Slaying The Dragon

In issue 10 we look at sportive rides, focusing on two in particular: the small and family-run Puncheur in Sussex and the really rather large and corporately managed Dragon Ride in Wales.

We’ve ridden the Puncheur before so it seemed only fair to balance things out by tackling the Dragon Ride last weekend. It’s one thing to speak to a ride organiser but you can’t get a true flavour of an event without actually taking part. Well, that was our excuse anyway.

Having interviewed ride organiser Rob Hillman, we knew the Dragon was a complicated logistical operation that costs £200,000 and requires year-round effort to stage successfully. So we expected a slick, well-organised event with ample food, good signage and excellent mechanical and medical support. We were confident that the event team would manage to send all 5,000 riders in the right direction without too much delay and that the route would be challenging but picturesque.

We weren’t disappointed on any of those fronts. But these are all practical details. What they don’t tell you is how beautiful the Rhondda Valley looks on a sunny Sunday morning as you make your way north from the start at Margam Country Park near Port Talbot, how uplifting it feels to crest the first climb of the day at Bwlch and then soar down the other side with hundreds of other grinning riders. They don’t tell you about the little flutter you feel in your stomach as you start the Devil’s Elbow, a tough climb made all the more tough by the fact that you can see riders winding up the hill high over your head as you approach the first hairpin. They don’t prepare you for the breath-taking views from the top of the hill near Trecastle, nor for the kindness and encouragement expressed by pretty much everyone whose paths you cross – from motorists held up by the ride to horse riders to the little kids handing out plastic cups of water in Neath, just when you start to think the ride – and the climbing – will never end.

The Gran Fondo route is 230km long and involves 3,600 metres of climbing and if that’s not tough enough for you (and it was more than tough enough for us) there’s the Dragon Devil route that takes the distance past the 300km mark and the climbing up to 4,800 metres. It’s an epic ride, whichever route you choose, but it’s this successful marriage of hard, efficient management work and the much less manageable, less definable delights of the region that make it something really special. We will be back.