Dave Lloyd MegaChallenge: sun shines but numbers drop

UK’s self-styled toughest sportive sees decline in participation

“Third time lucky,” said Dave Lloyd surveying the immaculate blue skies above Ruthin in North Wales as his eponymous MegaChallenge got underway on Sunday morning.

The 60-year old ex-racer was right about the weather – warm sunshine bathed the spectacular course while a cooling breeze ensured conditions were never stifling. If the conditions lifted riders’ spirits, both Lloyd and co-organiser Terry Bell were clearly disappointed at the low turnout for the event’s third edition, with just 220 riders showing up for what claims to be the UK’s most challenging cyclosportive.

The organisers’ frustration must have been compounded by the notion that after two years of miserable weather and what they described as the debacle of the 2009 sign sabotage – which saw dozens of riders prematurely directed back to the finish – all was set fair for a high quality sportive

Event headquarters were once again based in the sports hall of the historic RuthinSchool, which traces its origins back to 1284. Fortunately the changing rooms have been upgraded since then, and they were used by participants who camped in the school grounds and by riders upon completion of the event.

In an attempt to broaden its appeal, this year a 50 mile Mini and 97 mile Midi course offered alternatives to the 118 mile MegaChallenge route – but rider numbers had nevertheless plummeted from previous levels of around 600. Was it the recession, insufficient advertising, high-priced entry costs, signage banditry, the unnecessarily gruelling course or perhaps the poor weather of past editions that were to blame?

The views from bwlch pen barras were spectacular:

The views from Bwlch Pen Barras were spectacular

Opinions differed as to what has gone wrong with an event that appears to have massive potential, but which now must be in danger of dropping off the sportive calendar altogether.

The irony of this year’s low turnout was that most riders BikeRadar spoke to appeared to have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Many particularly liked the Tour-style mountain-top finish on the Bwlch Pen Barras, though others felt that being forced to ride past the event headquarters at the end of a long day in the saddle only to face a final arduous climb was a challenge too far.

“Torture,” was how one rider described it, and indeed a significant number simply opted out of the finishing climb. Those who did so and returned directly to the school had the option of having 15 minutes added to their finishing time rather than suffering the disappointment of a DNF.

If there were some quibbles about the uphill finish, there were few complaints about the rest of the Mini, Midi and Mega courses, each of which incorporated classic British mountain climbs, exhilarating descents, quiet back roads and plenty of superb views.

Bob meadows perseveres on the mega course:

Bob Meadows perseveres on the Mega course

“It’s quality,” said Gary Williams from Wrexham, who completed the Mega version along with fellow Fibrax Wrexham Roads Club member Karl Richards from Mold. “The feed stations were good, it was challenging and pushed us to our limits. We’ll definitely be back next year for some more suffering!”

William Young from Nantwich was taking part for the third time, and was glad to see the back of the long, dull transition section which featured in last year’s event. “They were better quality miles this year, there weren’t so many riders on the road to get in the way, and personally I’m happy to ride on my own – so this event suits me,” said the Tunstall Wheelers club member.

Liz barker and daniel russell on the final stretch:

Liz Barker and Daniel Russell on the final stretch

Liz Barker and Daniel Russell had travelled from Oxford to take part and declared themselves pleased with their day. “Everyone was very friendly, the feed stations were excellent and there was no problem with the route marking,” said Liz, before adding that some of the road surfaces were in “shocking” condition – a view echoed by other riders.

As for the future of the event, the organisers admit they have some thinking to do. Thanks to the weather, this year’s version could not have showcased the route any better. But in a saturated sportive marketplace, it seems likely that some events will fall by the wayside. Unless this year’s decline in numbers can be reversed, the Dave Lloyd MegaChallenge may sadly be one of them.

Alan chorley is glad it's all over:

Alan Chorley is glad it's all over

Given the quality of all three courses, its demise would be a sad loss to the sportive calendar, and having ridden and enjoyed this year’s event, here’s one participant who cannot recommend it highly enough.

Riders could pick up a hand-written finishers' certificate from smiling event staff:

Riders could pick up a hand-written finishers' certificate from smiling event staff

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