We are spoilt for choice where 200km Randonnees are concerned, with one leaving Cardiff most months. However our 100km events are much harder to come by, yet all seem to have one thing in common –hills. Lots and lots of hills.
We’ve already talked about the Cambrian 1K and the Trefil Travail is in a similar vein, in that it offers AAA (Audax Altitude Award) points for its 100km duration.
However, where the Cambrian goes for the well-known “epic climbs” that are the talk of cyclists around this neck of the woods –the Bwlch; the Rhigos; Bryn Du etc, the Trefil is a litany of shorter but definitely sharper climbs that nobody really thinks about. It’s also a calendar event that occurs at around the same time every year.
Starting from Coryton, the first climb of the day is up the hill next to the pub in Gwaelod-y-Garth (yes, that one with the hairpin). At the top was our first control –an information control where you are given a question and you have to write the answer in your brevet card –usually based on house names, distances etc. They are used to funnel you through areas (or climbs) where no commercial controls exist –no shops, no cash machines etc.
You then head up through Efail Isaf; Church Village and down to Pontypridd where you face the vomit-inducing climb to Llanwonno for our second information control. Apart from a short stretch in suburbia, it isn’t long before the Llanwonno climb lumbers into view, setting the tone for the rest of the day. Steep climbs out of valleys!
From the church & pub on Llanwonno it’s a short ride and another little climb towards Mountain Ash. From here there’s a bit of urban exploring to be done, heading through Mountain Ash and Abercynon you’ll find yourself in a few public parks with lakes at the centre. After that it is onto Quakers Yard before taking on the formidable climb to Bedlinog where another information control could be found. This climb, according to Strava is a category 3 and yes, it does feel like it…
Out of Bedlinog you start heading into what feels like no-man’s land as you make the push towards the Heads of the Valleys over Merthyr Common. The views from up here would have been impressive, were it not for the sheer amount of rubbish that had been left up there. This is also one of the few flat sections on the route. Before long you’ll pass under the A465 and taking a right towards Tafarnaubach. It’s ok, we’re not joining the A465, just skirting around it. However, the Nag’s Head is just up ahead, which is where our lunch would be waiting. The food here was pretty good and included in the cost of entry. It was very much appreciated after a morning of steep hills.
After a spot of lunch we head down through Tredegar and along a stunning lane (top picture) to Aberbargoed, before heading down to Deri for the hardest climb of the day so far. The climb from Deri is however mercifully short, but steep as heck. The reward, as it so often is, is even more stunning scenery at the top.
The ride at this point is very nearly over, as you drop down towards Nelson and onto Pontypridd. However, there is a slight sting in the tail. Eglwysilan.
The climb onto the common from Ty Gwyn Road is horrific. It starts steep and gets progressively steeper. It’s the sort of climb that even if you take it as slow as you possibly can, you will still have to fight to keep the pedals turning and, let’s face it at this point you are nearly 100km into the day and it could well be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
At the top of this climb my heart rate hit 198bpm. At my age I’m not sure it should be going that high. However, for the first time ever I made it up to the top without stopping. I was wearing road shoes & cleats, so if I did stop I’d probably have had to walk the rest of the way anyway. Maybe that was the extra motivation I needed?!
Once you reach the top, it is literally all down hill from here. The final control is the Rose & Crown pub at the end of the lane and you can follow the Taff Trail all the way back to Tongwynlais and onto Coryton for the finish.
You can get the GPX for the route here.
How it compares…
As we’ve already mentioned, there’s a few parallels that can be drawn between the Trefil Travial and the Cambrian 1K that we’ve talked about before. Both are 100Km; both are very hilly and will drag you around the South Wales Valleys to scale an unsettling number of hills.
However, where the Cambrian 1K takes the lead in terms of sheer altitude –2500m vs 2000-ish, much of that ride is spent on fairly busy roads. The Bwlch is a two-way road in all directions; Bryn Du, the Rhigos the same. There’s not a lot of time to enjoy the route, owing to the constant buzz of traffic and the lack of time you have to complete it within the time limit.
The Trefil on the other hand was mostly through quiet villages, quiet country lanes and shorter, sharper climbs. The distance may be the same, but despite a long lunch at the Nags Head we had time to spare at the end. We reached the last control at 3:30, which gave us the opportunity to stop at Plan2Ride on the way back for a coffee.
Whilst we wouldn’t be bold enough to say that the climbs in the Cambrian were easy, none of them were so steep that you had to fight to keep the front wheel down. They were easier to manage; to stay seated throughout; and to zone out until they were over. The climbs in the Trefil will arguably push you harder –some of them may even stop you in your tracks, but the bits in between are more than worth the effort.
If you fancy attempting it next year, keep an eye out for it on the Audax UK calendar. It comes highly recommended.