The Dragon Ride and l’Etape du Tour hold prominent places on the roster of personal achievements for thousands of sportive riders.
The connection, aside from the sheer gruelling nature of each, is, at first glance, not immediately obvious, but for Mark Westwood, the Welsh event has featured as regular preparation for the still greater demands of France.
His connection with the Dragon Ride goes back further: Westwood will celebrate a decade of the challenging event in south Wales on Sunday (June 9) as one of a select group to have ridden all ten events since its inception in 2004.
“It started off quite small, and I remember in 2004, about 500 people doing it,” Westwood recalls. “The last five years, I guess it’s been up near three or 4,000 people. It’s as close as you get to that l‘Etape du Tour experience, in terms of numbers of people. It’s great fun.”
His path to the summits variously of Black Mountain and Mont Ventoux will be one familiar to many RCUK readers. Instantly converted to cycling as a teenager by the televised spectacle of the Tour de France in the late 1980s, subsequent ownership of a driving licence turned his bike from best friend to forgotten object.
All that changed in 2004, when chancing across an article on l’Etape in a cycling magazine opened his mind to the possibility of emulating the riders whose exploits had enthralled him a decade earlier.
The Dragon Ride is as close as you get to that l‘Etape du Tour experience, in terms of numbers of people. It’s great fun.
“The thought that someone like myself could do the same climbs as the riders in the Tour de France seemed incredible at the time,” he recalls.
Four months after hastily completing an application form in the French cycling magazine, Velo, and buying a bike, Westwood found himself on the start line for l’Etape: a 240km slog from Limoges to Saint-Flour. In between lay the Dragon Ride.
“The great thing about the Dragon Ride is that the climbs are, by UK standards, long, but not steep,” he says.
“It’s a combination of that and the distance. They’ve changed the route a few times over the last 10 years and it’s become a really good distance: something like 200km, or 7.5 hours in the saddle.”
The Dragon Ride, along with the Fred Whitton Challenge, have become “mainstays” of Westwood’s preparation for l’Etape. While he will not ride in the French event this year, he will return to Margam Country Park on Sunday with 5,000 others, ready to tackle the 210km Gran Fondo.
“Fortunately, I’ve gone from near the back of it to a bit nearer the front,” Westwood jokes. “It’s kind of a year-on-year progression.”
Like an increasing number of riders, Westwood has used his sportive experience as a foundation for road racing and time trialing. Those who underestimate the challenge of the Dragon Ride do so at their peril.
The Dragon Ride which is run by Human Race Events is celebrating its 10th year. For more on this sportive and other cycle events run by Human Race check out: www.humanrace.co.uk.