Cyclo-Sportive: Trans-Cambrian

DISTANCE 87 miles (140km)

MAIN CLIMB 500m ascent to the Star Inn


The Trans-Cambrian Cyclo-Sportive, a superbly organised 87-mile event around the amazingly scenic Cambrian Mountains in Mid-West Wales, was my 10th sportive of the season.

After easing my way into the sportive scene with the friendly Merseyside Wheelers event in May, and then the much more demanding Etape du Dales a week later, I took on the Gran Fondo Cymru, White Rose Classic, Tour of the Cotswolds, Pendle Pedal, the Spud Riley, and the Trans-Cambrian. It would be hard to pick my favourite, but I have to admit, the Trans-Cambrian really hit the sweet spot.

I had ridden the previous events as the mood had taken me. On some I started at the back and made my way through the field, taking the time to chat with fellow sportivistes and then getting stuck in for the last hour or so. Some I have ridden with the athletes I coach, such as the White Rose, which I rode with Carl Saint.

Some I have just ridden at tempo by myself, picking up groups who will work together with me for a while, or for the full distance. On others I have decided to ‘go from the gun’ and really got stuck in for the whole distance. That’s the beauty of sportives for me — you can ride them exactly how you like.

Bright skies

The drive down to Rhayader for the Trans-Cambrian had been foggy at times and it didn’t look that promising. On arriving at the start, I found the car park with ease, as there were signs everywhere. I didn’t know any of the starters, so I decided to start this one near the back and work through the field, picking up riders who were like-minded, or going at my pace and just having a ball really.

I had decided to make a conservative start, build it a bit after the first feed and then go full-gas from the last feed at 63 miles to the finish.

As I was preparing to get going, the sun broke through and it turned out to be a gloriously sunny day without a cloud in the sky. The field wasn’t that large, which was a pity. I had registered and been given my chip for the timing checks, the drinks were on board, the gels and food were in the pockets and the bike was in tip-top condition.

At 8.45am I was off. I was soon alone, as even after a moderately sedate start, the others were really taking their time. The road was quite hilly straight from the start but quiet, as were all the roads on the route. It was going to take me a while to see the next riders as we had set out at least six to eight minutes behind the main field.

I started to get into my stride and soon caught some stragglers. Eventually I caught a likely-looking small group and stayed with them for a while.

After a while I thought I ought to push on, so I left them on the climb at 25 miles at Bwlch-y-Gle and then onto the bigger climb past the Star Inn. This climbs to 500 metres and is quite a heavy drag. The views from the top were amazing looking out over the Llyn Clywedog reservoir.

There was stunning scenery to behold all day and this was probably the most picturesque route of the year for me. There are several reservoirs on the route and huge dams, lead mines, and soaring mountains with great climbs and technical descents. Plus the route was really superbly well signed and there were smiling marshals at the trickier junctions — please don’t ever forget to wave and give them a big ‘thank you’!

I was now approaching the first feed and had just caught another group. The feed was at Machynlleth and was very well stocked. I had plenty of fluid and food to last me until the next feed at 63 miles, so I just registered my time and set off again. The others must have taken on food and water, as I was alone again, plus I now wanted to push it a bit more to set myself up for the 25-mile blast from the last feed at the Arch at Cwmystwyth to the finish.

The climbs were coming thick and fast. The next one was at Tal-y-Bont and a five-mile leg breaker up to the Nant-y-Moch reservoir. Here I had been working with a small group and had hooked up with Agisko rider Pete Weir, who was climbing well. We ended up dropping the others in the group and eventually I left Pete too, as I was now anxious to get to the Arch and was really looking forward to the last 25 miles.

After this long climb there was a small diversion and a very tricky descent on some very deep loose gravel, where the bike squirmed under me and I just hung on for dear life. This was followed by a stinging one-in-four back onto the normal route, through Devil’s Bridge and the final kick up to the Arch and the last feed.

It’s Lloydy time

Now, this is what it’s all about for me. I had enjoyed meeting new people, and the wonderful scenery, but now Lloydy was in his element. Riding the bike to the limit and flat out! Time to let rip.

Straight away I was onto another really long climb, up Cwmystwyth and back over the Powys border. Now I was in full flow and the pedals were turning sweetly and I was feeling really strong. I was catching riders hand over fist as the field had strung out and riders were appearing in dribs and drabs, just trying to get to the finish back in Rhayader as best they could.

I was approaching the Elan Valley and there was a sharp right-hander off the main road which I knew was 12 miles to go. Now there were some very tricky technical descents and yet more reservoirs and old mine works. But I had no time to look at the scenery as I was fully concentrated on taking the right lines down the descents and hammering up the short, sharp climbs as fast as I could.

A quick look at the computer told me there were five miles to go. A speedy descent and I was on the last run in to Rhayader. It must be all downhill now, surely, but no… with two miles to go there was a sting in the tail and a nasty kick up, which I blasted over, and then it was downhill to the finish line with me battering myself for the last mile before turning into the car park to the finish.

I had done it, and a quick check revealed I had finished third fastest and had completed the last 25 miles faster than anyone! Yes, I’m afraid the competitor will always be there in the Dave Lloyd psyche.

It had been a great day, a great ride, a great route and a superbly organised, well thought out sportive. A big ‘up’ to Clive Powell and his band of helpers. Job well done.

I have enjoyed my first year doing sportives more than I thought possible. I will certainly be doing them again next year and will be recommending that the athletes I coach do some as preparation for certain events and also as a break from the normal routine.

So I’ll see you on the road in 2007. Give me a quick “Hi Dave”, and if I pass you too fast, just think, “That’s just that old pro Dave Lloyd trying to relive his past!” I won’t mind, because I love it.


Andrew St George

I live in the Elan Valley, home of the Trans-Cam. I love its woods of sessile oak and silver birch and the green upsurges of its hills.

My preparation for the Trans-Cambrian, my first ever sportive, was patchy. It began in October last year over a latte and chat with Floyd Landis in Malaga. He enthused me to get further into road biking. So last summer I did three 10 to 20-mile road time trials and 38 miles to Hay on Wye to hear Matt Seaton and Matt Rendell at the book festival.

Since then I’ve managed to swim, mountain bike or run four or five days a week for around an hour.

Looking around at the start, I realise this is more of a race than I’d anticipated. The other riders look very determined. I’m confident of finishing, but I can’t ride fast enough to be in a group and so I decide to save on energy; for me and those like me, this is going to be seven or eight hours on the road.

The sinuous road down to the Dovey estuary is a great place for speedy riders. I’m passed on every descent. I use brakes descending, so only manage a maximum

40mph for the day.

The route is well conceived, signed and marshalled. The feed stations are fine, too. My own provision is pretty old school: flapjack, two bananas, and to drink, water and a solution of out-of-date Dioralyte filched from the children’s medical chest.

After Machynlleth we head south towards Devil’s Bridge via the beautiful Nant-y-Moch reservoir. The climb up to this from the coast is the longest of the day, but actually not too steep; and the traverse to Devil’s Bridge is a rest before the sustained climb up to the Arch at Cwmystwyth. And then home through the Elan Valley.

The leaders finish in well under five hours; I finish in a shade under eight. Looking back, there were times when the scale of the ride was demanding, and I felt lonely trailing far behind. But there were plenty of people to cycle and chat with.

I suppose in cycling terms I’d been slow, but in fitness terms, I’d done fine. A sportive is not a charity ride, not a race: it’s a test. It should have space for fit people who are not exclusively cyclists; it should pass through terrain which feeds the eye and taxes the body; and it should inspire. The Trans-Cambrian did all this.


IF you’d like to sign up for the 2007 edition of the Trans-Cambrian Cyclo Sportive — which will be held on Sunday, September 9, 2007 — visit the website of the organiser by clicking here, the site includes online entry. The route will again start from Rhayader and will also be around 87 miles long.

The original version of this article appeared in Cycling Weekly, December 14, 2006

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