Team Sky’s Luke Rowe talks Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France
9th May 2016
Epic sportive returns to Wales on Sunday 5 June
Team Sky rider, Luke Rowe, knows the roads of the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France well. Born and raised in Cardiff, just down the M4 from the event’s start and finish in Port Talbot, it was amongst the stunning scenery and challenging climbs of the Dragon Ride route that the Welshman began a journey that led him to his debut Tour de France in 2015 and a key role in guiding Sky leader Chris Froome to a second maillot jaune.
The Brecon Beacons might seem a world away from the legendary cols of the Tour, but, as Rowe points out, there are plenty of similarities between the two.
“Just like a mountain stage in the Tour, the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales seeks out the best climbs in the region and strings them together. Knowing you’ve got another three or four serious climbs to come adds a whole new dimension – both physically and mentally – when you’re half way up the first of the day.”
All four distances on offer at the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France have at least two classified climbs to conquer, with the 230km Gran Fondo and 305km Dragon Devil packing in four and five respectively. This is a feature that takes Rowe back to the days of the 2015 Tour where he set the tempo for the peloton up multiple mountains.
“I look at the elevation profile for the Gran Fondo or the Dragon Devil and I’m taken back to the mornings of Stage 17 or Stage 19 of last year’s Tour. Sitting on the team bus, looking at the stage profile in the road book and preparing to tackle three or four big climbs, adrenaline pumping, knowing we can do some real damage to Froomey’s main rivals. Getting to the end, exhausted, but with the job done – it’s one hell of a feeling”
The first two major climbs of all four Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales routes are Bwlch and Rhigos. With their long stretches of straight road, steady gradients (with and stunning views across the verdant Afan Valley and peaks of the Brecon Beacons, these mountain passes are reminiscent of the best of the Pyrenees for much of their ascent. The appearance of the occasional hairpin adds an Alpine flavour with echoes of famous Tour climbs like Alpe d’Huez or les Lacets de Montvernier. The well-surfaced descents allow riders to build exhilarating speed and really lean into some sweeping bends, a rare opportunity this side of the Channel to emulate the pros as they plunge down the other side of the Tour’s most famous climbs.
As the Macmilllan 100 route head back towards Port Talbot, there is little respite for the rest of the Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales peloton as the road continues to rise and fall. “One of the biggest challenges of a mountain stage in the Tour is how little recovery time there is before you’re heading uphill again, even if it isn’t one of the major climbs of the day. There aren’t many parts of the UK where you can emulate that experience, but South Wales is one.” Rowe adds.
The next categorised climb – the last of the Medio Fondo distance – is the Devil’s Elbow. The long, straight approach to the climb gives riders plenty of time to ponder the challenge that lies ahead. Rowe knows this feeling well: “A big climb looming in the distance leaves you in little doubt of what’s to come and your resolve’s got to be strong. Otherwise, you can easily talk yourself out of a climb before it’s even started.” Once you actually get there, the Devil’s Elbow averages 6% over 3km but there are plenty of steeper sections to force you out of your saddle and into your lowest gears.
For the Gran Fondo riders, this leaves one more mountain, but for those hardy enough to take on the Dragon Devil, there’s the monstrous Devil’s Staircase to conquer first. Steep, short and nasty and with hundreds of kilometres already in the leg. Examining the Dragon Devil route map, Rowe can’t help but wince: “305km and 3,500m climbing in a day? They don’t even make us do that in the Tour – maybe in the 1920s, but not anymore. That’s a proper challenge!”
By this point, they may be wishing otherwise, but the rest of the riders left out on the road don’t miss out on the style of climb provided by the Devil’s Staircase… whilst the Dragon Devil cohort get a double dose.
Black Mountain is 3km at an average of 10% with matters often complicated by a headwind. “Steep and windy? That’s more like a one day classic than the Tour, although that does remind me of the first week of last year’s Tour de France with the Mur de Huy and the Mûr de Bretagne. Real leg stingers, but right up my street.”
A long day out on the bike with beautiful scenery, epic climbs (and plenty of them) and a hero’s welcome at the finish – the similarities between Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales and the Tour de France are clear. It is no surprise, then, that the Tour organisers have selected the Dragon Ride to be their second UK sportive with Christian Prudhomme citing “a route reminiscent of one of Le Tour de France’s most magnificent stages”.
Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France returns on Sunday 5 June, offering 4 spectacular routes from 100km to 305km. Limited places remain, to sign up visit www.dragonride.co.uk