Etape Cymru 2011: Report by Mike


For those wondering how this 100 mile closed road event in the Snowdonia region of Wales on Sunday went, It was…er…memorable.

The following was my experience. Sol, Mo, Graeme and Ve may have entirely different stories.

Read on if you have no fear. Stop now if you are of nervous disposition.

You have been warned.

But seriously, I have raised each and every issue that surfaces below with the event organizers with suggestions and ideas for next year.

In the meantime, enjoy.

Wrexham: Start/finish

I set off with Graeme, Sol and Ve at about 8:20am. 16C, overcast but humid and sun/showers looking likely.

We were positioned about 300th over the startline. We have Mo and his friend Denis somewhere behind who will catch up.

Graeme and I rode up to the front 50 riders.

Inside about 15 miles we came to an intersection with no signs and no marshals. We went right as that was uphill and seemed natural. A few miles up the hill we are stopped at a T junction, again no signs.

After 10 minutes there is a huge crowd with us. We went left, some had already gone right. A mile or two on and we hit a main road with cyclists streaming by and turned right. Obviously we are back on route but have all the same riders to pass again.

At some point after this I do not see Graeme. I slow down but no sign. I get back in with a group and moving on we climb up the side of a mountain and come out onto a long fast road  that snakes along the edge of a valley with a fresh surface and great views.

Ahead I see a big bunch of riders, probably doing 30mph+ as the road is clear and smooth. The road curves right and out of sight at the end of the mountain and as I approach I slow down and see a rider running back out of the corner waving frantically indicating we should slow more. As I round the corner I see it is almost a hairpin bend and there over the edge is a pile of riders and bikes in a big tangle lying 20 feet down in the fields below. Yow.

There are no warning signs, no guard rails or fences and no marshalls at this corner and it is clearly lethal.  I have never seen a mess like this before, not even on the Tour D’France mountain stages do so many go off the road.

At the bottom of the descent an ambulance is trying to get up but there are too many riders coming down.

Later comes an intersection with a marshall. There are no riders ahead. I cannot see any arrows. I am doing 25mph. The marshall stands in the road and watches me go by and then yells. I look back and see he is now pointing down a side road. I stop and go back and turn. The marshall is asleep on the job.

On the next stretch we ride several abreast down a wide open road (recall this is a closed road sportive) only to hear a speeding car coming and have an event vehicle come speeding by in the other direction around the corner, passing over the same stretch of road we had just hurriedly evacuated. Phew.

Later we are at a crossroads and no signs. There is much discussion and ever)one decides to go right. Then I see I have a front puncture and stop to repair. Two huge thorns have pierced my trusty Gatorskin tires. This takes some time to repair as I run out of patches and find I have to swap a long stem tube (rear) with front. Meantime hundreds of riders come through the intersection and bewildered, ask me where to go. I say “Everyone went right” which is the only thing I know for sure.

Then a lady drives up from the right to say everyone should instead be going left here to Corwen and she says that now there are hundreds of riders on roads that are not closed to cars. Feeling terribly guilty for compounding the problem I go left and meet a rider in trouble with a broken spoke. He asks me for the emergency number, I check my Blackberry emails for the number and see there is no emergency number listed on any email.

Then I notice I have no phone coverage anyway. I show him how to snap off the spoke and adjust his brakes so his wheel clears the pads and he rides off ok.

I make it to feed station 2. It is jammed and nowhere for the bike. One feed table only, covered in garbage and banana skins. No water. Jars of Sports drink powder but nothing to mix with. I was counting on just one stop and it was to be this one. I wanted to eat several bananas and a bar or two and stock up. No deal. I go inside, get on a queue to the bathroom for water. Outside again I mix an extra heavy sport drink concoction in my largest bottle as I need some source of carbs. Then back into the church hall where there is another queue. Once inside a young man tells me I cannot come in with my cleats on. I see everyone has cleats on. At a table at the far end I see some plates with a few digestives. I take a handful and leave.

A long series of narrow roads follow. An ambulance is heard. It takes a very long time to come up behind me. I get off the road and it passes. One quarter mile up the road the ambulance is stuck. The left-hand wheels are off the road and in a ditch, a dozen riders are trying to push it out but slipping in cleated feet. No good. Ambulance backs up but now there are dozens behind. I go on and a mile up the road the ambulance passes me on a long climb.

Further up I pass the ambulance at a cattle grid where there are marshals. The driver is asking the marshals for directions. They don’t know the answer. I squeeze past.

I cross the Horseshoe pass in a driving headwind and light rain. It is long and boring climb and riders are strung out all along.

At the apex the cross wind is fierce. Around the apex it is a great tailwind. There is a feed station at the top. I grab a sports bar and bananas.

Food at last. An official here says that this is mile 65 and we have 20 to go. I am very puzzled as that would only be 85 miles and the route is 100 miles.

Coming down the mountain there are several wicked off-camber corners. They are wet and muddy, strewn liberally with gravel and the surface is patched and broken. I should have put on CX tires.

There are no warning signs and no marshals for these corners. I come up to one and see a rider and bike off the road and in a field. I ask if he is injured. He seems shaken but unbroken and says he is ok.

Another turn with a marshall. As I approach at speed the marshall watches me, as I am 10 feet away he wakes up and points right. I come to a halt and after checking behind go right. There will be many riders for whom these surprise directions will cause panic and a fall with many behind going down also.

At the bottom of a long descent I come to a T junction. There is what seems to be a police Landrover parked in the middle of the road and a marshal or maybe policeman standing in the middle of the road on his radio. As I come down I yell out so he pays attention to where riders are coming from. He looks up distracted and waves right but stays in the road. I slow right down but still have to duck so far and wide to get around him and his vehicle that I clip the verge as I go through. Here is a marshal standing in the path.

The remaining road is mostly empty. I pass another marshal who indicates after I have gone by. I am getting used to this. In the run through the remaining towns this pattern continues.

On another stretch a nice old man waves as I pass, I turn and wave back. At the end of the road the corner which I am slowing for suddenly becomes a 180 degree turn with leaves, an off-camber pitch and slime under the leaves. I slide sideways across the road and into the gutter, and still somehow upright manage to bunny hop back into the road….phew. The old man must do that with everyone and be laughing each time.

More turns and the marshals are either talking to friends or looking the other way and indicate late or not at all.

At the very end a big van with warning signs is driving in the road trying to get past riders on a really narrow twist road. It is very dangerous and yet the van seems to be part of the event. Bad move.

In a group of about 10 we hit a main road close to the end. The signs say left to Wrexham, the consensus is we should go right. We go right only to see riders with numbers streaming by the other way…where are they going? We find the park anyway. Those riders were lost.

I arrive back about 3:20. 89 miles covered. Graeme who got separated early on was back an hour before, he has 86 miles. Mo is there safe and Sol + Ve show up an hour later.

Wow. Was this an adventure a blood-sportive or just what I should expect in the mountains of Wales?

Checking in it seems all TCC riders made it out safely, thanks goodness for that.

Many others must have ended the day in hospital.

Next year….maybe.