There’s climbing… and there’s climbing. There’s pedalling away steadily and relatively easily on a 10percent slope, and there’s forcing your way up something three times steeper. Which is what the early part of the Llandovery CycleOps Power Road Sportive is all about.
The event, which takes place on 21st May and starts in the small mid-Wales town from which it takes its name, is the first of two companion events taking place that weekend – the other being the Chain Reaction Cycles MTB Marathon Series – and is seriously hardcore. How do we know? We went around the first part of the long route, that’s how.
A mere 135km
At a mere 135km, the “Classic” ride is not long by regular cyclosportive standards and, with a mere 2500m of climbing, does not look especially severe. Don’t be fooled. After a steady start heading east away from Llandovery, the route strikes away from the main A483 trunk road into the depths of the Crychan Forest before descending to Llangammarch Wells via a couple of foot bridges (for those who don’t want to chance the accompanying fords).
So far, so good; but once the ride reaches Beulah and heads into the Cambrian Mountains, the fun starts. Beyond Abergwesyn lies the Gwesyn valley and the Abergwesyn mountain road to Tregaron, which was for many years a regular fixture of the Milk Race. It’s a stunning ride, both in terms of scenery, which is spectacular, and climbing, which is savage.
The road up the valley wends steadily upwards beneath vertiginous mountainsides with the occasional drop off to one side keeping concentration high until it appears to come to something of a dead end with no obvious way over the sheer slope that lies ahead. The way is there, of course. It is called the Devil’s Staircase and it climbs 145m in 1.1km. An average of 13percent, however, gives little idea of the nature of the beast, which looks innocent enough at the bottom to tempt young George into a surging approach run – which ended abuptly as he passed under the trees at the start of the climb and was faced with the Staircase’s legendary 30percent wall.
Milk Race victory
It was on this climb that Bill Nickson attacked his opponents to pave the way for his victory in the 1976 Milk Race, a feat he achieved thanks to judicious fitment of “touring” gearing for the stage.
Attempting the ascent, it is not hard to see how this tactic might have worked. Merely staying on the bike is no mean feat, especially when the road surface is wet and it usually is; wheelspin is a constant threat, jarring the legs and killing valuable momentum when it strikes.
Avoid wheelspin and the sheer effort of turning the pedals threatens to send heart rate rocketing, at which point there’s little choice but to stop and let it come back down. Better is a steady, slow graunch for the first two hairpins, beyond which there’s some sign of the gradient easing. Which it does, to about 20percent, only after some 600m levelling off to a more manageable 10percent or so.
Trouble is, there are two more such climbs – not quite as demanding, but stiff challenges nonetheless – to go and a bleak, lonely tramp across the exposed mountains before the technical and superfast descent to Tregaron.
From here, there’s time to rest and recuperate on the long, gentle descent via Llanddewi Brefi of Little Britain fame to Lampeter along the Teifi valley. Here, short on time, we headed straight back to Llandovery on the hilly A482. Sportive riders will continue to Llanybydder, where the route turns again into the mountains, starting with a 5km climb and continuing along delightfully twisting and undulating roads to Llangadog before making a fast, easy return leg to Llandovery. Anyone with any strength left for this last section will surely enjoy it, but after the punishment of the Abergwesyn mountain road, there won’t be many in such a fortunate position.
For full details of the ride, the alternative 88km Standard sportive route and how to enter, visit www.roadsportives.co.uk