On Sunday 18th June I embarked on a little ride around Wales. I didn’t know a great deal about the event when I transferred entry with a friend who had to pull out due to an injury. All I knew was that the event had sold out and it was ‘hard’.

The ride in question was the Dragon Ride sportive, said to be one of the hardest sportives around. They offer a range of different distances. 100km, 157km, 213km or 297km. The greater the distance, the more elevation awaited.

Fortunately for me the distance I had accepted mostly on a whim was the 213km Gran Fondo ride… Only around 3500m of up 😬

My start window was 07:00 – 07:15. The race brief was nice and concise and we were released, trailing our way out of Magram Park and onto the roads of Port Talbot. Being that it was early, the roads at this point were very quiet. This is a fully open road event albeit mostly on quiet lanes.

There were a few notable climbs and feed stops appropriately positioned along the way which I used as markers to mentally break up the ride.

The first section was pretty uneventful. Groups started to slowly form rather than one big line of riders. Having done a couple of longer rides before, I did my best to settle into a comfortable rhythm and tick off some KMs. I did get a little frustrated at a big group so decided to get past them. I managed to put a 10 minute push on and was told a bit later on that I had been ‘leading the train’ for most of that time before they dropped off.

The idea behind that was honestly to get some clear road. I don’t know who I’m riding with and by the lack of hand signals I decided I’d be better off not following on a stranger’s irratic wheel.

There were two notable climbs before the first feed stop. Sardis Hill – 1km long peaking at 19% but averaging only 5.5%. Next up was Glynneath Hill – 3.2km long and averaging 5.4%. I didn’t push hard up the hills because there was a long day ahead.

The feed station came around 65km. It was well stocked with bananas, SIS gels and carb bars and flapjacks. The ultimate was Herby potato which you could dip in salt and they were just fantastic.

Not being one to hang around too long, and not wanting the legs to get cold I was soon on my merry way with my bottles and pockets filled.

What seemed like almost immediately after the feed stop came the next ascent. Black Mountain – 5.3km long, averaging 5.8% and tipping up to 12%. This would have been tougher if the legs got cold at the feed stop but actually it wasn’t too bad either.

I felt like I was having a good day at this point.

After a nice flowing, pacey descent the route split for the longer loop. I vividly remember a guy who was supposed to be doing the longer route who’d clearly had second thoughts, just sat on a stone bridge chilling having a smoke in the sunshine. He looked happy enough so I pressed on.

Bwlch Brin Duon was the next challenge. 5.2km averaging 3.7%… A bit of a drag but I was still edging towards the finish. A quick bit of downhill before rolling into Bwlch Bryn-Rhudd. Another 4.1km at 3.9%. I got chatting to a guy who turned out not only to be a paramedic, but also very knowledgeable on bikes. He was pointing the array of different bikes, how much they cost, weigh, different wheel sets etc. Whilst not entirely interested in the topic, it did help get over the hill. I bid him fair well as the road crested and tipped down. I felt the need to stretch my legs and put a few watts down to feel a bit of speed. My new friend let me go only to come past me as a blur shortly afterwards hardly pedaling… That’s gravity for you!

Feed stop two was in a big layby with a lovely view of a lake. Same drill here. Drop rubbish, stock up. A few stretches and back to it.

The road from the feed stop was a decline so you were able to get a bit of speed up. It was fun while it lasted, turning off onto a smaller road the hills had returned. Some poor guy had managed to snap his chain at the bottom of a short sharp climb. Fortunately a fellow rider looked to have things in hand. There was support on the course for such incidences with moto mechanics cruising around and contactable via phone, I’m sure I read in the athlete guide.

This short sharp ramp was the beginnings of the section heading towards the Devils Elbow climb. For a brief 5 minute period the heavens seemed to open. After stopping to get my water proof on I was happy to be cooled down but the way the rain was falling hard, it might have gone on for a while and turned things miserable. However, after 10 minutes I was stopping again to pack my water proof away. The sun was back.

The Devils Elbow is a timed climb 1.83km averaging 10.3% but reaching as high as 17%. It was a tough gig as expected. As the road switched back you could see a few people who thought better than to ride it and were off and pushing. There is no shame in that in my book. It was hard! This was absolutely where my HR peaked for the day without question! The official time had me at 8:19 for this section and solidly in the top 250 (249 to be precise 😅). The fastest was up in a ridiculous 5:38 🤯.

At the very top and passing the timing mat, a big group of cyclists were off the bike and taking some much needed recovery. I however took a different approach and just ploughed straight on through. The next section was downhill and I thought I’d catch my recovery there. The next feed stop wasn’t far away at all… Get there and then assess how I felt.

After some lovely sweeping turns over the next couple of KMs I was racking my bike again. I think I made the right decision as I literally had the road to myself which was a joy.

Feed station 3 was a quickish stop to get down a chicken wrap of some kind, a banana, 2 gels and half a flapjack, it’s amazing what you can get down when you are not feeling hungry but knowing you need to eat. With pockets full yet again I was getting a feeling that I’d done the hard work of the day. Everything from here was getting to the finish. I had a brief chat with a guy from Malvern Tri club… He was the only one of his lot there too.

Rhigos is 5.6km at 4%. It’s quite exposed out there and there were reports of forest fires in previous days. I was passing a number of people who were starting to fade so as I passed I offered words of encouragement. Hopefully they understood I was trying to be supportive and not an idiot racing past.

The athlete guide specifically mentioned to carry cash in case it may be needed. And suddenly everything made sense… The money was actually for an ice cream at the summit of Rhigos. Unfortunately I was starting to get into the ‘just get it done’ mindset so started about the descent. This was one of my favourite. Fast, flowing, good visibility and a couple of switch backs. The only disappointment was some temporary traffic lights that I got caught at for less than a minute. The descent lead straight into town for the last feed stop.

Same routine here. Nothing new. More great potatoes. I also saw some Cheltenham cycling jerseys so exchanged a few pleasantries. Getting out of the town wasn’t great due to traffic but this soon passed and we were back off of the busy roads and back up hill.

The Bwlch is the last notable climb of the route. 4.4km at 5.8%. More of the same required. Settle in, keep the pedals turning. Keep moving forward. Try to enjoy the views to forget about the work you are doing 😬. Here again I found myself overtaking a number of people which proved to me that I had just about nailed my nutrition up to this point.

Over the top and straight into the descent again. Whilst I didn’t find anything about this ‘dangerous’ you must remember you are travelling at quite some speed. On the way down I did see a person waving to slow down. The blue flashing lights of an ambulance made me feel a bit uneasy but it’s clear that something had happened. Thankfully the professionals were on site. Again, I think that as I was riding solo for most of this ride, I didn’t need to worry about other cyclists and their actions or unpredictable nature too much. Riding in a bunch would have been pretty iffy down here.

The descent was long and lasted quite a while, continuing after the unsavoury yet important interruption. Further down this hill I did have a couple of police cars heading in the other direction and I could only hope it was a coincidence and not any further issues on that downhill section. My fingers were crossed for others.

After ticking off 200km I had a strange feeling. I still felt very comfortable on the bike and was relatively full of beans. I decided to try and burn off some of that energy and for the next 10km put the power down at a comfortably uncomfortable level. I had a couple of guys like the idea and get a wriggle on too! One of them dropped me like a bad smell, so I got a bit of recovery in. 2km to go and back onto the roads of Port Talbot, a peloton of 10 riders came through and I tried to jump on the back. This group ended up splitting but I was still taking a good tow off of the guy in front who’d lost the wheel of the group. Off of the dual carriageway and up a small incline, I thanked my leadout man for his efforts (I could tell he REALLY  did not like that, as sincere as I was being). It was my turn to drop him and peel off back into Magram Park.

The finish line was literally around the corner. Slowing at the Marshall to pass through a gate, I picked a bit of speed back up as the tyres trundled down the red carpet. Spectators were making some good noise which was appreciated as I crossed the line.

My furthest ride, definitely one of the hillier ones. And in a time I was quite happy with. It wasn’t a race, but it was a lot of fun. A very well run event in my opinion.

135 miles, 11500ft of elevation. One dragon slain.

It sounds awful and it really is hard work… I’ve already booked and will be going back next year if anyone wants to join me?


(If you fancy it then do book early. It is a popular event and it will sell out. Alternative distances are available including the 300km if you are feeling particularly brave )