Wiggle’s cycling event “Wiggle Tour of the Peak” was memorable for Chris Drew as he spent the ride seemingly cursed with mechanical issues. Chris enjoyed the event nonetheless but we wanted to make doubley sure that he still had his cycling oomph. When we found that he was relatively new to the game, we were impressed that he had bravely decided to to take on the Wiggle Dragon Ride 2012. So we sent a Wiggle water bottle and Wiggle Dragon Ride jersey to spread a bit of cycling cheer!
The Wiggle Dragon Ride 2012 has since been noted as the toughest ever so we were delighted to hear Chris’ blow by blow account! Not only can he ride a bike, working as a journalist on the Sunday Mirror means that he’s also a mighty fine wordsmith! Enjoy :)
Not far to go now,” said the guy with the unmistakable sing-song Brummie accent as the number cycling past me moved comfortably into four figures.
Then with a final glance back he added: “Sorry. mate…only joking.”
Hardly laugh out loud funny but worth a wry smile when you are half way up the Black Mountain and the Dragon had hardly bared its teeth.
Until then it had been a relatively gentle introduction to the Welsh hills, a smoothly handled exit from Margam Park under greyish skies followed by two short punchy climbs up Bryn and Cimla.
But then came the Black Mountain.
I’m a rather late convert to the “joys” of road cycling. I only entered my first sportive at the tender age of 59, around 16 months ago.
I might be a year older but I’ m still at that callow, naïve stage when I don’t go misty eyed at the idea of a “good, long climb”. I don’t avoid them, but then I don’t seek them out which isn’t that hard if you live in Sussex.
The Brecon Beacons makes the North and South Downs look like someone’s manicured but gently rolling back garden and is why in just nine years the Wiggle Dragon ride has built up such an enviable international reputation.
“Ah, you don’t get decent climbs like this in Britain – you usually have to go to France,” said a chap from Middlesbrough.
And while it may sound strange, there’s even more of a professional edge to the Dragon than even an etape.
I marked my 60th with my first from Modane to Alpe d’Huez and the final climb, admittedly in 30C heat, was littered with bodies on walls and memories of random legs sticking out of bus shelters. Conversation at the back of the field was of the stiff upper lip, black and white war film variety… “you go on I’m sure you can make it, forget about me…”
Yet on the Gran Fondo course I could count on one hand the number who, horror of horrors, got off and pushed.
There’s also a different kind of cycling etiquette. In sportives in the south it seems quite acceptable to bitch, moan and swear when the climbing gets tough. But at the Dragon you get puzzling stares questioning why you are doing it, as if to say “Don’t you know this is fun?!”
But back to the Black Mountain. You soon forget about the pain as you are swept away by a glorious descent which makes you itch to go back there again.
I’m not so sure I have the same feeling about Bryn Melyn or the Devil’s Elbow . Oddly it’s also called the Hill With No Name as if two weren’t enough, probably by a Clint Eastwood fan or someone who could not bear to mention it without swearing. The climb might be less than a mile but at its maximum it is 20% and 33% if you wander on to the inside of a hairpin bend.
With Rhigos it was just a question of gritting your teeth and getting on with it – the reward being ready-peeled bananas at the final feeding station along with potatoes and jam tarts in yet another carb fest. To think we call the Americans weird for hiding bits of fruit under their fries.
Bwlch turned out to be a never ending series of false summits, but again the descent was something else.
It was well after 4pm when stopping at traffic lights I asked someone who turned out to be South African, how far it was to the finish. “Two miles,” he said confidently. Six miles later I was finally back in Margam Park. I thought the course was 128 miles it turned out to be a shade over 132.
I had hoped for a time of just over nine hours. It took me a shade under ten. I reckon I would have needed a moped or trained with Mark Cavendish for a year to reach the gold, silver or bronze standard. But I suppose some 70-year-old who had a double hip replacement two weeks before the race had no problems.
Heading home in the pouring rain. I had that phantom saddle feeling as if I’d somehow forgotten to get off as I silently chanted to myself: “never, ever again.”
Yet rather strangely, 24 hours later I was looking at the entry date for next year’s race Well, I had just read how a guy of 91 was still doing triathlons.
Hey, I’ve got another 30 years to crack nine hours. Now all I need is a watt bike and to get down to some serious training. I’m sure my wife will understand…
By Chris Drew