2016 Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales Event Report
6th June 2016
The circa 4,000 cyclists that arrived at Margam Park on Sunday morning would have been forgiven for thinking they’d ended up in Pau or Bourg D’Oisan rather than Port Talbot. Such was the transformation of the venue for the 2016 Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by le Tour de France that it was hard to distinguish it from the start town of a mountain stage of the world’s most famous cycling event. Countless bikes and their pilots filled the event village and the atmosphere crackled with electricity in anticipation of the monumental drama that lay ahead out on the road.
After twelve previous editions that have seen the event develop a reputation as one of the UK’s most challenging, scenic and prestigious amateur cycling events, the Dragon Ride was selected this year by le Tour de France organisers to join its L’Etape Series of sportives as a result of its route, setting and atmosphere that are each so reminiscent of le Tour’s most magnificent stages.
The spirit of le Tour filled the air as each wave lined up at the start line. As if the adrenaline wasn’t pumping enough already, a special message to riders from Tour winner Stephen Roche and Team Sky’s Tour super domestique Luke Rowe raised the pulse further as riders set off on their heroic endeavours.
The team from Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales’ official charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, were on hand to give a send-off to the riders who had used their ride to collectively raise tens of thousands of pounds for the Macmillan’s vital work. New for this year, the Macmillan 100 distance has proved particularly popular with those participants looking to use the event to fundraise. They, alongside all the other riders that had raised money for Macmillan, were given access to an exclusive marquee in the event village where complimentary massage and refreshments were available as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for their wonderful efforts on and off the bike.
Four distances were available to riders at this year’s event: the Macmillan 100 at 100km, the Medio Fondo at 153km, the Gran Fondo at 230km and the beastly Dragon Devil at a will-eroding 305km. All four routes featured a variety of stunning climbs and descents through the Brecon Beacons, and it’s easy to see why the event has reached such levels of popularity and notoriety.
Devil’s Elbow – King and Queen of the Mountain
Apart from the Macmillan 100, which nevertheless still had the beautiful, twisting roads of the Bwlch and Rhigos climbs to conquer, all the routes included a closed roads timed climb of the Devil’s Elbow. A fearsome ascent, the red polka dot flags all the way up indicated that this was a match for any would-be Tour de France King or Queen of the Mountain, particularly with plenty of kilometres already weighing heavy in the legs. Nonetheless, supporters on the roadside kept spirits high (including a team from Macmillan cheering on the climbers), with an impressive number of sinewy characters appearing to float up the climb in the style of Tour champion, Chris Froome. The King of the Mountain on this day was Tom Fricker who climbed the Devil’s Elbow in an impressive 4:00 mins while today’s Queen of the Mountain was Michelle Firrell who clocked 4:49 mins.
Talking of keeping going, the well-stocked feed stations at regular intervals gave riders a much-needed boost thanks in no small part thanks to the Science in Sport GO Energy bars, gels and electrolyte drink on offer. A steady supply of SiS products was absolutely essential for Gran Fondo and Dragon Devil riders who still had another one and two categorised climbs to come respectively.
Also new for 2016 was the presence of moto-mounted TV cameras out on the course thanks to BIKE’s coverage of Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales, an addition that only added to the feeling that riders were taking part in a Tour stage rather than a sportive. All that was missing was the low rumble of helicopter blades overhead! Make sure you look out for BIKE’s highlights of Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales on Sky 464 and Virgin Media 552 in the coming week.
Thankfully very few riders had any problems out on the road and those that did were well-supported by a team of moto-mechanics and medics. Aware that there is always the chance of not being so lucky, many entrants had spoken to the guys from Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance back in the event village about their range of cover available whether you’re riding, racing of travelling with your bike.
As the afternoon arrived, weary but triumphant participants began returning to Margam Country Park and continued to do so into the evening. Crossing the finish line under a giant Tour de France gantry, they well and truly had had their day in yellow and for a moment at least could share the feeling of achievement usually reserved for the professionals. As is only fitting for Tour champions, each rider was given an exclusive yellow-jersey designed medal, the polka dot ribbon a nod to the mountains conquered earlier in the day.
Natural hydration was available for all finishers as they crossed the line thanks to Vita Coco and their delicious coconut water. The comfy deckchairs in the Vita Coco stand were almost as popular as legs were finally given a break.
Further refreshing riders was ice-cold ERDINGER Alkoholfrei, the low-calorie, isotonic drink that offered a healthy way to unwind after a long day in the saddle.
Plenty of finishers stayed on long after they had completed their own rides to enjoy the post-ride fun and cheer home those still out on the road, creating a fantastic atmosphere akin to that of a legendary summit finish at le Tour de France.
As the last riders made it back to the event village – each with their own story of adventure and endeavour – and the sun set on yet another Dragon Ride. Many will be back next year, and you can join them in living the le Tour de France experience. Avoid the annual entry rush and take advantage of the fact entries for 2017 are open for 24 hours only until 23:59 on Monday 6th June. Enter here.
Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales is the mountain edition of the L’Etape UK Series. Why not also experience the sprinter’s edition with ICAP L’Etape London by Le Tour de France? Starting and finishing at the Lee Valley VeloPark on Sunday 25th September, the ride follows much of the route of stage three of the 2014 Tour de France and finishes with a timed lap of the VeloPark road circuit so you can channel your inner Mark Cavendish. More information and online entries are available here.
Dragon Tour – 3 days of stunning cycling
Prior to Sunday’s main event, a select group of just under 200 riders were privileged enough to take on the Dragon Tour, which made its return after a fantastic debut edition in 2015. One of the finest multi-day amateur rides available in the country, participants had the choice of two or three stages which culminated in the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales itself. It was testament to the appetite for South Wales’ stunning scenery and the Dragon Tour’s varied parcours that the vast majority of riders elected make a long-weekend of it and join us at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium on Friday morning for Stage One of the Tour. They were rewarded with blue skies and warm sunshine as they covered 90km through the Gower Peninsula. A day as still as Bradley Wiggins top-half on a time-trial bike ensured the Dragon Tour peloton avoided any crosswinds that might have whipped in off the Bristol Channel on a more typically British summer’s day and made swift progress around the course. This permitted many riders to enjoy a longer-than normal stop at the feedstation at Rhossili to marvel at the heartbreakingly beautiful views before continuing along the loop back to Swansea. As riders returned to the event village in dribs and drabs, their grins were evidence of a fabulous day out on the bike. The Science in Sport WHEY20 protein snacks and free recovery tubs and massage on offer for every rider gave new life to tired legs and allowed minds to turn to stage two.
As the refreshed Dragon tourists returned to the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, their numbers swelled by the arrival of the 2-day riders on Saturday, the weather was a little cooler. There were no complaints, however, as today’s stage featured 1,600m of climbing, including a long, steady ascent of the Black Mountain and the altogether sharper grind up Betws Mountain. Whilst the terrain had changed, the views remained as impressive and riders were once again treated some of Europe’s most awe-inspiring cycling routes. Tales of the sublime backdrop and heroic endeavours abounded back at base as riders took advantage once again of the variety of recovery options on offer.
Thanks to all involved in making both the 2016 Dragon Tour and Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by le Tour de France such a success. We hope you enjoyed your ride and look forwards to welcoming you back again next year.