Putting our money where our mouth is....
As promoters of the event we thought it was only fair that we subjected ourselves to the full ordeal. It would also give us an opportunity to suss out the feed stops and check whether the GPX files were accurate. If I’m honest it was also an excuse for a couple of days in the saddle given that we’ll be rather busy on the day of the event!
As a result 3 of us found ourselves at Mortimer Park home of Luctonians rugby club at 9am on a Monday morning. Ahead of us was 200 miles and the worst 2-day weather forecast for weeks. Having checked out the great facilities at our start/ finish venue, and compared the weights of our over-laden bikes, we boldly set off West.
The first 10 miles were nice and rolling and it was a relief to find the wind was more cross than headwind. As we hit the first climb out of Presteigne I soon realised that I had underestimated the weight penalty of carrying your own “overnight” kit. As the other two disappeared over the brow of the hill I made a mental note to pack more lightly next time. Luckily the gradient eased towards the top and we were treated to an early peek towards the hills to come.
The upside of the extra weight on board soon became apparent as we barrelled down the other side and out into the lumpy lanes towards Llanbister. Unfortunately the weather forecast was correct and rain started falling consistently as we dropped down to check out the first feed stop location at 34 miles. Looking on the bright side it was going to be a good test for my new Alpkit jacket and bike bags! Being unsupported it was pre-prepared peanut butter and jam sandwiches for me and the promise of a café stop further down the road in Llanidloes.
First, we needed to tackle the ascent out of Abbeycwmhir which is a steady picturesque climb at around 7% and 140 metres of vertical gain. We never saw a car the whole way up and down as we negotiated the following hairpin descent. We joined the B-road and enjoyed a rolling tailwind ride to the cafe.
The next section of the road through Hafren forest was a real highlight for me. I’d not ridden it before and it was a perfect single track road with a carpet of pine needles encroaching at the sides. The rain even stopped for a short while as we gained height without noticing and spotted a perfect location for the second feed station at 65 miles at a picnic area.
The main climb of the day loomed ahead as we passed through Dylife. Thankfully, although long, the road over Machynlleth mountain is not that steep and we were soon cresting the top. Having ridden this road twice before I was looking forward to charging down the other side along the sinewy and exposed road that clings to the side of the hill. Unfortunately the cross winds had other ideas and I was glad of my disc brakes and additional weight on board. Being of Columbian climber build Keith was almost blown into the ditch on the wrong side of the road!
Despite the wind it was nice to freewheel for big sections on the 6 miles and 470m drop down to Mach. What followed is the only significant section of A road which took us towards Borth. It passed in a bit of a blur as we sat on Liam’s wheel and thanked the EU for the perfectly smooth layer of tarmac under wheel.
I have tried to remove the last 5 miles from my memory as the words “sting in the tail” do not really do it justice. Let’s just say headwind, sea-spray, 25% gradient, rain, and 95 miles of fatigue. I even had to fire down a gel which for anyone who knows me is a rare departure from my usual mid-ride diet. I’m sure on 15th July riders will be able to enjoy an ice cream with the afternoon sun shimmering over the sea. For us there was no stopping and the thought of dinner and a warm shower just about kept the legs grinding round and we finally made it to Aberystwyth.
Later that evening, dry and warm, we filled our faces and analysed the stats for the day (100 miles, 2,400 meters climbing, 7hrs riding time, 14.3 mph average speed). A couple of pints and a guilt-free “profiterole mountain” later it was time to stop discussing the day’s exploits and splosh back to our digs in flip flops. I made another mental note to pack less clothes and better footwear next time.
Tuesday dawned with similar conditions but by now we were hardened adventurers who were looking forward to whatever the Welsh weather gods chose to throw at us. Despite a very cheeky 16% ramp straight out of Aberystwyth the first 20 miles were a pleasant, rolling affair which warmed the legs up nicely for the Tregaron mountain road.
Having only ever previously ridden this section East-West I was nervously anticipating a serious leg-breaking. It turned out to be easier than expected, the shelter of the forest and regular break in the gradient meant we were at the top on the moorland section in no time. From here the road feels like one of the most remote places I’ve ever ridden with sheep outnumbering people 1,000:1. The one person we did see was hiding in their car and seemed genuinely amazed to see three brave souls out on bikes.
The West side of the Devil’s Staircase followed which was a real brute with its 25% pitches. In contrast to the hairpin-adorned Eastern side it looks ominous as, following some recent deforestation, you can see the whole thing stretching up in front of you. Thankfully there are a couple of slightly-less-steep bits which give some brief respite. In contrast the long descent through the Irfon valley was a joy as we passed the location for the official feed station on the way to our own quick pit-stop in Llanwrtyd Wells.
The next 10 miles rolled by as we stuffed ourselves with malt loaf and contemplated the next climb up Pennau Hill, which is a solid 8% and 288m up onto the military firing range on Mynydd Epynt. The red flags were flying in the wind but luckily we were not shot, unlike my legs by the time we crested. The road then flows through some beautiful, empty moorland which we used for a bit of promotional filming earlier in the year. Unfortunately the view this time was not quite as good as the rain turned to drizzle.
Descending into Builth Wells Keith’s brake pads wore through to the metal which required an unplanned stop at Cycle-tec. They did a great job and thankfully didn’t insist on a clean bike. On the upside the rain had stopped and the delay allowed me to sniff out some ham and cheese toasties……no need for gels today.
With the really big hills under our belts, and the weather improving, we rolled out through undulating countryside, past the final feed station at Newbridge on Wye and into the final third of the ride. What these hills lack in altitude they make up for in gradient with Glascwm being a particularly savage little beast. One more short, sharp climb lead into the final 10 miles which offered up some flowing roads heading predominantly downhill. Finally, we got back to the cars and warm showers at Mortimer Park.
In summary, despite the fact it was only two days of riding, it felt like we shared a “hug-worthy” adventure which belied the fact that it was only 31 hours since we set off. I also know it will be a point of reference on many future rides and justification for over-eating for many days to come.
If this sounds like your kind of thing then click below to enter. If you’ve already entered then I hope this gives a little insight into what you’ve let yourself in for!