me. It appeared to be some hill top route devised by a sadist. Up up up up Down down down down … repeat a lot. Starting to cramp – clearly not drinking enough. About 3 hours in, and in my head that’s about half way.

etapecymruprofile etapecymruroute

Mavic support bikes, cars, and other support vehicles sneaking along side…. it is surprising how much closer you will allow a car when you know its used to being that close to you.

So back to the turn on the other side of the Horseshoe – and left, over towards the top of the Nant-y-Garth. Where are we off to now – as long as its not The Shelf right?

At this point the wisdom of checking the route plan as opposed to just the profile.

So here we are – the lower parts of The Shelf. When I first moved up to Wales – every Sunday ride seemed to take in The Shelf. Its an experience. Its quite steady in its gradient – but the climb really starts a lot earlier than you imagine, before you can see out over the hills.

The road skirts the side of the hillside, like it is stuck on – a semi sheer drop around the inside, amazing views. …and plod plod plod… we are through and descending again to the top of the Nant-y-garth. Hang a left and (a somewhat leg dragging) full tilt on big roads towards Llandegla – home of mountain biking and bacon sandwiches / coffee. Mmmmmm bacon sandwiches…… .

Desperately trying to lift my slacking average speed now dropping towards 14mph. I have spent the year away from larger roads, bigger gears and focus – but it is apparent I am kidding myself – I must be over 5 hours in the saddle at this point, and this feels good.

Praise be. Feedstation goodness. This time I braved the new potatoes… craving no less – they were looking decidedly “really? now?” earlier on. Fantastic. Water, electrolytes – off. There are so many people out in all of these villages. Deck chairs, coats, flags, clapping, brews in hand. There were even cow bells to be heard… how very European 😀

Towards New Brighton and then the bunch up for the hairpin turn onto the Worlds End. This was hell. Good job they left it until last.  >_<

If there was a time at which, assuming I had the energy, I was going to get off and throw the bike it would have been now. However cleats on that initial gradient I wasn’t entirely sure I could stand – so onwards and upwards.

Its only a few more miles of climbing before the top of this and the highest point on the course. Supporters by the sides of the roads yelling out it flattens out in a bit… and people on bikes yelling back around the bend that they weren’t kidding…. flattened out being relative of course… what this just meant was seated grinding of gears. Up up up. This was Worlds End – and a very very long time since I had been over this and certainly without this day in my legs.

Grass changing colour/type is always a give away of how high you are. Walkers in waterproofs, hoods, poles, maps… ahhh so its like that is it… up up … the penny drops somewhere around here that it is actually raining, and clearly has been for a while. Gillet on. Continue. Sign by the side of the road reads “Pain now, beer later”… I will drink to that!

A slow slow slow motion chase continues between me and another rider who are just edging ahead, and dropping back repeatedly. No words… be that focus, energy, or breathing. More walkers as it stops climbing and starts to cross the open moorland, and then down into woods.

Marshalls with red flags make it pretty clear its going to descend soon. Down, curve, down, curve, down, curve, down, curve… that whole rain noise from wet shoes on alu rims…. that and the smell. Its wet proper. Those on carbon/carbon must have been loving that. Then comes the ford… smooth mossed over concrete, as the river runs over and under the path.

The fact there is an ambulance and staff waiting there says all I need to know. Off the bike – teeter through the water (carbon fibre and aluminium do not make for the best soles for walking in – back on – and rolling again. Up down Up down rolling hills. Sure – the view is lovely – but now facing back over The Panorama – the picture attached was taken here at around the 72 mile mark.

Final feed station with 12 miles or so to go. At this point I could see only one thing I wanted…. curiously the BEST Bakewell tart I have ever consumed. Suitably stodged up, water, electrolytes in bottles – off again. Marshalls at feed stations were great – bikes – this way – “you cannot leave that there son” – ensuring there was no collisions between those passing through, and those stopping for food – calling out what where to the groups that where stopping. It is the small things.

Rain back again, harder, noticed this time – gillet back on. Some open stretched trying to raise the pace… got a good tow from a rolling chain gang with a Rhyl CC Rider I dont recognise, and then pulled off the front of that to gain some pace – straight into cobbles and a left hander over a bridge. I was at the point reminded of my childhood – watching the TDF come to the UK for the first time… and the faces of the riders as they came into Canterbury onto the cobbled section. My face was a similar mixture of ‘surprise!’ and focus.

Short lived, back through the town, and then quickly – all too quickly, hoardings, banners, people, clapping, commentary… and I am done!

A text with my time by the time someone has put a (bronze) medal on me… and seconds later congratulations from friends following the times on the website.

The heavens open. I am past caring. Sit down, collect thoughts, food proper, and home.

 

Conclusion:
UK’s toughest (closed road) sportive?
Well if its twice as far as you have ridden up to that point and twice the climbing – then its pretty tough. If you come from a flat place… its going to be horrific. Period. I think the importance is in the wording – closed road toughest – how many closed road events are there of any distance?

Best organised sportive 2012?
I can see why that would be the case. Human Race / Wiggle have done a remarkable job of organising this. Road closures alone, the start layout, venue, food, organisation at food stops… all are going to be hard to improve on. 2013’s offering – short of the traffic getting there followed by no planned area for dropping off or cars wanting to actually get back out again…. fantastic. Food stops that were ON the road…. genius. No weaving down some access road to a location – no these were mostly ‘keep right of cones for straight on, left for food, bike racking, and spaced out food, fluid, toilets. It is the simple things like this that make it all a bit easier. Marshalls on side roads – letting you know you were on the right road…. stopping cars chancing their arms. All identifiable and with radios. … you would have to go a long way to make real diferences. Bravo all involved.

Would I do it again?
That was a lonely personal challenge…. of which I was happy to just get around. Doing it with others, or doing it with like minded group, a compact and a 28 would be on my list of demands I think. It *is* expensive – but given the organisation – the resources – the taking part – I would say the sting of the outlay is gone by the time you clip up on the day.


Written by Anthony Hogbin