The Hurt Locker: An Ode To The Turbo Trainer

Ahh, I still remember the moment fondly. Last Autumn. Taking delivery of my first turbo trainer. Here it was. My secret weapon. I had big plans for the winter. Getting up at 6am on those cold dark mornings and heading into the garage while everyone else was still asleep. Coming out of next spring fitter than I had ever been and effortlessly powering up climbs.

The first dilemma was what to wear. I didn’t want to waste my best cycling kit on the turbo, it didn’t feel worthy enough. Naked was a possibility but might arouse the wrong kind of attention from my neighbours as I walked out to the garage. In the end I went for the topless bib shorts look, much to the horror of my other half. Excitedly, I attached my bike to the turbo and clicked the flywheel into place, before climbing on for my virgin ride, full of enthusiasm at my foolproof plan.

Five minutes later…

Photo 01-08-2016, 11 44 09
This way please…

Good god. This is horrendous. Never again shall I underappreciate the simple pleasure of freewheeling. How can riding a bike feel so joyless? And where’s all this sweat coming from? I tried to resist the urge to stare down at my Garmin as whenever I did the minutes seemed to be passing with increasing slowness. Unfortunately, the only other place to look was straight ahead at the concrete breeze blocks of my garage wall. Not much inspiration there. I closed my eyes and imagined I was looking out over an Alpine vista instead. This worked for a few seconds, before I realised that closing my eyes had turned my focus inwards and intensified the burning pain in my legs from the constant resistance of the humming flywheel. I cursed out loud. I yearned for even just a few seconds of coasting.

I’d had visions of riding for an hour, but after 40 minutes I’d had enough and climbed off in disgust, legs shaking like jelly. To cap it off, I even burned my fingers disengaging the flywheel, not seeing the ‘WARNING: CAN GET VERY HOT’ sign. What a fool I was to have ever thought I could even do some long low intensity rides on it when the weather was too bad to go outside.Screw that. I’m no stranger to suffering on a bike, but turbo training is for the true masochists.

In the end the turbo did inspire me. It inspired me to buy leg warmers and cold weather kit, and I headed outside instead when I could. It felt much better, even when my chest was tight from the cold and the heavens opened and rained Welsh hailstones the size of golf balls down on me.  I told myself that no matter how vile the cold spray hitting me was, it was better than being on the turbo. And I stand by that.

As the weeks passed my visits to the garage become less and less, and now the turbo stares at me from under a layer of dust at the back of the garage. But the passage of time has made me forget all those bad times we spent together. I find myself looking at it with renewed interest. This winter’s going to be different. I know it. I’ve got big plans…

Have you discovered a way to make turbo training fun tolerable? I’d be keen to hear about it…

The Psychology of Crashing

Dealing with the aftermath of the inevitable…

Julian Alaphillipe creates a new sport fusing cycling with rock climbing at the 2016 Tour De France

When people learn about my passion for road cycling, their next comment often relates to the inherent dangers of my chosen pursuit, telling me how crazy I must be to take part in such a hazardous pasttime. What these people often don’t realise is that despite all the negative press, it has never been safer statistically to ride a bicycle on British roads at is today, even in major cities.

Yes, there is clearly a risk involved in road cycling, like most things, and not just from the worst thing about it: the motor vehicle. You soon learn as a cyclist that most drivers are actually pretty considerate anyway (at least where I live), and there is no point worrying about factors you have no control over. But even without other vehicles, descending at over 40mph on skinny tyres with nothing but lycra to protect you is always going to sting when things go awry.

If you ride a bike, then eventually you will fall off it, and usually it won’t be when you’re concentating hard, but at the most innocuous times when you let your guard down. That’s what happened to me. This is the story of my crashes.

The First Time
Photo 16-07-2016, 17 26 19My first crash eased me in gently. I had owned the bike about a month, Rolling along a quiet rural road, I neglected to take account of the damp surface and mossy covering, so when a rogue squirrel darted out unexpectedly  from the hedgerow and I jammed on the brakes to avoid killing it, I didn’t get the same stopping power I was used to on my disc-brake equipped mountain bike. Untangling myself from my frame, wondering what the hell had happened, a slightly bruised hip was the only damage done. I looked around…No-one had seen. Embarassment spared. No damage to my kit either. A successful crash.

The Big One
Those first few months saw a huge increase in my fitness and skill on the road bike, but I never rode outside my limits. Then one day, feeling strong, I went out for a quick ride before an afternoon shift. You know the kind of ride. Endless energy, effortlessly powering up hills, that inexplicable feeling of being in the zone which you can never replicate when you want to. As I was approaching home, I checked my watch and decided I had just enough time to try and reclaim a local KOM which had been stolen from me a week before by an unknown nemesis. Besides, with this form in my legs, it would be silly not to.

I hit the bottom of the climb, got off the saddle, and rode as hard as I could. I should have taken note of the general condition of the road on the way up, but I was too busy losing myself in the beautiful pain of the climb. My heart rate shot up to the max and I was breathing hard as I went over the summit victorious. I knew I had retaken the crown. I gave a smug nod to myself.

It was then that I made the mistake. As I turned the bike around to descend, I relaxed, the ride over. Or so I thought. My mind turned to work and what I had to do when I got home. Put the bike away. Upload ride. Eat. Shower.

As I began to pick up speed, my mind awash with these thoughts, for the briefest of moments the sunlight dappled through the trees to my right. The only thing I remember after that is the fleeting thought of looking down at my handlebars as I was kicked up over them by forces unknown, and I only had time for one quick word to go through my mind before the blackness enveloped me…..Fuck!

Photo 16-07-2016, 16 04 12 (1)
Note to self: Taking post-crash selfies does not make you more of a badass

The Aftermath
I had crashed about half a mile from home. The next thing I remember is coming around sat in my back garden, not knowing where I was, or who I was. That last part was genuinely scary. I remember wracking my brain to remember my own name, and after a few moments it came back to me. Right, next thing, what had happened and how did I get here? I started to replay the ride in my mind, and eventually the memories of the route returned, right up to the point of going over the bars. After that though, a large black hole of several minutes which has not come back to me even today.

I checked my injuries. My chin was grazed and my right shoulder was stinging, a few layers of skin taken off. My head throbbed and felt fuzzy. Most disappointingly, my replica Trek jersey had been ripped to shreds, and my helmet had a dent in it. Expensive. For some inexplicable reason (perhaps with Rule #5 in mind),  I then drove to work instead of to the hospital, before being ordered home and going to hospital to be diagnosed with concussion. The Doctor understood: He was a cyclist too, and gave me the name of a great guy who did bike fits.

That next week was horrible. Not just because it involved sitting in a darkened room, my brain hurting if I tried to watch TV or read anything, but because all I could think about was wanting to ride my bike again. This feeling was strange even to me at the time. Surely I should be calling it a day? I also realised in that week why (in my opinion) cyclists shave their legs. Picking matted hair out my wounds every day as I dressed them was not a pleasant experience, I must say. A tip: hydrocolloid dressings are great for healing road rash quickly without scarring.

After a few days I had the strength to check my Garmin and see where it had all gone wrong. The graph showed my speed ramping up to 30mph before the sudden flatline.The cluster of static GPS points showed I had been on the deck in the same spot for about 4 minutes. Sobering. It took another 2 weeks for me to get the courage to actually walk up the hill and find the disguised pothole I had obviously not seen on my way down. Bad luck? Yes, no doubt not helped by the sun dazzle, however I knew deep down that I had let my guard down, and made a mental note to never let it happen again.

Back In The Saddle
After 3 weeks I went out for my first ride since the crash. I felt vulnerable just being on the bike at first. I wanted to reach over and put a seatbelt on. Everything felt loud. The wind passing my face. The sound of a vehicle coming up behind me was deafening. Cars seemed to pass closer than they ever had before. I was naturally more cautious descending, and more aware of my speed. After that first ride though I found my mojo soon came back. I rationalised to myself that such crashes are rare and that I would make a conscious effort to be more aware of hazards when on the bike.

Lessons Learned
One thing that did play on my mind afterwards was the thought of someone coming across me lying in the road and not knowing who I was or notifying my family. I looked at various options and ended up buying a RoadID. This is a laser engraved bracelet with emergency details on. You can customise the text and even add your own motivational phrase. I like mine. It’s become a bit of a good luck charm and I never ride without it now (I once cycled back to my house 5 miles out after I forgot it).

Road ID: A great idea

I’ve crashed a mountain bike several times, and usually you just dust yourself off and carry on. The road bike is a different beast. Yes, you may slide gracefully over the tarmac as if it were a sheet of ice,just taking off a layer of skin and ruining your jersey in the process, but the higher speeds can mean concussions, and they’re no fun. Ultimately though, my love of cycling outweighs the risks, which is why I will continue to ride despite those rare times the wheel comes off (not literally, hopefully!).

Crashing sucks, but there are a few things you can do to minimise the risks and deal with the aftermath of a crash. Here’s my personal tips:

  • Ride with a positive mindset – believe in your own ability
  • Know your limits and ride within them
  • Always remain alert to changes in the road condition and watch out for dark patches on the road
  • Analyse the reasons for the crash: Is there anything you can learn from it?
  • Recover at your own pace…but don’t leave it too long to get back in the saddle
  • Accept that crashing is a part of cycling and most of the time you will pick yourself up and carry on

I wish you many happy miles of crash free riding.

Do you fear crashing? Does it affect the way you ride? Tell me about it below…

Great Welsh Hill Climbs – Devil’s Elbow, South Powys

A classic climb deep in the heart of the Brecon Beacons…

There are 2 kinds of climbs: (1) Long, gradual slogs where you can sit back in the saddle and grind away, and (2) the short, steep killers where you’re forced out of the saddle by the gradient. There’s a place in my heart for both. Devil’s Elbow definitely falls into the latter category, and is a climb that no matter how many times you ride it, will always be a brutal experience that will leave you hurting. Of all the local short, steep climbs, it remains my favourite.

Devil’s Elbow claims another victim during the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales 2016. He wasn’t the first that day, and he wouldn’t be the last. Photo by Black Planet Extreme Photography

Devil’s Elbow is located on a quiet unclassified road between the villages of Heol Senni and Ystradfellte in the Brecon Beacons. It climbs 184m (604ft) over 1.1 miles. Strava says the average gradient  is 10%. My Garmin tells me it’s actually 14% for most of the climb, and my legs agree, so that’s what I’m going with. The climb starts on the Heol Senni side. As you coast along the rolling road on the approach to the hill, flanked by steep hedgerows, peer into the distance and you’ll see a road zigzagging up a steep mountainside, an old rusted Armco barrier running alongside the steepest section. That’s where you’re headed.

The road starts to pull upwards and as soon as you cross the cattle grid you’re on the climb proper. You  can break  the climb down into 3 sections. The first sees you going straight ahead as the gradient steadily increases and you pass open moorland to your left. I often look to the many sheep staring at me at this point for words of encourgement, usually to no avail. As you approach the first switchback the gradient steepens. If you’re feeling strong take the inside of the hairpin and embrace the 30%+ gradient. Don’t expect much of an easier ride by taking it wide.

Now you’ve turned back on yourself to the left, a stunning view of the valley begins to open up. No time to appreciate that though, as you’ll be too busy gritting your teeth and trying to keep your cadence above 50rpm. The middle section feels the longest and toughest, the gradient never dipping below 15%. I normally find myself staring down at my front wheel at this point for motivation, beads of sweat falling onto my top tube, then disappointing myself when I look up after what feels like ages and realise I have only ridden a couple of metres. Do your mental mind trick of choice here to switch off your burning legs and screaming lungs. Relief as the second switchback finally arrives, knowing the pain will soon be over. There is still no let up as it bends around to the right, before finally you get some reprieve as the gradient eases slightly just before the summit. The long, fast descent into Ystradfellte is a nice payoff, but you’ll likely need to sit down and let your legs recover for a bit beforehand. (Hint: The New Inn Pub in the village makes a good refreshment stop).

Show me your best pain face. Photo by Black Planet Extreme Photography

One time I rode this climb and looked down at my Garmin to see my heart rate hitting a personal high of 200BPM as I went over the top. I wobbled off the bike, unsure if I was experiencing the elusive ‘cycling high’ or was instead having a near death experience. Another time I cursed a van driver who stopped halfway down to give way to me, forcing me to carry on and maintain a reasonable momentum rather than slowing to a crawl . The toughest time was probably doing it on The Dragon Ride with over 50 hilly miles already in the legs. Always a memorable experience.

That green section in the middle implies the gradient eases. Lies!

Strava Segment – Devil’s Elbow

Summary: A bit more unforgiving than it’s namesake in Mid-Wales (The Devil’s Staircase), Devil’s Elbow is nonetheless a relentless climb, with little respite until you get to the top. The remote location and stunning views towards mid-Wales all add to the character of this one and make it worthy of it’s legendary status among local cyclists. Lovers of hills climbs need to add this one to their bucket list.

Ever ridden the Devil’s Elbow or know a climb that beats it? Then let’s hear about it…

5 Annoying Things (Other) Cyclists Do

Road cyclists are not universally loved. Some people see them as an annoyance, so whenever I’m out on the bike I ride assertively but with courtesy and respect for other road users and people I pass.  A smile and a thank you go a long way on the bike I find, and I believe we all have a responsibility to give cycling a good name. Unfortunately my fellow cyclists don’t always see it the same way, and I often witness bad manners and habits which annoy me when I’m out on the road. Here’s a rundown of 5 annoying things other cyclists do that rankle the most…

1) Not Waving Back
I find this one strange, as a former mountain biker not only do you greet other riders you meet, but you will usually stop for a chat. For some reason the same can’t be said for road cycling, and a minority of riders refuse to wave back or blank me entirely as I greet them. Yes, I appreciate you are going flat out and may be setting a new personal record, but would it really hurt you to raise a hand or even a finger off your handlebars in acknowledgement? Remember: Cyclists greet cyclists.

Photo 16-07-2016, 10 22 07

2) Littering
Nothing annoys me more than riding out into the Brecon Beacons National Park near to where I live, and as I stop to get my breath at the top of a climb, seeing discarded energy gel wrappers thrown by the side of the road. In sportives I’ve ridden the problem is even worse, with people throwing wrappers everywhere. I can’t understand why riders don’t put them back in their jersey pocket. Weight? Afraid of getting sticky gel on your jersey? You’re not a pro racer in a grand tour (where organisers arrange the litter clean up afterwards), so respect the countryside and take your rubbish with you.

kitten3) Breaking The Law
You know the kind of thing I mean. Going through red lights. Riding on the pavement. Undertaking vehicles on the inside. All unnecessary and potentially deadly activities that give cyclists a bad name. When I stop at traffic lights,  I take the opportunity to practice my trackstand or take a swig of water. There’s no  reason why you can’t wait for a minute or two. We all know that average speed isn’t really that important anyway.

4) Riding Two Abreast
This may be a controversial one, as contrary to the popular belief of many motorists, the Highway Code actually recommends riders cycle two abreast. The reason being that it is quicker and safer for a motorist to overtake such riders than it is to pass them in a single file formation. What’s my problem then? For me if the road is wide and quiet, then I don’t have a problem with it. However, on narrow or busy lanes where a car is unable to pass, I would rather ride single file and allow it to pass than frustrate the driver behind. It all comes down to courtesy again, and increasing the chances of drivers having a positive attitude to rider safety. And if a driver does show you respect by sitting behind you for a while, give them a wave as they pass to say thank you.

5) Wheelsucking

Wheel Sucker:  One who rides closely to another rider for an extended period of time without changing position (moving forward) to gain a physiological and/ or aerodynamic advantage by reducing the amount of work he has to do.  

Fancy taking your pull on the front?

As most of my rides are solo or with friends, I didn’t get a true taste of how annoying this tactic is until the Dragon Ride L’etape Wales this year.  Rolling out of Port Talbot on a windy flat start, I soon realised that myself and my friend had acquired a few hangers on. Growing increasingly impatient waiting for them to take their turn on the front, we eventually  lost them after 10 miles when we stopped for a comfort break. There are exceptions to this bad etiquette. If you are riding with a friend who is not as strong as you (or your significant other).  What is the best way to lose a wheelsucker? Accelerate and try and drop him? Verbally berating him?  Suck it up and accept it? I think vigorously clearing my nostrils will be my preferred method in future.

Are you guilty of any of the above sins? What do cyclists do that annoy you when you’re out riding?

Great Welsh Hill Climbs – Llyn Stwlan, Snowdonia

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Initially you’ll be oblivious to the great scenery behind you

Deep within the Snowdonia National Park lies the best kept secret when it comes to Welsh hill climbs: Llyn Stwlan.Epic scenery, steep gradients, hairpins, and an ominous feel (well it is in Blaenau Ffestiniog after all). This one has it all…

Llyn Stwlan is a lake situated 1500 feet above Tanygrisiau, a small village south of Blaenau Ffestiniog. A dam was built in the 1950s to serve the hydro-elecric plant below. A private road owned by the water company snakes up to the foreboding looking dam which can be seen from miles around. The dead-end road is closed to traffic and you need to climb over a gate to access it, but cyclists are tolerated.The climb averages a 10% gradient and ascends 242m (793 feet) over 2.3km.

Photo 02-07-2016, 14 28 52
Wales’ very own Stelvio Pass

The heart rate increases rapidly as the gradient kicks up straight away and stays at 10% as you climb quickly away from the valley floor. The dam itself is not in sight intially, and you can only see a short distance ahead, which keeps your focus on the legs and not getting demoralised by the climb itself. The rocky terrain and steep hillside you are ascending all adds to the atmosphere.

After about 1.5 km, as the climb begins to bite and your cadence drops, the dam appears, though it still looks far away and high up, and the hairpins emerge. At this point the toughest part is over, so enjoy the steady gradient of the hairpins, designed with lorries in mind so not overly steep. Even with the end destination in sight the hairpins snake left and right, doing a good job of disguising the road ahead, meaning you don’t really know the climb is over until you arrive at the foot of the impressive dam itself.

Photo 02-07-2016, 14 34 00Now for the first time can you can truly enjoy the panoramic views. Breathe deep, enjoy the stunning scenery (reminiscient of Mordor), and get ready for the exhilirating ride back down. The road surface is good but gravelly in places, so remember not to push too hard on the descent (if you value your skin). A cafe is conveniently located at the foot of the climb to allow suitable post-suffering refreshment of your choice.


Summary: Llyn Stwlan may not be the steepest or longest hill climb in Wales, but it makes up for it with the overall quality of the experience. The dramatic mountain scenery of Snowdonia, the relentless gradient, and the added interest of the hairpins at the end, something not often seen in UK climbs, make this climb a real winner. In fact it’s so good that Simon Warren, author of the 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs books, puts it in his Trinity Of Pain, his overall top 3 climbs in the UK, which says it all.

Have you ridden Llyn Stwlan or know of a better climb? If so let me know in the comments below…

Great Welsh Hill Climbs – Rhigos, South Wales

This is the first in a series of articles I’m writing on my favourite Welsh hill climbs. It will have a bias towards those situated in South Wales, partly because that’s where I usually ride (and partly because there are no shortage of lung bursters). I’m defining ‘great’ not just based on steepness but also scenic views, road surface, and the overall climbing experience. So, in no particular order and without further ado…

the false flat
You can really get some speed up on the descent with the road being so wide and good visibility all the way down

The Rhigos hill climb in the Rhondda valley can be ridden North to South, or vice versa, and both ways is the kind of hill climb where you can settle back in the saddle and grind away due to the steady gradient. My preferred way is to ride North-South, starting at the roundabout between Rhigos and Hirwaun.

Averaging a 5.1% gradient over 5.1km and 285m (935ft) in elevation, the climb starts underwhelmingly and plows ahead and up with nothing but the barren road on either side . After several minutes of climbing the road starts to curve to the right and begins to get more interesting, steepening slightly to 7.5% as you pass a stand of pine trees on your left. The road then snakes around on itself in a switchback as the gradient appears to flatten out (actually a false flat). Look left here to take your mind off your legs and on a clear day you get a great panoramic view of the Brecon Beacons.

Up past some rocky outcrops and through the pine trees, you can really feel the heat coming off the trees here on a warm day. The gradient doesn’t drop as the road curves back around to the right in another U-Turn and as you round the bend you can put the hammer down knowing the road is about to level off.

The climb is done as you pass the car park and panoramic viewpoint on your right (N.B. Strava enthusiasts may wish to ride past the car park for 50 yards or so as the segment goes a little bit past it). Catch your breath, savour the views, and get ready for a fast descent whether you chose to go back the way you came or down into Treorchy.


Summary: Unlike many hills here in the UK, which often have steep gradients of  15-20% but are over quickly, The Rhigos is as close as you get to a mini Alpine climb like those seen in the Grand Tours. I once read a comment in a magazine from a pro rider who said that in preparation for  riding the Tour De France he rode up Rhigos and Bwlch as many times as he could to simulate the long, steady efforts needed for the big mountains. I can see where he was coming from. The road surface is great and although it often has a steady flow of traffic it is wide enough for this not to cause any issues. The switchbacks and change in terrain halfway up make up for the dull start and give this hill climb the classic status it deserves.

As Featured In: Dragon Ride L’etape Wales

Velothon Wales 2016 – Sportive Review


After a successful inaugural year (save for the minor grumblings of a few locals about road closures), Velothon Wales returned to Cardiff this month, boasting a field of 18,000 riders, a 140km route including two of the UK’s Greatest Road Climbs, and the main draw: closed roads free of traffic.

The thought of cruising along in a pack and railing around corners on the wrong side of the road was mouth-watering, and I had heard positive things from friends who had ridden the event the year before, so I duly signed up.

Studying the elevation profile beforehand revealed 5300 feet of climbing over 86 miles. A relatively flat route compared to my usual local rides, save for two impressive vertical spikes: (1)  The Tumble, as featured in previous Tours Of Britain, and (2) Caerphilly Mountain. The Tumble looked toughest on paper, but I knew from speaking with repeat riders that it was Caerphilly Mountain that was the true tester, peaking at 20% in places, and more importantly coming after 70 miles had taken their toll on the weary legs.

Registration the day before was a straightfoward affair,  although the lack of goodies was disappointing. Also, the jersey race number was a bit on the large side. It did fit over my jersey pockets, but only just. There were a few stalls selling the usual merchandise. Due to the huge number of riders, the start times were staggered, with everyone allocated a start pen designated with a letter of the alphabet. You can give a team name when signing up to make sure you start at the same time as friends, but the organisers won’t let you change this close to the event (I speak from experience). The  pens were clearly labelled and the organisation of the event was excellent overall (perhaps a bit too organised, as overly zealous marshalls checked every rider number to make sure no-one was sneaking into a pen they shouldn’t have been in-a minor issue for one of our group who hadn’t given our team name initially, quickly resolved by him jumping the fence a bit further down the road).

Cardiff To Abergavenny

Before I knew it we were off. Resisting the urge to start my Garmin before I was up to a decent speed, I spent the first twenty minutes jostling around in the large pack of riders before things evened out and I had a bit of room to manouevre.

The first thing that struck me  was the relentless pace. The first 40 miles towards Newport and then up to Abergavenny are pancake flat, and coupled with the lack of traffic and not having to stop for traffic lights, I clocked my average speed at nearly 21 mph at one point.  By far this was the fastest I had ever gone on a bike, and for the first time in my cycling life I got to really appreciate the benefits of drafting. Despite the lack of anything resembling a gradient being mildly depressing for a lover of hills like myself, blatantly ignoring traffic signs and going around roundabouts the wrong way never got tedious throughout the day.

One thing I hadn’t fully anticipated was the poor etiquette and lack of riding skill on display from some of the participants. Perhaps due to overexcitement at not having to concentrate on the presence of other vehicles, some riders pedalled with reckless abandon, weaving in front of my wheel without warning, and descending with little regard for the road. Often I heard a shout of “To the right!” only to find not enough room on my right to pass but a rider trying to elbow his way through there anyway. Needless to say, before I had even been riding an hour I witnessed the aftermath of  a few crashes, including riders knocked out and receiving First Aid at the roadside from passers by. A sobering sight, and one that reminded me not too get too carried away with myself.

The Tumble – 4.6km, 10% av. grade

The weather had been kind so far, but as we ate up the miles and approached Abergavenny, the skies darkened (as they often do in Wales) and the heavens opened on us. Cursing my decision not to pack a jacket, I suffered on before a fellow rider lent me a gilet in a show of camradarie the sport is known for. The road had started to pull upwards at last, which took my mind (somewhat) off my cold wet feet. The Tumble appears at the 50 mile mark, and does a good job of disgiusing itself with an inconspicious start until it kicks up to 10% and you realise you’re actually on the climb itself.

The climb got congested fast. Gears clunked down and laboured breathing was heard all around, as people settled in for the slog.  Surprisingly,  a lot of riders didn’t even attempt the hill, and were pushing their bikes up it (I guess not everyone has learned to appreciate the beautiful agony of hill climbing). Fitter riders weaved in and out trying to find a path through the masses…Not the best day for a PB on the climb. The perils of a mass ride were hard to avoid even when going uphill, and I watched one rider whose cadence dropped so low he came to a complete stop and fell over, wiping out two other riders like dominoes.

I would describe the Tumble as tough but overrated. Maybe I’m spoilt living so close to classic climbs like The Black Mountain, Rhigos, Bwlch, and Devil’s Elbow, but they all seem more interesting to me than the Tumble. It maintains a constant grade of 10% most of the way up (some say the gradient eases after the cattle grid…lies!) but trees overhang the road and it doesn’t really open up until near the top, when you get a scenic view of the Black Mountains on your right. The climb just keeps going up without much variation in grade or direction.

Ignoring the feed stop at the top (part of my game plan, they were chaotic) I began the descent towards Blaenavon. It didn’t last as long as hoped, and taking risks was not worth it due to the number of riders descending at the same time. Once the main descent was over though there were a good few miles of coasting down gradually descending roads, which my legs appreciated at that point.

Caerphilly Mountain – 1.4km, 10% av. grade

As we rode through small villages fast approaching the second big climb of the day, I was impressed by the great turnout of locals cheering us on (this was a common theme throughout the day). People rang bells and shouted words of encouragement from the roadside, and they were well received at this point. You could see the result of the early fast pace taking it’s toll on riders’ faces, and I felt myself fading a little as we rode up gradients on a dual carriageway which felt far steeper than the 5% my Garmin kept telling me they were.

As we approached Caerphilly I rode alongside an older rider in a local club jersey, and asked him what the upcoming climb was really like. “When you see it…It just goes straight up”. Confidence inspiring. “Yes but what is it like? Is it short?” I asked. “I don’t know, I avoid it” he replied. So much for local knowledge.

Some more downhill coasting took us into the town and past Caerphilly Castle where the gradient kicked up and stayed up. Definitely shorter and steeper than the Tumble, I found I enjoyed it more. The pain was short lived, and the crowds spurring us on by ringing bells and shouting ‘Allez!’ were the best we’d seen all day. As the road flattened out and my heart rate began to drop back down , I knew the climbing was pretty much done for the day and all that was left was a quick blast back to the finish line in Cardiff.

The final miles passed by quickly and before I knew it we were speeding over the finish line and the Velothon 2016 was done. We were herded away from the line and given a medal along with a bottle of water and a packet of salty crisps. The medal itself was a bit cheap looking compared to the previous year, which was a bit of a shame.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Velothon. The novelty of riding on closed roads is worth the entry fee, and despite the lack of goodies, the actual organisation of the road closures and signage (which must be a logistical nightmare) was excellent. I would do it again, especially if they varied the route.

The Good

  • Closed roads
  • Friendly atmosphere
  • Good support from locals
  • Well organised
  • Quick response to mechanicals and crashes from what I saw
  • Despite being busy food stops seemed plentiful (oranges, salty crisps, jelly babies, bananas)

The Bad

  • Huge number of riders – Route always felt crowded, perhaps capping the number of riders would be better
  • Some boring roads – The organisers clearly chose wide roads like dual carriageways to accomodate the number of riders (which is fair enough)
  • Only two real hills – Plenty of other opportunities within striking distance
  • Medal was a bit underwhelming

The Ugly

  • The lack of respect and etiquette from a minority of riders