The weekend of the 16th & 17th May 2015, saw the inaugural ColVelo destination cycling trip. The venue, North Wales. Two days, two locations varying hugely in both riding and scenery. Eight club members tackling a total of 260km and 5,000m of ascent. From blasting through valley bottoms and along exposed ridge lines, to climbing 25% ramps and steady alpine style drags. The vistas came in the form of wild coastlines and rugged moor tops. Untouched wild landscape and the scars of heavy industry. A weekend of opposites and hard riding. And for a few some hard drinking…!
late on Friday, riders began assembling at our cottage base way out on the western flank of the Llyn Peninsula tucked away miles from anywhere. With the beers chilling and the fire roaring, thoughts turned to eating. Aside from ensuring routes were prepped for the weekend the other main goal was to keep the attendees fuelled and watered, and with this come ours first extension of thanks. Katie and Jenna looked after us perfectly. Plentiful cooking and snacks presented with a smile. Thanks ladies. Your efforts were outstanding and it was great to have you along with us for the weekend. No doubt our riding would have suffered without your help.
Day 1 – The Tour of the Llyn.
Saturday morning was an early start. With the alarms primed for 7.30am. Not to play to all the 1950’s stereotypes you might pick from the previous paragraph, there was certainly ColVelo representation in the kitchen to ensure everything was cooked, prepped and brewed for the morning ritual loved by cyclists the world over. A massive breakfast! Having taken our time roll out was a leisurely 9am. The sun was shining, and the riders were treated to clear blue skies with a touch of a breeze. About as perfect as conditions in this part of the world get in May, and with serious group deliberation and clothing decisions made, we rolled out.
Without dwelling, one minor mechanical disrupted the mornings riding, with a few back and forth trips to the cottage from the 10km marker for a few riders was needed. As a result the decision was taken to split the group and allow those who felt the legs needed to get turning a chance to get ahead and take a run at the soon to be encountered inclines.
A short while later both groups were on the roads and making progress through the undulating patchwork of fields that make up the interior of the Llyn Peninsula. There is no training that can be done in the rolling terrain of Suffolk and Essex that prepares you for the ramps and gradients encountered in these parts. You never seem to be pedalling on the flat. You’re either descending, or climbing. It’s hard to find a rhythm and the downhill bits don’t give you a chance to spin the legs out after a burning 18% ramp. Where you may bully a climb in Essex into submission, out here you can’t do that and the sharp hills keep you honest. They’re long enough that trying to muscle over in the big ring will see you blowing up in the first 50km, and steep enough that it’s sensible to measure your effort and keep your backside in the saddle! Our first ride on the trip was 130 kilometres and had over 2,500 metres of elevation. Not bad going over the distance. With the sun beating down it was a challenging day for all and when we rolled into the cottage (a little later than expected) It was clear many of the riders were surprised by what this little known area of Wales could serve up in terms of a cycling challenge. Dinner was devoured along with a hearty dose of beer and wine – Recovery; ColVelo style. Thoughts that evening turned to Saturday where the riding would take us in-land. To Snowdonia and the route known locally as the Dog. 5 notable climbs with some sting in the tail….
Day 2 – The Dog.
Day 2 of the ColVelo Wales Weekender, and the Queen Stage lays in wait, the route more fondly named The Dog.
An early start was required, with a forty-five minute drive to Llanberis, our starting point within the boundaries of Snowdonia National Park. Following a calorie packed breakfast, we loaded the bikes in the Colchester Motorglass van and set away for what we knew would be a testing day.
You could be forgiven for thinking The Dog was the name given to just one particular narly climb. You would be wrong. The Dog, is actually the shape of the route, which contains not one, but five lung busting ascents. Covering 130 kilometres and ascending 2,500 meters, we were in for a tough day.
We unloaded the bikes and prepared for a day in the saddle. The weather looked particularly mixed and certainly not as warm as Day 1. Wales, was a constant reminder of how impossible it can be to dress correctly in mid May.
Upon Leaving the car park in Llanberis, we suddenly became engulfed by hundreds of men and women dressed in lycra. We rolled out, just as the bike section of the Slateman Triathlon was gathering pace. They were heading for the gruelling Pen-y-Pass, as luck would have it, so were we!
It was a flat roll to the foot of the pass, with Triathlon rider after Triathlon rider on their carbon weapons zipping past the ColVelo Collective. As the gradient started to rise something unexpected started to happen. It may have been a dodgy batch of energy gels or something of the sort. The triathletes started to slow significantly as the ColVelo Collective bumbled past them, chatting about steel, carradice bags and cardigans. We did feel for one particular female triathlete who must have had a particularly bad gel. As we passed her half way up the climb, she was off her bike, violently vomiting over a beautifully constructed dry-stone wall. Strangely, 10 minutes earlier she had raced past us at the foot of the climb. These were fast acting gels, that’s for sure.
Pen-y-Pass was a stunning ascent. A long, winding climb, with breathtaking views and Tarmac smooth as silk. At 8km and 250m of climbing, that was one of the five climbs done and we were soon rolling at pace down the 25km of decent to Betws-y-Coed for our first planned coffee stop.
Refreshed from our caffeine hit, we moved on once more. A little bit of flat riding was giving the Collective a false sense of security. Before we knew it, ascent number 2, the Nebo Road Hill Climb was upon us. On first blush Nebo Road was a steady climb, but as the crest became closer, the gradient increased topping out at 20%. 4.7km and 270m of ascent, climb 2 was complete and the the pain was starting to be felt. What goes up, must come down, another well earned descent was needed, we cruised to the foot of what would be the next part of the story, a painful story at that
When a Strava section is labelled ‘Not For The Faint Hearted’ you are aware that this may not be a walk in the park. A climb solely named ‘B4407 Climb’, was bleak, windy and sheep infested. The beautiful unused road surface did not make up for the harsh nature of this terrain. Not a car to be seen, just sheep after sheep watching and bleating as you suffer this energy sapping ramp. Nearly 8km in length, with 4.5km of that at an average gradient of 9%, on top of a nasty head wind, two cattle grids to negotiate, it really did sort the men out from the boys. None the less, climb 3 completed, eventually, and we move on to the next. At this stage it was a box ticking exercise, but what we didn’t know, was the best was still to come.
The queen stage of the day, a ride up and then down on the same road. The smart amongst you would say ‘ why bother’. Fortunately, we were not smart. A closed road to Stwlan Dam was our focal point. A shorter, but still brutal rise among a scene more fitting of Lord of the Rings. Heather, rocks, slate and gravel a plenty. Only 3km in distance, with an average gradient of 10% with switch backs kicking up well into the 20% range to boot. For most, the best climb of the weekend, the beauty outweighed the demanding cycling. The view at the crest was unimaginable, and for this unforgettable view, the pain was worth it, a memory that will last a life time. Climb number 4 done, and we start the roll back down the road we have just ridden! Foolish hey! Are we nearly there yet?
100km in and we know we are not far from the finish line. Simple maths helps me along the way. 30km to finish, the last climb is 13km long, the decent home is 8km, leaves 9km of unknown. Part of the unknown turned out to be a lump, climb 4a! Not worth mentioning in Wales, but at 2.5km with 160m of accent and over 100km in the legs, this ‘lump’ was significant, especially in pan flat Colchester terms. To add insult to injury, Big Stu lost his rear mech in his spokes following a ding to the rear mech hanger, ride over for Big Stu. Luckily for him, the ever present Colchester Motor Glass van was there to pick up the pieces. Big Stu jumped in the van super quick and we were on our way. 4a done and dusted, we could smell the finish line.
Climb 5 was the longest drag of the day, a more rhythmical climb. Constant in gradient, but ultimately, still going up! This took us back up the other side of Pen-Y Pass. Not as visually beautiful, however the terrain was ever changing. With 13km of climbing left to scale, 300m of ascent, and the end was in sight, but not yet in touching distance. It was a slow 13km, but we made it, some significantly faster than others! We rode up and over Pen-y-Pass once more and knew 8km of gravity fed descending was the last mental effort.
We all rode back down Pen-y-Pass reliving memories of 7 hours earlier and our encounter with a Triathlon. Safely back to the car park we were glad to be done. Everyman spent. The Dog had taken a bite, but we were still standing, just! An unforgettable route, perhaps just once in a lifetime.
Well done to all that rode, and we hope you enjoyed the trip as much as we did.
Rob & Will – The ColVelo Collective.