Gore Bike Wear Sportive: Builth Wells
Gore Bike Wear Sportive: Builth Wells

(photos © www.rightplacerighttime.co.uk)

In his book, 'Cycle Tours: South Wales', Nick Cotton recommends that only “extreme enthusiasts should try to cycle up the Devil's Staircase." He may have a point.

In case you haven't heard of it before, the Devils' Staircase, deep in rural Wales, is a 1:4 climb that lasts about 1km. Part of the Abergwesyn mountain road, it's been part of road races including the Milk Race in the past. On 5th July, the second event in the inaugural Gore Bike Wear Road Sportive Series took on this challenge as part of a 80 mile loop that started and finished in Builth Wells.

Setting of from the White House Campsite, the 'Classic Sportive' (80 miles) and 'Standard Sportive' (42 miles) headed west and picked up the B4356 towards Beulah. This was the day before the Builth Wells stage of the Merida Bike MTB Marathon Series, and pretty soon it became clear that the guys behind the event had put all their experience of hosting mountain bike events to good use. Turning right towards Abergwesyn the already quiet traffic all but disappeared and the well marked route was taking us through stunning countryside. Although it's only a fairly short ride from some main roads, this area feels very remote, and as the two routes split in Abergwesyn, on the longer route I couldn't help but feel lucky to be heading north through a peaceful valley towards the foot of Devil's Staircase.

That lucky feeling didn't last long though - the climb lived up to its name and, having only ridden it on a mountain bike before, I could have sworn it had got a few degrees steeper since my last visit. A couple of descents after the main climb were welcome but it wasn't long before the climbing began again. With 3300m of climbing to take care of on this ride there was no time to hang around.

The beautiful Llyn Brianne reservoir came into view before long with great views across the water as the road zig-zagged along the spurs that jut out into this reservoir that supplies parts of South Wales. After a friendly welcome at the first of two well stocked food stops the route headed towards Llandovery before turning left onto a quick section of main road. Soon after a right hand turn towards Llangammarch Wells via Tirabad, the climbing motif returned. This area is overlooked by Mynydd Epynt, a vast area of Wales which is generally out of bounds; it's one of the largest army ranges in Europe. Of more immediate interest today though was that the route was taking me upwards again; back up to around 400 metres above sea level. The Devils Staircase may have been the steepest climb of the day but the grind up to the lookout above Garth was definitely the longest.

Once that was out of the way, you might have thought that it would be an easy coast back down to the valley floor at Builth Wells. But no; a couple of stings in the tail on the B4520 confirmed beyond doubt that road riding in Mid Wales is pretty challenging. Returning back to the 'event village' to a very welcome hot drink, slab of cake and finishing present, there was lots to see and do on site in the afternoon and evening.

It's good to have the option of making a weekend of it and camping was included in the entry fee for those who wanted it. The caterers and mobile coffee shop helped to build a good atmosphere as hundreds of MTB riders were arriving at the campsite for the start of the MTB Marathon the next day. The stands on site were impressive; Gore Bike Wear had a free trial for riders to try out their clothing during the ride; Merida had their road bikes on display. Any last minute supplies could be picked up at the High 5 and Wheelbase stands. Cycle Active were running free MTB skills courses from the campsite, and there was even a big screen in the Marquee which was tuned into the Wimbledon Mens' final later in the afternoon!

In all, this was a great event. Well organized and involving challenging riding through what must be some of the most spectacular countryside in the UK. It worked both as a stand alone event and as part of a whole weekend of riding for the brave souls who also took on the MTB Marathon the following day. Those who chose the shorter 42 mile route also had their fair share of climbing (1500m), which did not include the (in)famous Devil's Staircase. Nick Cotton may have had a point about that climb, but don't let that put you off...

The next round of the series – Selkirk 2nd August 2008

The next round of the Gore Bike Wear Road Sportive series is going to be in Selkirk taking the series for the first time out of Wales. The Selkirk round, which is famous for its first class mountain bike trails, will have a great and challenging course waiting for the riders with a gentle start along the River Tweed before heading up into the hills conquering Fans Law (460m) as well as passing through The Wiss and the Turner Cleuch Law (380m).

To find out more about the details of the Gore Bike Wear Road Sportive Series 2008 please go to the Gore Sportive page on our website.