As mentioned in my last blog, today I gave the Dragon Ride another chance.
It did not get off to a good start. To be fair, I should preface this by saying that I was not in a good way first thing this morning. For starters I didn’t sleep brilliantly, but then I rarely do before events. But that’s not the big issue. My insides are. My IBS, if that’s what we’re currently labelling it, kicked off massively this weekend for whatever reason. You try carb loading when eating feels horrible, and when you force yourself to because you have to, what you do eat goes through you way quicker than it ought to. Add in the resultant pain in substantial amounts, and for novelty value hot/cold patches and dizziness and, well, that’s not ideal sportive preparation is it? I was feeling properly bad last night, and seriously wondering if I’d be able to ride today at all.
Scene set, and back to today. Changes to this year’s Dragon Ride were many and various being, as it is, under new management. The start venue is now Margam Country Park which is, just like Pencoed was, right off an M4 motorway junction. Which, maybe unsurprisingly, backed up in just the same way as ever, and it took 40 minutes to get off the motorway, into the site and parked up. I was not amused. Déjà vu…
Those that could were variously pulling over, getting themselves sorted, and riding to the start, presumably abandoning t’other halves and friends to get the car to the car park by themselves, while the rest of us sat patiently in our cars…
Rain came and went. The rider in the car behind me put on his waterproof, and took it off again as it did so. Which was quite amusing. Well, there wasn’t a lot of amusing going on at the time, so you’ll forgive me for finding small things funny 😉
Once in, there was lots of free car parking in several car parks, all being marshalled, but all quite a way from the start, so this was a case of sorting yourself out and then getting to the start. No return trips to the car unless you had to which, luckily, I didn’t.
One of the things the Dragon ride does right is skipping the registration stage by sending out the rider numbers and instructions etc beforehand – the timing chip is in the handlebar number, supplied with cable ties. Since 4000 riders or so were taking part, I imagine registering them all might be a major logistical nightmare otherwise! All you have to do is turn up and ride. Well, after you’ve queued for the toilets that is. OK, a lot more toilets than last year, with a whole heap of simple urinal booths, but there was still a queue.
Sadly round about now I discovered my Garmin was out of juice – no idea why as it ought not to have been – which was a bit worrying. Not because this meant I didn’t have the downloaded route, but because the clock helps me to remember to eat and drink regularly which I did think might be a tad important today all things considered. Oops… Still, you can’t decide not to ride because you don’t have a gadget, how daft would that be?
Faffing and toilet done, and I was ready to go ride. This year riders were allocated a start time depending on their chosen route, presuming to alleviate last year’s queuing to get going problems, and this is where things really started to improve. I think it worked. As I was doing the Medio route, I was down for 9:00-9:15am, by which time most of the Gran Fondo riders were already on their way. Riders were called to the start as per their start times, lined up in pens, and then one pen let through to the start, and from there out, at a time. Very little waiting at all – *phew*!
According to the times – which are up already – I was over the mat and on my way at 9:12am. Off into the unknown, feeling very old skool. Just me, my bike, and the official signs – been a long time since that was the case!
The weather was grey and intermittently damp, but fairly mild without too much by way of wind, so I think it’s safe to say it could have been a whole heap worse, and it was much better than that which was forecast earlier this week. It didn’t make a frequently grey Wales look any more cheerful, but you can’t blame the organisers for that, now can you? The first section of the ride was fairly lump free, with the first big climb being the Bryn. You can generally tell it’s a Dragon climb – you can see the riders stretching away from you into the distance…and I still can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
Riding blind did feel a bit weird. I grabbed the odd quick look at other gadgets from time to time, and occasionally asked people how far we’d come or what the time was. I had my crackberry in my top tube bar bag, so at least I could check that at stops, which is important when you’re trying to keep the painkiller dosage topped up. The first foodstop was near Cefn Coed Colliery Museum, about 47km in. The queue for the two toilets was minimal, so I used one of those, but there was a long queue for food and water which I couldn’t be bothered with since I was travelling equipped as ever, and figured I could do water at the next stop.
A lot of the route is really about joining up the big climbs to be done, which did involve some dodgy sections on busier roads, and quite a lot of playing with the traffic. The drivers were all very well behaved though – maybe it’s a Welsh thing? For some reason they don’t seem to hate cyclists so much…or maybe it’s just because there were so many of us they didn’t have much choice… Critical mass? Actually there were plenty of locals out clapping, cheering, watching, and being generally supportive, which was very nice. I don’t know who’s more mad – us for riding around in circles all day on a Sunday, or them for standing by the road all day watching us do it! 😉
This is us playing with traffic, entering Powys, and showing one of the motorcycle outriders which is one of the extras that this ride has to help it stand out. I saw one of them helping a rider with a puncture later on too. Unlike the Magnificat I didn’t see that many riders with punctures either – and that’s after the hideous weather that has flooded Wales over the last couple of days. Interesting. Is Wales not flinty?
I know the route has changed this year, but mostly that just seemed to mean doing the usual route (before they messed with it last year) in the reverse direction. Which made life more interesting if you’ve done the Dragon before, which I have – three times apparently! So that meant ups that were new, and downs that were easier because I knew them a bit having climbed them, so I could handle them better. Cimla for example is a lot easier to climb in reverse – but the descent is worse as it’s in a built up area, with traffic and road furniture. Swings and roundabouts… The whole route was far more scenic than last year though, even with the more suburban bits and busier roads. Got to get from A to B right?
Handily for the not constantly informed amongst us, there was a sign at the relevant point saying 60km to go, which meant I knew I was over halfway done. This was both helpful and motivational, although both the really big climbs of the day were ahead of me. However I was going pretty well and, yes I know it’s weird, but I was really looking forward to those climbs. They’re not all that dissimilar from the climbs in the Maratona, as these things go, and I was interested to see how I’m set for doing that. Actually, while I’m here, and on the signage front, the signs were pretty good. Plus there were SO many riders doing it, you were never worried that you were lost, so the presence of reminders or additional signs wasn’t as important as it can be. The major junctions and turns were marshalled, including the route splits, which always helps.
So, time for the first of the big hills, the Rhigos. I figured the time had come to admit I was a little too warm, and I stashed my arms in the saddle bag, leaving me in just my Cyclosport jersey and gilet as the most flexible, zippable, options for what was to come.
So how did it go? Pretty darned well! I couldn’t believe the number of people I was overtaking. Ok, some people overtook me too. To quote a certain Jedi knight, “There’s always a bigger fish“…but just for once I wasn’t feeling like a minnow. These are hills I usually plod up. This time I just went up them. Spun the legs around, got into a rhythm, and made my way up. Go me!
The second food stop was up at the top, around 85km in, which left around 40km to go. The food and water were clearly separate, with little by way of queues for either, and there were a couple of portable loos too, somewhat impressively still stocked with loo roll too. A nice young lad in Sky kit filled my bottle with water that was water, rather than energy drink, to which I added my slightly damp Nuun tablets. Time for a quick drink and half one of my homemade flapjacks whilst admiring the views… I’d already managed to get through one of my new SiS energy bars without any apparent ill effect, though eating was not easy as my insides were (are?) revolting at the thought of adding anything to them.
Off we go again. Gilet zipped up – and it did a pretty impressive stuff of letting the wind hit me but not chill me. Nonetheless I was a bit chilly by the time I got to the bottom. Mind you, I do like going downhill :). I knew I’d be warm again soon, as the final climb of the day, once more in reverse, was the Bwlch. Yes, I can’t pronounce it either. But I did enjoy it. I enjoyed being able to do it. I also had to undo the gilet completely half way up – told you so! 😉
See the ribbon of road down there on the right? That’s where we’ve come from…kinda cool, no? Again, I overtook people on the way up, the way people usually overtake me. Mad, when you consider how bad I was feeling last night, and I really can’t explain it. Maybe the creatine supplement I’ve recently started taking in the build up to the Maratona is helping?
There are several false summits to the Bwlch…it’s not at the layby and junction where you turn right. It’s not here either.
Right. I may not have known quite where I was, or how far I had to go, but I did know that from here it was essentially downhill all the way home. Time for a quick stop to sort out my gilet – I really can’t ride no-handed, I tried just to check that was still true. It is! And look at this for a descent. How much fun does that look? And as much fun as it looks, in reality it was even better :).
Down, and down, and down…and even when the downs stopped, it was flat or rolling or just suited me. I had a brief hair-raising moment when a rider insisted on passing me, pulling in front too soon, and then having to brake when a car that could have waited came in the opposite direction. Braking, backwheel acrobatics, involuntary swear reflex…but luckily somehow it all came together again. Just as well since, at that point and that speed, if it happened, it would have been properly messy. My legs wouldn’t stop shaking for the next few minutes, but luckily they were still happy to keep going around.
I was having so much fun I decided to carry on doing so until I was stopped from doing so, and I pushed it hard. I invented a new disease – APS, or Acquired Peloton Syndrome. I kept looking over my shoulder and realising I’d gotten myself a whole bunch of new, mysteriously quiet, friends! Since clearly none of them were going to take a turn at the front I decided to ignore them and just keep on riding for me. I was flying, and having a blast. It would appear that there’s only one solution to APS, and that’s to drop ’em. Which I didn’t do intentionally, but gradually one by one they fell by the wayside, until there was, for the most part, just one left. He was even nice enough to pull alongside and tell me how well I’d been riding, and also to thank me for pulling him along for, at that point, the last six miles. He even took a couple of turns at the front until I left him for a bit. Slowly the area became familiar, and suddenly we were approaching the motorway junction where this all began. Down a stretch of main flat road…sprint finish anyone? Well, ok, a little too far from the finish for that really to be true, but man it was fun hurtling down there. Not sensible no doubt, and the “5km to go” came later than I’d have liked, but I managed the last little rolling section back to the start even though my legs would rather have given ups a miss. Having slowed down a bit, Mr Nice was behind me again, pointing out that he was grateful I’d finally slowed down, and by the way, if he had a heart attack it was my fault. Apparently I’d dropped a lot of very strong male riders in my wake… Really? Can’t say that didn’t make me feel a little bit chuffed… :D. We rolled over the finish line together, and he shook my hand. No, since you asked, I don’t race, this is just what I do. *grin*.
I collected my medal and goodie bag, and headed back to the event village to hang out for a while. Shame I didn’t look in it until I got home, as I missed discovering that I needed to go to the Wiggle stall to collect my 2nd free flash tyre lever. Ah well…
Handing in my rider number – safety pinned (pins not supplied) to the back of my jersey – would have gotten me a free, though reputedly small, portion of pasta. However that’s off limits for me so I didn’t bother. It’s not like I was feeling like eating anyway. I was happy to sit down on the grass, listen to the band, and enjoy the buzz I had from having had a really good ride, and having performed so well for me. Maybe not having the gadget working was actually a good thing? It forces you to listen to your body and how you’re feeling more, but to pace/restrain yourself less – maybe I do too much of that otherwise?
I rolled over the line around 14:35pm with only a rough guesstimate of what my time would be, and was all prepared to remain in ignorance until tomorrow at the very least. However as I was stashing the bike in the car a while later, I got a text from raceplus with my official time – how cool (and efficient) is that?
Official time: 5:24:36 hrs
Distance: 78 miles
ODO: 14278 miles
Provisional results which, like I said, are up already say that I’m 234th out of c.1400 medio fondo riders, though that will probably change a bit as they work out who actually did what. But still…. !!! I am totally gobsmacked. I mean I knew I was doing well, but not that well! I used to come 2/3rd through the field. These days it’s nearer the middle. But there? I am NEVER that good! *grin*. Wow! :).
This year’s Dragon was way better than last year’s. OK, so that wouldn’t be hard, and there are still some improvements to be made I think, but on the whole I reckon it’s well on the way to where it ought to be, as a UCI Golden Bike ride :).