Cycle 616km. Bryan Chapman Audax. 616km in 28h02 (inc. 4h07 stopped). Steady, HR123(159) ascent 5955m
Chepstow -> Bronllys. 72.0km (30.5km/h)_____ HR127(159)
Bronllys -> Nant-y-Arian. 82.1km (28.4km/h)___ HR139(157)
Nant-y-Arian -> Dolgellau. 69.7km (28.3km/h)__ HR133(152)
Dolgellau -> Menai. 89.2km (25.8km/h)________ HR131(150)
Menai -> Dolgellau. 85.8km (25.4km/h)_______ HR123(149)
Dolgellau -> Aberhafesp. 61.3km (24.3km/h)___ HR116(141)
Aberhafesp -> Weobley. 77.0km (23.6km/h)___ HR110(134)
Weobley -> Chepstow. 78.6km (24.5km/h)____ HR109(133)
I dropped off to sleep for a couple of hours before my alarm woke me with a start at 4:50am for my Travelodge “breakfast bag”. By the time I’d finished my coffee I could see there was already some hardcore bicycle faffing going on in the carpark below.
I drove over the Severn Bridge, rather than saving myself £5.70 and cycling across. This audax has quite a reputation and I had no idea what state I’d be in by the end – it’d be nice to have the security of a change of clothes in the back of the car when I got there. There was a large field – over 140 riders had signed on – and some familiar faces in the HQ. I heard from Paul Alderton (SWRC – he finished ahead of me in the Kennet Valley run) that John Warnock and his mate Simon Bever were riding, the “Scenic” version though. I said hello to Els – we were nervous, but once I’d had a cup of tea in familiar company, realised it was just like any other ride, just (a bit!) longer.
Mark Rigby (the organiser) gave us a few words of advice, and then we were off, twisting and turning through the housing estate and out on to the open road. A fast group quickly formed on the B4235, and one rider (who I guessed was John Warnock) soon got a bit of a lead on us. He was only wearing a jersey and shorts, and didn’t seem to have any other gear with him! His mate Simon, taking turns on the front of the bunch, was also very lightly dressed in just 3/4 shorts and a bright orange skin-jersey. Despite the clear, cold skies, the forecast hadn’t been great, and I certainly wouldn’t have been venturing across north Wales without some comforts. I’d stuck a Carradice saddle bag on my bike, loaded with a jacket and leg warmers for the night, some track mitts for warmer weather, energy bars and carbo powder, plus my usual spares. Unsure of where we’d get drinks and so on, I was also carrying a Camelbak, although in hindsight this was overkill, just more dead weight to lug up the hills. As this was a new route to me, I had both a routesheet and GPS on my handlebars – a bit of a “belt-and-braces” approach to navigation, but I prefer the extra security of knowing where I’m going.
Bronllys + Nant-y-Arian
After about 45 minutes the scenic riders turned off and the manic pace of our group settled somewhat. We were about eight or nine, led by John Barkman and friend, and rode steadily to the first cafe at Bronllys. I had a quick stop to get my card stamped and was soon on my way. After about 30km I was caught by Matthew, Toby and Peter, doing a steady through-and-off. I settled in behind them as their pace was too fast for me, but eventuallythey slowed and I took a couple of turns on the front as we climbed into the wind to Nant-y-Arian. Peter dropped something (a flapjack, I later found out) along one of the valley roads but we didn’t wait for him, just ploughed on. Towards the top of the climb I started to suffer a bit and let the wheels go, but we were right on the turning for the cafe. I got my stamp, and as I didn’t need anything to eat or drink, had a pee and was soon on my way.
There was another long descent and then I was climbing again, with a bit of a following westerly wind, up through some tricky temporary traffic lights near Machynlleth. I got to them as they turned red, and took the opportunity to fish out my track mitts just as Toby caught me and we rode through the roadworks together. Toby easily outpaced me up the rest of the climb and was just a dot in the distance on the fast descent from the Cross Foxes Inn to Dolgellau. We were the first to the Kings YHA and he stopped for a pasta meal. I wasn’t so hungry yet and just had a cheese sandwich whilst topping up my bottles and chatting to Steve Abraham who was helping out here.
I was soon back out on the road and across the old toll footbridge to Barmouth. I’d not been across it since a family holiday in the 1980s. I took a slightly wrong turning here and ended up on the sea-front, but the GPS soon had me back on track. There was a bit of head/cross wind on the next section before the road turned inland, picked up a tailwind and started ascending past Harlech. I could see dark clouds rolling in and it started to rain, lightly. After about an hour of this, I was staying warm but getting wetter and eventually decided to stop and don my rain jacket. Quite glad I did as the last part of the climb, turning left to Pen-y-Pass, was into the wind and very wet, a grovel in bottom gear. I descended as quickly as I dared, pedalling into the wind and rain, my fingers freezing in wet mitts, and was very relieved to get across the Menai Bridge and into the control for some warm soup and a sandwich.
It was still raining when I left, now in leg warmers and back in my long-fingered gloves, and crossed paths with Toby on the far side of the bridge. I was starting to pick up a bit of tailwind here and the steady climb of the A4085, round the back of Snowdon, was despatched fairly easily. It was throwing it down though! There was a nice section through the trees in the valley on the far side where I was crossing paths with riders still on their way out to Menai. It was nice to be able to wave to some friendly faces before the final drop across the railway tracks in Penrhyndeudraeth. There was a fallen rider here, just picking himself up. I asked if he was OK, he seemed to be, and some more companions were just coming up the climb behind him, so I pressed on to turn left up the long, long drag past Trawsfynydd power station. It’d stopped raining, and I halted for a minute to eat the banana I’d saved from Menai, hoping it’d fuel me up the climb. It sort-of worked, I guess.
I dropped into Dolgellau on the A470 – a familar descent to me from the Bala Middle distance triathlon – as it was getting dark. Bats were flying about and my lights went on along here – it was properly dark as I walked/peddled the last kilometre uphill back to Kings YHA, shortly before 9:30 in the evening. I needed a sit down and something to eat. Steve Abraham sorted out my food as Mark Rigby headed off to the alternative bunk house up the road. I had the full works – soup, bread, pasta, apple pie and custard, washed down with numerous cups of tea. My chain was starting to run a bit dry with all the rain and I asked Steve if he had some chain lube. He did – brought along especially for the occasion, what a star! As other riders rolled in, I left my damp gear on a radiator, rang home for a goodnight chat and then dropped off to sleep for an hour on one of the sofas.
On waking, it was quite busy in the YHA, and I shared a bit of banter with the other riders here about. From the earlier group I’d been riding with, Peter and Toby had already left, although Matthew was here, and Paul A, riding the scenic route, who told me he thought he’d “bitten off more than he could chew”. I put on my extra “night” jacket and – looking out the door and seeing stars above – headed out into the night. It was about 10-past-midnight. I was looking forward to the night section – I like riding through the night on quiet roads – and was keen to get going. The Cross Foxes climb was taxing, but I took it steadily (I didn’t want to get too hot and then get sweaty and cold on the way down the other side). The moon was out, lighting up the wet tarmac, and there were sections of nice tailwind. It was good to be out, rolling back the kilometres to Chepstow.
The community centre in Aberhafesp was a calm, quiet place. Jim Hopper and his mate made me a marmalade sandwich and I had a couple of cups of hot coffee over a chat to Jim before heading back out in the freezing cold. Jim telling me to take it steady: “no faster than evens now”. As if! As I left, one of the riders on the Scenic route was just rolling in – good effort!
Riding through Newton, there was quite a scene going on – it was like the Cowley road on a Friday night. I managed to squeeze through on the tail of a car before the long climb out the other side. It was just starting to get light, but this was the coldest part of the day. Once again, I climbed very steadily and was surprised by just how high this one went before the long descent to Knighton. I got very cold going down there despite my numerous layers, and was happy to get on to the little lanes to Weobley where I could work a bit harder and generate some warmth. I was passing a lot of waking wildlife in the hedgerows through here – an owl swooped overhead, and later on a fox scuttled off the road and into the bushes as I approached. Before Weobley though, there was tiny little lane that I just could not be bothered to ride up. It was steep and slippery, and I struggle on hills at the best of times (despite my light weight and good flat speed). I could see the top, so I unclipped and walked the 100 metres of the steepest bit, bah.
I rolled into Weobley in the light, pleased to stop for a pasty and crisps, eaten outside on a step in a ray of warm sunshine. I found out that the other two had passed through about half an hour before – no chance of catching them – but I was mainly pleased to have only 80km left to ride, I knew I could manage that, trundling along. I ditched the last of my Camelbak down the drain and folded it up into my saddlebag before tackling the rough lanes out to join the A466, south of Hereford. There was a nasty long climb here (or at least, it felt that way with my tired legs), over the top to Welsh Newton, 36×26 all the way, before a nice descent into Monmouth. It was still early in the morning and I followed another cyclist on a shortcut through town and down an underpass to cross the A40, knocking a couple of km off the route.
Leaving Monmouth I sent my last text message home, saying I had about an hour left to ride and wishing Jules good luck for her run in the Town & Gown 10k. After more helpful following wind to Tintern, a few drops of rain greeted my approach on the climb to Chepstow, and I was glad to roll back to the Community Centre just after 10am. I had a chat to Toby and Peter over a cup of tea and a chocolate bar saved from Weobley before heading back to the car to get changed and drive home.
Very pleased to have finished my 600km PBP qualifier – I’m almost there now. It was a hard ride though – with that amount of ascent it was nearly as testing as all of LEL. I’ve got a very sore bit on my arse that’ll take a few days to calm down, and my fingertips have lost feeling – probably a result of the cold and having to wear full gloves that have less padding than my usual mitts. Going to be plenty tired for a few days yet to come.