25 Sep 2016

Autumn Epic - new 80km route recce

To take a break from organising for next week's sportive event (the Autumn Epic) I decided to ride the new 80km course - last recce'd back in January - to check it out - Strava route.  You can also "fly" around the whole route via the amazing www.relive.cc application.

The new 80km route follows the first 45km of the Classic 150km Autumn Epic route - that means you get the same reasonable warm up ride, gently climbing (with a few stiffer inclines) for the first 20km.  Then you hit the first climb - longish and not too difficult that gets you high up on the mid-Wales moorland - see separate posting.

Like zooming down a black hole - good brakes are needed at 29km!
You drop off this down a treacherous descent - narrow, steep, and twisty/unsighted - you're going to need good brakes for this one.  It finishes abruptly at a main road too, so this is one to take carefully (we'll have a marshal on the event day to flag this one up).

After a short bit of main road riding you turn left and up the David's Well climb - this is more a series of reasonable hills that can be deceptive - it goes on and on but eventually leads to a long descent and ride through a valley. 

The Philipp's Hall, Abbey cwm Hir
This ends in an abrupt left turn by farm buildings on the left - almost a T-junction and this is the split (it'll be well signed on the day) with 150/130km riders going right and on up the famous Abbey cwn Hir climb, and 80kmers going left and into the village of the same name. 

We've got signs for all the big climbs
The one and only food stop for the 80km is just before the abbey, on the left in a village hall set back from the road.  After this there's a good (i.e. gently downhill) ride to the main road (A488) for a 2km stretch up to Llanddewi where you turn right and start the toughest climb of the route - straight up and progressing from 8% through 10 then 12% for good lengths.  An 18% ramp is next before a lessening of the gradient and then a final 17% ramp before it all levels out.

On tired legs (its at 55km) this is going to be a
challenge for the 80km rider.  It leads to 20km of up and down culminating in the Fron-Goch climb - you get a warning of this in an unwelcome 18% ramp before the main climb of consistent 10 to 12%
going straight up the side of the hill.  It lessens after a long distance, and then builds back up towards 12% again - very long.

Just a little bit more climbing after this leads to a final 5km of down hill all the way into Knighton - you hardly need to pedal at all as you whiz down, join a main road and re-enter Knighton.

Overall, its a tough route with a series of stings in the tail - if you haven't held something back for the final 25km then you're going to regret it...

Stop press - just had the final entry for the 80km route - 7pm Sun 25th

20 May 2016

Autumn Epic - Abbey-cwm-Hir climb

The Abbey climb comes at 47km and is the second proper challenge on the sportive.  It's a long one snaking up the side of Camlo Hill (509m) and usually has a long line of cyclists toiling up it on the day.

A small bridge just before a couple of houses marks the start with a reasonable slope disappearing around the corner and actually easing after 250m.  The climb is going to open out in stages with much of it hidden despite the openness of the landscape.

Another stretch takes you to a second corner 170m further on and from there a much bigger stretch opens up and you can see you're going to be on this hill for sometime.  This is a 500m stretch around to another corner where you start to see much more of the whole remaining climb - you're about halfway and this is where any early enthusiasm may start to wane if you have gone too fast at the start.

There's a tiny dip to give you a moments relief and then it continues on upwards at about 12% for another 700m of the road before easing toward the top.  Total distance is 1,875m (Strava segment is much longer) and you will find yourself back up on the high mid-Wales moorland. 

Next up is the food stop in Rhayader at 55km and then the biggest/longest climb on the event - to the top of the Elan Valley - more next week.

Start at the bridge
Round to the first corner
A big stretch of steep road - but more to come
The top - Rhayader food stop next

13 May 2016

Autumn Epic - the first climb

I'll be covering all the significant hills on the Autumn Epic over the next few weeks - here's the first one you'll encounter on the October sportive.

The route heads north-west out of Knighton on the gently rising B4355.  The road is in a valley with the River Teme on your right (and the Wales/England border).  On the day this is a 20km warm-up where group pacelines develop.

At the head of the valley you'll meet the first proper hill - known as the "B4355 climb" on Strava - it snakes around the side of Gorddwr Bank (489m).  You'll have left behind the familiar valley farming landscape and entered the high moorland and mountains of mid-Wales by the time you top out.

The climb starts by a red telephone box on the left and heads abruptly right for 280m up to a hairpin.  It would be a mistake to carry the same warm-up pace up this hill - there's plenty more around the corner.

Another hairpin going right is a further 120m upwards, all of this is at about 10 to 12% with the steepest bit between the 1st and 2nd 'pins.  Things ease towards a cattle grid for 300m and then go upwards again for a long drag onto the moorland.  You should start noticing wide, open landscapes and distant mountains (you'll be getting close-up views later on).

About 200m beyond a red "Danger Landslip" sign the hill flattens finally.  You'll have climbed 100m over 1.4km and be up at 445m.  Watch out for the abrupt left turn (always gravelly) that comes up pretty soon.

Next challenge is the long climb out of Abbey-cwm-Hir - more on this soon.



10 Apr 2016

Land of Hops and Glory sportive

Carpark form up
Just back from a great little sportive in Herefordshire (and Worcestershire) - 94km through the rolling countryside of orchards and hop fields with a few proper hills thrown in along the way.  And organised by the Wye Valley Brewery so refreshments on tap...

Parking was super-easy for the relaxed start at the brewery, and sign-on similarly quick - the rider numbers could be used at the end of the ride to get a free drink.  About 100 signed on and gathered outside for a mass briefing and then send off in groups of 20. 

Tagging behind Gannet CC
We were introduced to the rolling ups and downs of the route immediately with a chilly descent and then a short hill - the sort that has a crawler-lane for trucks.  We were heading towards Hereford and passing clumps of people from the sportive.

Turning left way before the city we headed due south on fairly quiet roads with gentle rises and falls, and at Fownhope we turned left again.  By now some groups were forming and I managed to tag onto the back of local club Gannet CC (for a short while) who are sponsored by the brewery and help out on the day.  

Past Woolhope the route went upwards, gently, for the Cockshut climb, more of a long rise leading to an extended pootle including a small hill at Camp coppice.

Pretty soon the Malvern hills came into view.  You know the route goes over them so you start looking for the lowest bit.  Eventually we get into Colwell and start a very long "pre-hill" rise which, if taken too fast, could really become a problem because at the end the slope of the hill heads properly upwards.  This bit is rightly called "Zig-Zags" on Strava and it does have that continental hairpin flavour.  All quite steep - may be 15% in the corners?  And eventually leads to the Wyche Cutting with great views over the Worcester plain.
The Wyche Cutting

There's a drop off this down into Malvern and an abrupt right turn off the drop which wasn't great - I saw it too late and had to choose between signalling to the car up my chuff, or applying the brakes.

Further drops down ramp-roads led to the one minor problem - a sign had gone missing and mass-panic seemed to be in play.  Good old Garmin plus spotting additional signs (put there by the organisers to anticipate this situation) got a dozen of us back on track and whizzing though Malvern suburbs.  We almost missed the short turn off for the food stop - being a brewery  ride it was at a pub - The Morgan.

Food Stop
A table of snacks and drinks plus bananas and Haribos seemed to please all.  I grabbed a Snickers and set off through more quick roads in the town.  Pretty soon there was just 20km to go but the "Land of Hops and Glory" has a sting in the tail.  Things got properly lumpy after Leigh Sinton with rolling rises and great descents on clean, wide roads.  There was a sustained climb around Acton coppice.  All this up and down really starts to drain the legs.

Profile and significant hills
Bromyard is nearly at the end but involves a long climb up the "by-pass" - this emptied my tanks.  I was set to finish on emergency back-up power when I noticed I had a chance of getting under 4 hours for the ride - if only I could do the last 4km in 7 minutes or so.  Not sure what average that is but it was enough to mean I couldn't just trundle in.  More rises and falls to the finish line got me back with a couple of minutes to spare, not bad when I'd stopped 4 times to Instagram pics along the way.
Beer and spread

Race number was immediately converted into a beer and then there was a big spread to get stuck into.  I was under the impression that I was just behind the first finishers - Gannet CC & co.

According to Garmin/Strava a total of 1,442m of climbing (4,730ft)

Map with features

Last word has to go on the goodie bag.  Normally these aren't worth picking up in the UK, in my experience.  So I grabbed the brown paper bag on my way out and didn't look inside until much later.  Wow, I knew it contained a beer but then all this other stuff - calendars, beer mats and a bar towel, even a pen came out - I can set up my own personal Wye Valley bar now.

Best Bits:
  • Fantastic roads, clean and mostly wide
  • Friendly, relaxed atmosphere
  • Support from the brewery
Overall - An early season try-out sportive to get you back in the saddle


28 Mar 2016

Chiltern 100 preview

To help you prepare for the big May event here is my preview of the 2014 event - they do alter the route slightly year by year but the main climbs/features should be the same.

This preview first appeared on www.cyclosport.org

Chiltern 100 preview

This is intended to help you complete the 2014 Chiltern 100. The Gran Fondo is 176km long and takes in 21 hills that add up to 2,700m of climbing in total. It's a serious challenge which will need preparing for and require careful riding on the day - go too hard, too soon and you will pay later.

The Medio Fondo option is 122km long and features most of the toughest climbs for a total of 1,900m of climbing. The Medio route splits from the Gran Fondo after just 8km, and is effectively a short cut that misses out 54km. It rejoins the Gran Fondo route at the 69.5km point.

Bison Hill
The first significant hill on the Gran Fondo route comes at 31km. Bison Hill is a short but very steep climb up towards Whipsnade Zoo. There are good views from the top and along the ridgeroute before you drop down towards Dunstable and turn abruptly left. Soon you are heading towards Ivinghoe Beacon (44km) which is a longer but a much easier ascent than Bison.

A further rise up onto the Astridge Estate and then a fast descent down Tom's Hill will have you coming around to climb Hemp Lane (55km) - not the steepest but certainly requiring an effort to get up. For Gran Fondo people there is a feed stop at the top of this hill. You drop briefly into the outskirts of Tring and then head out on a minor road to one of the gems of this sportive - The Crong.

The Crong
This starts gently enough under heavy tree cover but up ahead you can see a very steep left turn with high banks on either side. This turn is 19% but is also a bike handling challenge. After that it continues to climb steeply and then finishes with a very steep bit just before you come out of the wood.

Once over The Crong you roll up towards Cholesbury Common where you are joined by the Medio Fondo people (fresh from no significant climbing and with just 15km in their legs). Everyone drops quickly down Aston Hill, turns left for Wendover and takes in a couple more reasonable rises before dropping again - this time near Princes Riseborough.

An abrupt turn left gets you on to Peter's Lane and this is the start of Whiteleaf - the steepest challenge on the Chiltern 100. This ascent is No. 23 in Simon Warren's 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs and comes at 89km (or 35km if doing the Medio). The hill gives you a good stretch of 17% slopes before briefly easing to 10% and then ramping up again through 15% and up to 20% through overhanging trees. Very tough.

At the top you immediately turn right and drop very quickly; I saw 70kph going down this one and there's a sharp left-hand turn at the bottom. Immediately, you come around to Pink Hill/Wardrobes Lane - another serious hill. It starts fairly reasonable but has a T-junction and very steep left turn up ahead. Once you've negotiated this tricky turn things remain very steep for a long stretch.

The combination of these two climbs in quick succession is a real challenge and may lead to an impact on your legs, and energy. You get a few kms of flat to recover and then toil up Wigan's Lane which isn't steep but is long. Luckily, the second feedstop (1st for medio people) is very nearby in Chinnor. 106km for Gran Fondoers and 52km for Medio people.

Next up is Kingstone Hill (no. 122 in Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs). This hill starts very gradually so be careful - don't go too fast at the start because despite the initial 3% grade it goes up to 9% for a long stretch and then 12%for a long stretch, then 15% for a bit longer and towards the end is up at 19%. You come out very near the iconic Stokenchurch BT tower which can be seen from miles away and is a landmark beside the M40.

Another sweeping descent and ride along the flat (always seems to be a head wind here) gets you into Watlington and a long climb back up onto the Chiltern top. Coming at 119km (65km on the medio) this has an initial steep bit that eases slightly before climbing at a steady 10 to 12% all the way.
You come out on Christmas Common and now have an extended period of flat riding followed by a long descent through Pishill and a gentle rise up Ballam's Lane. Another welcome drop down Dolesden Lane takes you through Fingest then at about 135km (81km) there's an abrupt 11% ramp, maybe 30m long, which eases into a very long climb that gradually steepens so that by the end you are at 15%. By this point in the Chiltern 100 many people will find this kind of hill very challenging.

Dropping once more, this time towards West Wycombe along a main road you turn sharp left and head towards a high wooded hill - not a welcome sight. This is the climb up onto Bledlow Ridge, and it has some very steep slopes towards the top. The 3rd food stop (2nd for Medio) should be here (145 or 91km). Soon enough you are dropping again, joining another main road and then turning off left through the pretty Bradenham estate. You start climbing again for quite some time, mainly at 8%.

White Hill
After this come picturesque lanes that wend their way towards Speen where you climb through the village.  You then drop down towards Great Missenden and climb out up Frieth Hill (164/110km) - normally an easy hill, but at this stage some will be cursing as they ascend. A little bit further on you come to Chesham and the last challenge of the day - White Hill. This starts in the town (in the shopping precinct) and looks dauntingly steep. It goes up at 12% and reaches 15% max - a final reminder of all you have overcome on this epic ride.

Fingers crossed for fine weather and strong legs. Good luck!