Wild scenery, big climbs and fine weather: what more could want from a sportive? Cycling Weekly pays a visit to South Wales for the Tour of the Black Mountains
The Tour of the Black Mountains is another event from the Pendragon Sports stable - the organisers perhaps best known for organising the multi-day Tour of Wessex sportive.
Starting and finishing in Abergavenny, it traces a route north through the mountains that give the event its name before venturing further west and tickling other areas of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Given its locality, there's little surprise that the route throws up a lot of climbing. On the longest option of 117 miles there are at least 10 big ascents mixed in among the numerous other undulations of the testing South Wales roads. According to the figures in the event bumf, even the shortest route included a Mont Ventoux-sized dose of altitude gain.
Over 300 riders took part in this year's event which enjoyed fine weather. The organisation seemed slick with registration straightforward, feed stations well stocked and a transponder system automating riders' times. With the event now in its third year, the new HQ of Abergavenny Leisure Centre seemed to work well - although they could have done with a few more toilets open before the start.
Of course the most important aspect of a sportive is the route and in their back lane Tour of the Black Mountain's, Pendragon have really come up with a winner. The climbs featured in the event were both beautiful and challenging, while the descents were absolute belters. A number of riders did puncture in the early miles, but encountering a bit of water and gravel in the lanes is a small price to pay for rural charm and almost traffic free conditions.
The Organiser - Nick Bourne
"The Black Mountains has to be one of my favourite one-day routes: although the climbs are long they're not stupidly steep. I think we got the first feed slightly wrong but we've had the usual emails saying: ‘great event', ‘effing brilliant' and ‘it feels like someone's taken a chainsaw to my legs'. For next year we've been talking about combining this event with the Abergavenny Festival of Cycling. Maybe we'll have a town centre finish and encourage people to stay and watch the Grand Prix of Wales."
Sportive Sound Bites
From: Bangor, North Wales
Age: "0ver 40"
Occupation: general practitioner
Time: 08-02-46 (97 miles)
"That was a tough ride: muddy roads at the beginning, filthy bike at the end, but I really felt I'd done a good day. I'd say the last five miles were the hardest just because I wasn't prepared for any more uphills after all the big climbs. I'd particularly wanted to do this to go over the Gospel Pass."
Club: Bicester Millenium CC
Time: 07-40-01 (117 miles)
"Stunning scenery: absolutely fabulous. It was well marshalled and the signs were all in position. I used to live in the North Yorkshire Dales and I found the scenery and gradients very similar to there. I applaud the organisers for putting in age-related standards - most sportives don't. When you're 65, it's a bit tricky competing against a 25 year old."
Club: Port Talbot Wheelers
Time: 07-55-31 (117 miles)
"It was great up until the third feed stop and then I just fell apart. I think the mileage just got to my legs. A couple of those hills are only about 10-miles from where I live so I've been up them a few times but they don't get any easier. That climb just before Crickhowell was a grind."
My Cyclo-Sportive - Hugh Gladstone CC Sudbury
Time: 3-51-11 (60 miles)
I entered the Tour of the Black Mountains in the hope of re-finding my climbing legs. Some time ago they seemed to have deserted me.
Right from the outset climbing is what we got, as the route ramped out of the HQ up a tiny little back lane into the hills. This connected with more narrow lanes and although the route dipped and dived through lush green tree tunnels, we were stealthily gaining altitude.
I enjoyed the early miles chatting with riders before latching onto the back of a faster group that trundled past. As the road rose up more definitely towards the exposed summit of Gospel Pass, this inevitably blew to pieces.
The reward for all the early climbing was a fantastic long descent down towards Hay-on-Wye. At first it comprised fast, open corners over wild moorland before steepening into sharper, blinder bends amongst the denser vegetation lower down. It was reassuring to see a National Escort moto-rider at the foot of the descent warning oncoming motorists of our presence.
The second big climb at Llangynidr was more obtuse than the Gospel Pass, just steadily rising up the hillside for five kilometres. I think here I did indeed find my climbing legs. Or at least that's how it felt when the Andy-Schleck-alike I'd been nattering with said he needed to slow up and climb at his own pace.
Over the top, I was greeted to another delightful descent: a long, less technical 50mph job right down to the riverside at Crickhowell. After this there were more incy-wincy undulating lanes back to Abergavenny to finally finish the legs off.
I was glad I'd just opted for 60 miles. When I finished the ride I felt I'd had something to get stuck into rather than the hours and hours of cautious energy conservation that I sometimes find longer sportive rides to be.
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