All images courtesy of Matthew Alexander
Ben Hardisty writes…
There Be Dragons in those hills (but I didn’t see any)
After a week of checking and re-checking the weather forecast, it turned out I needn’t have worried. For the most part it was sunny and warm. If I had managed to get round the route a bit quicker I would have missed the torrential downpour that arrived with 10 miles to go, but it served to wash away the sweat and general stickiness.
Another attempt at the Dragon Ride and yet again I didn’t double check ride distances. Each year it seems the route is altered while covering some of the same ground, however the mileage was up from my last visit, this time to 140 and a bit miles, which is my longest ever ride. And it felt like it. The event start/finish was at Margam Park with Port Talbot Steelworks in view.
Tagging on the back of a nicely rolling group in the first mile or so, I followed the riders on to the first climb up the Afan Valley, a long climb with a gentle gradient, but after 10 miles my legs were grateful as we crested the Bwlch summit. A fast drop down the other side into Treorchy, was followed up the next long climb up to Rhigos. Having a later start time allowed me to be constantly chasing slower riders which along with the great views kept me going.
Another long sweeping drop into Hirwaun, then it was the steady climb out onto the rolling open moorland of the Brecon Beacons. A nice tailwind meant that even when isolated you could keep motoring along. Past the Beacons reservoir and a long descent towards Brecon, all too soon interruped by a long climb towards Sennybridge. 50 miles on the clock and we turned towards Heol Senni, otherwise known as The Devil’s Elbow. The sharpest climb of the day and I was pleased it was arriving relatively early. Photographers at each turn capturing the pain.
Now onto the rolling road and headwind which was a feature of the second half of this ride, tired legs finding it difficult on the constantly changing gradient. Dropping into Glynneath but quickly climbing back out towards Abercrave, another long but shallow ascent. A right turn and a very long climb towards the Crai reservoir where on previous events there had been a food stop.
Through Trecastle and mile upon mile of the rolling road, legs by now very tired. Feelings of extreme tiredness mingled with shorter spurts of energy, fitness being severely tested. Surrounded by and overtaking/being overtaken by the same riders for a few hours. Friendly banter exchanged and joking about whats coming next.
Finally we are on Black Mountain approaching from the Northern side. Part of this climb reminds me of a section on the Galibier where the road sweeps right over the small bridge and then climbs above on the other side of the valley. Fortunately we are not on the Galibier today. Near the summit a well meaning supporter (of which there were many – thank you to all) shouts ‘not long to go now’, but I know there is plenty to go. Over the top of Black Mountain and very long shallow descent, my hands and arms are now registering every single bump in the road, and its far from comfortable.
A final food stop at Gurnos where a variety of answers given for ‘How long to go’, so I console myself with the worst case, which happens to be correct. A nastly little climb at Ystradgynlais then another testing climb at Cymla (Neath) a few miles later. But now on the ‘finishing straight’. The refreshing rain arrives and I see a few punctures about, thankfully I escape and finish under the banner back at Margam Park after 9hr 45m.
I was hoping to break 9 hours ….next year
Superbly organised once again.