Ere be Dragons. The below is a dramatisation of true events. Out of respect for those involved names have not been changed. Short story is all is good, the ride is epic and I’m chuffed.
Chapter 1 – The Perfect Race?
I went into the Dragon Ride feeling great after what was the completion of a reduced plan (by design thanks to a v busy home and work period). No nerves, bike in top shape and probably around 10-12% body fat ready for those hills. All I can say is very well prepped. I had around 3 hours sleep the night before thanks to Filton hitting 97% humidity but even then I was in Port Talbot and at the start line at 7am feeling good. We set off and I rode around 7km pretty much solo, waiting to find the right group as people flew past. When I did we hit the best part of 65km together before feed station 1. Two hills down at this point and little to talk about in reality. Food, water and off I went. Now at some stage I thought “there’s no such thing as the perfect race, but this must be close to it” (what a plonker). I then hit the first climbs of note – Black Mountain about 6% for 5km, a wonderful view and epic descent, the road over the Usk reservoir followed by Bwlch Cerrig Duon 4% avg for around 7km. These were all mind blowing, endless roads leading up and away from you and descents to make you “weeeeeeee” for a lifetime. This whole time feeling good and waaaaay ahead of my target times so far (remember that guy who said if it feels too fast it probably is). Into feed station 2, 120km and 1400m done and I’m now firmly in new territory.
Chapter 2 – 25mins BC (before chocolate)
Climbing off my bike at feed station 2 I had a slight wobble, all good but realising I needed some real grub and possibly a sit down (which I hadn’t done at feed station 1). Queueing for some spuds I became aware of a pain like never before across my shoulders, legs that felt a bit done and the Ryan of doubt in my ear “hey man, maybe today isn’t your day, you feel pretty bad if you’re honest and the worst is yet to come”. I’d been fuelling well so this was just odd. Maybe I was done? Shut up Ryan. I walked off with my spuds, Jaffa cake and some more snacks for my bike and just felt awful. No spud would go down, everyone else looked like they were having the time of their life, I had no friendly faces and maybe Ryan was right – today wasn’t my day. I sat down outside of the feedstation looking at the now huge queues and wondering what my plan was. Whilst contemplating life choices, how I’d feel about stopping, how I’d even go about stopping in the middle of nowhere I ate a snickers. It took about 15 minutes to get down and just made me resent food and my current situation even more. Reading a note from my wife (see pics) I made a plan. I must eat. I knew feedstation 3 was only 25km away but that 25km was going to be interrupted by the Devil’s Elbow, “crack on” I thought, ” this is a crappy place to be stranded, maybe Gary Harris is at that one and a friendly face will help, if not sit in his van. Eat Ry, eat man”. (This all felt like hours but really was 25 mins).
Chapter 3 – End of Days/A snickers saved my life
So in this next stretch of “tarmac” two things happened 1) it got windy and started to rain 2) it was BC no more and snickers kicked in. I meandered up and over hills and through back roads thinking that I had to stick Z2 for a while and trust my powers of recovery. This was hard as this ride goes up-tiddley-up-up. All. The. Time. But I managed this section well if not slowly and had a fair few people start to pass. Stay Z2, remembering my own advice days before when prepping I thought “ride YOUR ride Ry, enjoy this”
The rain got harder, signs for cattle grids and “poor surface” a plenty and then I came to it, the Devil’s Elbow. Like the opposite of an oasis (a turd in a storm”?) I could see riders hitting the first switchback around 100m in front of me, and then up to my left riders inexplicably high above me. I’m not dismounting I said to myself. The one thing that would have been nice at this stage was some traction, the surface was naff enough but Satan himself, annoyed at our presence, had greased it with a near constant layer of sheep poo. Up I went, slowly, never stopping, snickers kicking in. One switchback, two, maybe another, who knows, by now I’m just pushing on and enjoying the mayhem. At the top I donned my rain cape ready for the cold descent knowing feedstation 3 must be at the bottom. Well, the devil had other plans, now furious at my stubbornness not to quit he whipped up a wind so hard that the descent became deadly. Rain (and all that sheep doodoo) hitting your face like being pricked with hundreds of pins and pretty much making navigation a “let’s hope for the best” affair. Laughing to myself at the absurdity of the weather and general situation I knew there and then I’d won, nothing was ruining this.
Down into station 3 where, utterly drenched, we were greeted with hot pasties. My god I’ve never enjoyed a pasty more.
Chapter 4 – Built to Last
I set off from station 3 really happy but wondering if I would ever feel warm again, desperate to hit the next climb so I could at least force some feeling in my toes. I didn’t have to wait long! Pasty doing its wonderful job I hit my rhythm of the first few hours and powered on. Many climbs followed but the categorised ones were are the ones to note. Firstly Rhigos, 5.6km at an average 5% and a stunner. Two Alpe-esque hairpins, looking up you can see the road above and riders heads bobbing along. Through one bend it ramps up before easing slightly readying for the next – all the while the valley below looking astonishing. Round the next hairpin it ramps hard and you have to push your fatigued legs through the final km, sheer drop one side and trying to enjoy the view knowing the kind of descent that awaits. Then the final piece of work, the Bwlch, and this time 8km avg 5%. I’m now in the groove, loads left in the tank, passing people on the climb knowing I’m and an hour from the finish. This climb starts with an uninterrupted 2km riding straight at the mountain with your destination high above you trying to psyche you out. No drama, I’m flying. This one twists and turns and every time there’s more until you’re treated to a mind blowing view below and you can finally see the elevation easing around 1km up ahead. Then you’re as good as done, most importantly from here you have a descent that is almost all the way back to Port Talbot, I’m talking miles and miles of smiles and a rapid first few km back down the side of the Bwlch.
The wind greeted us in Port Talbot once more and a small group of weary riders and myself shared the duties grinding out the last 7km ish past the steelworks and harbour and to the finish line.
I got back to HQ, got my medal as quickly as I could, kissed it and then headed for the lamb casserole, bread, Welsh cake and a 0.5% beer patting myself on my very very sore shoulders.
Today I’m physically good but mentally exhausted.
What a ride.