I did this event a few years back, but it was a lot shorter and not so much climbing.
The forecast was not promising at all as there had been reports of heavy flooding and gale force wind hitting the exact location we were to ride on Sunday, near Port Talbot. Our colleague weather presenter Liam Dutton kept updating us with the glooming reports and looking at us with sorrow.
Actually it turned out ok, only a couple of light showers and temperatures steady on 12 degrees, which for this kind of event is fine.
The ride is 211km or 131miles long, there are 3,500meters or 11,400ft of climbing over 11 climbs.
For all of us it was to be the longest day on the saddle and just finishing it would be an achievement.
My only training had been a 177km sportive two weeks previously and just commuting to work.
That part of South Wales is stunning, with the Black Mountain, Usk Reservoir, Rhigos, Brecon Beacons. Sweeping mountains with ragged terrain, lots of kites and owls, the compulsory grazing sheep. It was good to take a look at the landscape to take our minds off the pain.
The climbs were relentless, long and, one in particular called Devil's Elbow, was utterly nasty, 20%+ in gradient at times. But more than the actual climbs the real challenge was the amount of miles to be ridden. Luckily in an event like this there are always riders along the road to be found, so the focus could always shift from one group to the next. The descents were incredibly fast with long sweeping roads, where at times we were riding at close to 50mph.
I've learnt is better to ride over cattle grids at 60km/h than at 15km/h! And there were lots of those, just to add a bit of bone shaking to the challenge.
We all met at a campsite near the start on the Saturday afternoon, put up tents, had some pasta to prepare for the ride. We decided to go for a little stroll with the bikes before dinner and as we left the campsite we turned left and, boom, nice 15% climb that went on and on. That was more warming up than we expected but we were all very excited about the weekend and didn't mind.
On Sunday morning, it was an early start, getting up at 5am to be at the starting line by 7 after a hearty breakfast. The compulsory pre-start-toilet-stop (plenty of toilets I must add). Then we were off, all 6 of us went off at the same time and stayed together fro the first part of the ride. The pace at the start was too fast as it always is at these events. We kept on riding like madmen, chasing down groups for a good hour and a half. Then we all chose our own pace after the first feed stop. I was off first as I knew I'd be caught on the first climb as my back was killing me already. This time I was prepared and had painkillers with me. After Black Mountain, my friend Mike passed me as he was in a faster group and he looked like he was on a stroll, not making too much effort but going way faster than I could by then. I tought, he'll have to wait a long time at the finish for us!
Unfortunately I seemed to have cramps from about two hours in, and couldn't shake them off, just managed them. I did eat and drink a lot so I guess just a lack of fitness (although I didn't have them on Chiltern 100 with 27degrees!....so cramps are a mystery to me).
Feed stations were very well stocked with energy bars, tarts, salty potatoes, and lots of other things. Plenty of water and energy drinks as well.
Then there were a series of unclassified climbs, where the tarmac seemed to always go up for no reason, going past reservoirs, hills...stunning views indeed. Somewhere in there Ian, another friend from work, caught up with me and we were to ride the rest of the course together. This proved vital as we pushed each other and were able to finish with a decent time because of that.
The third feed stop was at the top of Rhigos, a very long climb for the distance at a steady 6/8%. The descent from there was very cold but we were heading for the last climb so we pushed on. We turned around half way through and discovered we were pulling a group of about 20 riders, which made us feel good...well...until we hit the last climb, the Bwlch. The gradient is not much and the length is manageable, but the cramps are not so it was a long way to the top. Top? which one was it? turned the corner and more climbing, then saw a 1km sign, 500mt sign, KOM sign...but the road still went up. Oh well, it was almost over. The last part of the ride was brilliant, really fast descent followed by a long false flat of about 5km. Turning into the park towards the finish line was very rewarding, with lots of people cheering (including Mike who finished an hour earlier), a medal, a goodie bag and two helpings of pasta. While eating the pasta I spotted the number of a twitter friend and introduced myself. Louise was already dressed in civilian clothes and looking pretty rested, and it made me sick when she told me that after a wrong turn she went the wrong way and added about 20miles to her ride...That would have been too much for me I think, so chapeau to Louise!
Well done to Ian as well for beating me by one minute!
If it hadn't been for the cramps attacking me for most of the day, it would have been a (dare I say) possible bronze standard (or close) as my legs and lungs felt good, however I ended in 9hr18mins (including 41mins stops).
We all had different levels of training and preparation but the elation and joy at the finish line was just as good for all of us.
Now, with a bit of surgery and months of physio we should all be back to normal.
It was tough indeed.