Wales Sportive, Etape Eryri and the Tourmalet

After the excitement of my first sportive in Nantwich, the following weekend I ventured south to Tenby where I had booked on to the Wales Sportive, which was being held as part of the Long Course Weekend, including a sea swim and a marathon for loony triathletes. I’d only booked on to the short 40 mile course and was unable to upgrade on the day, so I decided to have a real go at it, and see what sort of time I could manage.

I managed to get myself at the front of the starting group of 150 riders and sprinted away ready to carry out my plan. I knew there were some hills late on the course, so I figured that I’d get as far ahead as I could and latch on to a steady moving group of club riders to ease my path through the first few miles. And if I was at the front, then at least I wouldn’t get dropped completely.

It didn’t work out like that. I stayed in the lead for the first mile! And after ten miles, I was still top five! Something wasn’t right, and I found out that later on in the course that there were some real bitches of climbs out of a couple of bays East of Tenby – no wonder people were taking the early part easy. Nonetheless, I kept going and was astounded to see that I’d finished with the 22nd best time out of 158. Granted, most of the riders were out for a Sunday stroll, but my aim had just been not to come last.

I’ve paid for this pic, but two weeks later, it still hasn’t arrived, so here’s the watermarked version.

I can’t tell you how good the atmosphere was in Tenby that weekend, but if you’re thinking of riding a sportive then that is a great one. The organisation was fantastic, and the locals came out to offer support right through the ride. There was a Grandstand in the town square and thousands lined the route to welcome you home. Superb. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Enthused by my time in Tenby, I started to wonder whether I should upgrade my Etape Eryri ride the following week to the 72m from the 47m route that I’d registered for. The 47m ride was unhelpfully labelled ‘Bach’. That means ‘Little’ in Welsh, and the title did denegrate the achievement a little. “Oh you’re only doing the little one”? I also wondered whether I should ride my new bike….

I’d always dreamed of riding a Bianchi, and I decided to sell my photography gear to buy one. My aluminium Terry Dolan racer was just that..a racer. In my middle age , I needed something more sophisticated, more stylish, more comfortable. And here she is, the second most beautiful thing I’ve ever sen in my life……

My riding has been transformed. The frame is a larger size than you’d expect – I’m 5ft 8″, and this is a 55cm frame – my Dolan was a 49cm. But the effect of this oversized frame is that it rides so much more comfortably. The carbon frame is simply luxurious on the rough, potholed roads that I ride on locally, and absorbs much of the road buzz and bone shattering vibrations. My neck pain has all but disappeared and my hands are no longer numb. I now have no excuses.

The ‘little’ Etape Eryri Bach was tough enough. The route took in over 3,000 feet of climbing including a couple of the toughest climbs in the area, though admittedly nowhere near as tough as the climbs included in the longer routes. The start from the ‘Maes’ outside Caernarfon Castle was staggered and I set off in a group with the local club that I’ve joined, the newly formed, very social, Clwb Beicio Menai. I was a bit concerned with my quickening heart rate from the start and the first climb, Drws y Coed loomed early on, featuring the Etape’s time trial. I didn’t know the climb and to be honest I was a bit scared of it without the insurance of my triple chain ring on the old Dolan.

Climbing Drws y Coed with a false grin for the camera.

I got left behind on the climb and decided to catch up my group on the descent. Now when you’re my size, gravity plays a big part in your riding style. And I climb like  a stone, but I also drop like one, and I hurtled down looking for my clubmates, passing plenty of other riders on the way down. Then I was on familiar ground as I arrived in Rhyd Ddu – this was my local training route, and I steamed down to Beddgelert without catching site of any of my companions. ‘They must be tanking it’, I thought.

As I reached the foot of the Nant Gwynant climb to Pen-y-pass, I latched on to a couple of girl riders from the local Energy Cycles club and asked if I could latch on to their wheel for a while. They were bloody superb, and it was only my stubborn-ness and pride that helped me stay on their wheel as they set the pace up Gwynant. It was then I saw someone I knew and found out that my clubmates had not yet passed. I’ve got no idea where I lost them , but I decided to go for it.

And that’s what I did. I climbed Pen-y-Pass well enough and from then on, I descended the last 15 miles of the route like a short, podgy, ginger demon. I was eyeballs out, and on the rivet and everything else that Phil Liggett says when someone is giving it everything. I spotted my family waiting at the roadside in Llanrug and took great pleasure in giving it the old Tour de France routine. I stopped for hugs and kisses and threw away my bidon. Just before the finish in Caernarfon, I took off my jacket, and zipped up my Welsh cycling jersey which had never fitted me since I bought it about ten years earlier. I’m not proud of my childish behaviour, really I’m not.

There was something special about finishing the ride on the ‘Maes’ in Caernarfon. My Strava Suffer Score told me later that my effort had been ‘extreme’. I wouldn’t argue with that, and I think my time of 3:08, the 38th best finish from a field of 150 was more the result of my high motivation levels than any bicycling ability. I had spent almost half the ride, 90 minutes in Zone 4, on the threshold of my max heart rate, between 160-176bpm.

Son number Two, scoffing as I scream loudly during the post-ride massage.

So it’s been a really fantastic few weeks for me. When I set out to lose weight in January and start riding again, I never in my wildest dreams expected to make this sort of progress. But while I’m surfing this crest of enthusiasm and motivation, I’ve gone and booked a warm-up for the big one. I’m taking the bike to the Pyrenees to watch the Tour de France in a few weeks. And while I’m there I’m planning to ride both the Col D’Aubisque and the Tourmalet. Are my eyes bigger than my shrinking belly? Time will tell.


About 2clots

47-year old Welsh cyclist. I suffered a dual pulmonary embolism in March 2011, following an attack of transverse myelinitis in 1994. Apart from that, I'm fine. Author of Red Dragons: The Story of Welsh Football.
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