Last week my brother called me to say his friend wasn’t going to be entering a 100 mile charity ride with him and would I take his place. Although I ride my bike everyday I hadn’t clocked up many miles over the winter and it wasn’t until April that I started to go on longer rides again.
So the next day I got up and decided to get 100 miles in. I cycled to Swansea Marina and back from Cardiff clocking up 105 miles in 6 hours 38 minutes. The day couldn’t have been better for riding, the sun was out and there was only a little wind for a change, I even returned home with some mild sunburn!
So Saturday came around 5 days later and the weather was terrible. The ride was from Cardiff to Tenby, it sold out within 24 hours with 1000 people entering. I had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast in the days coming up to the event and whilst I knew riding 100 miles was no problem for me I knew riding 100 miles with my brother was going to be testing. Not because we don’t get on but because he has spent the whole winter riding hard and had managed to get incredibly fit.
Signing on at the start of the ride
I arrived early at the start and whilst it was already busy there were certainly a lot of people yet to arrive. After signing on we made it over to the start line with only a few people ahead of us. As it was a charity ride there was not big start but groups of 50 were going to be sent off to avoid congestion at the traffic lights out of town. As we waited people started to trickle off and as we made it to the start line the marshal let us go 5 minutes before the official start; cheating already and I’m not taking the blame!
We made our way out of Cardiff stopping at the many red lights and finally got to the final set before heading to Bridgend on the A48. Greeted by a hill which was to be the first of many we passed a few riders and at the top we picked up some speed along the flat. My approach to long distance riding differs somewhat from my older brother, whilst I like to maintain a steady rate of exertion he likes to maintain a steady speed whatever the gradient and quite early on this made for a disagreement. “Your so erratic with your speed” he yelled; “I’m saving myself for the remaining 93 miles” I yelled back. On the flat and descents I was happy to push the speed but on the hills I usually like to take it easy not dropping below 10 mph to conserve energy. The wind was reasonably strong but not as bad as I expected, 90 minutes into the ride it started to rain and although showers were forecast the sky had turned dark grey looking like it was going to continue all day.
Stuffing myself at the first food stop of the day. We skipped the bacon roll and just filled our water bottles
Now at this point I must point out with my 6 days notice before the event I had only managed to raise £30 and as my mum rarely reads this blog she is unlikely to ask for it back. But if you sponsored my older brother you might want to have a word! Just after Port Talbot we decided to take a minor detour to avoid a long exposed straight into the wind and instead chose a shorter hillier section but less exposed and not part of the official route, of course I objected to this easier option!
We sped our way to Swansea, despite the wind getting stronger we were making good progress, as we approached I wanted to stay on route and follow the cycle route through the marina whilst my brother wanted to continue along the road. I argued it would be quicker without traffic lights and it probably was but really I just wanted to enjoy the view without the traffic. It started well but as the sea front is exposed it often has sand blown on to the path, with a light dusting my companion let out some moans, and with a thin layer there were a few more and a cry that “we should rejoin the road, this is f*ing ridiculous”, when a little further on and the sand got a foot deep and my tyre cut through it like a knife I had to agree, it was back on the road.
A few miles later we were turning off onto a more sheltered route which ran along an old railway line through Clyne valley, although uphill the sheltered route was the easiest and most pleasant of the day. This was good as the next section was to become tough!
Out of Gowerton we made our way over the Lougher estuary and on our way to Llanelli. Now the wind had become fierce, this was what the weather man had described; 20 mph westerly winds, why were we heading west I thought! Luckily on the last section we had managed to pick up two companions. After my brother had done his stint at the front I took the lead for a while but eventually I was relieved by a much stronger rider and thankfully I was able to take a rest at the back which was much needed. The wind was very strong and the pace was very high, I was struggling to hang on and whilst I fiddled around in my back pocket to find an energy bar a gap opened up which was almost impossible to close. Another short stint at the front for me and I was knackered, luckily my ultra fit brother was able to take us most of the way to Llanelli where we stopped for some water. At this point our recently formed group was disbanded and the two of us set off again.
Whilst in other places we had managed to keep up a good pace of 18 – 20 mph against the wind along the millennium coastal path it was brutal, slowing us down to a miserable 10 mph against the wind. We could see some other riders had detoured along the more sheltered main road but our lack of knowledge of the area meant we were unsure how to join them and this time we were stuck to the official route. As we passed through Burry Port harbour the route became more sheltered and we were able to pick up the pace again, tagging along with a strong rider on a blue ribble bike. A few miles from Carmarthen the terrain became lumpy and as we approached the hills we could see lines of riders in front making their way up. Now whilst I am hardly a power house I am small and climbing is not a problem, and also I had the incentive to keep up with my brother who had sped off up the hills. Whilst along the flat roads and downhill sections many riders had passed us we now overtook them on the hills and as we got to Carmarthen there were only two riders with us.
Leaving Carmarthen there is a long busy road that the ride in previous years has taken but this year there was a different route, one of the riders with us wanted to continue but I was keen to follow the designated route, we followed the signs and rode along roads that were new to me. The two riders we had picked up were strong and my brother was leading the way and leading them away from me. A gap opened and as much as I tried I couldn’t close it, those hills before Carmarthen had been long and big, a few years ago I managed to reach 48 mph down them with a tail wind, if that tailwind had been as strong as today’s headwind I’m sure I would have reached the illusive 50 mph. Finally my brother looked back in the distance and slowed down for me to catch up, the two other riders slowed for a short time and then disappeared into the distance.
As we approached a village called Llansteffan I realised we had gone wrong somewhere, this wasn’t part of the route and we were too close to the coast. We continued for a while and when we got to a crossroads we got our phones out to look at a map. We had missed a turn and somehow we were way off route, 6 miles in the wrong direction. Whilst we were working out which direction to go another rider appeared who we had ridden with earlier. Sticking to the small single track B road and avoiding the even smaller lanes made our way back to the route along unnecessary hills. Now if you have been reading up to this point you are probably thinking well you shouldn’t have taken that short cut earlier on the ride, and I would agree apart from I had been cycling for 80 odd miles with my maniac brother and now we were lost.
Luckily the road we followed took us back on to the route and I felt like the end was in sight, my head calculated 17 miles left which wasn’t quite correct as it turned out to be more like 23 miles left. We rode on and I had a new lease of energy after taking some more gels and energy bars. A nice police officer sent us in the right direction at a roundabout with a missing sign and after some more hills and a few more we were almost at Tenby and the sun was out.
Arrival in Tenby
The last 10 miles went by fast, with the end in sight I had no problem climbing the last few hills as we kept a good pace. Arriving in Tenby I followed my brother who seemed to know the way at first but as we went down a one way street I had my doubts, but we had done it, 100 miles which had become 116 miles but we were there! We rolled into the harbour and he bought me a burger whilst we realised we had ridden around the finish line, never mind, the crowd had plenty of people to cheer after us, well at least 950 I’m sure!
Unfortunately the battery on my phone ran out at 103 miles.