Tour of South Wales – Day Five – July 2021

Newport to Bristol

The fifth & final stage of my Tour of Wales adventure began with a bacon sandwich, orange juice & coffee – we were ‘only’ riding 62 miles today, so no need for a full fry-up!! We were packed, checked out of the hotel & on the road by 8.30am. The sky overhead was blue again, with clouds & possible showers forecast for late afternoon.

We re-traced the final mile of yesterday’s route on the A48 back towards Celtic Manor, before taking a right turn & started climbing straight away – not really what the legs needed before they had a chance to warm up. The reward for our hard work was that as we summited the climb, big views opened up across the valley to Celtic Manor golf course & beyond.

We entered a forest as we descended into Kerneys Inferior & could just make out the rush hour traffic on the A449 dual carriageway, just off to our left. As we continued on to Newbridge on Usk, we caught a view of the river Usk where birds were swooping down catching their breakfasts of flies & gnats. As we reached Llantrisant, the road started to rise again – while these early climbs were all less than a mile in length, they all provided stern tests, as they all had gradients that hit 10% plus.

On the next downhill section we passed a couple of large new build houses, which had us both saying if we won the lottery we’d want to buy one of them! Unfortunately they were well protected from my prying camera lens by lots of hedging.

In spite of doing a lot of riding around Usk, all these roads were new to us, as they were all to the south of town – I’m sure we’ll be back in the near future to explore some more, as we thoroughly enjoyed the lanes we did see.

We left Usk via the A472, then joined the much quieter B4235 at Gwernesney & continued across country to Raglan on roads we ride regularly. I stopped just after we crossed the busy A40 to get a photo of Raglan Castle, then we set off towards Monmouth on the Groesenon Road. I planned the route a few weeks ago so was fully expecting to follow the road all the way into Monmouth – it’s a regular training route.

It came as a surprise when my Wahoo GPS told us to turn down a small lane on National Cycle Route 42, but it was a gem of a detour, if a little lumpy! The next 6 miles into Monmouth had the profile of shark teeth – the narrow lanes were either climbing or descending, as we caught occasional glimpses of the surrounding hills & valleys.

We arrived in Monmouth at about 10.45am, with 25 miles completed, so stopped for carrot cake & cappuccino at Oxford Coffee Co – a new stop for us, but recommended by my work & cycling buddy Ian. It was a great little place & well worth a visit if ever you’re in the area.

Our final 20 miles of cycling Welsh roads took us up the Wye Valley on the A466, following the course of the river Wye as it joins the river Severn. This is a lovely stretch of road & in my experience, it’s rarely very busy – we were able to enjoy the ride even more than usual, as a tailwind pushed us home!

Although I know the road & views like the back of my hand, I deliberately acted as a cyclo-tourist, stopping to take photos whenever a nice view appeared.

Having passed Chepstow racecourse, we followed the cycle path to & over the Severn Bridge, where we stopped for a couple of final photos. Having arrived back in England, we reversed the route we took on Monday for the final 17 miles, passing through Olveston, Tockington & Frampton Cotterell. We had a very pleasant, but unexpected stop for a chat when I saw my sister-in-law Nikki & her Mum.

As the skies were beginning to darken overhead, we had to get on our way, continuing back towards the Bristol to Bath cycle path via Coalpit Heath & Emersons Green, until Sean & I eventually said our own goodbyes at Mangotsfield station, where the adventure began 5 days ago.

I’ve really enjoyed our Tour of Wales adventure – great company, experiencing off-roading routes & visiting areas of outstanding natural beauty. I’m sure I’ll be doing more touring in the future! Watch out for my next cycling adventure!

Tour of South Wales – Day Four – July 2021

Llanelli to Newport

Day four was billed as the Queen stage of our 5 day Tour of Wales adventure, so we started the day with a huge cooked breakfast. While Sean polished off every last morsel, breakfast defeated me & I was left hoping that this would be the only item to beat me today!

We were on the road by just after 9am & the first 3 or 4 miles were spent navigating our way along quiet residential roads as we left Llanelli & started heading east. We gambled on short-sleeved jerseys & suntan lotion as the morning forecast was dry with a possibility of showers in the afternoon.

As we crossed the river Lougher, we spotted a couple of fishermen dangling their rods in the river, hoping to catch lunch. At the 7 mile point we left suburbia behind us for a while – we joined a Sustrans cycle path for 4 miles, reminding Sean & myself of the Bristol to Bath cycle path from Bitton into Bath. It even had a hard-packed gravel section to keep us on our toes.

The cycle path delivered us onto Swansea Beach, where we joined the seafront cycle path for a few miles. We then had to navigate our way across Swansea on cycle lanes & cycle paths which kept us out of the way of the busy workers & shoppers.

As we circumnavigated Earlswood golf club, we took the cycle route across the A48 Briton Ferry bridge before battling a brief headwind to get onto the Aberavon sea front, where there were 100’s of people enjoying the sunny weather.

By now, we were over 2¼ hours (& 26 miles) into the adventure, so it was time to find somewhere to stop for refreshments. Selections Coffee Shop was in the main pedestrian walkway in Port Talbot (only a 10 minute ride from the Tata steelworks) & they served up a lovely piece of peach melba cheesecake washed down with a cappuccino.

The first 6 miles after our coffee stop were on National Cycle Route 4 (NCR 4) cycle path, keeping us off the busy main roads, just a few feet off to our right. When we hit Pyle, the ride turned into the adventure we’d been hoping for – we joined a gravel cycle track that took us through a beautiful forest, including a moving memorial to the 112 men & children who lost their lives in the Parc Slip colliery disaster of 1892. The names of all the victims have been recorded in the brick walkway – one family lost 6 sons in the incident, the youngest of which was 14 years old.

At Tondu we worked our way across to the next section of NCR 4 where we followed a more conventional cycle path, although it threw in a couple of short, but steep climbs, which were unexpected! This was a hors d’oeuvre for what was to follow – as we joined the A4041 at Blackmill the climbing started for real – 2 challenging ascents with a lightening quick descent in the middle – I rapidly ran out of gears & required my friends Grit & Determination to get me to the 2 summits!

We continued tracking east & slightly north on more cycle paths, before hitting Caerphilly, where we needed to take a couple of commuter roads to cross town. Luckily we avoided the steep climb of Caerphilly Mountain but did have a great surprise when we found ourselves passing the ancient castle at the 60 mile point.

Leaving Caerphilly, we re-joined NCR 4 as we took quiet country lanes through idyllic villages that mirrored the contours of the surrounding hills.

As we hit the 70 mile point, we started working our way round & across Newport. Although we once more followed busy roads, we were on separate cycle lanes. To all intents & purposes, the adventure was now over although we still had another 11 miles to go. We knew the ride was almost over when we passed Celtic Manor & before we knew it we’d arrived in Langstone & found our hotel for the evening.

The day can be separated into three distinct sections – busy roads crossing towns like Swansea, Port Talbot & Newport (although we rode next to the roads), the stunning & undulating scenery of NCR 4 & the glorious coastal views between Llanelli, Swansea & Port Talbot.

The day more than lived up to its Queen Stage billing as we had our 3rd epic day out on the trot – 81 miles (our longest of the trip), over 7 hours in the saddle & more than 4,500 feet of climbing on a fully laden touring bike! Tomorrow marks the end of this week’s Tour of Wales, but I feel that I’ll be back again to sample some more Welsh delights.

Tour of South Wales – Day Three – July 2021

Tour of Wales (Day Three) – Aberystwyth to Llanelli

Day Three started in a similar fashion to yesterday, with a cooked breakfast to replace yesterday’s calories. One big difference was that we were greeted with blue skies, so the arm warmers & rain jacket were relegated to the luggage! We were packed & on the road by 8.45am for what promised to be another big adventure.

Within 2 minutes of leaving our hotel, we were introduced to the first climb of the day – it was only ¼ mile long, but all of it was at a gradient of 16%! A rude awakening indeed. We joined the A487 for a couple of miles, sharing the road with a few early morning commuters. After about 2 miles we joined National Cycle Route 81, which started off on tarmac, before becoming gravel & finally a mile or so of muddy off-road – normally I’d avoid conditions like this at all costs, however this trip is about trying new experiences. There was one small section where the route was too challenging & we had to walk down a steep, slippery descent – sometimes discretion is the better part of valour.

Some 30 minutes (& only 5 miles) into the ride we joined the A485 at Llanilar, where we started climbing up to Rhos-y-Garth – a steady & consistent 650 foot climb that continued for a couple of miles. All this climbing meant that we only covered 9.7 miles in the first hour – the first time this has happened since one of my Alpine Adventures! As we crested the summit, we left the main road behind & joined an unclassified lane/track & cycled through wild & rugged countryside, with huge views in all directions.

We re-joined the A485 at the 15 mile marker & headed through Tregaron, before picking up the B4343 to Llandewi Trefi (made famous by Matt Lucas as The Only Gay In The Village). We were now following a small river downstream, occasionally switching sides as we passed through numerous hamlets.

We arrived at Lampeter after 28 miles & found a great little cafe, where we enjoyed a berry flapjack & cappuccino – if ever you visit Lampeter, look out for The Minds Eye, you won’t be disappointed!

Leaving town, we found ourselves on the A485 once again as we headed for Carmarthen. By & large the traffic was cyclist friendly with the exception of one lorry driver who scared the living daylights out of us both by trying to overtake, then pulling in on us as he realised there wasn’t room to pass. We survived, so no harm done. This was the part of the route where we clocked up quite a bit of the climbing, but because of the hedges either side of us, there were few opportunities to take in the scenery.

We reached Carmarthen after about 52 miles, so stopped in the pedestrian shopping centre for more nourishment – flapjack & sprite to top up energy levels. We then navigated our way across town, then found a deserted & unclassified road to take us out towards the river Towy at Ferryside, where we got our first view of the coast. This was part of a 10 mile detour & it was a great little addition. One of my aims of this week’s adventure was to live in the moment more & just go with the flow – our Alpine Adventures are organised to the finest detail, so this approach doesn’t come naturally to me.

From Ferryside, we followed a small lane that hugged the Carmarthen Bay coastline as far as Kidwelly, offering up great views of the estuary below. This was almost the last of the scenery as we took the A484 past Pembrey Country Park (where I watched the start of the opening stage of the 2018 Tour of Britain a few years ago – this was a couple of months after Geraint Thomas had won the Tour de France) & on to Burry Port.

We then followed the coastal cycle path into Llanelli, where we found our way across town to our hotel for the night. We had another stunning day in the saddle – different to yesterday, but in no way any less enjoyable.

Tour of South Wales – Day Two – July 2021

Brecon to Aberystwyth

After a huge fried breakfast to replace the calories we burned yesterday, we were ready for anything the day could throw at us. Just as well, as the ride began in rain & with a stiff climb straight out the blocks! Leaving town, we picked up the A470, passing through Felinfach towards Llyswen.

Within 30 minutes the rain had passed us by & we were able to store our rain jackets for a bit. As we reached Llyswen, we joined National Cycle Route 8. This took along the side of the heavily forested Wye valley with occasional views of the river way below us. Just as we joined the B4594 we passed the small village of Erwood where the old railway station had been preserved in pristine condition – there was even an old steam train on display.

From Erwood, we followed the contour of the Valley, making short, sharp efforts to climb 150 to 200 feet above the river, only to plummet back towards the valley floor straight afterwards. The constant change in gradient & elevation made it quite hard going, especially with the bike fully loaded. We briefly joined the A481, then the A483 as we continued to track the river Wye north & west, passing the outskirts of Builth Wells & the Royal Welsh Showground.

We were gradually climbing as we picked up the A470 again & continued in a north-westerly direction, passing through Newbridge-on-Usk (although it’s on the Wye!). The rain made one final attempt to dampen our spirits, but after 15 minutes or so, it gave up the ghost for good. In spite of spending time on A roads today, without exception they were fairly quiet & drivers were really considerate of us. It made the day so much more enjoyable.

At Llanwrthwl we turned off the A470 & took a small back lane up & out the Valley, as we headed towards The Elan Valley – the first shock was when the gradient reared up in excess of 15%. Definitely not what the legs needed! We stopped at the Elan Valley visitor centre to recover & enjoy a piece of banoffee pie & a cappuccino before embarking on a wild & wonderful adventure.

In 1893, 100 local people were moved out of their homes, so dams could be built which would provide fresh drinking water to Birmingham via a 73 mile aquaduct – an incredible feat of engineering in its day which today delivers 360 million litres of water per day to Birmingham!!

For the next couple of hours we climbed from the visitor centre past the 6 dams that make up the reservoir system, climbing some 1,000 feet in the process. The scenery & views were stunning as we switched between forest low down, then sheep covered heartland higher up. In places it reminded me of some of the high Alpine lakes I normally visit. If you get the chance, come & see it for yourself.

As we navigated around Craig Goch, the highest of the reservoirs, we assumed we’d pretty much finished the big climbing for the day – we were in for a big surprise!

The Aberystwyth mountain road(National Cycle Route 81) lived up to its name as we continued climbing for another 3 or 4 miles, with some of the gradients over 10%. There was some respite as we reached Cwmystwyth metal mine, as the road descended for a couple of miles down to the village.

Following a recommendation from a Welsh friend (name withheld, but you know who you are), we took a detour to Devil’s Bridge – this meant more climbing, as we had to get across to the next valley. There was a great little photo opportunity at The Arch, before we dropped down to Devil’s Bridge, famous for its waterfall & for having 3 bridges built one on top of the other over time. Another place worth a visit – we only had time to stop for an ice cream, I double scooped with banana split & vanilla with chocolate cookie!

Surely the climbing was all done now…….. well, no it wasn’t! There were big mountains all around us & we still had another 4 or 5 miles of leg sapping climbing to go. The views helped take our minds off how tired our legs were feeling!

As I stopped to get a photo of the river Ystwyth 100’s of feet below, a red kite glided overhead – if you look carefully you may just see it in the 2nd photo below.

This really was the last of the climbing & we just had to freewheel into Aberystwyth & find our hotel. This has been an epic day out exploring the best that Wales has to offer – I really can’t wait to come back & explore some more. Today’s ride from Brecon came in at 71 miles with 4,800 feet of climbing, a big day out with some stunning scenery on show!!

Tour of South Wales – Day One – July 2021

Bristol to Brecon

For the 2nd year running, my planned trip to the French & Spanish Pyrenees got cancelled. Rather than cry over spilt milk, I spent a few weeks considering alternative options & eventually decided on a 5 day adventure touring around South Wales. I’m delighted to say that my cycling buddy Sean has decided to join me!

This trip is a bit different to usual, as I’m carrying everything I need for the next 5 days on my bike – (my weight = 182 lbs, bike = 40 lbs, kit = 24 lbs) – in other words, I’m dragging 17 stone 8 lbs around with me & up every incline! As a result, this trip is about enjoying the adventure, rather than seeing how fast we can ride.

I met Sean at Mangotsfield Station on the Bristol to Bath cycle path at 8.30 & set off towards the old Severn Bridge crossing via quiet country lanes as we passed through Frampton Cotterell, Gaunts Earthcott & Tockington. With bruised grey skies, there was a constant threat of rain hanging in the air, but we’re on holiday, so a bit of rain wasn’t going to ruin the day. We were surprised by how strong the breeze was as we crossed the bridge & entered Wales, it was a battle to keep the bikes pointing in a straight line.

After skirting around Chepstow, we took the B4235 & started our first climb of the tour – the road was never that steep, as we meandered through the forest, reaching the summit near Shirenewton. From here it was a swift descent into Gwernesney & then on to Usk, where at the 35 mile marker we stopped at #49 for a bacon sarnie & coffee.

We took the B4598 past the windmill at Llancayo & the tank driving school at Kerneys Commander, before taking a left which brought us to the Heads of the Valley intersection. For the next couple miles we were on a busy main road as we followed the A465 towards the road to Crickhowell. A better route would have been to take the B4246 through Llanfoist & Govilon, but you live & learn.

Having left the A465, we joined the much quieter & more scenic A4077, where we bumped along the side of the Usk valley. We decided to stop for coffee & cake in Crickhowell – by this point we were some 52 miles into the ride. Da Latte was a great little find & after demolishing a slice of Terry’s chocolate orange & an americano, we were on our way again.

Leaving Crickhowell behind, we pushed on towards Talybont-on-Usk, where we joined the tow path of the Monmouth & Brecon canal for a few miles of gravel off-roading – this was the highlight of a great day of riding. We had the place to ourselves & it felt like we were in the back of beyond.

A number of my friends are probably picking themselves off the floor at this point, as I usually avoid this type of surface at all cost. However, my new touring bike has 35mm tyres & the purpose of my trip is to try new experiences outside my comfort zone.

All that remained was to pick up the main road for the last mile or so into Brecon & check-in to The Wellington, our pub accommodation for the evening. While we sat relaxing with a beer we both reflected on how quickly our first day had passed by – if our next 4 days follow the same pattern it will be a trip to remember! Tune in tomorrow to see where we’re heading next!!

Ovo Energy Tour of Britain

Beautiful Britain By Bike – Tour of Britain (stage one).
Back in July I entered a competition to win a day in the Vittoria UK Neutral Service Car for Stage One of the Tour of Britain – I was fortunate enough to have my name pulled out the hat & today I got to experience the thrills & spills of a top professional cycle race at close quarters! Even better, the prize was for 2 people, my good friend & long time cycling buddy Sean would be enjoying the experience too.

A mere 30 minutes after leaving our hotel in Llanelli, we arrived at Pembrey Country Park, for the start of the 2018 Tour of Britain. There were only a few hundred people on site when we turned up at 8.15am, but it wasn’t long before the fans & teams started turning up. We met our host Jon at 9.15 & he took us straight into the VIP section, where we enjoyed a coffee & panini as he talked us through the plan for the day.

There was time to catch up with Ian Ruck & Bryn (who was racing later at Pembrey – he finished 2nd!) for a fun 25 minutes looking round the team buses (they varied in size from camper vans for the domestic teams to the Death-Star (as it’s lovingly known) for Team Sky. The winner of best team car went to Team Pro One Cycling, as they’re sponsored by Aston Martin & three of them were on display!!! It was great to see so many of the riders making time to sign autographs for their young fans.

 

We then had exclusive access to the teams as they signed on prior to the start of the stage – Alex Dowsett was the British rider (& previous ToB stage winner) for Katusha Alpecin, while Connor Swift is the current British road race champion & was proudly sporting his stripes. Jon managed to get us in amongst the press, so we were right next to the riders, in fact I nearly bumped into Team GB’s Ben Swift! From here, Sean & I went our separate ways, as I went off to the Vittoria car, while Sean made his way to the finish for VIP access to the Tour village.

 

I was introduced to Marco (our driver) & Matteo (our mechanic), two Italians who made me feel welcome from the moment we met. We were in the lead Vittoria car, which would provide neutral service (drinks, spare wheels, mechanical assistance etc) if there was an early break. This is the biggest race in the UK cycling calendar, so I figured that it was a nailed on certainty that some of the domestic teams would want to have a rider up the road getting their sponsors some air-time on ITV4.

After an 8km neutralised start, the race began in earnest, with a mere 174.8km to go until the finish in Newport! It took about 45 minutes for the day’s 6 rider break to finally escape from the main peloton – there were representatives from Team Dimension Data, Team GB, Madison Genesis, JLT Condor, Canyon Eisberg & Team Wiggins.

 

The excitement began for me when we pulled to the side of the road to let the breakaway past, as we were now officially in business. If anyone needed any assistance, we’d be in the middle of action! As we headed for the first intermediate sprint in Camarthen, it was clear that the supporters were out in force to support the Tour of Britain – in places the crowd was 4 or 5 deep. The race was taking place on rolling closed roads, where the entire race convoy is protected in a bubble of road closures, which is expertly organised by the local police & race marshals. The riders can race safe in the knowledge that they won’t meet any oncoming traffic, but the roads are also only shut for a short period of time.

After an hour of racing the peloton had covered 47km & the break had a lead of almost 2 minutes. We were now nearing the first of the day’s climbs Bethlehem Hill & it was here that misfortune struck Richard Handley of Madison Genesis – a rear wheel puncture! His team car was there within seconds of him stopping, but the convoy of service cars (including us) were past in a flash & it looked like his time in the break was over. However, Richard had other ideas, as he sprinted past us as the climb began & he tucked in behind the Canyon Eisberg car to get some aero assistance as he chased down the rest of the break.

 

Up ahead, the break split in two on the descent & Richard joined the chasers of Canyon Eisberg & Team GB, as it became a 3 vs 3 time trial for a couple of kilometres. Eventually they managed to join up with the 3 leaders again & it were back to a 6 man break. Then out of the blue we were called into action, as Nic Dlamini of Team Dimension Data needed a drink & we were on the scene in no time! Everything looks so simply on tv, but the reality is that both bike & car are speeding along at in excess of 45 km an hour & the slightest mistake will spell disaster. However, all went well on this occasion & Nic soon joined his 5 escapees.

 

As we headed for the 2nd King of the Mountains climb, the peloton still had the break in their sights – a mere 1 minute 30 separated to the two groups & all the support vehicles were called out of the gap & we were sent ahead by race control. Although this was the last of the action that we’d see, we had a front row view of the incredible crowd that had turned out to welcome Geraint Thomas as he rode on his home roads. A Welsh winner of the Tour de France & here he was being lauded by his countrymen & women, what an amazing sight it was!

20180902_150127

We sped away from the race that was taking place behind & we were able to park up & get to the finish line just ahead of the action, as Andre Griepel just held off Caleb Ewen & Fernando Gaviria for the win! Marco, Matt & I had our photos taken together, so I had a memento of a special day at the Tour of Britain.

 

Then as I was heading to the presentation podium, I passed the Team Sky bus & managed to get a snap of Geraint Thomas & Chris Froome as they were warming down!

 

The final act of the day was to meet up with Sean & Jon in the VIP village, where we climbed aboard the Vittoria bus for a coffee & to catch up on all we’d seen. I want to end my update by saying an enormous THANK YOU to Jon, Marco & Matt for a truly exceptional day & to Katie at Vittoria UK for organising everything.