Etape Cymru organisers respond to wide-ranging criticisms of Sunday's event

Traffic on "closed" roads, poorly stocked feed stations, course design and missing £20 gilet among the issues raised by riders

by Simon_MacMichael   October 11, 2011  

Etape Cymru logo

Organisers of the Etape Cymru have come under fire from several participants in last Sunday’s inaugural edition of the closed roads sportive in North Wales, with critics highlighting what they say are a number of organisational and safety shortcomings. K-Extreme, the event organisers, have already responded to many of those criticisms in an email sent to all entrants, which has been seen by road.cc.

At least two bloggers who took part in Sunday’s 100-mile ride that started and finished near Wrexham and took in the notorious Horseshoe Pass have written posts outlining a number of problems they experienced before and during the event – you can find Duratorq’s thoughts on the event here, and those of The Cycling Mayor here.

Another rider emailed us here at road.cc to outline their concerns about the event, which had hoped to attract 3,500 riders, although according to the official results, fewer than 1,000 finished.

A number of other criticisms plus, to be fair, praise for some aspects of the day such as the reception afforded by locals, can be found in the comments to an article on local news website, Wrexham.com.

Of course, any first-time event is going to have some teething issues, and there will always be some people who will find fault however good the organisation is.

However, the common themes emerging here and the number of issues being flagged up suggest that there are grounds for concern, not to mention the fact that several people have highlighted similar problems.

Those include the fact there was no opportunity to register on the day, particularly an issue for non-locals who would have to register in person on the Saturday, or find someone to do it for them, plus the absence of a promised gilet said to be worth £20 – organisers refunded the cost price of £5, but that seems to have done little to placate riders who had forked out as much as £65 for entry.

On the course itself, problems included a course design that saw too many riders bunched together for a long time after the start, signage missing at key points on the route, plus feed stations that ran out of food and drink, plus what were seen as unsuitable roads on parts of the course.

Other issues highlighted include poorly trained marshals, if they were there at all, plus the total amount of climbing to be undertaken during the day being underestimated by as much as a third.

Perhaps the most serious criticism surrounds what should have been the most memorable part of the day, the opportunity to climb and then descend the Horseshoe Pass on closed roads – except, as it turned out, some riders found that the route at that point was open to traffic, with clear safety implications.

We’ll let road.cc user Cooks, who had already had to contend with a 20 minute delay in the cold at the start, being held up at a T-junction where there were no signs and no marshals, as well as strong winds and a snapped chain – okay, the last two can’t be pinned on the organisers – take up the story.

“This is where it got ridiculous. Having not seen a marshal or a mile-marker for an age, I was just following the guy in front hoping he knew where he was going, and it turns out he did as we came onto the Horseshoe,” he writes.

“For a closed-road event, there was suddenly a lot of traffic. Marshals were letting cars through both up and down the pass. Now they never caused me a problem, but they did for other people and it made me think that my £65 had paid for nothing save for a few scoops of electrolyte powder and a couple of water refills. Now that the roads weren't closed, what exactly had I paid for? Still, I ground my way up the Pass, into a headwind, missing a gear, then into the rain.

“At the top of the Pass, the feed station again ran out of food after I had left, and the organisers had cut out the last section of the ride due to the pissing rain and howling wind. However here is where the marshalling got bad, and the traffic got worse. I know these roads, and thankfully took it easy, other people were not so lucky. Some hellish crashes happened, with one fella puncturing a lung. Little marshal presence still, and again, marshals with no local knowledge. Hundreds of people got sent the wrong way.

“Eventually, made it back in a shade over 7 hours. I'm using my gps app to clock that as my timing chip had come off, as it was only sellotaped onto my race number. I suppose I should have checked this, but assumed it wouldn't have happened.

"£65, ya know? All in all, my computer said I did 90 miles yesterday. Having a look at people on other forums climbing data, there was an average of 9,000ft of climbing (not including the omitted climb), not the 6,191ft advertised.”

Organisers, who plan to repeat the event in 2012, responded by sending an email to participants which started by highlighting some of the positive aspects of the day, including the fact that “most of the local community embraced and supported the event.”

They then went on to address some of the criticisms that had been raised, and we’ve shown their response to individual issues highlighted below:

Signage

Unfortunately many of the route signs that were placed by us were stolen or moved, which sent many riders off course and caused major disruption to the event. The Police have had numerous reports about signs being turned to point in the wrong direction, and also being found discarded in hedges. We are aware that this has happened in other sportives and will be working with the local council to ensure we come up with a secure signing system for 2012.

We have also received comments that there were inadequate warning signs for steep descents and tight corners. Again, some of the signs for this purpose were removed but for 2012 we will ensure that there are more signs warning of technical sections and that marshals will be positioned at these points.

Change of Route

The final section of the Etape Cymru route was changed due to the disruption caused by the removal of many of the route signs. We had a discussion with the Police and it was agreed that in the interest of rider safety, the route would be shortened to 90 miles. The Police then assisted with the road closures back to Wrexham.

Marshalls [sic]

We recognise that additional marshals need to be located on the more technical sections of the course, and the positioning and number of marshals along with Police presence will be increased for the 2012 event. The marshals we used were paid by us and were provided from the local football club.

Cars on Closed Roads

A combination of motorists ignoring the closed road signs, and signs being removed resulted in a number of cars being on the course. All residents were informed prior to the event about the road closures. We have spoken in detail with the Police about this issue and will be increasing the police presence on the roads for the 2012 event to ensure that motorists obey the road closures. As I am sure you will appreciate, we cannot cover every junction and driveway but did the upmost to ensure that the local area were informed of the event. It is with regret that some chose to ignore the authorised Road Closure signs.

Under Stocked Feed Stations

Unfortunately, the feed stations ran out of food and water by the time some of the riders reached them. We should not have got this wrong and sincerely apologise to those who were left without food or water at certain stages. The Etape Cymru proved to be on some of the toughest cycling roads in the UK and is a huge challenge. The first 30 miles of the event was especially difficult and people took more food than expected because of the difficulty and conditions of the event. Nevertheless, we should have planned for this and apologise.

Gilets

We regret to say that we were misled by our supplier with regard to the production time of the gilets, resulting in them not being available to ship to the UK in time for the event. We have since severed our ties with the company in question and will not be using them again.

The gilets were due to be added in goodie bags as an added bonus for entering the Etape Cymru. Unfortunately, due to the issues stated above this wasn’t possible, but we felt we should reimburse £5 (the cost price of the gilet) as a gesture of goodwill.

Did you ride in Sunday’s Etape Cymru? If so, feel free to tell us in the comments how your day went and your experience of the issues highlighted above.

21 user comments

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On the whole it wasn't as bad as some people make out, yes it was a little crowded at the start and yes some of the signage was a little suspect at some of the junctions, 10 miles on better roads would have split the filed a little and a gpx of the route would have helped.
However, running out of food is inexcusable but it seems to happen on most UK sportives I've been on.
As for safty, we could have done with a little warming on some of the dangerous decents but still…you should be riding within conditions and your own ability - the worry for me was meeting a car on the way down.
The closed road worked on the whole and the locals were fantastic, although I did feel sorry for a woman in a little black car near the start….she was sat there waiting for 1000 cyclists to filter past, reckon she was there a while Smile

posted by mrchrispy [283 posts]
11th October 2011 - 10:56

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It was a very mixed day.. The crowds were great, with locals cheering and some even dressing up (perhaps the rugby win the day before help their spirits!)

The weather didn't help the road conditions. The lanes were slippery and muddy, even very stoney in places but that's the nature of Autumn riding. More warnings, better/more marshalls and signs were certainly needed. The biggest hazard was the non-closed roads! Nearng the end I wasn't sure whether the road I was on was closed or not, which is more dangerous than an open road. I took a light tumble, but saw an unusually large amount of crashes for a sportive. A St.Johns Ambulance at the finish would have been helpful to clean up any scuffs/cuts. The timing worked (for me at least) but I did see a few chips strewn accros the the tarmac.

Was it worth £65? No. The bun fight at the food stops highlighted a lack of staff and by the sounds of it supplies. It has the potential to be great but some lessons need to be learned, limiting the entries may help too. For the record I climbed about 6,500ft and clocked 84 miles, pretty sure I didn't gor wrong either (came close on many an occasion!)

posted by jonny8oy [17 posts]
11th October 2011 - 11:24

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I live in Llangollen and watched the event at two locations as my son was riding. In Trevor just before the first major climb the road was closed at the junction of Station Road and Llangollen but there was no marshal nor Police officer present so cars were ignoring the signs. The right hand turn up the hill was unclear and several riders carried straight on. Later on the road was closed for a while at the bottom of the Horseshoe, but re-opened just after 2pm. The event upset local residents and business owners particularly The Britannia Inn at the foot of the pass which suffered a road closure at their peak Sunday lunchtime. The road was apparently closed but traffic was going up and down the past all morning. The Britannia had 37 cancelled bookings of people who could not reach them and a similar fate befell the Abbey Grange Hotel lower down!Regrettable the organizers failed to consult local business who are already experiencing difficulties in the current economic recession.

The greatest danger to competitors was under stocked water and feed stations which could have been disastrous had the weather been as hot as the previous weekend. Hazard were also not marked with warning signs eg the ford at World's End and other steep descents.

The organizers have much to learn. The event is to be welcomed but they must learn from their mistakes and set a course which is fully rideable by people of reasonable cycling fitness. Who ever set the course seemed to want make it as difficult as possible for everyone and find every steep climb in the area of which there are many!

Mike Edwards Llangollen

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posted by Mike262 [11 posts]
11th October 2011 - 11:33

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£65! Surprise wot the f.....?

I really cannot understand why people enter these things. Hundreds of other cyclists getting in the way and threatening to bring you down coz they dont know how to ride in a bunch?
Get out with your local club or enter an Audax for a fraction of the cost.
If you want to race, then race with a club, it'll cost a snip compared with entering a string of these over-priced mobile fashion shows.

There, I've gone and said it now and everyone will hate me.... Wink

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posted by andybwhite [176 posts]
11th October 2011 - 11:39

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To clarify, £65 for non-members of British Cycling (who got a British Cycling RIDE membership worth £24 thrown in).

£53 for non-members of British Cycling.

This is what the entry fee originally comprised according to the event website:

Fully closed 100-mile route with comprehensive signage
Gilet worth rrp £20
British Cycling RIDE membership worth £24
Marshaling on all main junctions
Mechanical support cars, bikes and vans from Mavic – Mechanical support provider to the Tour De France
Medical support based at feed stations
Broom Wagon
ZipVit Energy drinks, bars and gels provided at feed stations
Electronic timing system
Results posted online after the event
Free Parking at Tetra-Pak’s headquarters
Photography provided by Sportivephoto Ltd (accredited to the 2012 London Olympics)

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7936 posts]
11th October 2011 - 12:09

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Its a shame that these riders didn't head to Macclesfield for the Macc Monster! £20 entry and
profits to Kidscan Charity, gets brilliant rider feedback - even in the wind and rain!

Polocini Series £20 - Top value for money and great events...

There are some really great events out there which are very worth while...

Rick Robson

posted by Rick Robson [11 posts]
11th October 2011 - 12:14

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Thanks for linking to my blog - how cool is that? Smile I hope that the lessons are learnt from this year, because the climbs are great and the scenery is stunning and if done right it could be a truly great event Smile

(thecyclingmayor)

posted by JenniferT [18 posts]
11th October 2011 - 12:18

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Almost all local cycling clubs offer a 'free sportive' every weekend. Just turn-up.

No freebies, gilets/drink/food but pleasant company and lots of local knowledge.

If you want to ride in the Chilterns, then look at High Wycombe CC. If you want to ride in South Shropshire then have a look at Epic Cycles. etc. etc.

It's called a club-run. I've even seen free mechanical support.

Try it, you might like it.

Bring me sunshine, and dry roads

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posted by MalcolmBinns [107 posts]
11th October 2011 - 12:41

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It seems telling that the entry was so significantly lower than expected and I wonder how other events have faired this year. I rode the Cyclone in June and that seemed well subscribed and Ryedale Rumble which was a far, far better event but under subscribed. There was an event in Northumberland recently that got only about 60 entrants instead of the 100s expected which must have made a loss for the organisers.

I just wonder what the overall health of the sportive 'market' is as a whole, whether it's been over exploited and risks becoming a fad. It would be a shame because even if it's not for everyone I think they can provide a good experience once in a while (but personally I wouldn't pay £65 for one!)

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posted by joemmo [779 posts]
11th October 2011 - 13:20

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Reading back what I wrote, can I just correct one thing. The fella who punctured a lung happened well before the Horseshoe descent, the way I wrote it makes it seem like it was after.

This all being said, I'd ride it again. If they take on board everybody's criticisms they could make this a really good event. And they need to move it to April/May. And not have it cost £65.

I didn't pay to enter. I entered via the charity route and raised money for the local hospice, so I didn't get stung for £65. But that also meant I was honour bound to finish... Smile

"I can't believe I ate the whole thing..."

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posted by Cooks [481 posts]
11th October 2011 - 13:58

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The entry price is just mental. I do sportive's in France, & they cost around 35EUR. And that they do closed roads at the start & a 3 course dinner at the end! Plus, there are randonees every weekend costing 3EUR inc at food stops (bread, pate, wine - yum!).

posted by fennesz [82 posts]
11th October 2011 - 15:49

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It is an unwritten rule in the UK that if there is Road Closed sign out, people will drive past it to see if it really is closed.

I've even seen drivers shouting abuse at marshalls at closed roads for events (non-cycling).

posted by thereverent [297 posts]
11th October 2011 - 15:52

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joemmo wrote:
I just wonder what the overall health of the sportive 'market' is as a whole, whether it's been over exploited and risks becoming a fad.

I've tried, yet failed, to find it but there was an article about this in one of the print mags over the summer largely concluding that the market was over-saturated. Music festivals seemed to go the same way this year too. Perhaps just too many people wanting to organise large scale events when the audience isn't there for them. As other comments allude, you don't need to be big to be good!

thereverent wrote:
I've even seen drivers shouting abuse at marshalls at closed roads for events (non-cycling).

I marshal some running events and being shouted at about even minor road closures is a regular occurrence. People really don't like having to take a 5 minute detour on the way to pick up their Sunday papers.

posted by ped [164 posts]
11th October 2011 - 16:29

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Come and do the exmouth exodus, everyone. It's free. Smile

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posted by Dave Atkinson [7261 posts]
11th October 2011 - 16:47

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"I really cannot understand why people enter these things. Hundreds of other cyclists getting in the way and threatening to bring you down coz they dont know how to ride in a bunch?
Get out with your local club or enter an Audax for a fraction of the cost.
If you want to race, then race with a club, it'll cost a snip compared with entering a string of these over-priced mobile fashion shows."

Well said, why pay money to ride on a road you can ride on for free, and be surrounded by a load of Gringos ?

posted by dreamlx10 [134 posts]
12th October 2011 - 8:11

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I didnt ride the event, but I've ridden loads before...and I'm furious!

An organiser saying "ooopps, someone stole the signs" is inexcuseable. Its a failure of the duty of care they owe to the participants. Have they no experience at all with sportive events? First-time organisers should come with a warning and a reduced entry fee.

ggrrr!

Injury Prevention Manager
NHS Bristol

posted by Rob Benington [16 posts]
12th October 2011 - 9:18

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Negative feedback on Bikeradar and Singletrack forums, CW website and more blogs:

http://www.scarletfire.co.uk/2011/10/i-gave-my-sportive-virginity-to-eta...
http://chestercyclist.blogspot.com/2011/10/cymru-etape-finished-it.html

The organisers state on their Facebook page: "We appreciate there are some issues to address and will be looking for feedback to keep improving the event." But surely an event this big would be run by experienced event organisers (who would hopefully have consulted others doing the same kind of thing), not first-timers, so why the big issues?

I must admit I think of the cost of this event then wonder why so few tried the Aqueduct Challenge on similar turf. It didn't go ahead in 2010 despite positive feedback because of lack of interest. Clive Powell cancelled his excellent Trans-Cambrian sportive based on terrific roads in mid-Wales this year due to too few entries Sad

I also have to wonder why people pay £65 to ride around Denbighshire when the roads are there 365 days a year. If you want to enter a long cycling event on a prepared route then why not try an audax?

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posted by Simon E [1919 posts]
12th October 2011 - 10:41

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I do a few wiggle events (both Road and MTB) and for the long routes are £25. OK roads are not closed. The last one in the New Forest at the start of Oct was sold out too the point that they put extra road places on for the Saturday (which sold out ) that to me means that there is a demand but for the "right" event ?
Its well knowen that sinage disappers !!!!! that's why they mark the routes with wiggle tape hanging from trees and ride the course the morning of the event etc

Once a year (aug) I ride in Hamburg on a fully closed road circuit (at an entry cost of about E100 incl race top,T shirt and pasta party) and It is a stunning experiance ! nearly 1,000,000 peaple on the street cheering you on is something very special! (all this is helped by the fact that the UCI approved teams race in the afternoon on the same circuit) they have 22,000 riders split over 3 distances 55km , 100km and 155km and they are all time bound ie you have to finsh the 100km course in 3h 30 (from the last group crossing the start line)or so. Runs like clockwork !

Sorry but I ride completly differentaly on a closed course than I do on open roads. They are closed or not simple if in doubt they are open !

I guess its just the "wrong type " off event at the wrong time of the year ? Will be difficult for them to recover from the bad press me things ?

posted by Mixk40 [20 posts]
12th October 2011 - 16:09

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Mixk40 wrote:
I ride completly differentaly on a closed course than I do on open roads. They are closed or not simple if in doubt they are open !

That must be great fun. For the Etape Cymru the roads were supposed to be closed but they were not. In my view that's worse than not closing them at all.

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posted by Simon E [1919 posts]
12th October 2011 - 16:47

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I was persuaded to enter by a friend, the closed roads and promise of a gillet were what convinced me to part with £53.
I am used to ridding in groups from club rides and crits so rubbing shoulders, so to speak, doesn't phase me but I can understand how, especially if you're new to this, it can be intimidating. I had very little problem moving up through the riders at the start, yes the roads were muddy and a bit bumpy but I got round the whole course, on my summer tyres with latex tubes, puncture/problem free.
I did take a flyer on a sharp bend (fast section before the corner and no warning)on the first big descent. The nice policeman who came to my assistance told me several other people had come off there. meanwhile the ambulance was being loaded (I think it was the poor lad with the lung injury) which we waited for, then we continued. I don't know if anybody stayed to warn at the corner.
I didn't have any problem at the feed stations, though it was a help yourself scrum.
The route signage was very nearly none existent. At one point I was stood at a tee junction with about 50 other riders and we guessed at which way to go, some went one way some the other, I'm still not sure which one was right.
There was too much traffic for closed roads.
I have lots more little niggles I could add and I doubt I'll give this event another go but I'll finish by saying how fantastic it felt to be cheered around most the course by the locals - Thank you - I especially liked the three kids that were collecting high 5's from as many riders as they could Big Grin

posted by 37monkey [143 posts]
12th October 2011 - 18:57

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Today I bumped into a friend who took part. He has done some sportives and MTB marathons and was shocked at how badly it was organised. Everything from parking, toilets and massed start to issues with overtaking and oncoming traffic and absolutely abysmal signage at many points. He thankfully spent most of his time riding on the correct side of the road as, having met several vehicles, the group soon realised that "closed roads" meant quite the opposite! He knew someone who lived locally, which saved a 60 mile round trip to sign a piece of paper on the Saturday and again on Sunday to take part in the ride.

It seems the organisers tried to 'go big' with their first event but failed to consider so many aspects of organising it. There was a significant amount of traffic during the Horseshoe hill climb the previous Sunday and I wondered how the organisers would deal with this. It seems they didn't. Pissing of local businesses is poor form too, and won't help anyone trying to organise future events in the area.

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posted by Simon E [1919 posts]
15th October 2011 - 20:33

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