Dragon Ride – reader stories

We asked you what you thought of this year’s Dragon Ride, one of the biggest sportives in the UK, and got hundreds of replies. Here’s a selection of the responses.

This is the best Sportive ride I have done. The route was fantastic. There were approximately six climbs, a couple of them were quite long (up to 9.5km). Even though the gradients (approx 4% on average) were fairly gentle, with one the longest climbs (BWLCH 2) placed near the end, these hills were hardly a cake walk‚. The food was fine – especially the gourmet burgers at the end. I am looking forward to taming the Dragon again next year.

Anthony White (Aus)

Clapham



Excellent route and closest you’ll get to continental style climbs in the UK, long and consistent gradients are good training for the Etape.

Going through Neath was a pain as it was very busy with traffic but I don’t think the organisers have any other options.

Finish was a bit of a let down as no times were available and the “goody” bag was lacking any substance. Dartmoor classic gave a trophy to every finisher and a Gold, Silver or Bronze medal depending on your time. One I did in the Auvergne, France last year gave out personalised certificates with name, rider number, time, and whether Gold, Silver or Bronze achieved within a minute of crossing the finish line! I was also given a trophy for being the person who had travelled furthest to the event!

So, all in all a good event that I would enter again.”

Martin Pingel

Via Email



I took on The Dragon for a second year in a row. I felt the course overall was great with most of the criticism from the year before having been addressed such as the drag in and out of Bridgend complete with traffic lights and having to do the Bwlch the same way twice

On the negative side, the feed stations did run out of cakes again which was blamed on greedy cyclists. Toilets at the Car park would have made a big difference. My only criticism of the course was the lack of caution signs on the last decent, according to the various Forums a few riders left the road, one incident looked rather nasty!

For myself, a tough day in the saddle having not fully recovered from The Tour Of Pembrokeshire the week before although still considering a crack at the Welsh Triple Crown by riding The Merlin Ride this weekend.

With our Club being only 14 months old, it was fantastic to see one of our Club members, Darren Mutter in a new Club Jersey (white, yellow and blue) in the bunch photo featured on page 6 of this week’s of Cycling Weekly.

Well done to all involved in The Dragon 2008!

Gareth Rees

Secretary of Tenby Aces Cycling Club



It was my first sportive and the whole day was fantastic, the scenery, my fellow riders and the weather couldn’t have been better, the only down side was that because I was in the last group to leave Pencoed College when I arrived at the feed stations there was only bananas left.

P.S. When I finally finished I was handed a goody bag which was pretty poor, if next year they are offering goody bags they should maybe improve them, that said it is such a minor point and shouldn’t distract from what was a great experience

Tony Howard

Via email



Memories of last year’s disaster with the feed stations prompted me to pack my pockets with as much food as possible – bananas, energy bars, gels, dried apricots, and of course I had to try this pork pie secret weapon thing that some people swear by, so had one small Melton Mowbray pork pie. Also packed away several small measures of Go Electrolyte in small sandwich bags to mix in with water at the feed stations – looked like packs of cocaine – not sure what it would do to you if you tried to snort it.”

Phil

Via email



I never, ever, ever, ever, ever want to do that again! Very scenic but also very painful. As for the Bwlch – I’m going to get a bloody big stick of dynamite and obliterate it. Once was fine but going up it twice – well that was just plain mean

Carole Heritage

Via email



Whilst I don’t wish to sound too negative, I do feel that having ridden this event for the past two years and a number of sportives in France I cannot help but think there is much to improve upon.

Firstly, the price. The Marmotte and the Time Megeve to name just two are half the price and you get free arm warmers/ race jersey. Secondly, the start. Why say an 8;00am start and then wait an hour? Had it rained I imagine many riders would be very vocal.

Thirdly, the feed stops. Okay if you like bananas and diluted High 5, but they were a total shambles and somewhat dangerous (especially at the summit of the Bwlch). Every sportive that I’ve ridden in France have unbelievable feed stops and a free three course meal at the finish.

Finally, the course. Yes, the climbs were fantastic but taking us through very built up traffic is very questionable.

On a positive note, all the marshals were excellent and the majority of riders rode in a great spirit. However, should cycle sportives continue to grow in popularity, we must look at our European neighbours in terms of running truly great events.

S Dickinson

Via email



Loved the new route and the two very different approaches to the Bwlch, marvellous climbs and thrilling descents. The bonus climb after the main final descent gave just enough height for one last fling through some S bends to finish the day with a thrill…. Turned out rather more thrilling than I had hoped.

Doing about 35mph and having just exited a fast, tightening left hander with a whoop and something ghastly like “bring it on” or “get in there” just having escaped my lips, I totally messed up the transition into the next corner and ran out of road to my left. Taking to a verge with grass two feet tall at that speed was an interesting journey into slow motion thinking and excuse rehearsal for both fellow riders and family later.

But the verge was without any dips or chasms and I suppose grass in a front hub is quite a decent supplementary brake, so my following audience only got to see a near miss and no somersaults. Comparisons to the Lance Armstrong off road footage would flatter me rather, but to my shame, it actually went through my mind at the time as well. Mending the ensuing puncture gave me a few moments to reflect on my good fortune and to compose the sternest of mental notes for the descent of the Tourmalet in 3 weeks time. Take it easy…..maybe.

Fantastic ride. The route, scenery and organization all excellent. The only thing to try to improve upon would be the arrangements at the start which saw us queuing for over an hour down a narrow track, and not off until gone 9am which made for a long day when you’ve come from Kent! 9 out of 10 overall.

Tony Byers

Via email



The general organisation

Good, the only negative being the waiting at the start. We were there at the time on the instructions and ended up with a 45minute wait on the farm lane.

The marshalling

Excellent, loads of signs both approaching and at each change in direction. Friendly marshals dotted throughout, even at junctions I wouldn’t have expected them to be needed at. Outriders scouting the course regularly would have been an added bonus for anyone who hit trouble – physical or mechanical.

The course

Very good. Was a section on more main road than I expected but very quiet so not a problem. The only bad surface was the newly resurfaced/gravel chucked on the road stretch and that wasn’t on a descent. Mainly very picturesque quiet countryside, with the occasional suicidal sheep to keep you on your toes.

The start/finish facilities

Start was not too good. It was a bit vague which probably ended up with us having a longer wait to get going as if we’d known where to go we could have been there earlier rather than waiting at the college. The PA wasn’t working so just loads of crackle and static noise.

Finish was okay. Goody bag was naff, didn’t care what was in it but I’d have thought for £25 entry there could have been a water bottle or something as a momento. Granted the outriders/marshals need to be paid for but it could have been covered by a small sponsorship.

The feed stations

Not good. Only had bananas and a few small cheap cakes and I’m allergic to bananas. Just stopped briefly to top up with water. A bit of variety would’ve been nice. Seemed well stocked and well manned though.

Overall opinion of your day

An enjoyable day on the bike, a good testing route, and a good atmosphere. The locals were out clapping and cheering you on through some of the villages which always perks you up if you’re about to hit a hill.

Andrew Greene

Addiscombe CC



The general organisation

I signed-on on the day, and this seemed to be no problem. To be able to enter a sportive of this quality on the day to me was a bonus. I did phone the organiser the day before who was very helpful in telling me what I needed to do to get my entry. This initial contact gave me a warm and fluffy feeling about this event prior to entry.

The marshalling

This was pretty good, the corners were well marshaled and there were the odd motorbike outrider. I think the outriders could have stayed with some of the larger groups for a little longer than they did, but maybe they had the remit to check the whole route out rather than chauffeur certain groups. The guys on the corners etc were very good and let us know if it was clear, you can’t ask for much more.

The course

Prior to the event I had heard bad things about the course from last year, for example a lot of main roads and the like. I thought the course was fantastic, the climbs were great, the descents even better. Shame about the resurfacing and traffic lights, but that was not the organisers fault, these things happen, when I did the Marmotte a couple of years ago we had to deal with some temporary lights on the route.

The start/finish facilities

This was the one area that I felt needed improvement relative to other sportives I have done. Start was quite late and the loud speaker was inaudible so it was not clear what was going on. Felt that a meal or something savoury at the finish would have gone down a treat. Also a medal or momento would have been nice, the food in the goodie bag was near on inedible, but that is probably more down to the sponsorship I suppose.

The feed stations

Well, I really like Bananas and fairy cakes so they were fine for me. The high 5 was ok as well, I had no problems with the food, although I know others were a bit surprised at the lack of variety on the stations.

Your overall opinion of your day

I really enjoyed the day and the route was a big bonus, and the fact I did not blow probably helped. I would do this one again and recommend to others, but I reckon I may bring a couple of Melton Mowbrays in my back pocket for savoury backup.

Marek Siwicki

Addiscombe CC



Organisation: Excellent. Plenty of feedback before the event.. number and timing chip before the event, no need for signing on, just roll over the start mat. One small gripe was that we never knew the start was delayed, should have guessed really as we weren’t moving. Couldn’t hear the PA system and the rider briefing never happened at 7.50, if it did we didn’t hear it.

Marshalling: First class, outriders always present, mobile mechanics out and about, high viz police presence, all right turns well marshaled, great signage.

Course: Challenging, a few main roads but not like Croydon only heard one hoot all day. Can’t grumble about road surfaces at all, traffic lights are a fact of life.

Start/finish: I went up to the start at about 4 o’clock on the Saturday; one tent, nothing on display! Did not bother looking in the morning, I went to Tescos for my energy bars and food! I am sure the waffle makers were disappointed with their takings, the last thing I want after 110 sugary miles is more of the same.

No point in a goodie bag at all really, inedible fruit bars that even my rabbit turned his nose at, loads of pieces of paper. A water bottle or a simple cheap ‘medal’ (muttley stylee) would suffice

Feed: Plenty of water and energy drink, loads of bananas and naff all else, I managed to get one jam tart at the first feed! Only bananas at feed two and half measures at feed 3. However the bumf with the entry / timing chip said make your own provisions for food as they cannot be guaranteed. I carried enough for the whole club.

The day: A really great epic ride, good camaraderie amongst the riders, sense of achievement, my first big one, would love to do it again. I feel a bit bad about the niggles as I had a great time but pointing them out will help the organisers.

Ian Munnery

Addiscombe CC



This was my third time doing the Dragon Ride, and it is always a pleasure being back. Marshals were numerous and very helpful, food stops well ran, and motorbikes present all along the route. The new starting point offers better parking, but I was disappointed by the late start. A final detail: my Polar quoted 2,600m of climbing, not the advertised 3,000m. This won’t happen in l’Etape!

Vincent de Martel (Fra)

London



At the end of August last year, I decided to make the switch from off-road biking to road racing. Since then I have been rolling around the flats of Cambridgeshire, clocking up miles with work colleagues and friends that share a cycling interest. During my winter training, I decided to take the next step and look for my first organised cycling sportive. I picked the Dragon Ride because it offered a stark contrast to my Cambridgeshire experience and the start finish location of Pencoed was only six miles from my where I was brought up in Ewenny.

The experiences and jokes shared with the other sportive riders at the start line helped get rid of my pre-event nerves. As we got under way, I soon found a group of riders who were going at my kind of pace. It was a great introduction to group riding – turns at the front of the group to keep the pace constant, then nestling in behind to get a breather for a few minutes. The idyllic scenery helped on the hard climbs, and then the drops down the other side provided a fantastic rush. I didn’t know my speedometer could count that high!

Finally after the burst at the end (just because you can) stewards were on hand to help get the timing chips off my bike and allow you to catch your breath. The text message sent through telling me I completed it in under 5 hours finished off the event perfectly, plus there was even a of decent photo on the website.

What can I say about my first sportive experience? It was amazing. The people – from the other cyclists to the event organisers and stewards – were brilliant. Even the police on the motorbikes provided some friendly encouragement and banter. Not even the second climb of the Bwlch could take the smile off my face. I was so chuffed with my virgin sportive experience that I got on the web to check the 2008 British Cyclo-Sportive Calendar and see which event I can sign up for next. I’ve definitely got the racing bug now, and am already looking forward to next year’s Dragon Ride.

Llongyfarchiadau, and thanks to everyone involved in the Dragon Ride for making it such a great event and experience.

Bob

Cambridgeshire



I live a few miles from the start and finish of the Dragon ride and as a result use the route for training rides throughout the year. The weather for the day was spot on, not too hot and little or no wind. The Bwlch often has very different weather at the top compared to the bottom and there have been many occasions where it has been in the clouds or above the snow line! I’m not too sure if local knowledge helps with the event but this year I thought I would try and use it to my advantage.

I rode the Medio Fondo on the grounds of not wanting to disrupt my race programme / or being too much of a wuss. (take your pick!) I started near the back of the field and made my way through the riders on the climbs. I can do the route in 4hrs 30 and realised with 20miles to go that I could get inside four hours if I maintained my average speed.

The last climb at Llangeinor really took it out of me and those around me, and I finished on a 3:56. I then waited a couple of days to see what my real time was which included waiting at traffic lights and road works and a quick re-fuelling stop at Cimla. I was delighted with my 3:58. I think the Dragon Ride showcases all that’s best about cycling and my only suggestion is to keep trying to get even more local publicity. Lou Lousardi let us place a leaflet about our club in the goodie bag and we are now hoping to attract some new unattached local riders!

Steven Madeley

Ogmore Valley Wheelers



This was my first ever Sportive. Loved it, every minute of it! I did it in 7 hours even though I left my expensive shades at the mid point food station and had to cycle 4 miles back up the mountain to get them. A steep learning curve….literally!

Miles

Bath



What’s hot

– riding with a load of riders in a big group and everyone being sociable, even on the climbs

– being cheered on as we rode through the villages/towns and by friends & family at the top of the climbs – even when they don’t know who you are. It certainly gave you a better boost than any gel.

– the motorcycle out riders & marshals. You made the event run so smoothly and made me feel like a pro for the day as you cleared the traffic out of our way. Who needs closed roads when you guys are around?

– a well organised event with ample parking at the start and a big starting arena

– climbing and descending some stunning hills. Beats the 10 -> 15 min climbs where I live

– breaking my target of 5 hrs for the 120km loop 🙂

What’s not…

– queuing for 30 minutes for the toilets in the sports hall with only 1 ‘shed’ in working order, only to discover more porta-loos in the starting arena. Where were the signs? Surely the organisers saw us queuing for miles and should have directed us to them?

– queuing for 45 minutes to cross the start line. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining otherwise the temptation to go back to the car may have been too great

– arriving at 7:30 and not starting to ride till 9:30. Next year I won’t be getting up at 5:30 in order to attend the briefing at 7:50 (which I missed thanks to queuing for the toilet), instead opting to have a lie in and get there for 8:30

– no healthy food at the finish. How many people want a greasy burger after 5 hours in the saddle?

– the riders at the first feed station leaving their rubbish and banana skins all over the grass on the opposite side of the road to the feed station. Does it take that much effort to use the bins provided?

All in all a fantastic day and the pros far exceeded the cons, even the weather was in our favour. I’ll be back next year & maybe I’ll break 4:45.

Phil Dally

Thornbury, Bristol



I am a forty nine year old cyclist on my third comeback, having previously been an active cyclist from 1973 – 1982, and from 1990-1996.

I currently mix my cycling 60/40 between Road and MTB, and over the years have ridden time trials, crits, road races, mtb races, and Audax events

This was my first attempt at the Dragon Ride, and only the second sportive I’ve ever ridden. Taking advice from friends, who have ridden it previously, I decided to ride the 120km.

On the day I arrived at 7.00am, and had no problems parking the car. Once changed into my cycling gear I made my way to the start, and managed to get away in the second group on the road.

I rode in a group of approx 20 or so riders to the foot of the Bwlch, and then made my way up the climb in the saddle at a steady pace (picture attached). Following the climb, and descent the group had fragmented to half a dozen riders, and we made our way through Treorchy, and on to the Rhigos climb.

Rhigos! What more can you say about this climb, that seems to go on endlessly into the clouds! As with the Bwlch I consciously remained in the saddle, and pedalled a low(ish) gear to the summit. Following the feed I descended at speed with the same group of half a dozen riders, however at the split they all turned right to do the 180km whilst I turned left to do the 120 km.

From here to Neath I rode alone, save for a handful of “Testers” passing me riding a time trial on the Valley roads.

From the feed at Cimla to the second ascent of Bwlch I really suffered, and found it very hard to maintain any sort of rhythm, however once on the Bwlch I managed to get a rhythm, going, and climbed at a steady pace. Once over the summit I was spurred on by the encouragement of Marshals, and supporters at the top of the Bwlch.

I time trialled the last 20km alone, climbing Llangeinor with ease, and passing a handful of riders on my way to the finish eventually clocking 4hours 32minutes 11seconds.

The Good bits: The organisation, start lane, climbs, stunning scenery, camaraderie of fellow cyclists, bike handling (certainly amongst the groups I rode with), encouragement by the Marshals, and attitude of the police, and general public.

The bad bits: NONE

John Griffiths

Via email



I too enjoyed the event, around which I built a sunny weekend in Porthcawl. Some of my impressions: the buzz in the assembly arena queuing for the start with a fresh coffee; the families politely cheering from their doorsteps on the lower slopes of the Bwlch; the swarm of riders in the controls; the wind assisted climb back up the Bwlch in the afternoon and the 35mph descent towards the finish; surprise to see big puddles at the finish when fortunately it had been dry out on the course; the wonderful display of bikes in use; the post ride dinner back at the hotel watching the sun set over the Bristol Channel.

Rog

Via email


Gran Fondo times

Medio Fondo times