The Dragon Ride sportive: a rider's view

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Sportive

Taming the Dragon: a team approach to the gruelling Welsh sportive

The 2013 Dragon Ride posed many challenges for the 4000 or so competitors who lined up in Port Talbot early on one warm Sunday morning in June.

For me and my teammates, the objective was to experiment with how teamwork principles learnt in competitive cycling can translate to a gruelling event like the 216km Dragon Ride. Despite the fact we’d known each other well for years this was our first time lining up for an event as teammates and we were very excited.

RCUK fitness coach, Tom Kirk (centre), rode the 2013 Wiggle Dragon Ride as part of a team

A team approach to a sportive involves a fair amount of organisation and commitment, both in terms of training and preparation and in making sure things run smoothly on the actual day. We arranged a weekend’s training camp in the hills around Manchester in April, held in conditions not quite so temperate as the event. Nonetheless, this provided a valuable opportunity to learn each other’s riding styles and strengths and weaknesses.

We had just received our new Argon 18 bikes and team kit courtesy of i-ride.co.uk and Mobel Sport and spent some time tweaking our positions and making sure the bikes were set up correctly using a collective experience of over 35 years cycling. With any new equipment, it really is worth spending the time and effort to get it set up correctly: a professional opinion is useful here, but experience and knowing what works for you is valuable nonetheless.

A team approach to a sportive involves a fair amount of organisation and commitment, both in terms of training and preparation and in making sure things run smoothly on the day

With the knowledge of team-mate Sean’s power on the flatter roads in the back of my mind, and its value to our team effort, I seized the chance to spend a couple of weeks training in the mountains of southern Spain to hone my climbing form.

The fortnight transformed my preparation as I accumulated 17 and then 27 hours of extremely mountainous training in the hills of the Alpujarras over two weeks, with a trip up Mont Ventoux on the way. I knew the quality training in the mountains would bring my form on quickly and help to make up for a disrupted winter’s training with the snowy weather and a month off the bike away managing Metaltek-Knights of Old in the Tours of Algeria and Morocco this spring.

It was (almost) all smiles on the start line

Nonetheless, with the hilly gradients of the Dragon Ride on my mind, I fitted an extra low gear for the main event giving me a bottom gear of 39×27 ‘just in case’! In the end it wasn’t needed. The 25 sprocket felt comfortable, even on the steep climb of the Devil’s Elbow, I’m sure this wouldn’t have been the case before my trip to Spain.

It was (almost) all smiles on the start line when we rolled out a little later than planned (need to work on our timekeeping as well as our riding) and we quickly got organised, taking short turns each in the relatively flat opening kilometres and working our way through the groups.

With the hilly gradients of the Dragon Ride on my mind, I fitted an extra low gear for the main event, giving me a bottom gear of 39×27 ‘just in case’! In the end it wasn’t needed.

Sean was riding very strongly as we overtook many of the earlier starters and I was just about managing to keep my turns over the first 60km as we approached the first major climb of the Black Mountain. This was a long but steady climb and the change in position from the streamlined form needed for speed on the flat to a more upright climbing stance began to play havoc with Sean’s hamstrings.

We stayed together on the climb, but had to stop at the top to make some adjustments to his saddle position. Just a small tweak can make a huge difference. He had set his saddle forward a touch to give him more power on the flat but the long climbs of the Dragon Ride, a slightly more set back position proved much more comfortable. After taking the descent easily he was feeling much better and able to keep rolling through again.

The next 100km consisted of constant climbing and descending, with limited opportunity to recover. We tried to limit our stops to a quick refill of the bottles when needed, preferring to rely mainly on the food in our pockets with cereal bars and our caffeinated Zipvit gels for a bit of a boost!

Tom proudly displays his jersey and medal

After my training camp in Spain, the climbs weren’t too hard and we rode well together until the final feed zone where we lost team-mate Paul to cramp. He continued alone and did well to finish in good spirits, and not too far down. Sean and I continued together and had a great time in the final 30 to 40km working well together and smashing our way through the groups still in front of us.

Along with many other riders, we became stuck waiting as a rider was airlifted from the scene of a nasty crash on a cattle grid. This was one of many we came across that day, mostly caused, in my opinion, by taking the descents too fast and crashing on corners, highlighting an important need to train technique as well as fitness in budding sportive riders. Despite the delay, we finished strongly, with smiles on our faces and that satisfying feeling of achievement you get from completing such a tough event, despite a bit of sunburn!

Now I’ve had a bit of time to recover and reflect, it’s time to look for new goals to aim for to give focus to the rest of the season.  As featured in our new series ‘From sportive rider to racer in 2013’ I’ll be turning my attention to racing and trying to convert the strength and endurance developed from my training for the Dragon Ride into some race winning speed.

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