Good day to you readers, on this lovely sunny, warm day from North Wales, Snowdonia UK.
Yesterday my wife and I took part in a very well run, charity bike ride in aid of Ty Gobaith, which is a children’s hospice based in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales. The entry fee was £12.00 and with that you received a nice, bright green t-shirt with the ride’s logo on it, a slate coaster and a warm, glowing feeling knowing that your entry fee was going towards helping children that are in need. Not only that, it’s a fantastic circuit; 100km or just under 63 miles around some of the hardest roads Snowdonia has to torture us with. Thankfully, I knew all the roads and what to expect. Here’s a screenshot of the route, showing the lumpy profile and the overall view of how mountainous my part of the world is:
As my wife and I drove over from Bethesda, it was a stunning day; blue skies, no wind and excellent visibility. The forecast however was set to deteriorate rapidly. But the views north from the Crimea Pass were absolutely stunning before 8am, with mist in the valleys and low cloud, skudding over the flanks of the mountains. Shame we didn’t have time to stop, as I could have had a beautiful photograph.
The plan was to set riders off at 08.30. It’s not a timed event, thus removing the competitive nature of it if it was an official sportive. Hmm, well it still didn’t pan out that way. What? You expect over 300 cyclists, from varying local clubs not to be competitive?? Don’t be silly.
I’m trying to write this outside on the bench, but I can’t see anything. As much as I’d love to continue sitting here in the warm sun, the reflection on the screen is too much. So, I….oh, the sun’s gone behind a cloud so I can stay here a little longer!
Anyway, we all stood around chatting after we’d signed-on, chomping at the bit to get going. My friend came with us. Or should I say, we left his girlfriend’s house just up the road, and within 20 seconds of leaving, his rear tyre blew out. So unfortunately, that was his ride over for the day, as he had no access to spare 650c tubes and it was the valve that explode; he’s quite small chap, hence the 650c wheels. His girlfriend however, oddly enough having the same name as my wife (Tabitha) did carry on and it was a first for her on the roads of North Wales, despite being a native of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
Speaking of my wife; I felt pretty rubbish knowing that her now riding partner was not going to be coming and that she would spend most of the ride cycling alone as I’d already agreed to ride with the club, which she was fine with, but it didn’t stop me feeling guilty. The other Tabitha wanted to ride the circuit fast. My wife did set off before me though, as she just wanted to get going and get over the climb out of the town; with cold muscles, it’s not very nice.
Anyway, after further faffing and sticking the obligatory ride stickers to the front of our helmets, we also set off immediately onto the climb of the Crimea Pass, that goes up to around 360 metres. It starts off quite steeply in a straight line, then eases off as it curves around the contours of the hillside. Already, we were riding fairly fast so the group fragmented more or less immediately. Naturally, my five year old daughter could descend faster than me with stabilizers, so I constantly covered my brakes on the way down; I don’t do damp, smooth tarmac, as I think I only managed 46 mph/76.2 kmph on the way down:
I’d already said that I wasn’t going to fly around the circuit, but like my confidence on the descent, that disappeared out of the window as we really stomped our way down to Betws y Coed. We had quite a tight-knit group and I was often on the front pulling, despite having to be reigned in a couple of times; I’m pretty fast on the flat but I lose power when I hit hills usually. So we were hovering around 50kmph/30mph along this road. It’s a real buzz, floating along at this speed, with your cycling buddies all around you. And then another group sped past us on the right, just prior to leaving this stretch of road.
It was along here that a Plas y Brenin vehicle decided to come speeding down from the other direction; it’s a narrow road but to be honest, I think he was going too fast. I took evasive action, trying hard to avoid the ditch on the left without causing the rider behind the clip my wheel and then the driver just honked his horn impatiently; asshole. He could have caused a major incident. I’m not saying we were not at fault, as on a narrow road that sees very little traffic, we do tend to spread out a little but the driver should have slowed down and showed patience. We were a big group at this point; I couldn’t quite see behind me, but including riders in my club and others, there was probably a good forty cyclists stretched out along here.
Thankfully, no harm done.
We sped through Betws y Coed, trying to avoid the Bank Holiday tourists and bad drivers and made our way up the climb to Capel Curig. I was already starting to feel the pace in my legs, so I dropped back a little. I also saw my wife up ahead and just slowed down to check if she was OK; another pang of guilt as I left to catch the boys up.
Just as we approached the Swallow Falls hotel, an idiot in a van decided he would try to squeeze past us and the traffic island. I really don’t understand some drivers. There’s no way you can leave the required space (1.5 metres) between us and the traffic island and your van! He slowed down quickly, realising his error and I could hear his tyres scraping against the kerbs; shame he didn’t smack them head on and break his suspension struts. Drivers need to get used to the idea that cyclists are increasing on Britain’s roads and will continue to do so; show some patience before you kill one of us (again)!
The first checkpoint was on a right hand bend in a lay by, however I think we should have been made to move off the road, as this created a tailback of cyclists and drivers waiting to get past, so I don’t think this checkpoint was in the ideal position; a little dangerous if you ask me – feedback for next year perhaps?
We got our cards marked, and off we went again. The pace picking up quite quickly.
On entering the Ogwen Valley, there was a slight wind. This is a nine mile section of road and can be very hard work as it is very exposed to the elements. The group splintered again, with about five of my guys disappearing ahead. So I kept my group up to speed by doing all the work on the front, pretty much for the whole distance. We weren’t going slow by any means, regularly dropping other cyclists along the way. I still had time to take a quick, moving shot of Tryfan:
Upon reaching the left turn to Tregarth, I felt awfully tempted to nip home for a quick coffee hit, but decided against it. So our little group continued on through Tregarth village and on to Pentir, where we would turn left and immediately right, to cut out the Ty Mawr roundabout. I still think it’s a shame that we had to go on the Beran road, as it has an awful surface, can be dangerous (has been fatalities over the years) and is a bit of a drag. At least there was the descent down to the next checkpoint, where another driver thought it’d be fun to pull out in front of a bunch of cyclists riding at 50kmph + (30mph+) on a descent. Pretty sure it was a case of misjudged speed and pure idiocy, as he tried to accelerate away in his Berlingo. We hauled anchors and shouted abuse at him; like he would have given a crap…
Unfortunately, the signs directing us were sometimes hard to see, and most of us in the group were focussed on carrying on straight to take the right turn at the T-junction. Half way past the turn-off, some one shouted “left!” and I turned without thinking into the rider next to me giving us a brown pants moment; thankfully, neither of us crashed as I apologised profusely to him! We filled bottles and had a natural and we were off again.
Next stop was Ceunant. The pace was still fast, but again, it would soon splinter the group as we hit the nasty little rise up to the village. That’s assuming we all reached it with intact wheels and kidneys, as the road surface along here is atrocious and never gets fixed. We all hit the ramp at the bottom, and after I changed down to a more manageable gear, a couple of links in my chain decided to end their close relationship as I continued on slowly in a comedy fashion, spinning my legs with the chain on the ground a few metres behind me. Dammit! That was pretty much the last I’d see of my club. I tried to fix it as fast as I could, unfortunately leaving the chain even shorter, as it had snapped on a previous ride. Time for a new one; I don’t think SRAM agrees with a Campagnolo cassette…
After many offers of help from passing cyclists (we’re a friendly bunch :)) I got it sorted out within about 6 minutes and I set off again, over-taking all the riders that had already passed me. I wanted to catch my guys back up, but the pace they were riding at and the fact I couldn’t conserve energy by riding in the bunch, there was no chance. But I pushed on regardless, as I dropped down through Waunfawr trying to maintain at least 38kmph / 24mph. This was very hard to stick to on the way down to Beddgelert, where I was hoping to catch them all for the planned cafe stop. I let my legs have some rest on the descent, besides, I was spinning out in my compact 50 tooth chain ring; need to go back to a 53t I think as the loss of two teeth makes quite a difference (it doesn’t do your smile any favours either…..hodeho :D)
I flew down the last smooth bit of tarmac into Beddgelert, again, keeping a very sharp eye out for tourists wandering about in the road and drivers who don’t their right from left. I met up with a couple of other club mates who hadn’t been there long. Turns out the planned cafe stop didn’t materialise, which kind of pissed me off as it’s nice to stop and just chill for a bit and have a social and a laugh. It’s part of the culture for me, the cafe stop and fast or slow ride, I will always stop to re-fuel and have a sit down. So I told the boys I was stopping for a bit and I’d see them back in Blaenau.
Feeling sad and rejected (not really boys ;)) I stopped at a little cafe tucked away near the bridge, after talking to some other lads who were from my village, that I’d probably never recognise again if I saw them in the street; I often only recognise cycling friends by the bikes they ride or the club kit they wear!
So I ordered a large cappuccino and a gluten-free lemon cheese-cake with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream. Pleased that there was plenty of choice for my wife if we ever stop here in the future.
After relaxing and stretching my legs, I got myself sorted and put my ‘riding head’ back on, and left Beddgelert and its crowds behind, making my way down the stunning Aberglaslyn Pass. Turning left at the bridge and passing the road works that are still there, I shot down through the region of Meirionydd to the next turn off at Garreg Llanfrothen. Where the nemesis of the route would rear its ugly, sneering head.
The climb up to the village of Rhyd. On a normal paced ride (around 25 kmph/16.5 mph) without stupid fast miles in my legs, this climb is hard enough, but today, I knew it was going to hurt and make me suffocate, as the sun had come out now and I still had my arm warmers on. So I gritted my teeth and made my way up its lower slopes. It starts off with quite a steep ramp and then varying gradients all the way up, making it difficult to maintain a rhythm. A couple of other club guys caught me up, and after having a very brief chat, I let them go ahead as I really didn’t want to die on this climb. It was getting really warm now, so on a lesser gradient, I rolled down my arm warmers to my wrists, enjoying the now cool air blowing over my sweat covered arms. Jeez, I felt like I was dying as I was getting a stitch and felt a little sick, my cheese-cake threatening to violently evacuate my body at any moment. Thankfully, it stayed put. I love climbing, more so than descending and although I’m not a weak climber, I so often lose the power in my legs. You’d think after being a road cyclist for a good ten years, and a racing mountain biker since 1995, hills wouldn’t be a problem for me. I think it’s because I don’t push myself up them like I used to, preferring to just spin up. I used to be a ‘big ring masher’ on climbs, but not really any more; I don’t think my knees will thank me for it and it puts a lot of strain on my glass-back too 😦
I stopped in the sun at the next, poorly placed checkpoint (on a fast descent) and had my card marked and set off again. Not far to go now, as I dropped down the steep, 1 in 6 descent to the T-junction.
Following this minor road was going to be puncture city, as it has many farms along it and all sorts of detritus covering it. Oddly enough, I dreamt I was cycling along this road last night, but I had to cross a stile, right in the middle of the road with a waving kayaker on the right hand side. Weird.
Glad to say I didn’t suffer any punctures.
Rejoining the main road now, I knew I didn’t have far to go, as rain clouds loomed over-head. I knew however, what I was about to encounter; another long climb on tired legs, followed by another right turn onto a 10% hill. I steeled myself and just got on with it, still very surprised that I hadn’t had the dreaded ‘bonk’ yet; I was very tired and a tough climb in the last few miles is not a good thing.
The right turn that takes the route up to the village of Manod I knew wasn’t very nice, so I put the bike in the easiest gear, sat down and just worked really hard to keep my failing legs spinning. I still dropped many more cyclists up here though, one group commenting “…there goes another Energy racing snake”; looks like we’re getting a name for ourselves boys! If they’d have seen the look on my face though, they’d have thought differently. I was shattered. Finished. But I refused to slow down or give up, my stubbornness really kicking in. It’s a horrible climb as it just seems never-ending; I usually come down it! I reached the end of it with a big ‘thank F*** for that!’ as I turned left on the now more level road with literally a mile or so left to, so I changed up into big ring and cranked it along the road back to the start.
I pulled in, had my card marked and collected my t-shirt and slate coaster and the heavens opened. Perfect timing.
Unfortunately, I now felt incredibly bad for my wife, as she still had around 10 miles left in the heavy rain. But I knew that she wouldn’t give up, she doesn’t know how. And that’s one reason why I am so incredibly proud of her and why I love her so much. It was without doubt her hardest ride to date, despite the fact she has climbed Alpe D’Huez successfully. She can only get better and stronger.
I stood chatting with the other Tabitha and Simon and after a while, we jumped in Tab’s brother’s van and drove up to their house where I could stretch and get changed and come back in our car to get my wife. She had arrived just as we got there, looking somewhat wet but relieved to have finished. Well done honey!
Despite being knackered, I still rode the route in 3 hours 33 minutes at 28.2 kmph average, so very pleased with that. I’ve since learnt that the rest of the Energy boys were only around 10 minutes in front of me 🙂
Overall, I thought it was a great event, with one or two things that I think need to be fixed for next year’s ride. Perhaps slightly larger signs, or at least backed with fluorescent colour so they stand out more, and choice of checkpoints need a re-think, for safety reasons. Otherwise, thank you to the organisers, Ty Gobaith and Antur Stiniog, the girls at the checkpoints who took time out of their day to ensure the event was a success; I hope the midges didn’t munch on you too much!
Thanks for another great ride boys, see you soon