Dragon Ride 2007 ride report - Road Cycling UK

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Dragon Ride 2007 ride report

It’s too early for this

Queueing for the start

A bit closer to the start

An early feed

More food needed – now

Last feed before the Bwlch

Gran Fondo or Medio?

Are we doing the right thing?

Relief at last

How was it for you?

So much for global warming; it should really be called climate melt down. April was glorious, May was wet and June seems to be suffering with sporadic high rainfall and glorious sunshine it the same day. It didn’t bode well for a dry sportive.
This time I came prepared, Race Blades were packed and, taking a tip from the T-Mobile mechanics, the chain was greased. Along with a Gore Oxygen jacket plus some arm and knee warmers I think I had most bases covered.

We were greeted with rain as we stepped out of the hotel on Sunday morning. Thankfully we were 20minutes away from the start in Bridgend by car and were hoping that the rain would die off by time we hit the start. The Tour of Wessex, leaving me wary of being un-prepared for the day’s events ahead, had tarnished my experience. Not wanting to end up in the same situation I donned lightweight overshoes, arm and knee warmers plus a gilet. Stuffed in the back pocket was the Oxygen jacket that had kept me dry throughout day two of the Wessex. I had the feeling I may be slightly overdressed, but I thought I could always stuff items of clothing into my pockets.

Having talked to my riding buddy we had decided the night before we were not going to stop at the first feed station as it would be too soon. Normally feed stations are better after the climb as it’s good to get a breather at the top and you really don’t want to be climbing with food sitting in your belly. As there are some car parks at the top of the Bwlch this would have been a better place for it when it became the last feed. For a first feed I would have gone for the top of the Rhigos, but logistics are a hard thing to manage.

The first time up the Bwlch came as a surprise as I had never ridden it from this direction. It offered a longer, more Alpine style climb, which I generally prefer compared to the comedy ascents that other sportives use. (It was 7km long with 326 metres of climbing) Upon reaching the top we were greeted with the first real treat of the day in descending the Bwlch. This descent was the last climb in previous years so I knew that the sweeping nature would mean I would have to concentrate while hitting a top speed of 70 kmph.

I can’t really recall climbing the Rhigos at all, which means it was either painful or easier in that direction. At the bottom of the descent came the roundabout where the crunch decision came for either the Medio or Gran Fondo. Turning left onto the Medio I was soon upon the second feed station. A quick stop here for a banana and I was off again. At this point I caught up with my buddy who had gone off like a bullet from the start. Some analogy about the tortoise and the hare springs to mind. The section between the second and third feed stations was very rolling in nature with only some short climbing through Neath.

Stopping at the third feed for some water this was the first point in the day that I got caught up in the ‘just hanging around’ syndrome that can really add minutes to your finish time. Looking up at the Bwlch for the second time left me with a knowing feeling as we had just ascended it a few hours earlier. It was upon climbing it for the second time that my feet went painfully numb. Yes, I had the classic hot feet burning sensation that I had not had since the Dragon in 05, at almost the same point in the ride. Climbing had gone past its usual painful feeling into a new arena, which was very unwelcome as I was so close to the finish. I was about to stop to take my shoes off but I was greeted with a great shout from Mr Hallett to keep going. With such encouragement, how could I stop?

Knowing that there was around 30km to go I pressed on past the pain barrier with the reward of taking my shoes off beckoning me closer to the finish line with every pedal stroke. Reaching the top this time we turned right and back onto familiar roads back to Bridgend. I had forgotten all about the cattle grid on the left hand turn and nearly lost it at that point. Thank God it hadn’t been wet otherwise I might have seen how good the Welsh NHS was. A quick turn right took us onto the rolling roads I knew from previous years. Seeing the 1-½ miles to Bridgend sign spurred me on to pedal faster knowing that very soon my reward was in sight, the removal of my shoes. I finished the event having really enjoyed it, yet at the same time I was left feeling that I hadn’t won a great battle against the course. Richard says I should have done the full distance, and he may well have been right.

Things to improve on . . . .

This is the third time I have ridden the Dragon and this year it had a new route. Changing from an established route can be a bold move as some riders like to come back year on year to judge their times, while others will embrace tackling a mountain from another direction. There were certain elements that I really enjoyed, but I would love to see a mix of some of the new parts with the established route. Climbing the Bwlch in the new direction was great, but in a perverse way I also missed the 06 climb. Maybe instead of climbing the same climb twice we could have ascended the 06 route to top it off. Reviewing both routes I would say that the 06 route was probably tougher than the 07 version, but I did enjoy both. The attractions of the Alpine style climbs are something which has brought me back time and time again and I would like to see more of them.

The start seemed to lack any real flow and organization compared to previous years, and yes, I am bearing in mind that every year the field has doubled. Please, no Country and Western music at that time of the day, it was almost too much. Many other sportives have food included in the price of the event and I know many riders were surprised by the lack of provision for this. One burger bar and a small coffee place are not enough for the amount of riders in this event. At the end of a ride all you want is to be able to get something to eat and drink quickly without the long queues.

Many riders complained about not getting any food on feed stations three and four (if you did the long route). I think there needs to be a mixture of some self policing from both the riders and organizers to how much food people are taking to
stop this happening. As there is almost nowhere on route to buy anything this can turn a pleasurable day into a nightmare.

The level of expectation has been raised over the last twelve months with riders now expecting better goodie bags for the money coughed up for an event.

Things I liked . . . .

Not having to sign on the day before as all the required information was sent in the post. Other organizers please take note; this is the way forward for big events.

Signage is always excellent, and unlike many events doesn’t seem to suffer with sign removal that some events are plagued with. I would like to encourage the organizers to make the information on the climbs bigger as this would be more useful.

Friendly volunteers at all the feed stations along the route that were happy to help with filling your bottles. Portaloos, what a brilliant idea especially as more and more Ladies are taking part in these events.

Having the courage to try a new route, hopefully to be better still for next year.

The editor adds his ha’porth:

Early or late start? It’s nice to have a ride number that gives you the choice; starting in the front group theoretically gets you an early finish, while starting later means you see more of your fellow competitors and spend the day overtaking rather than being overtaken. I dithered until the last possible moment before piling into the front row alongside Dave Brailsford, Shane Sutton and David Harmon. Former pro and Milk Race winner Sutton wasted no time in pushing the pace, and by the time we reached the foot of the Bwlch our group had already been whittled down to just over a dozen.

Once the serious climbers had cleared off, we were down to half that. Sutton, who lives in Cardiff and coaches the Welsh cycling squad, had clearly been detailed to tow boss Brailsford around, and was impatiently riding past in the big ring for a few hundred metres before dropping back to urge on British Cycling’s main man.

Much the same happened on the Rhigos, although on the descent I managed to get a bit of a gap on the BC duo that lasted until well past Hirwaun. The long route, or Gran Fondo ride, took in a great loop over the Brecon Beacons, turning west before Brecon towards Sennybridge and then on past Defynnog and the Cray reservoir before dropping down to Abercraf. The first part of this leg is endlessly lumpy, with strength-sapping rises followed by short, windy descents that gave little respite.

Looking back after a couple of miles of this, I was heartened to see Shane Sutton towing a small group. I gladly dropped in, and we worked well enough together until we got the Abercraf. On the long drag past the chimpanzee sanctuary, the threat of cramp in a hamstring finally materialised and I had to say sayonara to my companions. Dropping down into Glynneath I found the Medio Fondo in full swing until the vicious little climb out of Neath, where many who had opted for the shorter ride found even that to be tougher than they had bargained for. Despite the pleas of organiser Lou Lusardi, many of the riders I encountered on this section simply ignored the traffic lights they encountered; perhaps they feel the roads should be closed.

Back down in the Afan valley, peace was restored; the second climb of the Bwlch seemed to be having a steadying effect on everyone, and the last feed was a model of decorum. On the steep part of the climb I spotted a substantial figure in an RCUK jersey up ahead. As I drew near, the rider appeared to be on the verge of stopping until I gave a loud yell; it was Rich Land, who swore something about his feet as I went past.

The final descent was the same drop into the Ogmore vale that I had ridden two years previously, and had the same traffic-ridden leg out onto the dunes just inland from Bridgend. I hooked up with a couple of serious types for the final few kliks, which include a short, sharp shocker of a rise that comes at entirely the wrong point in the ride. There remained a couple of kilometres of dual carriageway before the final lunge to the line. Checking my watch, I figured beating 6hrs 30 was just feasible if I really pushed for the line; when I finished well inside this, I treated myself to a superb hamburger while watching the finishers come in. Shane Sutton’s time, well inside six hours, would surely have been half an hour quicker had he ‘done his own ride’, but all credit to Dave Brailsford for staying with him for long enough to get around well inside the six and a half.

How did the route compare to the old one? Some riders didn’t like it, but it is arguably a better sportive route especially with the 65km loop of the long ride, which bumps the Dragon Ride up to a proper 200km. If you don’t like the killer section between Hirwaun and Abercraf, make sure you get in a decent group…

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