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  • Sarah Jackson

Slaying the Dragon!


The Dragon Ride (devil route) 305km, 4829m ascent, 10 June 2018

As a relatively new cyclist (I had only taken up cycling about 18 months ago), completing the Dragon Ride was always going to be a challenge. It was something I had been looking forward to with a mixture of excitement and hesitation. It was definitely going to be a tough ride!

My road to the start line

Two years ago I had a nasty foot injury (a fracture and ligament tear) which left me pretty immobile, in a cast and on crutches. As a keen runner, I found it incredibly frustrating not to be able to do something I loved. As I was making a slow recovery, somebody suggested I could try spinning – it wouldn't have a high impact on my foot but still enable me to keep active.

After a few months of indoor cycling, I dusted the cobwebs off an old bike and took to the outdoors. It wasn't always straight forward. Buying my first cleats led to the inevitable stationary fall at a junction. My first attempt at riding 30 miles resulted in me demanding a taxi and cake at the half way point whilst collapsed on the floor in exhaustion (I did eventually continue). I discovered bib shorts provided much needed added comfort. I learnt that cleaning a bike involves more than soap and water. And whilst a chocolate bar may help fuel a ride, on a hot sunshine day, it may not maintain structural integrity in a bike jersey pocket.

Somewhere along this journey, I fell in love with riding my bike. I signed up for the Dragon Ride at the start of 2018 and the training began in earnest.

The start line

A start time of 6.45am required a 4.30am get up, to try and digest a much needed breakfast to fuel the rest of the day. The event village was fairly quiet when I arrived. The majority of the others would arrive later to take part in the other different route options (the Gran Fondo is a tough 223km, the Medio Fondo a challenging 153km, and the Macmillan a cool 99km).

Contemplating the cut off times whilst waiting for the start time, I seriously doubted whether I could actually get myself to the end. The others looked like serious cyclists, and I felt very much like a newbie.

An epic day out

Didi the Devil cheered at us from the start line and my starting wave rolled out. It was a pretty zippy start and I had to struggle with my desire to chase down anyone moving faster than me. Unfortunately some glass on the road at the bottom of the first climb meant a number of riders had to stop with punctures – I was very lucky and immensely thankful to avoid it.

The first two climbs of Bwlch and Rhigos each provided fabulous plunging descents as a reward for making it to the top. Having reconnoitered these climbs in training, I had gained the confidence to enjoy the fast flowing, speedy descents. With fabulous views to enjoy, it was definitely an anticipated highlight of the day.

The first timed climb of the day was the Devil's Elbow, a notorious double-hairpin bend, with an altitude gain of 620ft in just a mile. I managed to squeeze past a few riders on this climb whilst not smashing my legs to pieces. I chalked that up as a success.

The next timed climb was the Devil's Staircase. After flying over a cattle grid, a sign to the left of the road warns of the 25% gradient and switchbacks for the next half a mile. After that, the rest of the remaining climbs didn't seem as difficult.

Fuel

There were six feed stations throughout the ride. All were well stocked with cheerful helpers. Whilst there was a variety of snacks on offer, the Jaffa cakes were particularly appealing and I must have eaten about hundred over the course of the day!

The finish line

Completing the route in 12 hours 57 minutes, I was delighted to cross the line. A burger and chips devoured at the motorway services on the way home completed a very memorable day out in South Wales.

Where were all the girls?

Only 15 ladies had signed up to complete the devil route and 12 finished. In the last five years less than 50 ladies have completed the route. Although there weren't many women in the field, there were some particularly inspiring women taking part including: Emily Chappell (the first female finisher of the Transcontinental race, a self-supported, ultra-distance cycling race across Europe of 3800km); and Carol Bridge (whose palmares include the 2014 commonwealth games, 70.3 top 5, many triathlon long course victories as well as World Championships). I hope that many more ladies will be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

The next adventure

Having really enjoyed it (I had a big smile throughout the entire ride), I can't wait to plan my next long distance cycling adventure. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!


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