Finally, we get to ride this legendary event after having been postponed for the last 2 year. Nerves are kicking in as we leave Swansea at 6:30 am – but at least it is not raining, and follow the line of cars and vans entering Margam Park to find the field to leave the van in.
Bikes unpacked – bottles on, food loaded, the 3 brave (foolish) IRC riders who had signed up for the Gran Fondo of 135 miles with over 11,000 ft of climbing head off to the start area. Well, the profile didn’t look too scary, did it? Touch of over confidence there, but we were away into the head winds and so it started.
An early tough climb of Sardis hill, with a few 10% sections, then heading onto Glyn Neath hill, the route split, where we tempted to follow the Medio Fondo route at 27 miles in? No, of course not, sprits were high.
The rest of the IRC riders had sensibly signed up for the Medio Fondo, still no easy ride at 97 miles and were starting an hour or so later.
We ploughed on; a puncture fixed with help from one of the motorbike support riders who even had an electric pump! Found the first feed station, a quick re fill of bottles, re load of food, and off we set for the Black Mountain. Who ordered the full-on head wind?? That was hard work, but the reward was a very fast descent, complete with suicidal sheep and cattle grids. Then, oh gosh, yet more uphill, that didn’t seem to be on the profile list, hey ho. Another puncture, and we pressed on.
Hills, hills and yet more hills, and then there it was, 85 miles completed, the Devil’s Elbow. A closed section of road, which was good as it was narrow and bumpy and steep. However, the camaraderie was amazing and I certainly had help from a total stranger who kept me going when I just wanted to walk. Although I didn’t actually catch the chap pushing up! Only another 50 ish miles to go, and a narrow, rapid descent to another feed station.
Finally, the last long hill, the Bwlch was in sight and in sections the wind was actually on the tail, which came as a welcome relief. An awesome descent off this one, with sweeping bends and good sight lines and knowing that the worst was done. A few more little ups, bumps really after what we had already cycled and then the Port Talbot steel works were in sight, and Margam Park beckoned.
Very tired legs pushed the last up hill bit and over the finish line. The Dragon had been slayed, just a slight problem with how to actually get off the bike, clutching a medal, can of non-alcoholic beer and a silly grin!!
The encouragement on the course from other riders was amazing, especially when morale was dropping, the signage was excellent and the people volunteering and running the feed stations great. Definitely an event to try and very proud to have completed it in IRC colours.