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The Ratae Wyvern slays the Welsh Dragon

Ric Chapman writes on Sunday's Dragon Ride epic:


The air is muggy and warm, as we set off from Margam Park. Our goal is the 130 miles and 11000 elevation feet of the Dragon Ride Gran Fondo, around the Brecon Beacon National Park. As we pass Port Talbot, the steel blast furnaces on our left, start their morning work and steam reaches high into the sky. To our right the hills with low, dark clouds hiding their summits. Despite this air of foreboding, our mood is of excitement, our legs fresh, and we eat up the miles following the River Afan inland. It’s a slight rise alongside steel workers cottages. 

Sardis Hill

Suddenly, a left turn onto Sardis Hill, reminds that this is a hilly ride. Starting with a 19% ramp, still wet from overnight rain, our tyres struggle to grip before the slope levels off. The descent is just as tricky over a bumpy surface.

Glynneath Hill

A long flat road through a forest makes for a speedy section with unfortunately limited views. That changes as we pass through Glynneath village, and onto its following climb. It is only 2 miles, and neither steep or particularly tough, but with a series of false summits it feels like it goes on forever. We have now left the built up areas behind and enjoy the green hills stretching away.

At the first food station in Gurnos, we find delicious salted Herby potatoes, among the usual gels and protein bars.

Black Mountain

Leaving Brynamman we begin this ominously named climb. It’s wild, remote, desolate and featureless, but still very endearing. The road cuts through the open mountainside, and curves to its summit, where we see other riders although it’s three miles away by the windy road. As we rise up, the valley floor falls away and the vista is superb.

Glasfynydd Forest

There are two climbs through this forest, Blwch Bryn Duon and Blwch Bryn Rudd. At 4% they are shallow but long and gruelling, as the road is rough and rutted. We are thankful to reach the second food station along the ridge, and briefly sit and munch on more potatoes, admiring views of the Crai Reservoir beneath us.

Turning left onto the A4067, the surface improves dramatically we take on the Pen y Fan climb and then a beautiful descent to Defynnog, as part of a large group which was fast but slightly dangerous.

The sun appears for our right turn onto the A4215. We feel its immediate warmth which makes this 4 mile climb sticky and uncomfortable. 

There is a 10 mile descent from here, to our last food station in Penderyn. We gratefully wolf down sausage rolls and cheese pasties, as we now have 100 miles in the legs, and energy replacement is key.

Rhigos

This climb is in the UK Top 100, and its easy to see why. Beginning with an dead straight climb past a colliery, the road gently curves its way across the front of the mountain. This is a timed section, so we put a bit more effort in. Two hairpin bends remind us of an Alpine ascent, and as we approach the summit the view of the valley to our right is breathtaking.

Blwch

As we leave Treorchy for the last climb of the day we are slightly daunted to see  its peak towering above us. Its an optical illusion, as it seems close in distance but far away in altitude. At nearly 3 miles and 6% average, we settle into our own pace and tap out the pedal strokes to reach the crest.

The final 20 miles is a steady descent back to Port Talbot. We urge aching legs into one last fast effort, arriving at the finish together. Our names read out as fire special effects blast the air. We are tired but elated as this is the longest ride for most of us, and so a special achievement.

Wrap-up

The climbs in this ride are long but not steep so can be completed with a good steady rhythm. The descents fun and fast with sweeping turns. Care must be taken through the villages, as parked cars and road furniture are in abundance.

The A roads through the National Park are in good condition with light traffic. Unfortunately some of the back roads are in a rough state. 

The organisation is fantastic from start to finish, despite there being 4500 riders. Several times we had right turns onto major roads where temporary traffic lights were set up to get us across safely. 

The food stations well maintained with a good variety of snacks, although too few toilets at Gurnos, meant a long queue.

While the scenery is not as dramatic as the Lakes or Peaks, the valleys and rolling hills have their own beauty, gently curving as far as the eye can see.

The local people were courteous, and not annoyed when cyclists held them up.


I’d definitely recommend this sportive.




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