The latest edition of the Dragon Ride, now with Verenti bikes as title sponsor, took place on Sunday 6 June in what proved to be near-ideal conditions.
Over 2,800 riders rolled under the start kite at the Pencoed Technology Park on Sunday morning and all must have scanned the menacing grey clouds that hung above the nearby valleys with a degree of trepidation. The day, however, turned out to be dry with long periods of bright sunshine and a fresh westerly breeze that was never strong enough to seriously impede progress as a headwind while providing a helping hand to weary riders in the latter stages of the event.
Feed stations stocked an impressive quantity and a bewildering variety of biscuits, cakes, crisps, gels, powders and even some roasted potatoes as well the inevitable bananas. Technicians from Mavic offered support to the mechanically distressed and, as ever, members of the St John Ambulance service were standing by to help those whose bodies needed attention. In addition to a few riders suffering from the effects of exhaustion and heat, the volunteer medics transported one person to hospital with a broken arm and attended to another with gravel rash, both injuries sustained as a result of collisions with cars.
For the vast majority however, it was simply a great day out and riders appeared to have relished the favourable riding conditions.
Speaking before the getting underway, Canadian student Mark van Doormaal riding a 25 year-old classic steel Bianchi, was looking forward to getting stuck into the Welsh mountains as a change from the flat riding he's used to in the South East. "I've finished my studies in London so this is a special day out for me before I go back to Canada, sort of a last hurrah before I head home," he said.
Members of the Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club
Rob Wilson from the Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club was also a first-time rider of the event and completed the Gran Fondo with around 30 other club members. "It's a fantastic route, especially if you like climbing," he said. "The sight of hundreds of riders going up the Bwlch was quite something, there was tons of food and the way was well signposted. Everyone in our group said they'd be back next year."
Londoner Simon Neuhoff said that he'd recommend the event to anyone considering it as their first sportive. "I can't fault the organisation and the date is also perfect for anyone training for the Etape du Tour or the Marmotte," he said. "In some ways the mountain climbs here are quite similar to those in the Alps,"
Given the high number of riders and with no serious incidents reported, organiser Lou Lusardi declared himself to be happy with the day and thankful that the threatened rain never materialised.
"Safety is always our paramount concern so we are pleased there were no major accidents," he said. "The police had a few complaints from the public about riders travelling four or five abreast so we might need to do some education on that front but generally riders behaved responsibly."
He added: "Although the route was the same as last year we made a few changes to the event to address issues raised by participants but this is always a work in progress so we are constantly looking to improve the rider experience."
Collecting that all-important goodie bag
As for the last riders home, they rolled in at 7.20pm. "I told them I couldn't give them a time as the timing mats had already been packed away but they were highly delighted to get their goodie bags and one of them insisted on wearing his medal straight away!" said Lou.
Proof, perhaps, that where sportive riding is concerned, it's less about the time and more about the taking part.