600km audax – Ben Allen’s Summer Tour

Another update from David, our Audax Correspondent:

I’m sure everyone has something they say they’ll never do, whilst knowing deep down they’ll change their mind at some point and do it anyway. I certainly do, as that something was a 600km audax.

In case you don’t know, audaxes are simply rides of a set distance that have to be completed by passing through a number of checkpoints (controls) along the way. It’s definitely not a race – all you have to do is complete the ride within a set time limit to succeed – and there is a strong emphasis on self-sufficiency: you navigate for yourself and most of the time fuel yourself with whatever sources of food you can carry or buy on the route (although sometimes food will be provided at controls, and where it isn’t, the route will nearly always take in a decent cafe or three). My first audax was about six years ago now, and despite many 200km, 300km and even the odd 400km, I’d always sworn off going any further than could be covered in one (albeit sometimes very very long) day. A 600 requires either stopping to grab some sleep, then rising again to complete the ride on already tired legs, or – for the hardiest few – riding straight through from start to finish and spending 24+hours on the bike in more-or-less one go.

And yet now I’d signed up to that thing I said I’d never do, and found myself setting off, along with 150 other souls, at the ungodly (but nothing unusual by audax standards) hour of 5am on Saturday morning from a village hall just outside Tewkesbury, on a winding route across mid Wales and back that would hopefully see me back where I started sometime on Sunday.

I rolled off at what I hoped was a pace steady enough to be sustainable for 600km, sitting in a few groups of other riders as they came and went. The first 100km took me along roads largely familiar to me, initially from other audaxes (and at one point, from a road race), and once the route entered Wales near Monmouth, from some of our longer Sunday club runs. After a huge breakfast at Talybont on Usk I’d ticked off 110km by 9.30am and headed north on more familiar roads as far as Builth Wells, before an hour and a half of lumpy slog into the wind to reach Llandovery. Indeed, the next 24 hours would hold a lot of ‘lumpy slog’ in store: although the route only featured one really big climb, there’s no particularly flat way to ride around mid Wales.

With almost 200km and after another cafe stop, it was straight uphill out of Llandovery, but on quiet and picturesque lanes. The next 200km through the afternoon and into the evening was some of the most enjoyable of the route, helped by almost perfect weather: warm but not hot, bright but not too sunny, and a gentle breeze that gradually went from headwind to tailwind as I struck out for the west coast, skirted along it and then turned inland again. I took my time, took in the views and marveled at the almost total absence of traffic. A flatter section, again familiar from other audaxes, took me north again, through Tregaron via a quick pitstop for coffee and to refill the jersey pockets with food. Soon the road started up again towards Devil’s Bridge, and after a long, and steep in places, climb I crested and followed the edge of a ridge in the early evening light with views out to the Irish Sea. Skirting the edge of Aberystwyth I was now as far west as I would go, but still not quite halfway – that point lay another hour up the road at Machynlleth. When I reached this point it was 7.30pm, so I made another quick pitstop for food and pressed on to make the most of the daylight, as the next control – and a few hours sleep – was still almost 100km away.

Fortunately the going was good to Newtown, on fast but quiet roads with a gentle but nonetheless welcome tailwind. I shared the work with a few others and 50km was covered in next to no time, before my companions turned off for a refuel at that audax fixture, the 24 hour McDonalds. I pressed on in the fading light to tackle the biggest climb of the ride, up to Dolfor and beyond.

By the time I crested the top of the climb the last of the sunset was fading on the horizon behind me, but it was now only 40km – nearly all downhill – to the overnight control. First I just had to make it down a steep and technical stretch of descent in the darkness. Fortunately no bends were overcooked and no wildlife leapt under my wheels – although once the gradient eased to a more gentle downhill, I was treated to the sight of a barn owl taking flight from the tarmac in front of me and flying ahead of me, lit up by my lights, for a few moments.

With the descent out of the way I stopped in a sleepy village and sat in a bus shelter for a snack. I’d now been awake for 20 hours and in the saddle for most of them, so I made sure not to got too comfortable for fear of nodding off. I got on my way again and reached the overnight control – a village hall in another sleepy village – at 11.30PM. After gratefully shovelling down plenty of hot pasta, I changed into clean kit and lay down on one of the row upon row of airbeds provided. Incredibly it took me a while to get to sleep, and before I knew it the 3.45am alarm was going off and it was time to tackle the last 200km.

The “bike park” at the overnight control

The 150km covered that morning were more slog, either into the wind or up and down hills. Physically, I had reached something of a ‘steady state’: my legs were tired, but not really getting any more tired as the distance racked up, as long as I didn’t try to push hard. But my upper body, particularly my hands and neck, was protesting in ways I’d never experienced before, and I was finding it difficult to hold an efficient position – or any one position – for long before I’d have to get out the saddle and stretch. My spirits were also dampened by a lack of decent food on this leg of the route. A 4am breakfast seemed a long time ago, and in rural Hertfordshire in the very early hours of Sunday morning, there’s a distinct lack of places open at which to refuel. I eked out what little food I had over the 75km to the first control, but this was just a petrol station offering very nothing I really felt like eating. I promised myself a cafe stop at Mitchel Troy garden centre an hour down the road: this would come at 100km to go, and a good meal there would see me through to the finish. To my dismay when I got there it was still too early and they were closed! Making do with an eccles cake and half a Mars Bar bought earlier I had no option but to forge on.

The next hour to the Severn Bridge was a low ebb. This was the last hilly stretch of the ride and it was a struggle, compounded by the wind and now occasional rain. I was relieved to hit the outskirts of Chepstow, knowing that just a few km of being battered by crosswind on the Severn Bridge separated me from easy, flat roads all the way to the finish. I finally reached a cafe (that was open!) at Shepherd’s Patch, the last control, but with barely 40km to go I settled for a quick coffee and pressed on to the finish, arriving just before 3pm, 34 hours after setting out.

Cardiff Ajax has lots of active audax members and many events start from the Cardiff area. You can find out more about audax and find local events here: https://www.audax.uk


Peacocks and Kites 300km audax

This from occasional audaxer David Jarrom, who is taking it all a bit more seriously this year:

This was my third time tackling Peacocks and Kites, probably one of my favourite events on the audax calendar, and one I’d encourage everyone to do. Whether you want to do it more than once depends how much you like climbing: the route racks up about 4000m worth, but pays you back with some of the best roads anywhere in Wales.

I’d managed to rope in a few other occasional ‘fast group’ audaxers, plus an audax debutant or two. Nine of us rolled out from North Cardiff, a few minutes after the official 6am start, thanks to a couple of latecomers. We made light work of the first hour up the valleys to Aberdare, like a rather early and chilly club run, before the real business started with the climb over Devil’s Elbow. Just the one climb done, we picked up fast roads again and clipped down the A40 for a second breakfast at Llandovery. Now was the headline part of the ride – 100km of relentless up and down on some of the most scenic roads in Wales, known to audaxers as the “Mid Wales Desert”: around Llyn Brianne, then the long haul up the Cwmystwyth mountain road and then down (thankfully!) the Elan Valley. Sadly we lost Rob to a broken spoke just outside Llandovery, leaving him to limp back down to the train station and a long train journey home – it could have been worse, as the 100km that follows has very little in the way of bailout options. What it does have is miles and miles of glorious scenery and almost totally empty roads: the only glimpse of civilisation on this stretch being the brief drop into Tregaron.

We dispatched Llyn Brianne at a steady pace – the only way there is to do it – with plenty of stops to take in the views along the way. A quick pitstop in Tregaron and another 60km or so separated us from a late lunch at the excellent cafe at the bottom of the Elan Valley reservoirs. We worked together on the foothills of the climb out of Tregaron, then once a series of steep ramps blew our well-drilled group apart, it became every man for himself. I found myself out the back and feeling a little bit sluggish and in need of a few more calories than the half a Snickers I’d had in Tregaron. The last cafe stop suddenly seemed a long time ago and I backed off and ate a couple of bars; Mike kindly hanging back with me as I waited for my body to convert them into useful fuel.

Feeling much better by the time we reached the top of the mountain road, and buoyed by the views and the tailwind, I got my head down and Mike and I set off in pursuit of the others, catching the stragglers as we turned into the cafe for much-needed stop number two. The weather, exceptionally kind to us so far bar a nagging light headwind, now began to show us how fickle it can be in Mid Wales. A couple of showers had blown through on the way down the valley, and another one brewed up as we were leaving to join fast roads again down to Builth Wells. Well unfortunately that shower lasted an hour and a half! Conversation did the opposite of the weather on the run down the A470 and dried up completely. At last, we hit dry roads and sun again at Boughrood – the short climb over to Talgarth, barely a pimple by today’s standards, represented an opportunity to warm up again.

On to the final control at a pub in Tal-y-bont on Usk, and just the fearsome climb of the Glyn (just over 1 km of uphill, averaging 14%, with ramps well over 20%), with 250km and a lot of climbing in the legs, separating us from an easy run home down the valleys again. Unfortunately I came unstuck again at the worst possible time, with a full-on bonk on the run in to the climb. A rare event indeed for me, but I’m not used to long rides at the moment and none of us had eaten as much as we should in the preceding bad weather. I was honestly resigned to walking up the climb, but somehow pedalled stubbornly all the way up, wondering how long everyone else had been waiting at the top. Once again a few hundred calories set me right, and it was now just over an hour of easy roads back to Cardiff.

I’ve dabbled in audax for years but this year I’m attempting my Super Randonneur award – a 200, 300, 400 and 600km ride in the same year. After some setbacks due to injury and having to postpone my 400 due to terrible weather, it was good to get this one ticked off. Next up will be the none-too-small matter of the 600 attempt at the end of May.

John Carter

John Carter, who was a long-standing member of the Ajax since the 1950s, died very suddenly and unexpectedly at home last week.

John raced in his younger days and in later years would marshal and help with road races often with a friend, Ian Shepherd. John was an all-round good guy. As well as cycling he was keen hillwalker and had many other interests.

Our sympathy goes out to his family.

Awards Dinner – 2nd February

If you haven’t been to an awards dinner before, this is our big social event of the year, where we catch up with old friends (and make new ones), find out what has been going on across the club and generally have a great time. Plenty of partners come, so it isn’t all cycling chat, but a good excuse to introduce them to your cycling friends.

We can now confirm that our special guest will be Dani Rowe, Olympic Gold Medal winner, World and European track champion, Commonwealth Road Race Bronze Medallist etc etc. She will be able to answer all your questions about life as a cycling pro, how to manage your trophy cabinet (useful for the winners on the night!) and the joys of being married to a Welshman!

We are trying a new venue this year (www.cardiffmasonichall.co.uk/find-us/) in the centre of Cardiff. Tickets are priced at £30 for adults and £25 for juniors/over 65s. This includes a three course meal and entertainment (due to general consensus we are NOT having a disco this year)! As usual there will be a fantastic range of prizes available in the raffle.

Several of this year’s awards are still up for grabs, so please keep an eye on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/events/267647760536458/) and the website for announcements on how to vote. If you have any particular stories from this year that you would like share please let us know.

Tickets are available before Club Rides and at Track on Mondays and Wednesdays and online at eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cardiff-ajax-awards-dinner-t…). Last chance to buy is Friday 25th January.

Ajax Reliability Rides – Entry now open!

Entries are now open for Cardiff Ajax CC’s annual Reliability Rides. Run on 3 consecutive weekends in February, these rides are intended to test riders (and their bikes!) as they head into the summer riding season. The first weekend is the Hilly 50, the next is the 75 Mile, and finally the 100 Mile.

Entries are on the Eventbrite website, please follow the links below for more information and to purchase tickets.

Hilly 50

75 Miles

100 Miles

Welsh Cyclocross Championships roundup

A muddy course at Abergavenny Leisure Centre meant some heavy going for the Ajax riders and kept Rob and David busy in the pits.

www.sportphoto.wales
All photos by www.sportphoto.wales

Clare Dallimore took Silver behind Hope Factory Racing’s Ruby Miller in the women’s race and Ajax took Silver in the women’s team race. Suzie Warren was 14th and Liz Webb 16th.

Results for the men:
Vet 60 Phill Harries 7th
Vet 50 David Lane 13th
Vet 40 Richard Morgan 22nd; Adam Smith 28th
Senior Men Tom Dye 12th; Mike Webb 24th

Well done all – just one more round of the Welsh League at Pembrey to look forward to!

 

Ajax “Hill” Cake Ride

Earlier this year, some members set a few cycling goals, one of which was to do a 100mile ride. Chris Byrne decided to organise a 100 mile ride on the 7th October 2018 to a small village called Hill, near Berkeley, Gloucestershire via Magor and the Old Severn Bridge. Unfortunately Chris got injured a free days before doing crazy velodrome stuff and missed out not just on the ride but the main reason for going to Hill – cake! An impressive display of cake was available care of the local WI who put on their monthly cake sale. About a dozen riders completed the trip enjoying cake, cycling and sunshine!