Gore Sportive - Llanwrtyd Wells
Well the sun shone for the recce and it shone in places for the Sportive on saturday too. When it wasn't shining... Well, this is Wales. So I set off in drizzle on the day, with Gareth from Longleat who I met on the line and tagged along with right through the ride. It was his first sportive, and he was a little apprehensive, but we soon settled into a nice rhythm along the valley to Abergwesyn.
Soon the rain eased and the temperature ramped up a bit - just in time, in fact, for the devil's staircase which was every bit as steep and nasty as I'd remembered from the recce. Plenty of people elected to walk; I managed to stay on the bike but wasn't significantly quicker! After plenty of huffing, puffing, sweating and swearing we crested the top and snaked down the 25% descent for the run along the valley to the second climb. With plenty of false summits and steep sections to throw you off your rhythm it's a tough climb, but worth it for the views from the top and the descent down the other side which ends in a sketchy left hander at a T junction. The combination of the 'European' brake configuration on the Salsa and the Fusion 2 tyres not being the grippiest in the wet meant it was especially sketchy for me!
I haven't had a major mechanical for a while so I was due one, and it duly arrived on a fast bridge crossing. There had been gravel and stones on the road all the way along the valley but I hit something large enough to put an inch-long gash in the rear rubber and a significant dent in the rim. Tubeless tyres will seal small cuts but this was way beyond the remit of a bit of latex solution; apparently the catherine wheel effect of spouting latex from a blown tyre is quite pretty.
I needed a tyre boot and my race number got sacrificed to the cause. Luckliy the tyre bead held fast to the bent rim and after 20 minutes of fettling we were off up the climb to the feed station, where nice people gave us crisps and chocolate biscuits along with the usual bananas and cake. Sadly no spare tyres, so I decided to give the rear 80psi and chance it back.
On the flatter, faster road to Llandovery our little group of two became four, then six, then eight. The pace upped and some good teamwork had us running for 12 miles or so at over 20mph into quite a stiff headwind. With people taking their turns the pace was fast (for me!) and consistent and it was great to feel the towing effect of the group when you'd hurt yourself on the front.
Sadly it didn't last: the split for the long and short routes (I only did the short route on the day) divided the group neatly in half and after a mile or so we lost contact with the other two riders, so we were back to a pair. Still taking turns we kept up a good pace until the foot of the Sugar Loaf climb which is a long slow drag, a counter to the short, sharp ascents of the first half of the ride. From the top it was all downhill into Llandovery and a finish time of 3:38 for the 50 miles, which wasn't bad considering we had a 20 minute mechanical and penty of crisp-eating time at the feed station.
Thanks to everyone who helped to organise the ride: John and Bonna, Michael and the Merida crew. A big hello to everyone that said hi on the day, and big shouts to Gareth (thanks for the company on the day), David (thanks for the loan of your spanner to fix my dodgy stove), and the guy in the next tent whose name I didn't get but who put in a pretty smart lap for a 68 year old...