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.