I had ridden the Dragon Ride before and I knew it was hard. I knew that I didn’t need to do it again, I could say; “oh yeah, I’ve slayed the Dragon’.
So why was I queuing on the M4 waiting to get in to Margam Country Park for another beating from the Welsh dragon? Simple; this year it was different. 2012 saw it become the first ever British UCI Golden Bike event. I had to see what the increased hype was about.
I was pleasantly surprised that the format, route and start venue had all changed, and all for the better. After the numerous complaints from previous years of waiting hours in holding pens at the start, parking miles away and changing routes, this year there was nothing but nervous smiles at the start.
Riders tackle the mountainous climbs of South Wales
It was now efficient and effective from when you drove in to the stately park of Margam. Heading past the home which has been inhabited for the previous 4,000 years you got a real sense that you were coming to an event that held rank on an international stage.
The village and start/finish area was encompassed in the 850 acre estate. The festival type village was a great place to wander, have a quick pick-me-up coffee, and grab any last supplies before heading to the start area.
Pens were let off in regular intervals with ease causing no congestion on the roads. It was fast and the groups flowed as they headed out through the towns where there was partial road closures to ensure we all got through without delay. Although the constant on-off-on-off of my rain cape meant that there were a few stops early on, but luckily it chose to go, and my cape was stashed in my jersey pocket once and for all.
Wales offers up many views
Then the dreaded leg zapping hills started, and with a vengeance. Luckily there was support along the route, a testament to the new organisation having let the residents know of the event and encourage them out to see us go by. Gone was the easy coastal section of previous years meaning we all hit the famous climbs of Cimla, Rhigos and Bwlch with well warmed legs.
Uniquely the feed stations were stocked with huge bags of boiled potatoes and salt, a welcome surprise for many. Having to wait in an orderly queue to get to the delights of the feed station just added to the British feel of the event. Spotting the international athletes at these were no problem, they were the ones that went straight to the front pushed in, filled their bottles and their pockets, then rode on.
Even the odd hair-pin turn
Many of BSkyB’s employees were out in their new kit giving everything a test before the Etape du Tour in four weeks time. The Dragon Ride is a great event to test out your kit, nutritional strategy, race day nerves and fitness before a big test in the European mountains.
The Grand Fondo totals 206 kilometres with 3,350 meters of climbing, meaning if you can get through this day then the Etape du Tour is achievable.
Coming up the deep green valleys of Rhigos and Bwlch the opposite way to 2011 meant I was pleasantly surprised to be at the top in good time. Seeing the coloured dots riding up in front meant that you could either think of seeing the way ahead as encouragement, or, if you are having a bad day, a constant reminder of what was to come.
Whipping down the other side gave great satisfaction and although the descents aren’t as long as in Europe, they still give a fantastic feeling of free speed and adrenaline.
The mixture of road surfaces demands concentration
Pleased to not be heading off to take in the climbs of The Black Mountain and the “Hill With No Name” in the Brecon Beacons I continued on the Medio. Ducking in to the Breacon Beacons and doing the full route would have been the finish of me. This year’s route was only seven kilometers longer than last year but with 700 meters more climbing. The Medio still packed a punch.
On the top of Bwlch I started a new phenomenon of banana wrapped in Soreen, which went down a mushy treat. The man handing out the banana’s was swamped and told me that it was ‘all down hill from here’. That old chestnut I had heard before.
What I hadn’t heard before was riders pulling in to a feed station gasping for ‘calories’. The course design this year was so demanding that it was beyond wanting a cake or a boiled potato, it was all about bare animal instincts of calories in to combat the demands on the body.
Gleefully it was actually all down hill to the finish, so I apologise to the banana man who I berated for lying to me. We zipped back along the coast where the course used to head out. It was a bit of a drag in to the country park again, but with those miles in your legs it will always feel that way.
The band and superb food at the finish meant we all hung out in the late afternoon sun sharing war stories. If I was travelling from abroad to this event, as I do to other Golden Bike events, I would be suitably impressed with the organization and how the route showcased the country.
Sportive sound bites
Name: Holly Barker
“After completing the shorter route in 2011 I was a little nervous about how hard the long route would be. The first 50km was a little tough due to on and off rain but once that had passed the rest of the ride was really enjoyable.
I was riding with a couple of people who weren’t aware of the profile and thought we had climbed the last hill when we reached the top of Rhigos. A quick stretch, another banana and some consoling words that the Bwlch was ‘not that hard’ and we pushed on.
Waiting at the bottom I had a lovely chat with a local boy who was about 7 and said I had a funny accent. He then very seriously said that he supposed he would have an accent too if he left Wales. It was a great feeling to arrive back at the country park having completed one my hardest rides for 2012.”
Name: Ceri Ruzzi
“The Dragon Ride was the best cycle event I have done in the UK, friendly riders happy to encourage you up the hills and almost traffic free roads. The food station before the final climb was positioned at a great viewpoint to see the beautiful Welsh mountains. Will be back next year.”
Next year’s event
Keen to take part in 2013? Don’t delay; entries will be opening on November 1 2012 at 9am. Set your reminders and be online in time as last year sold out in two and a half hours.
Now that it will be in it’s second year and the course is staying the same, tough, we predict it to be the event to be at in 2013. Race organisers have taken on board the feedback survey and will be investing in the event to ensure every athlete has a world class unforgettable day.
If you would like to ride for charity the event is affiliated with The Prostate Cancer Charity and have packs on line to use for fundraising.
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- Gran Fondo 206km/3350m
- Medio Fondo 125km/1875m
- Corto 37km/430m
Videos of the climbs can be found on-line so you can familiarise yourself with them.
The Dragon requires an industrious approach
The UCI recognises the amateur cyclist and wants to provide Golden Ambassadors to the sport to provide events for all cyclists to enjoy. In 2012 these were the rides the UCI accredited to the Golden Bike series.
- Tour of Flanders (Belgium) 01 April 2012
- Wiggle Dragon Ride (Wales) 10 June 2012
- Quebrantahuesos (Spain) 23 June 2012
- L’Ariégeoise (France) 30 June 2012
- Lapinarello Cycling Marathon (Italy) 15 July 2012
- Lake Taupo Cycle Challenge (New Zealand) 24 November 2012