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BIG PLANS IN THE MAKING #ironjedibrasuffers
2017 is a year of training building up to a personal challenge in June 2018. More information coming soon!

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L Etape Dragons Devil Race Report

Ironjediby IronjediJul 18th 2017
I headed to South Wales to meet up with the Mark and Alan to take on the L’Etape Dragons Ride. Both amazing athletes and such lovely guys. I was due to sort accommodation but true to form I left it reasonably late to book, so late I was left with not a great deal of choice, but I did manage to find a bunkhouse only about 3 or 4 miles from the start at Margam Park. The location was superb for closeness to the venue, the accommodation however was lacking in many ways. Thankfully the guys didn’t give me too much grief over it. After a crappy nights sleep we were up and heading down to the Park for our 6:55 start. We had discussed the need for lights and I insisted lights would not be needed, so with peer pressure applied, Mark took his lights off. (this may be an issue later).
On arriving at Margam Park there was the usual ques at the portoloos. As we headed round to the start we came across ‘Didi’ the devil who had just arrived. We had a quick photo with him and would likely see him again at the start as he was dropping the flag and then later on one of the timed climbs for the day at ‘the Devils Elbow’.

So the Dragons Devil Route which we had opted to do was set to cover 190 miles or 305 km, with climbing over 16000 ft. We had guestimated being in the saddle for between 12-14 hours depending on how the day progressed. The weather was forecast to be clear but with showers and high winds. We were in for a day of mixed weather that was certain.

As we were waiting at the start line in the pen, there was a massive screen showing clips from past Tour De France races. Not motivational shots of cyclists climbing the big mountains? No they were showing footage of crashes of cyclists going downhill. I found this quite funny and a reminder to just take it easy. Its not a race.

We rolled off together and soon started to pick up the pace and for the first few miles were making great progress. We saw a guy doing the ride on a fixed wheel. Massive respect for him. We cycled on and we were soon into the first proper hills, although it didn’t seem taxing at all. The first climb was a long drag, we cycled on at a nice steady place up Bwlch which was about 18 miles into the ride. The decent from here was spectacular. I think I manged to top out at around 48mph. I kept telling myself to slow down but it was such a long rolling decent and I just seemed to build up speed overtaking people.
After some undulation we were at the next big climb at Rhigos at around 30 miles in. This was another beauty. The weather had closed in a bit and there was quite a bit of fog around and moisture in the air, half way up we managed to find a mechanic and Alan had his front derailleur tinkered with which was stopping him from getting into the big ring. We had time for a couple of photos and a quick Meridian Cashew Bar. These bars are awesome. We were treated with another beautifully fast decent which led us to the first aid station at around 36 miles in at Penderyn Primary School. We had been flying up to this point. Our average speed even with the climbs was over 16 mph. At this rate we were set for a fast day. I was a little disappointed with the aid station, although well stocked with bars, bananas, sweets and roast potatoes, I had imagined croissants and pastry’s. Now I’m not one to moan but it did bother me a little.

After a relaxed stop here we headed off towards the Devils Elbow. This was one of the two timed climbs for the day. I had ridden this climb in 2012 on a cycle trip with the kids and I knew what to expect. I eased myself into it nicely and started up the hill. I was not trying to set any records here and there was a fair amount of cycling still to do. As I hit the hairpin Didi was running up and down like a maniac. What a great atmosphere and there was also a McMillian cheering post there. I got to the top in one piece and felt great, I waited for the other two to join me and then we headed over the top and down to the next aid station. On rolling into the aid station at Ystradfelite Car Park at 59 miles it was as if all my prayers had been answered. They had pastry’s both sweet and savoury, hot roast potatoes, rolls, wraps, sandwiches. This was what I was expecting and it didn’t disappoint. Alan couldn’t believe the amount of food I was managing to eat. Lets just say I indulged here and refuelled the engine. The condition of the roads was insane. They were so smooth and an absolute pleasure to ride on. The scenery was breath-taking. What a beautiful country this was.
At the next aid station at 98 miles at Llandovery College we took our time to refresh, managed to get some hot drinks, again hot potatoes, pasta and other treats. I recognised a virtual friend from twitter @Me_LoveMountain - Lisa S. I only recognised her due to her signature wonky helmet. She is an awesome athlete and immensely strong at cycling and running. She hooked up with us from here as we pushed on. It was great to chat to her about some of her recent exploits. The dragons Back Race being one of them.

After about 10 miles we were still making good time but due to the longer stops at the aid stations were now looking at finishing at around 13.5 hours based on our current speed. We had a little bit of distance between us. I pulled over to wait for Alan to catch up, Mark and Lisa went on. Alan did not show up and I thought something must be up. I started to head back down the road and then got a call from him. He had bust a spoke and couldn’t ride. I cycled back to him a couple of miles away in the hope that I could just release the rear brakes and get him to limp to the aid station, get the spoke fixed and we could go on.

Back with Alan The wheel was so badly warped that even with the brakes disengaged there was no riding with that wheel. Alan knocked on a couple of doors to try and hitch a lift back to the aid station to get it sorted. We would then meet him back at the college and go on. Sadly no lift was available and Alan walked back to the college whilst we continued on. Lisa had gone on as there was no point her waiting for us whilst we tried to get Alan moving. After some time trying to sort everything out, get hold of help, myself and Mark went on hoping to meet up with Alan back at the college. Sadly that was not going to be possible as the mechanics did not have the right spoke to fix it and Alans day was done at around 110 miles.
Mark and I continued on what was probably the most challenging and picturesque part of the course. The road conditions were almost perfect, the roads were so smooth and a pleasure to ride on. This had been pretty much the case all day. We would cycle next to a lake undulating up and down looking across at another road the other side. I would think to myself that that would be a great road to cycle on, a short time later we were on that road. The scenery was stunning and really made the whole ride worthwhile. We eventually found ourselves at the foot of Devils Staircase at 118 miles in, the second timed climb of the day. As we approached it from a distance you could see the switchbacks and it looked pretty cool. I thought I would put a bit of effort into this climb and went at about 80% passing people as I went. As I reached the top there was a mass of people there and clearly this had been a difficult climb for most. I waited for Mark, topped up with some water and we went on. I really enjoyed that, it felt good. The aid station was at 138 miles back at the college and we were feeling quite hungry. I was looking forward to hot tea and roast potatoes which we had had there on the way out. To our disappointment when we got there they had packed most of the aid station up and only had a few bits, but nothing hot, which is what we had needed at this point. The temperature had dropped and the wind had been relentless all day. All I wanted was a hot cup of tea. We were pretty disheartened by this. It was here we found out that Alan had gone, having been taken back in the sweep vehicle as his bike wheel was unfixable. A real shame for him.

Mark and I were aware of the time and with all the messing around we had dropped our average speed considerably and were starting to think that lights may have been a good idea. Mental note to self. Listen to Mark Yates. Hes the Boss!.

We decided to get our heads down and try and get back in the light, we stopped hanging around and put our foot down. Up and over The Black Mountain at 152 miles in, again another beautiful climb, looking down at riders behind. The wind was really fierce here and at time you felt like you would be blown off the side. Once over the top the descent is fast and open and the wind even stronger. Hold on tight for the ride of your life as we headed down in the centre of the road being blown all over the road. There was no hope of anything passing us. At times I could feel the bike being thrown from one side of the road to the other. How we managed to stay upright I will never know. It’s a descent pretty much all the way to the last aid station at 162 miles.

At the aid station we were met by some of the friendliest and probably the coldest aid station team we had met. They had managed to get some hot potatoes on the go. I had a really nice chat with them about what a great day we had had. They commented on how loads of people had been moaning about how hard it had been and they just wanted to finish. Hey we had paid to be there, this was suppose to be fun and if you dont enjoy it then don’t do it. I beamed with positivity and had had just the best day packed with laughter, beautiful scenery, great company and loads of fun. I love riding hills mind you. After about 20 potatoes I was ready to go. Lets get this ride finished.
Mark and I set off knowing we would be riding in the dark with no lights for probably the last 5 miles or so. That will be fun. Mark again reminded me that he was going to bring some lights. Dooh. Its quite a quick section back and we didn’t hang around but it did get dark, we had no lights and were now riding in the dark. Helpful motorists drove past us shouted abuse at us for not putting lights on, a number of times. Not really helpful, if we had lights then we would have them on. The dual carriageway with no lights on in the last three miles was interesting. As we rolled across the line at just after 10pm we were met by two lovely ladies who presented us with our medals. Most people had gone home, in fact nearly everyone had gone home. So our official time was 15:04. I could be extremely disappointed with the time, but it wasn’t about how fast we rode it, it was about spending some time with a couple of mates in a beautiful location doing something we enjoy. I had a cracking day and will be back next year. (hopefully).

I cannot recommend the event enough. The organisers did a cracking job. Great aid stations, support, atmosphere.

The finish was supposed to be 190 miles or 305 km, with our messing around we clocked 194 miles. An epic day and a medal to be proud off. Pretty pleased with my 16th and 18th place on the two timed climbs for the day too, maybe if I thought I might of been that close to the top of the leader board I might have put a bit more effort in ;-)
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