by Guy Davies
The final push, legs hurting, sweat running in to your eyes, looking at the hill gradient on the screen. Checking your perceived rate of effort, cadence, and heart rate, almost there. Considerably warmer than when we started, when you could see your breath. A pile of cloths by your side. And times up. Alan turns the music off the blue tooth in his garage and clicks the Dragon Ride DVD out of the TV. A little chat after in the warm down. I have to admit I was thinking I couldn’t sit on a turbo for 11 hours to complete that ride it would boar me stupid.
It’s dead easy to do an hour, if you have a bunch of mates around you, banging music, and a wee chat in the easy breaks.
Fast forward six months. Early morning news says warming up, sunny spells. A peak out of the
curtains and it’s hard to make out the grey horizontal line of smoke from the Port Talbot steel works from the grey steel works the grey sky the grey town the grey sea, and grey feeling in my gut. The only change in the grey atmosphere was the white horses smashing on the beach.
The weather man says it’s going to clear up and the wind stop. Much the same as Michael Fish in 87. Like 140mls in one hit wasn’t enough we had decided to ride to the start, a further distance of 7mls. In most big events the atmosphere is tangible at the start, a mixture of anticipation, excitement and fear. This was decidedly lack lustre. A group of about 50 of us left our start gate, heading back along towards Port Talbot in to a cross wind and strait away a working peloton got together, rolling ball, two lines, up the outside through and off ,30 seconds on the front then the next man comes up and leads off. I hit the front as the group approached a roundabout, it felt just like “the tour” everyone lined out behind, sweeping
round the bends full tilt, but as we turned the roundabout, I’m smack in to a head wind. A glance at the smoke stack showed the smoke horizontal. Lucky I’m only up front for 30secs or so, , well a bit longer, well ok they’ll be past me in a moment. I press on and glance back the two lines had become one and every one, my son-in- law sitting second wheel included very happy to tuck in, thanks very much. There is no way I’m going to sit up with a long group like this behind so tapped out a rhythm for a good 4miles till we turned in land and Andy my son in law swept by to take a turn pulling without trying, the wind hard at his back . Making a feeble effort to hide his smirk.
The next 10 miles were rolling hills and dismal ex-mining villages. The slope became a ramp and the ramp turned in to a hill. The summit obscured by the thickening cloud, which as we climbed became heavy mist then light rain, becoming driving rain. The summit of the hill to our windward side fell away and we took the full force of the gale hitting us side on. We turned back on our self at a hair pin and to our relief gave us a slight lift up to the summit of the next hill. Then a final hairpin as we rounded the top, straight back in to the wind. The wind turbots’ looking like roman coulombs with nothing attached to the top as they disappeared in to the blanket of rain and cloud. Can’t be sure but a recon about 6.7 klms of climbing covered. Apparently the hill is called Bwlch, which for those of you that don’t talk welsh means Bwlch??
The decent required all your whit’s about you, while it was tempting to let go the breaks seeing the riders on front suddenly swerve sideways across the road as the cross wind caught them meant only the hardy or stupid tried to make up time on a decent. We did see 2 people who had had bad falls as a result of being hit by cross winds.
The 4 food stations, that, on the web site were hailed as better than average were pretty dismal. They boasted a good selection of savoury foods that turned out to be cold roast potatoes. None of them had adequate stands for bikes, so bikes were just left lying on their sides all over the car parks. Toilets were portaloos with long queues. And only one had a building where you could get out of the rain. In the others riders were squashed under the tents trying to get out of the intermittent rain. Roads rolled up and down with very little traffic. The views on many occasions were genuinely breath taking. Rain and wind came and went first too hot then too cold. A glance at the strip of masking tape I had stuck to the cross bar had all the key points marked on it like feed station distances, foot of the major climbs cut off times etc. A handy tip for those of you doing long Sportives or distance riding in new territories. Next leg stretcher before the Devil, is Rhigos another 7.8klm climb at about 8%. Just put the brain in to neutral and let the legs do what they do best. The Devil’s elbow was due up at the 97k mark, in 2 klms time. So Andy and I backed off a little to save ourselves. The main part of the hill its self is not to long but a bit of researched showed on the first hair pin the inside track shot up to 40% gradient and the outside a mere 25% . So do I cut the corner and go for broke and try to steel time on Andy? Or cruse around the outside? I’m mad but not insane. There were some incredible riders who just flew past us going up the Devils elbow. There was one guy who was very very. Very very what I’m not sure? He was on his phone riding with one hand, just sat up like he was on a Sunday outing. Very confident and strong or very stupid. The hill is only about 1.7 of a kilometre but the two hair pins are a killer, under different circumstances I may have stepped off but no one even looked like cracking and wasn’t going to be the one. Did you see that old boy having to walk? poor old git shouldn’t be doing this sort of stuff at his age. NOT this time pal.
Approximately 90 klms further on of ups and downs, plenty of rain and even stronger wind we
started a climb. Like many others you’re never sure how long they are going to be you see one false summit after another. With the rain on my glasses I remember glancing at the sheep on the face of the steep hill in front and thinking how do they manage to stay on such a hill face and not slip off. As we approached the sheep almost appeared to be in a line heading towards the summit. Closer still, must be the rain on my glasses they looked as though they were odd colours, they were plenty of white but red and blue and pink. Seeing the hair pin in front and the trajectory of the road from it made it clear these stoic sheep were in fact stoic riders. Oh Shit. This cruel assent went on for another mile. One of the great cycling climbers always said the bigger the hill the better the view, I was slightly disappointed not to be able to see America from here but then it was cloudy. As we summated the black mountain the wind slapped us right on the face again. The race brief claims at this point the remainder of the 60 klms is down hill to the finish, apart from one hill at 200k mark. We consumed our last energy bars gulped down water, came off the round about to read. “Warning Hill” 1.7klms long max gradient 17% average 8.5%. How’s that for a warm down after 200ks?
Wind up the legs, spin spin spin, save your heart from busting, and your home and dry.
The finish line / encampment was as disappointing as the other feed stations. More than half of it was packed down. Medals were handed out, very matter of fact and the promised re-go recovery drink that was offered was a packet of powder. Find your own water mate.
The extra seven miles back to the hotel seemed a doddle. Round trip on the day 155 miles.
A great challenge but I can think of a lot of better organised ones I would do again before I resorted to this one again.
Fifth in my age group but to be honest there weren’t that many daft enough to enter.
Still, another tick in the chuff list.