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Dragon Ride Gran Fondo – June 8th

The original idea behind signing up for the Gran Fondo Dragon Ride, 140 miles of Welsh mountains, started back at the end of last summer when it was as a warm up ride for a planned group outing to La Marmotte in July. Being a bit worried about falling off the back of a somewhat more competent (and younger) group of riders I thought I’d give myself a better chance by getting in a decent warm up event. Not wanting to suffer alone I roped in a couple of ex work colleagues and the stage was set.

And then the planned outing to La Marmotte fell through and the Dragon Ride became a purpose in itself.

The training plan was fairly simple, as most of mine are, a gradual build up of the distances and time spent on the bike from about 4 months before the event. So training really started at the end of February building up to doing Spring Lambs in April and then planning to continue building from there. A 100 mile sportive 2 months before the Dragon put things on a good course. Fate decided to completely mess up the plan at Easter with a serious back injury leading to a ban from any exercise at all for 2 weeks, particularly cruel when I’d just bought a new bike from our favourite local bike shop. Now I was having to play some serious catch up on the training doing both rides with Walden Velo on Sundays as well as adding some extra mileage on with an hour ride before joining them. The last big ride of 111 miles meant a start an hour before the club ride, 2 hours with the club and then doing the 50 miles Carnival Sportive route after (which by the way is a great route for those of you doing it). There was still a gap of 30 miles to bridge on the day and Essex hills are no match for Welsh mountains but how hard could it be ?

I knew that my fellow riders were far less trained than me though so I was feeling confident enough to broach the subject of the plan for the day and my desire to set the best time possible so we decided that on the day we wouldn’t necessarily ride together.

On the morning I caught up with Richard Manners who used to ride with us before moving to Yorkshire and I was not encouraged as he looked down at my standard 25-11 rear cassette and commented “man’s gearing for you then ?” Obviously the compact chainset didn’t convince him. That comment would come back to haunt me later on. We rolled out of Margam Country Park near Port Talbot at about 7:30am as a group with a remarkably clear weather forecast keeping spirits up. It took all of 5 miles before the terrain started heading upwards and by 20 miles we’d climbed about 1,700 feet to the highest point of the day and the group had separated completely. By the 3rd climb of the day I was starting to regret the decision to go solo as between 35 and 40 miles my head disappeared into a dark place and was telling me that I was not feeling great and was seriously doubting my ability to see the day through. Never underestimate the power of a group to keep you going. By the first feed station I was feeling better and the views were fantastic over the Welsh hills. But they had no energy drink, just an assurance that there would be some at the next station. So a quick graze through the food and back out on the bike for one of the long downhill sections. These sections almost make it worth the pain of climbing up in the first place !

55 miles in we reached the Devils Elbow climb, 1.7 miles long but 600 feet of climbing. Now I was regretting not getting that wider range cassette as I’m looking down trying to find another gear. It was the most I could do not to join the many riders who got off and walked it, mainly because you just know that if you stop to walk you won’t be getting back on the bike until the top. The elation of reaching the top was tempered slightly by the headwind that was waiting to greet us for the downhill section to the next feed station. At this point the 3 of us that had entered together re-grouped but one of them was cramping badly and not sure that he was going to make the full 140 miles. 2 of us set out together with Nick Folland from Saffron Walden who I happened to bump into in the feed stop. Funny how you meet friends in strange places on these events. Once we reached the 70 mile halfway point everything seems to be more achievable and the countdown to the finish starts, only knowing that there’s one last long climb to summit around 100 miles. As the road started going up at 100 miles you can in the distance see a snake of bikes criss crossing that large mountain in front of you. But it’s the last big climb, albeit 5 miles long. Yet again the headwind over the top tempers the thrill of the downhill section.

As I reached the last feed station 25 miles from the end it seemed pointless stopping that late on, there were enough supplies on board to see the ride out and I could gain a bit of ground on the last member of our group who I’d gapped going up Black Mountain. The one and only rain/hail shower 10 miles from the end meant it hadn’t been a complete waste carrying that rain jacket around for 9 hours.

The last 10 miles were counted down mile by mile and as it turned out 2 of the 3 of us that started together crossed the line with exactly the same finish time, to the second. 9 hours and 44 minutes. He’d made up the ground on me by the end, I’m just waiting for him to watch the finish line video and tell me he was half a wheel ahead of me. The 3rd member of our group had bailed out and took the shorter medio fondo 85 mile option. He’d finished and gone home long before we even crossed the line.

Being organised by Human race the organisation of this is excellent and I’d recommend it to anyone, but make sure you have both compact chainset and wide range cassette. Of course I think we had the best weather they’d had in years so having ticked this box I may well not return, after all, the weather can only be worse.

From here it’s 7 days of recovery to the next Human Race event, the Windsor Triathlon.