The start of the Dragon Ride is brought to you by the letter Q and the number 5000.
I woke up before my alarm on Sunday and was well on schedule as I left my Travel Inn at around 7am. A quick hop down the motorway, off at Bridgend and…straight into the Q for the car park. *yawn*. Once finally parked I reassembled the bike, loaded up my pockets, eyed the ominous clouds, considered the dodgy weather forecast, and opted to add my windproof vest to the mix. I headed off towards the start and before leaving the car park, joined the Q for the toilets…which took about half an hour. Still, it wasn’t exactly an optional extra… That done I headed off to the start – a short ride away. Where I discovered a massive Q as thousands of cyclists filtered through a one bike width entrance to the path to the start. It’s clearly quite hard to fit 5000 cyclists through the eye of a needle… We all patiently waited, in true British fashion, feeling pretty warm as the weather had brightened a bit. Mind you, there was no way I was taking that layer back to the car and starting over!
By the time I met my incredibly patient L2P mate Kevin by the start, and we headed off, it was nearly 9:00am, I was under-amused and an hour behind schedule. Not the best start but at least we were finally underway. It’s not easy, under such circumstances, to stop yourself from hurtling off like a bull out the gate, especially as the first section is fairly easy. And Kevin is a whippet, which doesn’t help, as I found myself unconsciously keeping up as we chatted away. We met the Phuk.dis crew, also L2P veterans, at the exit from the Llantrisant forest section which provided a handy excuse to stop, chat, remove the layer, and juggle provisions around to find room to stash it. Just as well I did, as after that is where the hills begin.
I can’t decide whether being familiar with the route helps or not. I think it tends to slow you down in between hills as you know what’s coming and want to pace yourself. But then you probably actually deal with the hills themselves a bit better. They’re mostly long slog hills and they really felt like slogs this time since I knew exactly how long they were going to go on for. Actually it was amazing how much of the route I remembered from last year. I’m not saying I could ride it on my own but…
Inevitably I have to compare this year’s ride with last year’s. Bwlch 1 didn’t feel as good, but I got up Bwlch 2 without taking a break. Llangenor barely troubled me as I knew it was there. The worst hill, which I had forgotten about, is Cimla because it’s the steepest, and it’s steep for quite a long time, in an urban area, towards the end of the ride, with no stunning scenery to distract you. At least the last feed stop is at the top and very welcome it was too! Two things you get at the top of long hills – photographers to capture your misery, and food stops to relieve it.
The best bit of the ride? The downhills. 😀 I’d been worried about how I would be with those, due to the nerves I have now about such things, but I actually handled them really well. Some of them were just a joy. My max speed was 39.4 which is awesome for me. Long straight go on forever downs…as the memory of the climb to get there fades. I think my mp3 player may be psychic. Eddie Reader thought the first good downhill was “Perfect”, as I was practically flying down the back of the Bwlch for the second time, Glee were convinced that I was “Defying Gravity”, and as we neared the end, Hue and Cry applauded my “Labour of Love”. Pure coincidence? I think not 😉
Cycling time: 8:24:52
Distance: 118.39 miles
Avs: 14.0 mph
ODO: 4610 miles
And, according to Kevin’s Garmin, 2715 metres of climbing…
So that’s slower than last year. I’m a bit cross about that as I know overall I’m faster than I was then, and I was really hoping to better my time this year. That’s what comes of doing the same ride twice – you get all competitive with yourself and set yourself goals. For some reason I thought last year was 112 miles, which is weird, because it wasn’t.
The first half of the ride, or more, was into a nasty blustery head wind which was particularly noticeable going over the chilly and overcast Brecon Beacons. Nowhere to hide up there, and precious few cyclists to hide behind too. It’s amazing how spread out that many cyclists get, and after the split for the Medio route, there were even fewer around. I think the wind was probably the main contributing factor to my slower speed. Plus the weather, though seriously variable (hey, at least it didn’t rain as forecast), was also still too warm for me, and I think I got a bit dehydrated, which is never good. I thought I’d eaten and drunk properly but clearly not. Near the end I’d totally hit my sweet taste threshold and was very grateful that I’d made up one bottle of seriously dilute stuff at the last stop, where I had also downed some plain water. I definitely perked up a bit after that. Although lots of the ride was lovely, I just feel like it was harder this year than last, but I have no idea if that’s true, or if I’ve just blotted out last year!
So, I’m cross I’m slow. There’s news for you. However when you look at it – we cycled 118 miles on nowt more than a couple of bars, a ham roll, the odd banana, and some energy drink. Compared to normal folk we’re practically super human! So I’m fine as long as I don’t compare myself with my peers *grin*.
I was very glad of Kevin’s company. We had quite a laugh from time to time, and having someone to chat to definitely got me through my usual mid-ride dip. He was also very good at leaving me to get on with it going up hill – I like to suffer in private – and then waiting for me later. I swear the man barely broke into a sweat all day. I really wasn’t expecting him to stick with me for the whole ride and I’m both grateful and impressed that he did!
I’ve come to the conclusion that doing sportives is like giving birth. It takes a long time, involves a lot of pain, and ends with a sense of achievement and euphoria. And, amazingly quickly, the memory of the pain fades, and you find yourself contemplating doing it all over again next year…
Next year? We’ll see…
Update: Official Time : 9:15:39. Hard to believe we spent 45 minutes faffing around eating etc but I guess we must have! 1642 out of 1734 Gran Fondo riders. Very poor…