Welsh cyclocross league round 1 – Tredegar Park

David Jarrom writes with an update from the cyclocross season opener. Photos by Rob Goldsmith and Nic Pow

It’s September already. For most cyclists, a time to start winding down a little after a busy summer, and maybe time to start thinking about taking a break after a season of racing. For a certain breed though, it’s the business end of the year: cyclocross season.

2019 is my 14th season of racing cyclocross, but even as a devotee who returns to it every year, I appreciate that it is the absolute marmite of cycling disciplines. My advice is try a cyclocross race, at least once. You may find the whole idea of racing what it essentially a road bike with grippier tyres round parks and fields, whilst occasionally being forced to dismount and push or carry the thing over unrideable obstacles, baffling, bizarre and hellish. Just as likely though is that you’ll be hooked on a form of bike racing like no other: fast and furious off-road racing that rewards not only fitness and power, but also technical skill and good racecraft. It’s also a uniquely accessible form of bike racing, suitable for all abilities and with compact courses that offer plenty of opportunities to cheer people on when you’re not racing yourself.

One of the other blessings, some would say curses, of cyclocross is the sheer variation in conditions as the season arcs from the tail end of summer (fast courses on bone-dry ground) through all of autumn and into winter (expect anything from frozen solid ground, to snow and ice, or several inches of mud). The season opener was typical of this, with plenty of blue skies and warm sunshine: there was even an ice cream van in attendance to reward the kids (and big kids) with something sweet post-race.

Tredegar Park is a new venue for the Welsh League, nestling at the very east end of Newport. The course was dry and predominantly flat save for a couple of just-about-rideable ramps, making for a very fast race. The main thing that kept speeds down was the relentless bumpy ground, baked hard by the recent dry weather.

After a packed morning of racing for under-16s, a new format this year saw the women race first followed by the men. A healthy sized field lined up for the inaugural women-only race, including 3 in Cardiff Ajax colours. Claire Hoskins took a commanding win for Cardiff Jif (who also did a sterling job of organising this round) and also took the V50 win – second V50 was Liz Webb for Cardiff Ajax. In the V40 category Suzie Warren came home 7th and Chris Byrne 11th.

On to a packed men’s race, with well over 100 lining up on the start line. Seniors and juniors set off first, followed by veterans in a separate start a couple of minutes behind. Lining up on the 3rd row, the charge down to the first corner, completely unsighted over bumpy ground, was something I was glad just to survive! I slotted in a few places behind Tom Dye and within a couple of minutes we were together. On a fast course, ‘cross can almost resemble an off-road criterium and there is definitely an advantage from working together, so Tom and I set about doing just that, managing to reel in a few riders ahead of us over the next couple of laps. Our teamwork came to an abrupt end on lap 3 though, when Tom’s rear wheel popped out of the dropouts, costing him a minute or so and leaving me racing solo. Despite my best efforts to reel in riders ahead (including teammate Mike Webb, last seen up close overtaking me into the first corner), I made little impression and came home just outside the top 10 in 11th place. Mike took 9th place and Tom recovered to finish 14th. Steve James (Hope Factory Racing) outsprinted Ben Nott for the overall win.

In a very busy veteran men’s field, containing no less than 12 Cardiff Ajax riders, the best-placed V40 Ajax rider was Brian Kiernan in 31st place. Paul Harvey was the best-placed V50 Ajax rider was Paul Harvey, coming home 17th with Miles Brown just seconds behind after a mid-race puncture.

Round 2 heads to Builth Wells this coming Sunday, for what looks like more sunny racing weather. Those of us thrive in modders will just have to be patient……

Let them eat cake: Ajax outing to Hill

Nia James writes of an Ajax trip across the border for culinary delights. They’ll be another chance to ride 100 miles and eat cake on 6 October…..

To the uninformed or uninitiated the prospect of a 100 mile ride to a village called Hill might not be particularly appealing. 

Fear not. The route from Maindy to Hill, near Berkelely in Gloucestershire (and back) offers one of the most benign century rides you’ll get in these parts. Rolling, with no major climbs and a total elevation of around 1000m, it’s a great route and one I’d highly recommend to anyone wanting to pop their century ride cherry.  

And talking of cherries, these will most definitely be on offer when you get there as the lure of Hill, when ridden on the first Sunday of the month during the Summer, means The Most Amazing Cafe Stop Ever, in the form of the Hill Cream Tea in the Village Hall.

The teas, run by the local WI group, have turned Hill into a Mecca for local cyclists. On the appointed day of the month expect to see several large groups heading to, or from, the fantastic refreshments. 

The cakes are, quite simply, awesome ! Set out on a series of trestle tables which stretch from one end of the hall to the next, the choice of home baked delights is endless.  It’s impossible to decide between the lemon drizzle, Victoria sponge, banana loaf, ginger cake, tiffin, fruit cake, all manner of shortbread based delights, pavlova, cherry Bakewells, treacle tarts,  flapjacks, and so on ! I defy anyone to walk out with a single slice. 

Those with a more savoury tooth can enjoy a delicious homemade sausage roll and/or Scotch Egg. All washed down with a tea of your choice or a cooling glass of squash. 

The facilities at the Village Hall are super. There are a couple of (spotless) toilets at the back, a drinking water tap and (I hope you never need it) a defibrillator which a number of us have helped fund through the buying of raffle tickets on a previous trip! 

Our trip to Hill on Sunday 1 September was thoroughly enjoyable. Twelve of us set off from Maindy at 0900. Our route took us down the flats, through Newport and across the Gwent Levels. A quick stop at the Co-op in Magor it was then on to Chepstow via Portskewett which makes for a welcome variation on a ride to Chepstow but without denying anyone the joys the descent towards the garden centre.  

We took a right turn into Mathren and up the most challenging, but short, climb of the day. Past G’s wedding venue, St Tewdric’s House, it was then across the old Severn Bridge and into England. There’s a cycle path on both sides of the M48 bridge which makes for a fun ride and spectacular views of the Severn Estuary. Once in England, it’s less than 10 miles to Hill via some easy to navigate lanes.  We travelled just over 50 miles on the outward leg.

The Hill Cream Tea is is very well set up for large groups of cyclists: there’s plenty of bike parking and lots of seating in the field opposite, and, in case you need a bit of shelter, in the bus stop ! When we were there a large group from Newport Social Cycling was just leaving. We passed groups from Bristol and Swindon clubs too. (Not sure who the chap I saw sucking on a gel was riding with or whether that was before or after his entry into the hall…. ?!) 

After an enjoyable exchange of cake reviews sitting in the sun we head to Berkeley, around 5 miles away, before turning for home (and resisting the lure of seconds at the Village Hall !). 

A strong headwind meant for a tough crossing of the Severn Bridge on our return leg. But we were thankful it was in block form with no gusts or crosswinds which can make the Bridge quite frightening when you need to lean into the wind to stop your bike becoming a kite. Been there. Hated it ! 

Mathren. Five Lanes. Magor (and a final stop at the Co-op). Steelworks road and back to Cardiff by 1700 having clocked an average of almost 15mph, despite the wind. 

A delicious day out with a sweet group! 

Marie-Antoinette would have approved our outing so we’re off again:  weather permitting, the next Ajax Cream Tea Pilgrimage will be on 6 October. Cakes cost £1 each. Please ensure you bring cash.  Further details about the ride to follow.  

You can find out more about Hill Village Hall by consulting their FB page. And if consuming more calories than you expend is your thing, look out for the  LVIS Audaxes for 2020. Entry usually opens on NYE for these popular routes which include a stop at Hill and several similar cake laden locations along the way !  

Let them eat cake, indeed.

Celtic Series Round 8 – Nothing but Red, White and Blue on the Podium!! \o/ (UPDATED: also Dave ‘The Anvil’ Jarrom came 9th)

Round 8 of the Celtic Series this evening was hot, humid and close.

Having never ridden the course before and having no idea what to expect, 4 Ajax went out for a ‘casual’ recce ride.
the R10(cough 11.5)/24 is a course of two halves, punchy hills in the first half and then gently undulating for the return second half.

A smaller than normal field saw a phenomonal night for Ajax with a complete lockout of the podium!!

1st – David Medhurst – 24:16
2nd – Tom Dye – 27:17
3rd (1st vet) – Rob Jones – 25:31
5th (2nd vet) – Leon Evans – 26:12
9th – Dave ‘The Anvil’ Jarrom – 28:40 (again, REALLY sorry I forgot you!!)
Comical DNF – Nial Foster, who took a wrong turn when a race arrow was turned the wrong way and ended up doing a 25 instead of a 10 :O

Round 8 Results
Rob Jones – 1st Vet
Red, White and Blue Podium lockout!!

Awesome result for the ‘jax with one round remaning and puts us pretty much level pegging for the coveted Dragon trophy this year!

Special mention must be given to Dave ‘The Anvil’ Jarrom who scored us crucial extra points in our fight for the overall team win and the Dragon Trophy at the end of the season!!

The final round is on the 22nd September and has increased points (150 for first place instead of 120) and we have a very good change to win the Dragon Trophy this year. All we need is a good club turn out at the final round to gain as many points as possible!!



Celtic Series Round 7 – 40kph wind, almost an Ajax podium lockout, 1st place Vet

Windy…… REALLY windy!!!

Only the brave turned up to the ‘sporting’ R10/9 course at St. Athens this evening. Brave or foolhardy!! (or those respecting Rule #5).

40kph winds meant alot of time fighting the bike rather than riding it!
Initial impressions by David Medhurst: “8 minutes out lads and 16 back?” turned out to be not quite accurate! 😛

While it was blisteringly fast for the first few km’s, the drag up to the turn was not as fast as expected given the huge tailwind.
Once around the roundabout, the headwind was brutal, even down in the dip just before the garage.

Many comments back at the cars about fighting the bike just to try and keep it in a stright-ish line.

Back at HQ, the results were in:

Almost an Ajax podium lockout!:

1st – Neil Poulton (Ogmore Valley Wheelers)
2nd – David Medhurst (Cardiff Ajax)
3rd – Tom Dye (Cardiff Ajax)
4th (and 1st Vet) – Leon Evans (Cardiff Ajax)

Leon Evans 4th overall, 1st vet, David Medhurst 2nd, Tom Dye 3rd
Podium overall

Congratulations to everyone who braved the conditions and put valuable points on the board for the club!!

See you at the next round!

Leon Evans.

Celtic Series Round 6 – The night PB’s fell…

Tonight was round 6 of the South Wales Celtic Series TT on the Resolven bypass near Neath on the R10/22a course.

Tonight was the night many PB’s fell.. and fell HARD!
the secret to a PB in time trialling? forget your power meter, forget your expensive TT bike and fancy skinsuit and pointy hat. All you need is really good weather conditions!!

Tonights conditions were close to perfect, a gentle 12kph steady breeze coming from swansea in an easterly direction. This gave a mild cross-headwind on the way out on the gentle descent down to the turn and then a nice cross-tailwind on the return leg which rises ever so gently.

The PB’s shown on the results below were just the PB’s the organisers knew about and there were plenty more on the night that werent added to the results sheets.

Top rider on the night was Lee Perrott of Cycle Specific with an impressive 19:28
Chris Gibbard of Bynea and Chris Massey of CES Sport rounded out the top 3 men.
Fastest Male Vet on Standard was Anthony Jones of Towy Riders with a 19:52 (+6:39)
Fastest Juvenille on the night was Iago Williams of Towy Riders with a 21:59.
Fastest Lady of the night was Susan Shook of Bush Healthcare with a 23:50 (+6:19).

Cardiff Ajax in attendance tonight putting points on the board for the Dragon Trophy were Leon Evans and Tom Dye.
Both Riders smashed new 10 mile PB’s by quite a margin.
Leon Evans finished 9th with a new PB of 21:18 (previously 21:48)
Tom Dye finished 10th with a new PB of 21:20 (previously 21:38)

A fanstastic evenings racing with plenty of happy faces and PB’s!
Results are below:

This Saturday sees the South Wales VTTA 10 mile championship hosted by Ross-on-Wye & district CC and the R10/17 at Raglan/Abergavenny.
Plenty of Ajax are in attendance on the start sheet.

The next Celtic Series is round 7 on the 30th July on the rolling R10/9 St. Athens course. See you there!!

Celtic Series Round 5

Tonight saw round 5 of the Celtic TT Series on the fast R10/17 Abergavenny/Raglan bypass. Weather conditions were ‘fair’, not perfect but respectable with a cross/headwind on the out leg:

Some decent times all round with Chris Gibbard of Bynea taking the win by a mere second from Joshua Tarling of Backstedt Bike Performance.

Ajax riders put in a good showing to get some much needed team points on the board with young wipper snapper David Middleton topping the Ajax timings with a cracking 20:50.

Ajax Riders results:
6th David Middleton – 20:50
7th David Medhurst – 20:55
17th Leon Evans – 22:09
19th Callum Cheshire – 22:16 (new PB)
21st Richard Rees – 22:25

Full results:

The next round is on July 9th on the R10/22a resolven bypass. See you there!!

Leon Evans.

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.