Elenith 300k

Audax rides come in all shapes and sizes from 100k beginners events to 1200
and even 1400km marathons. Although 200km is the standard Randonneur distance;
the qualification for the longer rides requires riders to ride 300, 400 and
600km distances.

see pics from Milk Race going Devil’s Staircase

There is also a system of altitude points, with hilly events classified according
to the amount of climbing; for example the Mid Sussex Hilly gains a bronze
Grimpeur award. There are a few rides in the calendar which qualify for the
gold award, and one of these is the Elenith 300km with nearly 5000m of vertical
climbing. I rode this event for the first time in April 2005, partly as training
for l’Ardechoise, although the two rides could hardly have been more different.

The ride starts at 7am outside Kidderminster and before long is on straight
A roads through Shropshire to Wales. The first control at a small airfield
enables riders to fill up with a full English breakfast as fuel for the day’s
climbs.
Afer passing into Wales the serious hills start, first up and then down to
Builth Wells, and then off the main road to a narrow twisting and very scenic
lane heading to Tregaron. As you approach the head of the valley it seems
that the road will soon come to an end as the mountain closes in, and here
a roadside control is set up. Fortified with tea, cakes and jelly babies
the highlight of the ride however greets you from behind the pine trees;
the Devil’s Staircase. This is an impossibly steep (probably 1 in 3 in parts)
1km hairpin road that takes you to the top. There is only one way to ride
it on a road bike and that is up the middle of the narrow road as spinning
vehicle tyres have worn the tarmac on the sides flat and removed any traction
your narrow tyres can supply.

From the top the hills come thick and fast
with tremendous descents and punishing climbs, until you arrive in Tregaron
where the bowls club is used for more food and drink. From there the road
undulates before climbing back over the mountain range eastwards through
the abandoned industrial lead mining area of Cymystwyth before another brutal
climb up over the Elan valley. From the top it is a tremendous downhill
descent, which requires good thermal clothing, to Rhayader and another cafe
stop. Now it is just a simple 100km back to Kidderminster where riders are
often lucky enough to have a following wind. But the last few hills, although
not steep, are long enough to sap any remaining energy left in your legs
and you grovel back to the start in very low gears to collapse on the floor
(or a camping mat if you have any sense) before being rudely awakened at
6 am. The Gold Grimpeur badge is certainly not easily earned!

But the next day you feel exhilaration and complete satisfaction at having
completed what must rank as one of the most scenic, sociable and satisfying
rides in the country.

Martin