The Velothon 2016 was a no-brainer for me this year, having ridden the inaugural event last year. I registered my interest for this year almost immediately after finishing in 2015 and booked my place from a hotel room in Johannesburg last November in a bid to make sure I got a spot.
This year, like last, I rode with Steff, who I know from Flickr, Twitter and even in real life. Although I like to ride off on the climbs and he leaves me for dead on the descents, we were reasonably evenly matched with our riding and had a great time last year.
We met up in Cardiff Bay and rode slowly to the start, followed by a few visiting riders who appreciated local knowledge to get to the start. We found the pen pretty easily and used the waiting time to decide on a stopping strategy.
We headed off as City Hall chimed 0800 and cruised through the start and off to Newport.
We were shocked to see an accident quite early on, someone had gone down on Rover Way, I hope they weren’t badly hurt.
The route through the Wentloog flats was on my mind as I’d ridden it this year and found it to be a potholed mess but I was pleasantly surprised to see some new bits of tarmac filling in the worst of the holes. Well done Cardiff / Newport councils. This part of the route was quite busy and everyone was excited so we kept up pace but didn’t push on, just to stay safe. Once the road opened up onto the duel carriageways of Newport we could breathe easy and relax.
There were another couple of accidents between Newport and Caerleon, both seemed to be caused by trapezoidal speed bumps catching people out but luckily for us both marshals and locals warned us as we went through.
All was fine as we headed through towards Usk, Steff even remarked at one point that the sun was out – right as we turned left towards an enormous black cloud in the distance! Soon that distance diminished and the rain hit. Participants left and right headed for a layby and jackets and gilets were feverishly pulled from pockets. One rider cursed ‘Oh for [heavens] sake, I’ve only just taken it off’, referring to a jacket.
The shower lasted most of the way through Usk and was pretty heavy. We’d already decided not to stop at the feed station as neither of us needed it and we passed it by in 2015. Standing around in the rain would not be a great idea.
Approaching the Tumble the rain had eased but I was starting to suffer. I was beginning to regret my fashion choice for the day, having chosen a super lightweight jersey, arm warmers and just a gilet. No overshoes, no jacket. The rain made me really cold and for a while thought I was in trouble. I wanted to push on to get warm but found the cold was sapping my legs.
There’s nothing like a big climb to warm you up and soon we hit the Tumble. Last year I’d hit a great run of form just before the Velothon and found the Tumble pretty easy. This year I was more worried.. I’d ridden it on Good Friday with another friend Matt and suffered terribly with no legs and had to grind my way up on the heavier winter bike cursing my lack of climbing ability. A quick caffeine gel on the run in to the climb was a last ditch attempt to boost my ability. Thankfully, the legs held, I felt fine on the climb but because of the crowds I couldn’t settle into the pace I wanted to. Instead using small but fast accelerations I made my way through gaps when I could. Near the top the group in front had opted to dismount over the cattle grid – I heard that there had been crashes there in the wet. The summit finally approached and once Steff and I had regrouped we headed down through the best crowds of the day in Blaenavon (this year and last year they had a great party atmosphere going on)
The lovely long down hill towards Pontypool was bliss but on the road to Crumlin the first problem arose.. a back wheel puncture. Boring. Steff had brought a Co2 canister with him and kindly let me try it out as I’d never used one before – interesting! Much easier than a hand pump!
We headed off and continued towards Caerphilly. At somewhere near Ystrad Mynach I saw a rider ahead carelessly discard a gel wrapper into the centre reservation of the dual carriageway and I’m ashamed to say I didn’t have a word with him about it and despite having made it home with all of my litter I still feel annoyed having kept quiet.
Caerphilly loomed, the castle heralding the start of the mountain. As we turned onto Mountain Road disaster struck again. My back wheel felt squidgy again. Rats. Decision time. Dismount, take a look or get to the top? I really didn’t want to lose my momentum and climb on rested legs, so I carried on.
Climbing the mountain on a mostly flat tire was an interesting experience! In the saddle I could feel the rim bouncing on the road, on the pedals felt better but once or twice I felt the wheel veer off as I had to weave through the slower traffic (I’m trying to not big myself up by insinuating that I climbed quicker with a back wheel flat – one guy did call out ‘show off’, which I think was aimed at me!)
The top appeared and I hopped off to discover that it wasn’t completely flat just quite low. Was it a slow puncture? Could I top it up and make it to the finish? It was worth a go.
Topped up, I lost Steff on the descent as usual and we caught up again through Llanishen, the end in sight. The crowds through Lisvane and Llanishen were great, banging on pans and cheering.
Roath Park! Nearly there! I was ready to lead Steff out for the sprint for the glory finish we had planned in our minds.. Psssshhhhh. That was it, the last gasp of air from the back wheel decided to leave me about then and no amount of hoping for neutral service would aid me as the moaning and grumbling and tool faffing began on another tube change 3km from the finish.
I told Steff he could go and take the win but he said no, we started together, we should finish together. Thanks Steff, a gent.
In the end he did get that great finish, as we entered the last straight the PA announcer was calling out names of the finishers from the info on the chips, Steff heard his name and raised both hands in salute, his jersey zipped up to the top for the (imaginary) sponsors.
It was done.
Same again next year then?