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.
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.
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