Twinkly Dave – Mud splattered bicycle and pizza enthusiast Growing old disgracefully

June 27, 2013

Just £3 yer suffering, £3, get yer suffering, only £3

Filed under: bikes,lunacy - mine,Racing,stream of consciousness — dgpowell @ 10:45 am

I’m practically horizontal. If I closed my eyes – and managed to stop shivering – I could probably just nod off right here. I doubt the older gentleman buried somewhere under my left arm would be too impressed if I started snoring and dribbling on him though.
He’s pretty much bent double, and in what seems like a bit of discomfort, reaching out as far as his arms will allow to grasp the bike underneath me as I hang, both feet clipped in immediately behind a small white line pained on the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere.

I think I’ve done this wrong. I think I’m meant to be right over by the kerb so he can hold me perfectly upright, offering me the opportunity to sprint off into the distance as soon as another bloke sat on a small wall finishes counting down from “1 minute”. I’m about 2 foot out in the road, leant over towards the poor guy doing his best to support me wobble-free for up on the pavement. If we were a pair of cards we’d stand upright, in a geometrically stable position, which is great but, in “30 seconds” he’s going to let go and, with me ratcheted into the bike and stationary I’m really starting to think that I’ll do what that one lone card would do without it’s support and just gently topple over. Into the gutter.

If the course for tonight’s event – a hill climb race, based near Horwich, heading from outside a pub (clever) to the top of the local Col d’Winter Hill – started on a sharp left hand bend I’d be set up for the perfect start, I consider, as a glance downward shows me I’m perched on the sidewall of my tyres. It doesn’t though and I begin to wonder if I should unclip, apologise for making it hard for everyone and just set off with one foot on the ground.

“15 seconds”

Damn it! No time! I’ll just have to hope I don’t make a complete tit of myself in front of all the other riders…who are probably already wondering why I’ve decided to start from the wrong side of the road, leaving the ‘hold you up’ guy in need of traction afterwards.
I wish I’d warmed up instead of standing around chatting until I started shivering. That wasn’t very ‘pro’, was it


Which way does the course go again?


Wait hang on, I think I’m in too big a…




Naaaaarrgrggrrgg. aaarrrrnggng, huuuhhuhhhu, pedal aarga go get going move it aaaaarg

Like a 1 litre overloaded nissan micra setting off up a hill in top gear I cough and splutter into a super gradual acceleration away from the line.

Are my brakes stuck on? Have i inadvertently dragged ‘hold you up’ guy along for the ride? Will I have to do the whole thing with him hanging on my back? Christ why am I not going anywhere and what is that weird feeling in my chest?

Oh, that’s my lungs gong into complete shock. Fair enough. Oh look my thighs appear to have joined them. Well, this is going well isn’t it, my body’s revolting against me and I must have ridden all of about 500 metres from the line. Hmm. How long is the course again? 3 miles? Ahh. Right.

Oww actually, this really hurts.

A glance down (well, more accurately an attempt to focus on where I was already staring – I’d not looked up since wobbling away from the start line) at the computer tells me I’ve hit the heady speed of 18mph. which seems odd, as the feedback from every part of my body suggests I should have just heard a sonic boom as I went past the speed of sound. The pain -> speed ratio here is all to cock. On the plus side, I have ridden half a mile and seem to be settling into a bit of a rhythm on the flatter section of the course. If extreme discomfort can be classed as a rhythm.

I should probably stop thinking and just get on with it. Turn my head off for a while. Why can you never turn your head off when you want to?

Is my right shoe a bit loose?

Ooh wait, I think i’m really getting into this now, yes, here we go I’m accelerati…oh wait no, it was just a dip in the road, back to massive thigh pain

(I do feel like my thighs are massive at this point. In fact it seems like a miracle that they’ve not burst, Hulk stylee, out of my shorts)

A waving flag of a marshal bravely stood in the middle of the road tells me I’m at the sharp left hand turn halfway along the route. Momentary joy as I briefly regain the lean angle I had on the start line is wiped away as I remember that the left turn means I’m on the steeper part of the course.

It’s a hill I hate when I ride it normally. It just doesn’t seem to suit me, not steep enough to really fight your way up, but still too steep and with too many changes in gradient to pick a gear and ‘work it’ to the top. I’m never quick up it at the best of times and tonight, with a couple of miles of intense effort already weighing me down tag-teaming with a gusting headwind, there’s a strong possibility I may come to a complete halt and start rolling backwards.

Pic by martin holden photography

As the road kicks up in front of me I give up any plans about pacing, optimum riding position, efficiency or even thinking full words, in favour of just getting up the bloody hill.

There are spectators (a few of them) alongside the road giving encouragement as I flail about on the pedals, grinding the chain against the front mech as the bike protests at my awful riding style. I stop looking towards them when I realise my eyes must suggest I’m pleading for an end to the suffering and aim what little attention I can hold at the road just in front of my wheel.

That patch road becomes, to my surprise, full of someone else’s back wheel. The guy who set off 1 minute before me (who didn’t seem to be leant over as far as I was) was riding quite a retro bike, leaving me with startline aspirations of catching him before we reached the summit. For the first few miles I’d not really seen him, even though the road was fairly straight, so I’d put any thought about it to the back of my mind, coming to the conclusion that he might well have been riding it to slow himself down a bit as, without the handicap, he’d be illegally fast, or something.

Do I put on some sort of extra spurt of power as I pass? What’s the done thing here? Say hello?

An attempt to form words fails spectacularly as the gasping for breath turns them in to vague, slightly unnatural sounding, gargling noises. I realise that, not only have I probably just creeped the guy out, but he’ll be in as much discomfort as me and perhaps not too appreciative of someone attempting conversation at this point.
I attempt the ‘spurt of power’ option, which doesn’t yield much in the way of results, but does seem to hurt quite a lot. As I do so, a cyclist stood at the side of the road watching the event cheers me on, recognising and rewarding the effort, even with it’s fairly pitiful effect.

PIc by martin holden photography

The rest of the route becomes a repeat of this, each time the gradient changes I attempt to push a little harder, usually to a ripple of applause from those stood at the roadside, until I see the finish line flag wafting in front of me.
Well, at first I don’t realise just how BIG a finish line flag it is, thinking I must be a few feet from the line until a second glance shows me it’s still a ‘mini sprint’ away and isn’t being held aloft my a midget.

Great. What I’d really like at this point is to have to bloody sprint. That’s right at the top of my list of thing I could do with right now that is. Bloody marvelous.

Leaden legs are called on for one last time as I thrash about towards the finish and roll, wheezing, over it. By complete chance, the finish line is situated just a couple of feet away from one of the comfiest looking patches of uneven, overgrown, litter strewn, rock covered grass I’ve ever seen. I make it my mission to discover just how delightful this geological miracle actually is and flop down into it.

It doesn’t disappoint.

Edit: I finished 7th out of 49. Not bad. Not as good as it could have been, but not awful.
Thanks to all the guys at Horwich Cycling Club who organised and helped out with the event. Good effort all round 🙂

June 6, 2013

Garlic peawet

Filed under: bikes,food/booze — dgpowell @ 9:58 am

That, apparently, is the Tenerife delicacy that you “simply have to try”. They’ve dressed it up with a fancy name, ‘mojo’ or something, but that’s all it is really. Peawet. With a massive amount of garlic added.

Quite frankly, that is ACE.

We’d not tried it until the 2nd week of our stay, Jase and I, because the 1st week’s food was little more than fuel for the riding we were doing. Masses of pasta and other carb/protein rich, easily digestable foods than would be burned off while fighting out way up some HC category monster hill the next day.


The views were spectacular, the weather glorious but everything for that one week was focused down on to a rhythm of get up, eat, ride, eat, sleep. No distractions, nothing unnecessary, just ride, rest, recover, repeat. I imagined it would be a bit like my life would be, if I won the lottery…well, perhaps a tad harder than that, but the basic principle was the same.


Each day the sun would come streaming in through the windows of our rented apartment, some strong coffee would be consumed along with masses of stodgy (like it should be) porridge and the hills, mountains, quiet backroads and seemingly empty villages (doesn’t anyone in this country actually do anything?!) were ridden.


We had a plan, training wise, but the riding on offer exceeded our expectations (by which I mean “it was a whole lot tougher than we expected) by so much sticking to it became an epic endeavour. Keep to it we did, though, even when “easier” rides resulted in us having to conquer roads like this:


By the end of that 1st week, we’d begun to feel like we had the measure of El Teide and it’s equally tough brothers and sisters. Put anything in front of us and we’d get over it, in a decent time too. We were living the dream.



Week 2 saw wives, girlfriends, children, fans and wellwishers arrive (OK maybe not the fans and wellwishers) for a ‘summer holiday’ so we duly obliged…though ice creams were substituted for ‘no ice cream’, boozy nights out were substituted for glasses of orange juice and sneaky 5am pre-breakfast rides up mountains were tiptoed out while everyone else slept. We still ‘did’ the tourist thing though, including trying the local peawet, hammering the tourist attractions and hiring unsuitably small cars to drive up one of Spain’s highest peaks


in between bouts of lying by the pool, enjoying the ‘recovery’ sessions.

We need to do that again.


May 14, 2013

Because I had to

Filed under: bikes,Racing,rubbish weather — dgpowell @ 12:31 pm

I love hills, me. Love a good long, steep incline. Love riding up them at full tilt, with any notion of ‘pacing’ myself being thrown out of the window as I begin to burn up a fireball of ascending glory (well, kind of…), tyres scrabbling for grip as I wrestle on the bars to fight against a front wheel that wants to loop out under the immense power and steepness (well, kind of…again), the sound of crumpling metal echoing behind me as other riders and their bikes implode under the strain of trying to keep up (well, kind of…).
When I head to a race, my mind is filled with hope of towering peaks seemingly lassoed with course tape, promising hours of upwards pointed battles at the very edge of what my legs and lugs can cope with, safe in the knowledge that, once up there, the course will have to point back down again, hopefully via a stream of tricky-enough-to-catch-you-out, swoopy, grin inducing singletrack and rewards-the-last-of-the-late-brakers point and shoot fast stuff.

It’s not that I don’t like flatland riding, the ‘explosion out of every tight corner’ and ‘preservation of momentum above all’ smooth-riding fest that it is, it’s just that I’d like it to appear shortly after the aforementioned monster climb and just before the also-just-mentioned superb descent. With maybe a bit more of it at the bottom too. It’s not my strong point. I can set a half decent time up a hill and, although not endowed with any spectacular talent, can hold my own back down the hills too (in a XC setting, I’d be up the proverbial creek without a paddle if I found myself in the timing hut of a DH race). Stick me on the flat with a race number on, though, and I’ll do a good impression of someone going backwards for you.
With this in mind, you can probably see how the words, uttered by me on the finish line on the UK & European 12hr championships last year, appeared to come back and haunt me. A full on, furniture flying around the room style, poltergeist of a haunting.

“Yeah I’ll defend the title next year.” I said, possibly buoyed by the liberal application of post-race- beer.


I’d just won. On a course in the Scottish borders with some cracking climbs. Climbs big enough to spot a competitor ahead of you in the distance and batter the gradient into submission until you’d caught them up, then take a few chances on the following swoopy descent to get away and begin the hunt for the next rider. Wafting a half empty beer bottle round like a sword while clutching the 1st place trophy like some sort of shield I made bold promises about how I’d do all I could to slay the opposition, with no real thought about what that might entail.
And why not, you might ask, if you’ve just won the title, you might as well indulge in a bit of bravado, it’s your right, really. It’s only fitting. So I did. In my mind the same weekend in May the next year was booked up with some sort of glorious title defense.

Mid way through the year rumours began to fly about a change of venue for this year’s race, causing a twinge of sadness as I’d always liked travelling up to Newcastleton. I’d liked how the whole village seemed to be involved in the race and, most of all, I’d liked the mixture of quality built, weatherproof 7 Stanes trail and cheeky woodland singletrack that made up the course. It suited me, with several climbs and corresponding descents breaking up the 45minute lap into a series of uphill attacks and downhill rewards. It rode well when you were on your own and it worked really well as a race course, offering glimpses of competitors ahead (or behind…) you elsewhere on the course as you worked your way round, helping you gauge you efforts and work out how you were doing on any one section. I’d miss it, but the idea of a new venue somewhere certainly didn’t fill me with dread, just anticipation.

When the new venue, Wasing Park was announced, I excitedly began rummaging around the internet for some information on what it would be like. A few videos from XC races held there started a sinking feeling, an ironic sinking feeling really, as at no point did anyone appear to be riding up anything…or down anything either. As my consternation grew, so did the discussion on various forums, “It’s as flat as a pancake”, “it’s just a field with some woods”, “it won’t be able to cope with the rain”, this last one felt like a sucker punch. After 2012’s races often being ruined by courses that simply couldn’t hold together under the Great British Weather, the move from hardpacked, weatherproof trailcentre to a possible boggy field changed my outlook on the whole race. I was still, without doubt, riding it, but in the space of a week or two I’d gone from almost giddy with excitement at the opportunity to feeling rather stoic.

I’d also hit a bit of a quandary.

My training (the word ‘training’ here being used in the loosest sense of the word, it’s more a disparate collection of stupidly long rides done because I enjoy them, that have the added bonus of getting me fit for long races) was based on getting good at riding up hills. Many of the events I had planned and had entered for the rest of the year were likely to feature many hills and, up until the new venue was announced, I’d assumed this race would too. By the time I’d pored over OS maps of the Wasing estate, searching fruitlessly for a contour line or two to cheer me up, I was well on my way to being a half decent climber at the expense of having any power on the flat. A Few panicked 6hr rides along the flatter roads out towards the coast revealed that I could still motor along reasonably well, but it was unlikely I’d be setting the world alight churning out massive power. I knew that if I knuckled down I could build up a bit more strength, but that it would come at the expense of the ability to take on repeated climbs. Did I want to try to specialise for this one race – a risky strategy at best, given the short amount of time left?

Fast forward a couple of weeks and there I was, wrestling with a tent next to the race track, in the middle of a flat field, with some woods off behind me. No hills in sight and other riders passing on their practice laps talking of a 30 minute course made up of a tight and twisty route with no climbs, no descents and no place to rest or recover. Just a constant barrage of explosions out of corners on a track so new no lines had bedded between the tape. There I was, wrestling a tent, comfortable in the knowledge that I’d done nothing to improve my ‘racing on the flat’ ability, but also comfortable with the knowledge that I would be going as fast as I could. Defending the title was happening, irrespective of ‘comfort zones’ ‘course suitability’ or anything like that. I had the sneaking suspicion it could be a fairly futile endeavour, but it was still happening and with it the pre-race bravado, faux-confidence smiles and relaxed appearing discussions came flowing back.

“Whatever happens, happens.” “ I’ll go fast and see where that gets me.”

The night before the race became several hours of listening to rain battering the tent, each droplet seemingly shouting “You’re running semi-slick tyres on the back of both bikes? Oohh, that’s a bit risky isn’t it? Ooohh, don’t know about that…” as it belted against the fabric, urged on by the accompanying strong wind. A mocking cacophony that didn’t abate until the next morning, when I nervously poked my head out of the tent, expecting to see ankle deep slop stretching across the horizon. To my near delight, the ground had held up quite well. Although now damp, most of the rain had been absorbed and the surface had remained nicely hard packed. I held high hopes for how the more sheltered parts of the course in the woods would still be riding. Perhaps my tyre choice would pay off with the right mix of fast rolling and low pressure to swallow the constant lurching kicked up by the ubiquitous tree roots on the firm surface. A spot of sunshine as the morning’s pre-race rituals were observed seemed to lift my mood even further. I was excited to be there, looking forward to racing and hoping to do well. My pre-race lap of the course had been fun, although there was nothing particularly technical to contend with the route looked like it could make a great venue to race. The sharp turns, lurking roots and mixture of long straights interspersed with super twisty sections to try and escape/catch anyone around you promised a tough event for anyone. I signed on, took my place up at the front of the starting grid with the rest of the JMC guys and found myself feeling pretty relaxed.


That feeling lasted for about 3 seconds of the race.

The ‘neutralised’ start, as is often the case, worked in neutralising the first half a mile or so by being so fast no-one could do any sort of overtaking. Hundreds of riders all gasped along behind the lead rider at a frenetic pace until he pulled over to the side and shouted “Go!”, at which point the average speed immediately plummeted! I stayed up at the front, planning on keeping an eye on the ‘fast lads’ who tend to start these races at warp speed, seemingly trying to win the even in the first couple of hours, and got the shock of my life when I realised that within half a lap, 3 of us had opened up a noticeable gap to the rest of the field. I’d not planned on being one of those ‘fast lads’, I didn’t think I’d have the ability, but it felt good so for the first few laps myself, James Braid and Tim Dunford, sped on.

After gapping Tim for a couple of laps, he came back up to us and, in some of the twistier sections, started to gain an advantage, seemingly pushing himself very hard. Only 3 or so hours into the race, I decided to not fight to stay on his wheel. James had the same idea and we remained together for a few more laps as Time eked out a few minutes advantage each time round the course.
I’d felt good so far, the lack of climbs was noticeable – I felt like I had a secret weapon (arrogant as that sounds!) I couldn’t use – but with a liberal application of ignoring any protests from my legs, I kept my lap times fairly consistent. Such short laps changed my eating and drinking strategy; never carrying any more than half a bottle of drink with me and not bothering carrying any gels – just grabbing one every couple of laps, each time I did a ‘flying bottle change’ from Angela in the pits -was working well. Well…sort of, admittedly the first couple of fly-by bottle changes basically resulted in me ‘right hooking’ the bottle out of Angela’s hand into the stratosphere hard enough to make Mike Tyson wince, but we got it dialled quickly enough and kept the stopping down to a bare minimum.


A few showers rolled over during the afternoon, causing the course to get a bit slippery, but despite the semi slick tyres I remained mostly upright and pointing in the right direction, swopping bikes for a clean and re-lube just the once. Tim’s lead continued to open further and, as we hit the halfway point I began to feel that this could well be the way the race would end. I’d opened a slight gap on James, but none of us were more than 10 minutes or so apart, even as evening set in and I began to think about getting the lights on the bikes.

I started a lap at around 7.30pm (that’s 7.5hrs into the race, which started at midday, in case you were wondering), shouting into the pits to get my 2nd bike set up with an Exposure Six Pack and a bit more air in the tyres. Amazingly, Angela and Rachael were way ahead of me, the bike sat waiting patiently, clean, relubed, ready to go a lap in advance despite the two of them having to contend with all 4 JMC riders – who were all smashing it at the front end of the race – swarming at them every couple of minutes as the short lap times created a constant barrage of demands.
Darkness descended (the only thing that did, given the flat nature of the course!) around me, but not in front of me as I revelled in the billion lumens on offer from the lights. With only 4 hours of the race held in darkness and enough lights to run on both bikes, I could easily afford to keep them on full power for the whole night section, which was massively liberating. Combined with the Joystick on my helmet I didn’t have to slow at all, even for the most techy-nadgery corners. I still felt strong and allowed myself to think about finishing in 2nd. That would be nice. Not fairytale nice, but something to be proud of.

Almost as soon as I did, the heavens opened. Not just rain, but a full on, torrential deluge. The course began to deteriorate, fast. Within a lap I found myself fighting hard to keep the rear end of the bike pointing in the right direction and, when I’d succeed in doing so, found myself wheelspinning madly in a fresh layer of gripless mud. A line that had developed round most of the course was now out-of-bounds to me as I struggled to find grip away from the tyre tracks of everyone else. Still I fought on, not knowing if James had been able to get his bike set up for the conditions better than I had, not knowing if Tim would be having any problems ahead of me, not even having much of a chance to think about it as the now super-slick tree roots took delight in occasionally firing me off into the course-side undergrowth.

Hoping it was just a passing shower, I forwent any warmer clothes as I rode through the pits, just grabbing a lightweight gilet and hoping the feeling would come back into my freshly numb hands as the temperature dropped, quickly and sharply to just a few degrees above freezing. If the rain stopped, I thought, some grip would come back into the course and I’d generate enough warmth by speeding back up (and crashing less…). I didn’t want to throw away the few minutes lead I’d gained on James, needlessly getting changed. It was a risk, but in the few seconds I had to consider it while passing the tent, I chose to take it.

Half a lap later I was in all sorts of trouble. The rain had continued, I had become reduced to pushing the bike through some sections as the rear tyre offered me nothing, my overall speed reduced to the point where I wasn’t pushing out any body heat and, in just shorts, a summer weight jersey and the thin gilet I really began to suffer. I grovelled round the lap, expecting to see lights coming up from behind me as James passed, but got back to the pits still in 2nd, shivering uncontrollably.

I couldn’t remember ever having been that cold while racing, ever, even during the Strathpuffer. I could barely hold a mug in my hand without throwing the contents all over myself as I spasmed and twitched. I wasn’t interested in racing any more. Having to push the bike through the mud like I had at races last summer was utterly miserable, having to listen for the sound of the brake pads hitting the rotors to know if I was pulling the levers because my hands were so numb was almost scary and the idea that I could do myself some real damage had firmly wedged itself in my head. I wanted out. Angela rummaged around in the tent for dry race kit for me to change into, trying to keep me positive as I hunched over in the entrance, knees knocking together in a way I didn’t think existed outside of cartoons of skeletons locked out of the house overnight. Teeth chattering so much I could barely speak as she kept looking for a solution that would keep me in the race.
By chance, as she pawed through kit bags, Angela pulled out and tossed to one side a pair of thermal ¾ length tights, that I’d worn while riding a practice laps the day before and stuffed in a ‘dirty clothes’ bag to be washed when I got home. In my now semi delirious state, they seemed to glow, lighting up the dark tent, with a chorus of angels heralding their appearance. Warmth! Dry warmth! I stopped wailing about how miserable and cold I was and set about the laborious task of peeling off wet racing kit from still lurching arms and legs and fighting my way in to the fuzzy warmth the old tights offered.

Knowing that I would now have dropped to 3rd, but informed that the three of us in the lad had opened up such a gap on the rest of the race that my long pit stop hadn’t lost me a podium place I clambered back on the bike and headed off for another crash-fest of a lap.

It turned out to be my last lap as I missed the cut off to do another by 5 minutes. It didn’t have any effect on my finishing position so, as I crossed the line and chatted to the organisers, I didn’t care one bit. At all. 3rd place felt like I’d done all I could to defend the title, like I’d treated it with enough respect and put some real effort into it. Like I deserved to stand around wafting a half empty beer bottle round again, full of bravado. So I did.

Congratulations to Tim on storming away to take the win convincingly and also to James for taking 2nd in what felt like a suitably epic battle. It was great fun racing and has set the bar for the rest of the year nice and high!

I have to say thanks, in a big way, to loads of people who helped me out in having kit to race on; the guys at 2Pure lent me some pimpy Rolf wheels and all the Clif energy products I could possibly need – all of which worked flawlessly and kept me competitive, in the pits Angela and Rachael showed the patient of saints to not punch me while I was being demanding, while enduring the onslaught of looking after 4 riders, the organisers made what looked like it wold be a boring wiggle around some woods into a great race course (no hills though) and a great event…I could go on for a long time mentioning people who’ve helped me, which I probably will very soon separately, but for now lets just say that it was really, really good fun.

I should also mention that it was another massively successful outing for the JMC boys too. Podiums all over the place (12hr European Fatbike Champion anyone?!), we don’t seem to ‘do’ finishing out of the top ten, do we? 🙂

April 24, 2013

Go to Gisburn

Filed under: bikes — dgpowell @ 6:56 pm

For the past few weeks (months?!) I’ve been pretty much just a roadie. Getting the miles and hills in on the tarmac while the trails bury themselves under several foot of snow, then turn to component eating slop and, to be honest, I’ve been loving every minute of it.
Every now and again, though, those expensive looking MTBs in the kitchen demand attention and like to remind me that, at heart, I love riding off road at least as much as riding on it.
The opening of some new trails at Gisburn, combined with an afternoon off work, provided the opportunity while the idea of solid surfaced trails offered the slop-free temptation. I had to off road! 🙂

New sections of singletrack at Gisburn

More Gisburn singletrack

Homebaked at Gisburn

A couple of hours later I left, already planning a return with more people. 🙂

March 12, 2013

My own Classics season

Filed under: bikes — dgpowell @ 1:52 pm

With winter retreating (theoretically) and spring very much on the way (maybe), ‘Hit the North’ bringing the winter race season to a close and foreign races with unpronounceable names starting to fill the headlines, the Classics Season is very much upon us. I’ve been having some fun with some slightly closer to home versions too, in my own way…

Firstly there was the Eden Valley Epic. A sportive run on the quiet and scenic road between Penrith and Appleby. Roads I’m more used to thundering over on the way out/home from the Daft Ride in the Lake District/Pennines.
I’d wanted to explore the roads round there a bit more for a while and, combined with Angela wanting to get her 2013 kicked off with a decent challenge, the sportive seemed like a good way to do it.

It also signaled the start of “uncomfortably early alarm calls season”, which was less welcome.

We arrived at the start of the ride in plenty of time for Angela to go and queue up to register us while I set about putting the bikes back together and, once timing chips had been ziptied to forks, we joined the massive line of riders waiting to set off.
When I say ‘massive’, I mean ‘massive’ – well over 500 people had decided to do the ride, which worried me a bit as there’s nothing fun about creeping round narrow country lanes jammed solid with riders of – being polite here – all abilities. I had fears of wannabe racers in tarty gear pretending they were in a Grand Tour, or imagining they were attacking the pack in a crit, while possessing non of the skill or alertness needed to do so safely, but thankfully it wasn’t too bad. We moved our way up through various groups without too much hassle and seemed to simply glide past everyone on the climbs, which cheered Angela up a lot (and seemed to shock quite a few people too!)

Part of the way round we met Andy, who had entered at the last minute and spent a while catching up on his recent trips/crashes/everything while powering up the biggest climbs of the day…again much to the dismay of many riders who were having trouble just breathing, let alone nattering while whizzing past everyone 🙂


Angela and I didn’t hang around the mid way food stop for too long, taking just enough time to shovel lots of jam sandwiches and cake down our throats before heading back out onto roads we’d ridden in a recce a few months back.

With the sun out, the roads dry and seemingly everyone else taking their time at the rest stop the route became much quieter and we began to tick off the miles seeing fewer and fewer riders.
It was turning into a lovely morning out, though the brief pit stop and quickly drunk cup of tea had left me needing a, shall we say ‘private pit stop’! No worries, I thought, I’ll suggest to Angela that she has a final energy gel before the last climb of the day and while we stop for that, I’ll nip over a wall or something. Sadly, Angela had the bit well and truly between her teeth and, upon me mentioning having the gel, she made it quite clear that we wouldn’t be stopping. She’d have it ‘on the fly’ and we’d keep the pace up. Bugger.

We hit the last climb full tilt, passing rider after rider, up out of the saddle having difficulty just getting up the slope and cruised out over the top in what I later worked out to be the fastest time of the day for the women. A good effort, rewarded with a nice long, mostly downhill cruise back to the leisure centre that was hosting the event. (Hello also to whoever it was who recognised me while we were stomping up the climb, as well!).

With one successful event done, I’d focused my attention a bit more on the ‘Informal 200’ ride organised by Mike Hall, a 200 mile ride from Caernarfon to Cardiff, which sounded like just the ticket for some nice endurance training. the logistics needed to get Jase, Phil and myself back from Cardiff had got away from us a bit so by the time it came to actually do the ride, we’d had to scale back our plans and instead do the first half of the ride with everyone, then turn around and ride back to the start. A bit of a shame, but it still promised to be a decent day out…

Jase came down with a heavy cold in the week running up to the event, so had to bow out, but Phil had the Friday off work and had decided to ride to the start the day before and I’d booked the Travelodge for the night before and was far too tight to not make use of it (oh and I guess the idea of a big day out in the Welsh hills wasn’t too bad either 😉 ), so on the Friday night we found ourselves sat in a bizarrely crowded Welsh pub waiting for what turned out to be pretty rank food while chatting to the other riders who’d signed up for the challenge.


After the worst night’s sleep in ages, and the earliest alarm call so far this year, we met up with Mike and Richard outside the castle walls and set of in pursuit of the groups who’d left earlier (the idea being that we were the ‘fast’ group and would catch the slower groups out on the road).

As daylight began to creep across the sky we flew through village after village on quiet A roads, the pace being kept high by Mike and Richard, while Phil and I sheltered behind wondering if we’d be able to hide in the slipstream all day. Of course, after about 15 or so miles, the two in front caught on to our cheekiness and politely let us take our turn in the wind 😉
Big Day Out chatter flowed nicely in between the climbs as we ticked the miles off, we passed a couple of riders who’d set off earlier after about 30 or so miles and, after spending most of the ride so far having no real idea where I was, I recognised a bit of road from another Daft Ride Jase and I had done a couple of years ago.

The road in question had stuck in my mind since first seeing it, even though I’d never ridden on it, having only driven over it on the way to Machynlleth to ride the Trans Cambrian Way. Shielded on either side by hills, the road dropped in a straight line with great views of the estuary below the town. It looked perfect for ‘tucking in and flying’.

It didn’t disappoint!
Speeds well in excess of 50mph were achieved with ease, though Phil did take a very ‘close to the drainage ditch’ line at one point, which was a bit exciting! the joy of the descent was short lived, however as , on the climb that followed, Phil discovered that one of his cleats had snapped, leading to a day of not being able to clip his right foot into the pedal. Normally this would just be ‘a bit of an issue’ but with 140 miles left to ride to me it seemed like a big problem. Phil didn’t seem unduly bothered though, even when we found that the one bike shop in the vicinity was shut, so he’d have to put up with it all day.

Once out of Machynlleth we hit the biggest climb of the day, over what was ominously referred to as “the mountain road” – a diversion from the main route we took to add some extra thrills, scenery and effort into the day. This didn’t disappoint either!
A strip of singletrack tarmac draped, ribboning over a mountain shrouded in mist that seemed to keep going up for an unfeasibly long time. It’s gradient would change as corner after corner revealed more climbing, steep, then shallow, then steep again, even with our pace muted by the length of the ride we still had to do, it required full on effort in parts and had easily earned it’s place as a classic in my mind by the time we crested the summit and began to drop back down.

We rejoined the main road through Llanidloes as I once again recognised where we were thanks to previous drives down to the Real Ale Wobble. The flatter sections resulted in our pace rising once again as we took it in turns to sit on the front, pulling everyone else along as quickly as we could until we hit the midway point at Rhayader with less than 6hrs on the clock.


The lure of the cafe was too strong to resist, not that we would have tried so we piled in, shocked some grannies with the distance we were planning for the day and pretty much committed a smash-and-grab on the cakes, toasted sandwiches and coffee supplies.
As various confectionery products were shoveled down throats, Huw Thomas arrived having ridden up from Cardiff to meet the group and ride back with them. It was all very sociable, but we knew that too much time spent sitting round would come back to haunt us later, so after wishing each other good luck, Phil and I set off on our return journey while Mike et al continued south.

Our route back was designed to take in more of the back roads over the hills to make it a bit more interesting than just heading back the way we’d come and I have to say it was fantastic. The weather had improved from a slightly grimey drizzle during the morning, with views opening up around us as we rode deeper into the hills and the constantly undulating, flowing road kept us entertained for a good couple of hours.
Navigation wasn’t a problem, our combination of GPS bike computers and hours of following the route on maps at home beforehand meant that wrong turns were few and far between, which helped keep our pace up at a decent level and meant that our spirits stayed high as we flew round the route


We’d planned a long flat section towards the end of the ride, working on the assumption that we’d be tired and sick of hills by the time we got to it. It turned out that we still felt fresh as we headed towards Barmouth, pausing for a few minutes to rescue a stranded cyclist with a puncture and no more spare tubes.
A ride along the coast changed the atmosphere of the ride as rolling hills and craggy mountains gave way to long stretches of sandy beach and seaside towns. We rode past rows of summer-holiday-themed shops, all shut, with Phil’s rear hub – which had started making some unhealthy noises before we’d even got halfway and was now protesting loudly – echoing off the darkened windows. A plan to stop for an ice cream and brew fell by the wayside as we traveled through deserted town after deserted town.

Clouds began to darken again as we made our way towards Porthmadog and the rain we hadn’t missed reappeared just as the sun set. Back on main roads again the final 20 or so miles felt like they were dragging, even as we got our heads down and forced the pace back up over 20mph over the final few rises and round roundabout after roundabout. We didn’t feel tired or overly worn out, but Caernarfon couldn’t come quick enough by the end, partly due to wanting to get out of the rain and partly because we’d promised ourselves a curry after the ride.

On arrival back at the car we did the ‘car park shuffle’, getting changed in public, as many a great ride has ended, before heading over to a curry house and decimating their food stock while planning future trips, alterations to the route we’d just done and generally feeling pretty chuffed with both ourselves and everyone in Mike’s group who’d made it to Cardiff in about the same amount of time.

Another successful event. 🙂

And now, just like the ‘real’ classics season, there’s no let up in the number of up coming rides and events. In the next few weeks cobbles will be thrashed, steep hills attacked, long routes navigated and a summer of racing prepared for in the best way possible. Bring it on!

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