A beastly Welsh ride making its debut on the sportive calendar…
WHEN IS IT?
Saturday 3rd September 2016
WHERE IS IT?
Starting at Ffos Las Racecourse, situated close to the Camarthenshire coast, the ride follows the valleys up towards the very edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park before winding its way over the steeper inclines towards Lampeter. The route affords some great, traffic-free riding towards Brechfa Forest before heading back via the market town of Carmarthen.
WHY RIDE IT?
This is a route that follows the path less ordinary. Not normally the first choice for riding, with hundreds of miles of quiet, sheltered lanes and challenging inclines, Carmarthenshire might just become your new favourite place. While it doesn’t boast any major climbs, the views and a route steeped in Welsh history give it a certain appeal.
Although certain parts have been used in sportives before, 2016 sees the first running of the Fire Breather and its unique routes. Run by UK Cycling Events you can be assured of a well-catered and fun but challenging route.
Enter at: ukcyclingevents.co.uk
Verdant hills, thick forests nestled in hidden valleys and generally challenging terrain are all to be found when riding the Fire Breather sportive. Located in Carmarthenshire, deep in the heart of the ‘garden of Wales’, this is a ride of hidden gems, much of it through Wales’s historic past. The route does, however, tickle the edge of
the Brecon Beacons to the east and its notorious gradients.
On a route that can best be described as rolling, the climbs start to drum out a staccato rhythm; never too steep but always ensuring that this is a route for big cassettes. Bethlehem is one of the more memorable villages you will pass, if only for the name and the fact that it’s along this road that the route bursts into the open air. This will make for welcome views as the opening miles of the route wind their way steadily north-east through what was once one of the industrial heartlands of South Wales.
Sticking to smaller, leafy B roads it is hard to believe that a large part of the landscape used to be one big open-cast coal mine. Now where once a large scar blighted the land it has been replaced by natural green spaces and as testament to the newly rejuvenated areas you’ll skirt past the National Botanic Garden of Wales.
With glorious views of the River Towy keeping you company along the stretch from Bethlehem, it’s here you can catch glimpses of the Black Mountain, renowned for being one of the more fearsome ascents in the country. Luckily the route aims northwards over the wide river valley and its accompanying red kites and other birds of prey to climb past the ruins of Talley Abbey, another of the significant historic sites on the route. It’s easy to miss but if you look back over your left shoulder as you climb it appears rising through the trees at the bottom of the valley.
For those keen enough to attempt the Epic 98-mile route, Talley Abbey also represents the start of the longest and hilliest section. Joining the slightly busier A482 to Lampeter the climbing is relentless. Never too steep but continuing for almost 12 miles of false flat and leg-sapping roads, it’s here that you need to conserve energy.
The descent back towards the Towy Valley is great fun with only a couple of little power hills to tire the legs. This is the spot to breathe in the views across the valley as you spin west along the flat road towards the county town of Carmarthen, claimed to be Wales’s oldest town. You’ll be grateful of this. As is the want of ride organisers everywhere, rather than being an easy run home for the last 12 miles or so, there are three nasty little climbs culminating in the steep ramp from Pontantwn.
You may also want to bear in mind that to reach the finish you’ll need to wind your way back down over the valleys, through the small village of Rhydcymerau. There are two significant ascents that need to be tackled before coming upon a typically Welsh, stone-built, chapel in Llansawel. Take your time to look at the brightly painted cottages as you cross the bridge into Abergorlech, one of Carmarthenshire’s prettiest villages —
a splash of colour on this mainly green terrain.
As the first significant rise of the day it is a bit nasty. After the first ‘proper’ climb comes two more rises in quick succession to reach the high point at Gorslas.
2 A482 to Lampeter
If you like climbing you will be OK. Although never too steep, the multiple miles of gradient on this road help to take the climbing tally past 2,000 metres.
Steeper gradients and a variable road surface make the climb from Brechfa village one of the most challenging on the route. Heading south, as it does, helps when you realise you are close to home.
4 B4300 to Carmarthen
On a route that feels like you are always either climbing or descending, the (relatively) flat run alongside the River Towy past Capel Dewi towards Carmarthen is to be relished. Not only does it follow the sinuously beautiful path of the river but it also gives you a chance to get together with other riders and boost the average speed whilst conserving energy for the last few rises. The road surface is pretty good on the whole and allows you a chance to relax and soak in the views across the valley glimpsed between the trees.
HOW TO ENTER
Register at ukcyclingevents.co.uk. Entries are available up until the day of the event.
Ffos Las Racecourse is located off the B4317 in Trimsaran, easily accessed from the M4 (junc 48) via Llanelli. There is ample car parking available at the racecourse. For those travelling by public transport, the nearest train stations are in Llanelli or Burry Port.
WHERE TO STAY
Llanelli (seven miles from the start) has multiple hotels including Premier Inn and Travel Lodge options, plus the four star Stradey Park. In the slightly closer, coastal town of Burry Port there are several options including the Coasting Pilot Hotel or the Ashburnham Hotel.
WHERE TO EAT
The Pemberton Arms in Burry Port gets excellent reviews for its traditional home-cooked menu. The Waun Wyllt, near Llanelli, is an 18th century public house and restaurant with bed and breakfast rooms.
LOCAL BIKE SHOP
Llanelli and Burry Port Cycles for basic spares and repairs. For a more comprehensive range try Cranc Cyclesport (www.cranccyclesport.com) in Carmarthen.