The inaugural Etape Cymru, Wales’s first closed-road sportive, is set to bring back memories for former British national champion Scott O’Brien when it takes place on 9 October.
In 1989, O’Brien raced up the Horseshoe Pass – the most famous climb on the route – in a Wrexham RC hill climb, but was beaten to the summit by teammate and future Olympic champion Chris Boardman. Racing for the Manchester Wheelers, he finished in 09.25, 18 seconds down on Boardman.
“The Wrexham RC hill climb on the Horseshoe in 1989 was one of the events I entered as preparation for the National Hill Climb later that year,” says O’Brien. “I was nervous about this particular climb because it's hard to judge your effort. Some shorter, steeper hill climbs can be ridden like a flat-out sprint but the Horseshoe is more of a time trial."
O’Brien, now 41, went on to become a multiple national champion, joining Boardman, Paul Curran and Peter Longbottom to win the British National Track Team Time Trial in 1991. But next month's 100-mile sportive won't be a walk in the park for him.
“I've ridden up the Horseshoe Pass countless times in training as a youngster,” he says. “I'm looking forward (if not a bit apprehensive) to be riding on the roads I last trained on 18 years ago. I've started doing longer rides and have ventured to the lower foothills of Wales recently, but nowhere near the level of the Horseshoe or the other climbs on the route."
A youthful Chris Boardman, riding for Manchester Wheelers, raced the Horseshoe Pass 22 years ago
Participants in the Etape Cymru can tackle the Horseshoe Pass Challenge and submit their time to the event website. However, they're unlikely to get anywhere near O’Brien’s time because they'll be starting the climb from a lower point. The benchmark this year was set by Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who set a time of 14:22 shortly before his Tour de France exploits this summer.
Entries to the ride close next Friday, 16 September, so you’ll need to act quick if you want to be part of the first ever event. The challenging route, which starts and finishes in Wrexham, will see riders tackle over 6,000ft of climbing. It costs £65 to enter, which includes a goodie bag, gilet and British Cycling Ride membership worth £24. British Cycling members can get entry for a discounted £53.
If you're still undecided about entering, Cycling Plus will be running a preview in their next edition, on sale from 13 September. You can get hold of your copy here. If you decide you want a taste of closed-road action, BikeRadar have teamed up with the event organisers to offer a 10 percent discount up until the closing date on 16 September. To take advantage, use the code BIKERADAR01 at the checkout.
The Etape Cymru received a boost this week, with Mavic and Zipvit signing up as partners to the event. Mavic will be on hand to offer mechanical assistance at the start and en-route, while Zipvit will be providing energy products at three feed stations, along with special edition packs at registration on the day. To enter or find out further information, visit the Etape Cymru website.