Dragon Tour – First Multi-Day Event

Over the weekend of 8 – 10 June, in order to prepare for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, I took part in my first multi-day cycling event – the Dragon Tour organised by Human Race Events which is badged as L’Etape Wales with links to the Tour de France.  The event culminated with the Dragon Ride, with distances ranging from 100 to 300 km.  I had booked to do the Gran Fondo at 223 km.

The start for the first two days was based just outside Crickhowell which offered the opportunity to do two different rides of under 100 km each in the Brecon Beacons taking in the climbs of Gospel Pass and The Tumble.

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Ready for the start on Day 1

I knew what to expect with The Tumble having ridden it twice in the Wales Velothon – basically a steep first half and a relentless grind for the second half once clear of the trees.  Gospel Pass was completely new to me, a gradual start and an absolutely horrible ramp up towards a cattle grid in the middle, followed by a reasonable gradient to the top.  My sunglasses glasses had completely steamed up by the cattle grid and I had to rely on a race marshall telling me not to stop and keep riding!

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The view from the top of Gospel Pass (Day 1)

The view from the top was spectacular even with the low cloud.

Day 2 included The Tumble climb – I managed a Personal Best time, followed by a great traverse of part of the Brecon Beacons plateau.  The descent off the plateau was fantastic despite following a lorry that was doing its best to burn out its clutch (it probably stopped me taking too many risks downhill).

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Brecon Beacons plateau – not so steep descent!

The last 20 miles were the longest 20 miles I have ridden in a while, constant hills and rolling terrain and being passed by faster cyclists – no peloton this time to draft behind.

The Dragon Ride started from Margam Park, near Port Talbot.  Sunday started bright and sunny, no cloud cover of any note unlike the previous days.

The day ended up being very hot which made pacing myself on the long climbs essential – no going for PBs uphill, just getting round was the key thing!  The descents off the Bwlch and the Rhigos were fast and great fun and made up for the long slog up.

In the end, the previous days’ rides took their toll and at the second feed station I decided to drop down to the Medio Fondo – still a ride of 150 km (about 95 miles).  My hamstrings were protesting and with the Deloitte Ride Across Britain being my goal there was no point injuring myself with three months to go to the start line in September.  I wasn’t alone in changing the route on the day given the high temperature.

I ended up with a ride time of 6 hours 40 minutes (compared to a total elapsed time of 7 hours 12 minutes).  Carl (who I rode with on a training ride recently) did the Gran Fondo in 9 hours which meant I’d have probably taken around 11 hours to finish given my average ride pace.  Clodagh, who showed all the men up at the Deloitte RAB training ride in April, went round the Gran Fondo in an astonishing elapsed time of 8 hours 37 minutes and won the Strava Queen of the Mountain for the event as fastest female rider over that distance plus was one of the fastest females over the Devil’s Elbow timed climb.  I certainly will not be trying to keep up with Clodagh on the Deloitte RAB !

What have I taken away from the Dragon Tour?

  • The multi-day format was great, particularly if you managed to get to know other riders
  • Pacing is key; it’s no good going off too fast and not being able to cope on the next day or the third day
  • Fuelling (eating enough) and keeping hydrated (drinking enough) is important, particularly with the very warm weather we had during the Dragon Ride
  • Riding in a peloton saves an enormous amount of energy and riders having a bad day are very grateful for a “tow”, even if you end up cycling a bit slower than you could manage
  • I can cycle the daily distance required on the Deloitte RAB but I can work on my climbing ability (basically more of what I posted about in Gravity)
  • A daily post ride massage, however short, worked wonders on tired muscles!

Overall the Dragon Tour was fantastic – I couldn’t fault the event organisation, particularly on the Dragon Ride.  The race marshalls were plentiful and dealt with the few tacks thrown on the road by disgruntled locals (upset by 5,000 riders visiting south Wales for the weekend, many with families, and spending their money in the area!).  The volunteers and staff in the feed stations were awesome, with a special mention for the feed station at Ystradfellte – so friendly and welcoming!  I certainly hope to take part in the Dragon Ride next year.

I’m doing the Deloitte RAB in part to raise lots of money for Dementia UK in memory of my father who suffered from dementia.  You can help me raise money by sponsoring me at my Virgin Money Giving page here

Gravity

Today I went for a training ride with a fellow Deloitte Ride Across Britain participant, Carl, who lives in Cardiff.  We are both taking part in the Dragon Grand Fondo ride next Sunday (10 June) and didn’t want to over do things today so limited things to 100 m short of 100 km (and 1,150m of climbing).  The Dragon Ride is 223 km with over 2,900m of climbing though the Welsh Valleys and into the Brecon Beacons.

Both Carl and I are similar ages (either side of 50 !) and manage to ride at about the same speed on the flat and slight inclines.  Where things differ is when we go up hill and Carl starts to pull away with alarming ease (or at least to my viewpoint – Carl may say he is working very hard).  I blame gravity for this state of affairs!

I think our respective sizes had a lot to do with it.  I’m 189 cm tall (6’2″ in old money) while Carl is probably 170 cm (5’7″) with weights of 88 kg and 67 kg respectively.

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Carl and me after a 60 mile ride

This means I’m having to get an extra 20 kg or so up hill – the equivalent of 20 bags of sugar.  I can try and increase my power to weight ratio by increasing my power output – the amount of energy I can put through the pedals.  My training over the last six weeks has concentrated on power improvement.  I can also try and lose a bit more weight – I’ve lost about 6 kg since Christmas, so could expect to get rid of a further 2 kg by September.  Losing extra weight after shedding the initial excess weight is always more difficult.  However, I wouldn’t want to affect my ability to put out the power.  Plus, I really don’t want to end up looking like Chris Froome (sorry Chris).  For one thing, buying lots of new suits and shirts would be rather expensive … and I like chocolate far too much.

In the end, I think I will have to accept that some riders will be quicker uphill and I can use gravity to help me on the downhill – lighter riders then sit on my back wheel and use me as a moving windbreak.  They’d better watch out for the braking distances as I have disc brakes which generally allow shorter stopping distances than rim brakes.  I have to remind myself to allow more time to slow down when I ride other bike with rim brakes, particularly if it is wet.

Next weekend is going to be real challenge.  I have rides on Friday (105 km or 65 miles) and Saturday (85 km or 52 miles) with quite a bit of climbing in each ride in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell – the routes go up Gospel Pass and The Tumble (on different days thank goodness).  I’ll have to see how the legs are feeling on Sunday – I will have the option part way through the ride of dropping down to the Dragon Medio Fondo, a distance of 153 km (95 miles).  Look out for the next blog to find out how I get on.

As a reminder, I am raising money to support Dementia UK I am 40% of the way to my target fundraising (I don’t have a minimum amount to raise because I am totally self-funded and not taking a sponsored place).  You can support my by donating at my Virgin Money Giving page here

100 Days to Go !

It is now starting to get serious as there are now 100 days to go (or less depending when you read this blog post !) until the start of the 2018 Deloitte Ride Across Britain.  As one participant wrote on their blog we have now reached a tipping point – training cannot now be put off in the belief that we still have plenty of time to make up for missed sessions or times when you don’t put in a decent effort.  There is also the desire not to pick up an injury, catch a cold or even worse, have a crash – there is not really enough time to mend if you break something!

The organisers, Threshold Sports, sent out training plans last autumn suitable for beginners, intermediate and experienced cyclists.  I’ve been following a slightly different plan with my coach, Lawrence, at Enduraprep and I’m relieved to see there are some similarities between the plans, although I tend to do shorter, more intense sessions during the week and longer rides at the weekend.  I think I would struggle to do the two 1 1/2 to 2 hour mid week rides suggested by Threshold Sports, while a five hour ride at the weekend is no longer a faint hope but becoming the norm.

Threshold Sports sent out a questionnaire last week to the participants asking about our training in terms of length of rides and the type of bike we intend to use if not a road bike.  I hope I don’t received a “Must Do More” note from “teacher”!

I was glad last weekend was a Bank Holiday as I only managed to get out on the Monday for a long ride through the Vale of Glamorgan round to the west of Bridgend.  It was hot and sticky with a headwind on the way back – distinctly hard work.  I didn’t make it easy on myself as I decided to go up the climb up to Norton near Ogmore by Sea.  It is a short but steep climb – the 1 in 10 sign is wrong – it’s steeper!  Simon Warren, who has written a series of books about cycling climbs in the UK, only gives it a 2/10 score, probably on account of its short length.  There was a great view at the top.

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Top of Norton Hill, looking north west

Personally speaking, I prefer the longer, steadier (less steep climbs) of The Rhigos, The Bwlch and The Tumble (all rated much harder) any day !  This coming weekend I plan to do a training ride in preparation for the Etape Wales and Dragon Ride on 8-10 June.  Hopefully there will be a few of us “RABbers” taking part and we plan to investigate the Devil’s Elbow (a 7/10 climb).

My sponsorship page is now seeing a bit more action as it is easier to ask for sponsorship the closer I get to the event – I’ve received some very generous donations recently – thank you very much!  There is still plenty of time to support me in raising money for Dementia UK .  You can find my Virgin Money Giving page here

South Wales delivers over May Bank Holiday

What a difference a week makes – from chilly pretty miserable cycling weather to “wall to wall” sunshine and almost too hot for cycling !

On Saturday I completed my first cycling Century – 100 miles in a ride with 2,160 m of climbing.

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View from the top of the Bwlch

It is a bit scary to think that I’ll have to do a slightly longer distance each day for nine days in September in order to complete the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

I’ve just joined the Deloitte RAB Facebook group (a closed group for participants of the 2018 ride).  It is interesting to read some of the comments about lack of training and the hope that they’ll be “pulled along” by the rest of the riders – I have to admit I’d be concerned about a bit of wishful thinking considering how hard I found the Saturday ride.  Here is a 3D view of the ride Relive Link

I ended up climbing two of the Top UK 100 climbs – the Rhigos (from both sides) followed by the Bwlch from the Treorchy side.  There was then a long ride home via Bridgend and the coastal road through the Vale of Glamorgan.

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View from the top of the Rhigos

I worn the cycle top sent to me by Dementia UK as shown by the photo at the top of the Rhigos.

I did a light spin indoors on Sunday as I didn’t fancy the heat of the afternoon after sailing at Sully in the morning, although it was a bit of a drift fighting the tides due to lack of wind.

As Bank Holiday Monday was due to be even hotter I decided to get up fairly early and got out for a ride shortly after 7.30 and took out my Specialized Venge for a spin over 100 km or so.  This is a very different bike from the Cannondale SuperSix that I intend to ride on the Deloitte RAB.  The Venge is an “aero” bike designed to go fast.  The ride is fairly unforgiving as the bike is very stiff.  The Cannondale is also a race bike and very stiff but is designed with some clever tech to dampen some of the road buzz – I have also converted to tubeless tyres which can reduce punctures.  This was brought home to me when I got a puncture after less than 12 miles!  The rest of the ride was uneventful – lots of cyclists out, probably training for the Carten (Cardiff to Tenby) ride next weekend by the look of lots of cycle tops.

The Vale of Glamorgan was looking at its best – not a cloud to be seen and new surprises for me just west of Bridgend when I came across the Merthyr Mawr Warren National Nature Reserve after riding down a dead end – quite unintentional !  The smell of freshly cooked bacon from the campsite wasn’t fair…

It is now four weeks until my next sportive – the Etape Wales and the Dragon Ride.  Lots more training to get through before then including a few more climbs.

If you’d like to help me raise money for Dementia UK please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here I’m a third of the way to my target if you include the Gift Aid !

Ridgeway Rouleur Sportive – more training

On Saturday I took part in the Brewin Dolphin Ridgeway Rouleur, a 93 mile sportive in south Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.  I was lucky enough to be invite by Brewin Dolphin’s Cardiff office as my firm has mutual clients who receive wealth management advice from Brewin Dolphin.

The sportive started off from the Wormsley Estate, located just outside Stockenchurch and owned by the Getty family.

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Last minute bike checks

The estate is huge – we had three miles of riding on private roads before joining the main roads!  It is also “hidden” in a valley and was very quiet despite being less than a mile from the M40.  I think it will be a while before I see a nicer place to start a sportive.

The sportive was organised by UK Cycling Events and I have to say it was superb (other than a 20 minute queue to get into the Estate which probably proves how popular the event was !).  As  guest of the sponsor I had the option of riding with a bike guide, Tom, to aim for a “Gold standard” finish of under six hours (including feed stops).  Last year on the same sportive I sneaked in under the time limit with less than two minutes to spare.  Once we got on to the main roads and dealt with the first main climb out of the valley the pace shot up.  A group formed and proceeded to ride my fastest ever 50 miles in 2.5 hours!  I have to admit I hid in the pack apart from a very short turn at the front – there were some very strong riders who seemed happy to do all the work keeping the pace high.

The main hills kicked in at around 55 miles and and it turned into a bit of every rider for themselves.  Much smaller groups formed as we went at our own pace up the hills – at times it was a bit like being attached to riders with a bungee cord.  A rider would disappear up the hill and you would catch them up going down.

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The climb to come in the distance

I caught up with the leading group at the second feed station, tried to keep up and then got dropped on the first slight incline !  I only had 20 or so miles to go – the same distance as a coffee ride from Penarth to Llantwit Major.  My speed now dropped and I was glad of the traffic lights and cars in Goring and Watlington as recovery time.

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View to the west with 15 miles to go!

The last main effort was Hill Road out of Watlington up to Christmas Common at a gradient of just over 6%, just three miles from the end.  All riders in the event had to do this hill and I managed to keep going rather than getting off and walking; a real grind of an effort.

The event finished with a brief but very welcome sports massage on my weary legs from Six Physio (thanks Harriet) as part of the Velo Club package and a delicious chicken curry plus brownies to start refuelling.  All in all it was a great day and a good test of what it will be like to cycle over 100 miles a day in September albeit at a slower pace.  The second part of the route was over the same roads as last year and I managed quicker times in most cases which is a good sign for my fitness.  After a great nights sleep – my answer to “Did you hear the thunder last night?” was “What thunder!”, I felt remarkably fresh today.  A short 30 minute easy cycle and then cleaning the bike ready for the next training ride.

Oh, my time for the 93 miles, 5 hours 24 minutes.  Well within the Gold finish time and according to Strava, 22nd out of 225 participants – I’m absolutely delighted!

I’m doing the Deloitte Ride Across Britain to raise money for Dementia UK.  If you would like to sponsor me, please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here

 

Five months to go !

It is slightly scary to think that in exactly five months time I should be in Bath having cycled from Oakhampton during the day.  Next weekend I have a training day with other riders taking part the in the event.  It will be a great opportunity to meet some of the riders and compare how we are getting on with the training.  The day starts at Princes Risborough which is six miles from where my Mother lives which makes it very convenient.  It is also her birthday weekend so a good opportunity for a visit.  One of the rides near Princes Risborough is Whiteleaf Hill, a climb of about a mile and a half but with an incline in parts of 16% – hopefully the training ride organisers will not be that cruel to take us up it !

Today I took part in the KOM Sportive organised by Lawrence Cronk, my trainer at Enduraprep.  It was dry (great) and slightly cool (even better with the amount of climbing we had to do).  I chose to do the “short” ride of 98 km which still involved 1,883m of climbing.  I couldn’t face the 130 km ride with something like 2,800m of climbing.  I was slightly faster than last year even though this years route was longer and involved more hills – hopefully this is a good sign.  I’ll be going over the other statistics from the ride later (it’s the geek in me).

The ride started out from Treforest and almost immediately we had a 11% climb through Pontypridd and up towards Llanwonno.

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Towards Ferndale

The downhhill into Ferndale was pretty good but not as good as the road from the top pf the Rhigos into Treherbert – fantastic smooth tarmac and a top speed of 67 kph!

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Rhigos climb

The second feed station was reached up what can only be described as a cart track – narrow, stones and rocks in the middle and seriously steep.  The worst point was meeting a 4×4 which was coming down the track and I had to stop – getting going and clipping back into the pedals was not fun.

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Key question : What to eat at the feed stations !

The last major hill of the day for me was the Church Road climb into Pentyrch, a ride I had done a couple of times before.  Rather than turning left at the top which I had done on the previous rides, we had to turn right and continued climbing – not at all what I was expecting.  The final incline was a short sharp hill up to the finishing line in the University of South Wales campus – all the riders ended up being in their best climbing gear and seriously out of breath !

All in all a good 4 and a bit hours of cycling so a big thank you to the organisers.  I just need to see where I came on the timed climb up the Rhigos.  I also have a nice new KOM polka dot buff, although I’m not sure how long it will stay white…img_0568.jpg

If you would like to sponsor me to help the work of Dementia UK please visit my Virgin Money Giving page here