This was my third sportive. The previous year I’d done 90 miles on a mountain bike and more recently I’d covered 85 miles on my newly purchased road bike. This one offered 56, 83 and 131 mile routes and I obviously had to go for the longest option. It also had over 3000m of ascent.
I decided that the time had come to buy some proper clipped in pedals and road shoes so I called round to Noah’s Ark and threw some money at turning myself into a proper roadie. Whilst I was there I bought a decent sized saddle bag / post pack. This was not well received by some of my roadie orientated friends on Facebook but I was fed up with having no room for maps, food, spare clothes and the camera.
I gave the clip in pedals a quick try out to check the set up and to make sure that I could clip in and out. They seemed fairly easy to use and I guessed that I’d soon adapt to them on the day.
The weather forecast for Sunday was for wind and rain coming in from the north. I hoped that we might might miss most of it.
My original plan had been to arrive at Leominster to start at 8am and set off at 8:30am. Leominster is pronounced as “Lemster” by the way but I often call it “Leo – Minster” to make me sound like a tourist. My actual timings on the day were about 45 minutes behind plans so once again I missed the crowds. I took a quick look at the route map before setting out and could see that it went west to Knighton, on into Wales, did a loop round the Elan valley (I know the area well) and then returned via Kington. I know the area pretty well from years of driving through it on the way to north Wales.
I set off from Leominster knowing I had a big task ahead of me but it wasn’t worth thinking about it too hard. I don’t really like the start of big rides because I’m all too aware at how little has been done. Not long after the start the route turned east and I was immediately aware of a strong headwind blowing straight into my face. Because I had 130 miles ahead of me I adjusted my pace downwards knowing that I’d just have to put the hours in to cover the distance. I was overtaken by three riders who slowly pulled into the distance. Were they doing the long route though?
The early stages of the route were not fun at all. Struggling to achieve 20 km/h on a wide and boring road that stretched far into the distance was frustrating and the wind noise blowing in my ears was irritating me. I’d been warned by the bike shop that my new shoes were well vented and I noted that my feet were cold.
It was a major relief to turn off onto some lanes and go up some steep climbs. As soon as there as some shelter then the wind died down and some great views opened up of steep wooded valleys. I caught up with one of the riders who had passed me because he was fixing a puncture.
On the descent to Knighton the wind was strong enough to blow me from one side of the road to the other and it was coming in unpredictable gusts. It was a relief to reach the town and shelter.
From there the route followed one of the classic back roads of Wales. This goes on for long enough when driving let alone when cycling into a cold and drizzly headwind. At least the Garmin showed that I was climbing gradually the whole time. What kept me going was the hope that when I later reached the furthest point in the Elan valley then I would turn and the wind would push me the whole way back. Likewise I could tolerate the relentless altitude gain because I hoped I would receive pay back later.
The first food stop was a welcome relief and found the other two riders who had overtaken me there. I ate a lot of quiche, boiled potatoes and cake before setting back off into the headwind encouraged by the shout of “only another 100 miles to go!”. Two riders went past me again but I knew they were doing the medium route.
I’d been making good progress up the hill out of the valley but as soon as the road started to level then the full wind was back in my face and it was raining too. This made the top sections a real grind but at least I was moving into the mountains now. Another sketchy descent dropped me on the main Newton road and then onto more lanes. I’d finally turned slightly and the difference between a headwind and crosswind was very noticeable. Not for long though, the wind seemed to be funnelling along the valley so I was back into it for the next major climb. Once again my only hope was that at some stage in the future I would be pushed along by the wind. I noticed that I’d become accustomed to the wind noise and it no longer agitated me. Acceptance!
I had a cheerful chat at the second food stop on the way out of Rhayader and found out that I was the 13th rider who had passed and one was about 15 minutes ahead of me. I did a calculation on my times and reckoned that it was going to take me 11 hours for the whole route and that meant an 8pm finish. I didn’t feel too bad about that because I was well into the groove by this time.
I was actually quite looking forwards to riding the Elan valley sections and the climb up didn’t seem too bad. After years of riding mountain bikes I would say that road bikes go up hills well once you are used to standing on the pedals.
I was excited to be at the furthest point of the route and finally turn east. With a great sense of expectation I turned the corner, the noise stopped and my speed immediately jumped from below 20km/h to 35km/h. This was exactly what I wanted.
Thirty seconds later it was over and I was back into a headwind. Once again the wind was being funnelled into the valley but I knew that on average I was going to be helped more often than hindered from this point on. Descending past the reservoirs with the wind mainly behind me was great. The main road to Newbridge was fine too and I had a bit of a race with a young lad on a mountain bike. He probably wasn’t riding 130 miles though.
The route pushed eastwards towards Kington and took my past various places that I recognised from the 2010 Marin Roughride. That was an epic that one – it rained the whole time and the ground was wet carpet the whole way. I was riding up a hill when I spotted the salt bin that looks like a smiley face and thought “get a photograph of that!”. In my excitement I got my sequence wrong so I stopped pedalling before I’d unclipped the pedals. I frantically tried to rescue the situation but fell straight over onto my side on the ride. Everyone does this on their first ride with clip ins.
From Kington onwards the wind was definitely behind and pushing. Instead of struggling to reach 20 km/h I was now easily managing 35-40km/h and none of the hills seemed to matter. Fatigue meant that I wasn’t wasting any effort braking for corners and I was riding in a much more fluid manner. The remaining distance was falling to a manageable level now so I felt upbeat about the whole situation.
A trailing wind and overall descent for the last hour or so meant that I made good time to Leominster. At the finish I found the organisers waiting to go home. I wasn’t the last though – I’d spotted two riders on the way into town and they arrived shortly after me.
Overall I enjoyed that. I was a decent distance and ascent, conditions were challenging, I had some bad times, then I saw some great scenery and had a load of good times. It was an adventure and I’d ridden one hundred and thirty miles. Yes, pleased with that.
The route marking was excellent throughout and the food stops were spot on and well spaced (one every 30 miles roughly). Red Kite Events organise on and off road cycling events.
|Distance|| 211 km
|Elevation gain||3000 m|
|Moving time||10:04 h:m||Elapsed time||10:59 h:m|
|Av moving speed||21 km/h||Max speed||66 km/h|
I found a few other people who did the event on Strava by looking who did the Elan valley climb segment on the 11th of May.
|Name||Moving time (h:m)||Elapsed time (h:m)|
|Nick Nelson – Piercy||8:38||9:26|