For the second year ago I had a bash at the Autumn Epic, a road ride so not totally relevant here but I was one of the few using downtube shifters so here goes...
The Autumn Epic is a 150km (about 90 miles in old money) ride that starts and finishes in Knighton on the Welsh border and goes through Radnorshire and the Elan Valley. Most of it is on very quiet roads and there is very little flat - it's all up or down and there's 3,000m of ascent. Last year's tag line was "Don't climb, don't come". Quite.
Last year I grovelled round in just over 7 hours, hindered by a puncture and no tire levers. Thankfully I used an arcane trick shown to me by an iron wristed mystic and was only temporarily delayed. This years course was 5 miles longer but a little gentler at the end so the overall height gain was more or less the same.
My night before preparations - well, there's no need to peak early - didn't go too well and inner tube issues lead to my rear wheel temporarily ending up in a tree in the garden. Still, I got everything sorted in the end.
The day itself dawned cool and still although I couldn't believe that it wouldn't be windy in the Elan Valley so donned tights and windproof. At the start I met a friend who recently completed the 1,200 km of Paris-Brest-Paris in 57 hours although at no small cost (he muttered something about only just having regained penile function and this was about 6 weeks later!). He said he'd just ride round and see what happened. Hmmmm.
I set off at a steady pace, immediately into a 1.5km long climb. Suitably warmed up I squealed down the first descent (cantis beautifully set up to give a loud warning to other riders that not only was I mechanically incompetent but I was a scaredy cat to boot). And so it went on until the first real test at Abbey Cwm Hir, a stunning climb up through the woods with an impressive drop to the right - it almost felt like a continental climb and I tried to adopt a suitably impassive impression for the photographer (probably gurning like a chimp). The run in to the first food stop at Rhayader after 30 miles or so was gently rolling letting everyone engage the big ring and feel suitably racy.
At Rhayader there was a choice - turn right and take the long climb up by the waterfall to the top of the Elan Valley or take a shortcut and knock about 22 miles off the total. I went up the valley road, as did most of the field, the best decision I made all day. The air in the valley was totally still and although it was a bit hazy the views were remarkable. However the truly stunning part was the reflection off the water in the reservoirs, literally mirror perfect. i was so amazed that I slowed down to point it out to a fellow rider - no need, he'd already seen it and was almost speechless with awe. The ride out of the valley was exhilarating, undulating but overall downhill and chance again to engage the big ring (ok, a 48) and give it a bit of stick.
So just over 50 miles in things weren't looking too bad, legs only slightly numb and rims not too overheated from all the (cowardly) braking. However the 1 in 4 ramp before the second food stop had to be negotiated before the wall of Glascwm Pitch at 65 miles. Gulp.
I made it to the foodstop glad that I'd packed a 32 out back and refreshed by flapjack headed for Glascwm Pitch, 1 in 5 and long enough to cause pause for thought; the cattle grid at the base didn't exactly aid momentum either. I passed about a dozen people pushing their bikes but bloody minded determination saw me to the top although I instantly regretted it due to the combination of cramp and jelly legs. At this point I realised I couldn't stop or I may never start again.
The final 25 miles was thankfully rolling although I didn't dare get any speed up as my legs felt on the verge of cramping so it was spin as fast as I could and try not to press too hard on the pedals. However within the last 4 miles there was the best part of a 2 mile climb that seemed to go on forever although I did pass plenty of other glassy eyed riders. Thankfully the final mile and a half was all downhill into Knighton and finally throwing caution to the wind I let go of the brake levers (well, sort of).
I crossed the finish line in 6 hours 41 pretty pleased with myself - the official results aren't out yet but I think I achieved Silver standard, which I was pretty pleased with given my training regime of some off road riding and tennis. If only I could descend without a death grip on the brake levers I could probably knock 15 to 20 minutes off the time for no extra effort. Oh well.
However my time was in stark relief to the best time of 4 hours 40 (seriously, very few riders went under 5 hours 30) . But the feat of the day for me was a mates brother who rode 47x19 fixed and completed in under 6 hours (he admitted he ran up Glascwm Pitch, although he passed two riders doing so!). Going up is impressive but how the hell did he manage those descents? Chapeau, as they say.
So overall a heartily recommended and challenging event on quiet roads with very few cars, stunning and varied scenery, superbly organised and marshalled and a good chance to use any lingering summer fitness. More details here http://www.cyclosportives.co.uk/index.htm
PS There's also the Forest of Dean Classic in April/May if anyone fancies teaming up for a go?