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

Chilly riding for the end of April

Last weekend was the first for three weeks when I didn’t have an organised Sportive to attend – it was a good job too as the weather didn’t play ball !  My Saturday ride was more like riding in mid March with an average temperature of 8 degrees Celsius, in other words pretty cold with the need for leg warmers, long sleeved top and wind jacket.  So different from last weekend with bib-shorts and short sleeves.

I tried out a longer distance, intending to go round the west side of Bridgend.  However a wrong turn took me part way into Bridgend before I started to go the right direction to Porthcawl.  A look on the map afterwards shows me where to go next time I want to ride a fairly flat ride – only 1,200 m of climbing in 113 km, not bad for the Vale of Glamorgan.

Repeating some of the routes allows me to see the changing of the seasons, definitely darker looking green grass and more leaves appearing on the trees.

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Here are a couple of photos taken from the same vantage point from a couple of earlier blogs and hopefully I’ll be able to repeat the process over the coming months.

In terms of training, the last few months are starting to pay off.  I did a Functional Threshold Power test last Wednesday, the 20 minute version rather than the hour long test – I do wonder if anyone does the full hour !  For those who haven’t heard of or done a FTP test, it involves warming up for around 15 minutes (minimum) and then riding as hard as possible for 20 minutes on a static bike that measures your power output.  I managed an average power of 259 watts over the 20 minutes which is only 2 watts off my personal best set after two weeks of riding everyday on holiday in Greece.  Although the test is absolutely horrible to do, I will probably do a couple more FTPs before September to test my fitness levels.  I have found the key to the test is not to start too hard but to try and be consistent for the first 10 minutes and then try and increase the output a little – the last three minutes are always the worst!

It’s now less than six weeks to the next Sportive, the Dragon Tour with L’Etape Wales, which involves two days riding in the Brecon Beacons near Crickhowell and then the Dragon Ride from Margam Country Park near Port Talbot.  It will be a good test of riding long distances on consecutive days and a few of my new cycling friends from the Deloitte RAB I met on the training ride will also be taking part.

Do remember, I am doing the Deloitte RAB to raise money for Dementia UK and you can visit my Virgin Money Giving page here