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:
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.
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.
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.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.