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Chester Easy Riders is an independent cycling club affiliated to Cycling UK. We cycle every Thursday throughout the year with moderate and brisk day rides of 40 to 80 miles.

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Thursday, 30 August 2012

26th August 2012: Wild Wales Challenge

What a great ride which took place in ideal sunny and dry weather conditions, providing a brief, dry interlude during one of the wettest summers on record.  As I sit here recovering from yesterday’s efforts the rain is bucketing down once again: but who cares after such a fulfilling day out in the glorious Welsh mountains.
This year’s challenge repeats a route of some 10 years ago riding out over the Hirnant Pass from Bala to Lake Vyrnwy and on to the first control at Llanerfyl village hall.  The route then turns east to follow some very lumpy roads to Machynlleth where there is no control but an opportunity to grab some much needed lunch.  After this brief respite the route turns north to follow a small back road to Corris and then the mountain road west to Aberangell and Dinas Mawddwy.  The Bwlch y Groes looms above this control and provides a challenging route back to the finish in Bala after a total of 83 miles and 7,000ft of climbing.
There were 6 of us Chester Easy Riders at the 08:15 start in Bala - the Geneva-Nice team (Martin Donaldson, David Matthews, Dave Pipe & Ray Stigter) putting all that alpine fitness to good use, along with Lowri Evans and Dave Hill who employed locally gained Welsh mountain fitness to get the two of them round the demanding course.
The following account relies mostly on my own experiences as we rode at our own pace and only coincided on the road as circumstances and pace allowed.  The mountain goat team of Martin and Ray disappeared into the distance beyond Lake Vyrnwy never to be seen again.  I believe they finished 2 hours ahead of the rest of us in the speedy time of 8 hours.
Since riding this course some 10 years ago a couple of handy books have been written by Simon Warren which document and grade 200 climbs in Britain’s hills.  Three climbs from the books are included in this ride, which gives some idea of the overall challenge.  The hills between the listed climbs often seemed just as severe as we linked up the well known, “big ticket” ascents.
First up was the Hirnant (grade 7/10), which provided an ideal warm up.  Not too steep at first, but rising to a 15% gradient for a brief section near the top.  The descent was fairly tricky as the road through the trees was damp in places.  There was also a fair amount of gravel that caused at least one rider to crash out.
On the Hirnant

Photographs by David Matthews

Once down at Lake Vyrnwy, whilst I was still in touch with Ray, we had a real blast riding with bunches of cyclists along the level, lakeside road to Llanwddyn.  Beyond this point I left my comfort zone of well-known roads to climb through a series of steep narrow lanes to eventually emerge onto the A458 at Llangadfan.  A short distance after this the first control at Llanerfyl village hall was reached.  There were long queues of cyclists here that caused a wait of 15 minutes or so to get through to the electronic control check and subsequently grab a snack.  Whilst waiting in the queue I met up with fellow Seamons CC rider Stuart Kay, last met on the Costa Blanca in April, so the queue time passed quickly for us as we caught up with the club news.
Leaving the control southwards the route follows one of my favourite roads in Wales along the peaceful and remote Nant y Eira valley, protected by its multitude of cattle grids.  On this occasion the road had recently been covered in liberal quantities of gravel which slowed things down a bit but the wheel crunching noise did give warning of a small convoy of 1930’s touring cars creeping along behind us.
After this relatively gentle interlude, there were yet more steep, twisty, narrow lanes that eventually led out to “big city” Machynlleth.  It seemed that most of the 500+ riders had arrived here simultaneously as every cafe and shop was filled to bursting with hungry & thirsty cyclists.  After standing in a cafe queue for 10 minutes and getting nowhere, I gave up and raided the local Spar shop for water, Eccles cakes and a banana.  Not the best meal---but packed full of energy!
The next section turned north for Corris and the Dyfi Forest climb (grade 7/10) with its 17% and 20% gradients over to Aberangell.  I wasn’t looking forward to this climb as I had traversed it with Ray some 12 days previously when checking the route sheet for the new 208k (130 mile) Audax “The Barmouth Boulevard”.  The three big lifts through the forest seemed really exhausting a couple of weeks ago after riding a challenging 80 miles prior to the ascent; on this occasion the climb coming after 60 miles of hilly roads seemed more reasonable to both of us.
Commemorative slate
Beyond Aberangell, a narrow riverside road leads to Dinas Mawddwy where the village hall control point is overshadowed by the looming presence of Bwlch y Groes. After a quick snack, I nervously rode out along the 4 mile approach road up the Afon Dyfi valley to the foot of the pass (the highest tarmacked pass in Wales; grade 10/10) and the start of the real climbing just beyond Llanymawddwy.  The road immediately rises up at 25% and maintains a similar gradient for the next 3 miles to the summit.  Most riders (self included) walked a few sections of the pass to relieve the strain, so congratulations to Ray and Dave Pipe who rode the whole way.
Once on top of the Bwlch y Groes there is an exhilarating descent to Bala Lake followed by a quick blast round the east side to Bala, the final control, a brew and a well earned commemorative slate.  A great day out and it’s all on again for next year.  
Many thanks to Organiser Denis Holder for coming out of retirement and once again providing such a consistently great event.

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