We'll keep a welcome in the Vales...
And so they did, as more than 4,000 eager cyclists pounded the streets and mountain passes of south Wales in the Dragon Ride. Literally tens of people lined the avenues to cheer on the bicycling faithful in surprisingly seasonable weather last Sunday, a heart-warming and strengthening sight to witness from the pain and discomfort of the saddle.
The event was my first ever 'sportive' and, having completed the 190 km course in a shade under eight hours (7h 55m 16s, to be exact), I'm taking some encouragement into what is the final month of training before the big day. While not in the same league as the Marmotte, the Dragon Ride is nevertheless a challenge, so finishing in a respectable time after what's been a difficult couple of weeks is no mean feat.
So do I feel more confident? Not particularly. Yet again, the knee went weird after 10 or so miles before easing off at the 20-mile mark. Great timing for tackling the Bwlch (pron. bulk) from the Ogmore Valley side, but not so good for taking on the mighty Col du Glandon, which begins after only 12 km of the Marmotte. And again, as time wore on, discomfort and fatigue began to take their toll.
But the crumbs of comfort I do take from the weekend just gone are in a way much more relevant. My climbing and descending really came together. After 100 miles, I still felt strong enough to blaze up the Bwlch from the Afan Valley side in marginally less than 15 minutes. Coming down the other side saw me reach speeds in excess of 45 mph, which was pretty exhilarating. It was only in the 'rouleur' undulating territory that I struggled a bit. And the good news is, there isn't any time for that in the Marmotte, because it is literally all up and down.
Next weekend, I'm taking part in the Magnificat, which covers just such rouleur ground. It's not ideal, but at 127 miles long, it'll certainly help with endurance. Then there are just two more weekends before the big day. I may or may not put in another long ride in that time, but more likely I'll be working on the turbo trainer or doing early morning hill repetitions.
Whatever I end up doing, it's mere tinkering now. The bwlch of my training has already happened.