I bolted awake, convinced I’d missed my alarm clock only to discover that since it was 6:30am, not 7:30am, I hadn’t. And I wasn’t going to get much out of pretending to doze through that last hour either, though I still gave it a go…
You see Velothon Wales has 2 routes. A 50km, and a 140km. With 15,000 riders to organise, everyone is put into waves, with allotted pens of 500 riders or so, and start times with, somewhat unusually and probably having something to do with road closures and the pro-race later, the short route guys being set off first, and then us long route folk. I hadn’t paid attention to which Wave I was in, I just knew that I was in Pen E2, with a start time of 9:00am, and that I should be there after 8:25 and before 8:55. Hence the relatively late start. I prefer to start early – sooner started, sooner finished – but hey, I also do what I’m told.
Having decided that I couldn’t face the hotel breakfast, mainly because the chances of them having anything much I wanted to eat were slim, I stayed put and drank bad instant coffee, ate a banana and just half a cereal bar, because I really wasn’t in the mood for eating full-stop. I faffed a bit, packed everything away, killed time doing very little, and then headed for the car. Not because I was going to use it, but because that’s where the bike and assorted paraphernalia were! I reassembled the bike, loaded it with all the usual, dumped my bags in the car, checked out, and headed off in unexpected sunshine.
My pen was, as the pre-ride pdf had indicated, just along from registration so finding it wasn’t hard. With all the cyclists all heading in the same direction, I couldn’t have gotten lost if I’d tried! A short ride through the now fairly empty city centre and I was there. Being on the early side of my slot, I was fairly near the front of the pen, with half an hour to kill. Still, the guy on my right was the chatty sort, so time passed amicably enough. I could have used a toilet but there were none to be seen near us, and besides being penned in would have made getting out and back in kinda problematical. Riders to the front of me, riders to the back, here I was, stuck in the middle with me 😉 Ah well, it could wait. It was pretty warm standing in the sun going nowhere, so I stashed my gilet, and debated doing the same with the arm warmers, but decided against. Our allotted 9:00am came…and not long afterwards we were all gingerly moving slowly forward, through the pedestrianised high street, trying not to slip on the shiny tiles, or bump into other riders or the railings! Some tannoy girl was chatting away and telling us how great we all were, and exhorting us all to have a good time, but without any actual constructive info in there, I think she was being pretty much ignored, which means her continued level of enthusiasm was fairly impressive!
Right then. Under the Start line arch, and off we all go. Once moving things were distinctly chillier, and I was half tempted to stop and put the gilet back on, but I didn’t fancy stopping so soon, and figured I’d warm up soon enough. Especially as I knew the first 40km or so were really flat, so the chances are they’d be fast too. Which they were. The first hour of roundabouts and suburbs and industrial outskirts and beyond flew by at an average of nearly 20mph! It took a while to get used to the novelty of ignoring traffic lights and junctions, of going round whatever side of a roundabout or traffic island you fancied, and there being no cars about. There were plenty of other riders to avoid though, or be avoided by! Sometimes we were on main roads and even dual carriageways, with lovely road surfaces, and as we got into the countryside, we were on narrower lanes with surfaces that were less so, but were still better than I get around here mostly, which is good because avoiding potholes in traffic ain’t easy!
Yes that many riders means a lot of traffic, especially on the narrower country lanes, which could be a bit tricky. Somewhere around the 30 mile mark, on one such, we were all suddenly grinding to a halt and backing up, with riders picking up bikes and walking. This would appear to be where the (how unoriginal) infamous tacks were, or had been, though I never saw one. I just walked along with everyone else, rueing the effect on my average speed, until we all finally got going again!
While I’m walking my way through this, I should mention that there were quite a few accidents out there that I saw (well I saw the aftermath anyway), which presumably means there were even more I didn’t. And marshals standing in the middle road of the road shouting incoherently and angrily at masses of fast approaching riders nearly caused even more. I’m thinking they should have had big red flags to use in such situations, as other events do, because it would have been far clearer what they were trying to achieve. There were signs warning of hazards but small white text on the odd orange sign is not all that legible, and if they’re warning of a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill (as was often the case), it’s no wonder a lot of riders missed them. Kinda ruins a good descent too! And shouting angrily at everyone to slow down for such things doesn’t really work either, as quite a lot of those slowdowns were also unnecessary for more experienced riders who know how to descend and how to handle a bike. I do hate unnecessary loss of momentum…!
Right, where were we? Ah yes. After a couple of little lumps, we reached the first food station, at around the 37 mile mark. Which was, not to put too fine a point on it, complete chaos. There was a long queue of riders all bunched up to get in. Riders queuing to get out – through the same entrance. I nearly gave it a miss, but I really did need a toilet by now! I managed to park the bike against a fence rather than queuing to get it and me in, and then to also have to find somewhere to put it. Once in, gingerly negotiating chunky gravel in cleats, there were queues for the food and queues for the toilet. Not that you could tell which was which or where which began. I think I probably jumped the queue I needed first, but no-one called me on it 😉 I couldn’t face the food queue at all, and as there was someone pouring out water from bottles near the entrance, I just topped my bottles up, grabbed the bike from outside thus avoiding the queue to get out, and legged it! Chaos, like I said.
Things then started to get more scenic, which was good. The Welsh hills loomed ahead in the sunshine, and I knew all the climbing would be starting soon enough, though I wasn’t in any rush to get there! There were two big climbs today – the Tumble and Caerphilly Mountain. I’d avoided researching them too much – it’s not like knowing what they were like was going to stop me having to go up them – but rumour had it they were both pretty difficult. But by whose standards?
Which brings us to The Tumble. Which turned out to be long, fairly steep, and it even had a hairpin. It’s 6km at an average of 10% apparently. But it was oh so totally doable. My crawler gear was well and truly installed today, as others steam-trained past me, huffing and puffing, or walked by the wayside, I just slowly ground my way up serenely. How cool is that? There was scenery, and sheep, and sunshine, and although it didn’t half go on, well, it just went well. It’s lovely when it works 🙂
The second food stop was at the top and just as chaotic. Again with the same entrance/exit. It was more of a drink/gel stop than food stop though – the food had pretty much run out. And yes, there were queues all over, all over again. Once more unto the toilet, my friends. Once more to get water. And once more to leg it asap. Oh, and the state of the place! Rubbish everywhere, even with large bins all over the place! Better than dropping it on the roads I suppose, though a fair bit of that was happening too sadly, but still… Not good 🙁
Still the descent afterwards was fun; in fact the next five miles or so were essentially downhill, which is alway good 🙂 The next section seemed to involve a lot of urban and main roads and dual carriageways (empty of course!), and long slow climbs up those, which didn’t really feel like hills somehow but I guess they probably were. I guess main roads only really do up in the same way railway lines do – gradually! I wasn’t really feeling them though – by which I mean they were just ups not hills, to be followed by downs, as today I was on form and it was all going well (yes, it happens!).
There was one down, on the wrong side of a dual carriageway, on to a large roundabout, where the road surface at the bottom was just atrocious and my camera managed to bounce out of my top tube bag and onto the ground. B*gger. That would be why I use a camera for photos not my phone! I pulled up by some spectators on the side of the roundabout, asked if they wouldn’t mind watching the bike while I tried to retrieve it, and headed back to whence it lay. Luckily a marshal had seen my predicament, and he got it, and the memory card and battery, for me…and nearly got run (ridden!) over for his troubles. Luckily he didn’t, and since he had a fluorescent jacket on and I didn’t – I probably wouldn’t have been so lucky! Many thanks to him 🙂 And guess what, the camera, though a little battered and bruised, when reassembled, was still working – result! The spectators were most amused by the extra show, and loving their location. Thanks to their choice spot they’d managed to collect a small hoard of riders’ bottles which had likewise bounced free!
Off to Caerphilly we go. It has a castle and everything you know. Not just a mountain 😉 As with so many places en-route, there were plenty of spectators out cheering us on too. It’s hard to suffer too much on the bike when you’re having to smile and wave so much – it just cheers you up! 🙂 Which didn’t stop it being time to go up that mountain though. Shorter than the Tumble but steeper and a bit narrower and by now, it being later in the ride so I guess they were tireder, lots and lots and lots more riders were walking. Shame they couldn’t stick to the left hand side, or when they were, walk in smaller groups. With less than half the road free to ride up, with riders going down when it all got too much and un-cleating didn’t happen, or just stopping willy nilly, and with other faster climbers trying to push through, my heart was in my mouth frequently. I was back in my serene crawler gear and quite enjoying it, and really really really didn’t want anyone to make me stop! I was very relieved to make it to the top in one piece. Oh, and a little bit chuffed too 🙂
There was another feedstop up here, but this time I didn’t even bother, not after the state of the last two. Plus I was only 8 downhill miles from the end so there didn’t seem much point anyway. Yo home to Bel-Air 😉 The last few miles flew by, and I flew by a fair few riders too, as I had been doing all day, which is always good for the ego. And as I rolled under the Finish arch and joined the walking procession for medals etc, listening to those talking about how hard it had been and how tired they were I definitely had smug face on because to me it wasn’t, and I wasn’t. By my standards I nailed it 🙂
However, the after-ride aftermath was a bit of an anti-climax. We all shuffled forwards, got our medals, were offered a bottle of water and/or an inch of banana, then shuffled back down the other side…and that was it. The event village was still there, with some street food/coffee places, but as ever all I wanted was fizzy orange, far too down market for them 😉 There wasn’t much space for sitting around, even milling around was tricky with all the people with bikes, accompanying supporters, family, etc…none of which I had. So, Velothon Wales done, I just took myself straight back to the hotel. Where, once my car and I were all sorted and ready to go home, I had that fizzy orange 🙂
I guess this is sort of a mixed review. Let’s start with the negatives. You can’t blame the organisers for the idiot who put tacks down (although he probably thinks you can). And since all the pre-ride info had included a section on how to ride in groups and be a polite rider, you can’t blame them for the nearly complete lack of rider etiquette. Precious few riders were pointing out obstacles, or issuing a polite “coming through”, “on your right” and the like, which often made things a bit tricky.
But there’s a lot to improve/tweak for the organisers here. Better signage for starters. When you don’t have to have signs for the route, riders aren’t really looking for signs at all so those that you do have need to be large, and clear. And to encourage walking riders to stick to the left! The marshals were friendly enough and clearly helpful when they had to be, but a lot of big events use marshals with red flags on sharp corners etc – shouting really isn’t the way to go. I think maybe some of the marshals/outriders needed to better trained to cope with emergencies too (I do hope everyone who was one is ok). Most importantly of all, the food stops need a one-way system, an entry and exit, more food, and more toilets! Toilets along the route would be good too – and designated rubbish areas might help too. Which pretty much covers constructive criticism I think…
On the upside I LOVED the closed roads, I enjoyed the scenic hilly section, and all the local support was great. With the exception of the two massive hills I found the route pretty easy and with so much to pay attention too – other riders, marshals, supporters – I never got bored, or stuck on my own. The time just flew by, as I did…kinda 😉
Cycling time: 5:23 (official time 5:51)
Distance: 85.7 miles
Avg: 15.9 mph
ODO: 9804.8 miles
There were supposed to be 15,000 riders all together, but from the results it looks like there was only a total of 9815, which is a pretty high attrition rate! Still, 997 (around 11%) of those on the long route were women, which is more than most events manage (and it was 50% on the short route!). My stats for the long route? I was 5543rd out of 8777, 419th woman, and 78th out of the 174 ladies in my age group. Yes, I know, doesn’t really convey nailed it does it? But I feel like I did, and that’ll do me 🙂