The South Wales Spectacular
(Incorporating Greatest Hill Climbs #94 Llangynidr Mountain and #97 The Tumble)
Friends, I have struck out on my own. The bug has been caught, and so it is I find myself entering sportives without bikebritain on hand to tow me round, fix my bike, dry my tears and generally make sure I don’t have to think for myself. I’ll provide accounts of each of these (currently two) as and when they happen, of course, provided I don’t disgrace myself.
Why is this important? Well, it was one such sportive that was the flimsy premise for an official bikebritain excursion to South Wales. I have entered Velothon Wales, a closed-road sportive this coming June. When I entered it was a 120km route, but it’s already grown to 140km at the time of going to press. I’m hoping that’s all the growing it will do.
The route takes in two notable climbs – Caerphilly Mountain, and the famous Tumble, a much-loved challenge of the Tour of Britain. Despite living in South Wales for three years, this coincided with being at University, so I was far too busy being drunk, writing essays and writing essays drunk to ever contemplate seeing the beautiful countryside on a bike or by any other means of transport. Ergo, I had no real idea what would await me in June and I was keen to rectify this. Jonathan was only too happy to be roped in, and so it was that the two of us plus Joe, making his bikebritain debut, found ourselves in Pontypool on a Friday evening.
We were raring to go early the next morning after a nutritious McDonalds dinner, having had to give up on the hottest ticket in town (the Harvester) which was bursting at the seams. We had a rough route in mind, which would take in The Tumble and two other climbs from Simon Warren’s perennially enthralling 100 Climbs series (Caerphilly Mountain was geographically inconvenient). None of these climbs, however, included the initial route out of Pontypool (Tranch Road into Coch-Y-North Road), a steep residential road which turned into little better than a bumpy track and just kept going. Up. No gentle spin to get the legs working, oh no. This was brutal. About 2.5km at an average of just under 8% (says Strava), but this doesn’t tell the whole story. The gradient got worse with barely any respite until the summit. On the plus side, despite a very brief stoppage, I now have the 7th best ever recorded time on Strava for ‘The Pontypool Monster’. Even coming down the other side wasn’t a huge amount of fun; the road surface meant going at any speed was a fool’s errand. Half hour in, and our legs and energy reserves were already heavily depleted. This is all relative – Joe had continued the long and glorious tradition of bikebritain alumni by being better than me at everything, and had belted up the climb on Jonathan’s wheel, but this wasn’t the start we were expecting or hoping for.
Still, onward. The first landmark was Llangynidr Mountain, our first foray into the delights of the Brecon Beacons National Park. To get there we passed through Swffryd, Llanhilleth, Aberbeeg, Six Bells, Abertillery, Blaina, Brynmawr, and Beaufort, all pronounced with varying degrees of incompetence and made our way up to begin a loop the would finish with climb no. 94 (rated at 7/10). After some minor navigational snafus, we negotiated the near 6km at around 7%, and I think we would all agree that 7/10 was a fair rating, were it not for the wind, which necessitated an adjustment to about 40/10 (I may have got a bit hysterical here, but the wind was spiteful and made a challenging task much more tricky).
What was already clear was that the time/distance ratio was against us. Heading back to the Beaufort/Brynmawr border for lunch on a South Wales garage forecourt, the time was 14:30, and a 40 miles round trip to Aberdare was just not going to fit if we were to ascend The Tumble. So, the third climb was shelved without a great deal of protest, it must be said, and we headed for the famous hill.
With Clydach and Gilwern behind us, we arrived at the foot of the hill in Govilon and got straight into it. We didn’t have much choice. The average gradient over the 5km (8%) is front loaded, around 10% and steeper in parts. Joe had to go and see a man about a horse (a number one horse) and pulled over a short distance up and I concentrated on staying as close to Jonathan as I could. The legs were aching. The gradient was tough and relentless for the first 2.5, 3km. I cracked. A lack of proper cycling since Cycle Oregon last September and the unexpected climb and wind from earlier might have been factors, but no excuses. Not good enough, and I’d need to be better for the Velothon. Jonathan disappeared round the bend, grinding it out one pedal turn at a time. I waited until Joe caught up and set off behind him, although he quickly left me behind. I was annoyed, but not as annoyed as I became when I realised I’d pulled over about 100 yards from a severe relaxation of the gradient. It dropped off to a much more manageable 5-6% from then all the way to the summit. If I’d just held on for another minute or so, I’d have made it. Rats. My hubris at troubling the Strava leaderboard earlier in the day was tempered by recording one of the worst ever times to the top of The Tumble, where Jonathan and Joe were waiting when I finally arrived. After a few obligatory snaps, we enjoyed the descent into Blaenavon and then took the back road through Varteg. The ambition was simply to avoid the main road but we were rewarded, after a sharp climb, with a beautiful descent amongst lovely scenery as we rolled back into Pontypool.
Various apps disagreed on the exact numbers but, roughly speaking, we covered about 97km with 1900m climbing and a ride time between five and five and a half hours. A job well done and we celebrated at the only place we could. The Harvester. We were so enchanted by our South Wales spectacular we resolved to return as soon as possible, with even more bikebritain alumni in tow. I’ll certainly be back in June for the Velothon in June and will report back from there.
A film of our ride will follow shortly.
Words - Lukey
Thumbnail and Slider - bikebritan Ltd