Event Review

Wiggle Dragon Ride REVIEW

by James Berresford


Distances: 38 km (Women only) / 128 km / 211 km
Entry fee: £50
Participants: 5000
Start: Margam Country Park, Port Talbot, South Wales
Catering: Free pasta and noodles at the finish, food available on site, widely stocked feed stations with sweet and savoury
Timed:  Yes (Helmet stickers, timed climbs)
Signs: Black arrows on a yellow background
Roads:  Generally OK, One steep descent onto a junction  and some patchy tarmac
Swag: Finishers' medal, promotional samples
Route:   http://www.strava.com/activities/59314835 

The Ride:

climbing riders

The Dragon Ride is one of the premier events in the UK sportive calendar. I last took part in 2011 and in those two years the event has grown-up considerably. The first big move is the start; to Margam Country Park, a beautiful and practical setting which seems to comfortably accommodate the 5000+ riders who participate in the three events on the day; the women only Cycletta, run over 38km, the Medio 128km route and the Grand Fondo 210km, my ride of choice. The second big change was the route, an already challenging 190km had been inflated by 20km along with the addition of around 1000m of climbing. I didn't remember finishing that one with a lot in the tank so it was clear this was going to be a long day.

starting pens
Starting Pen

We arrived on site promptly at 6:30am, an hour before our start time having stayed in a hotel a couple of junctions down. The site was easily accessible from the motorway and there were no queues at any point in parking the car.The weather really couldn't have been finer with temperatures in the high teens even at that ungodly hour. Entry packs were sent out prior to the event containing a helmet mounted timing sticker and bike numbers so there were no real logistics to overcome once we had parked up.

We built up our bikes and rolled into the event village, consisting of a large area of tents and vans from event sponsors, Wiggle, plenty of toilets, food vans, a massage tent, food tent, and various others required to support an event of this size.It seemed we were uncharacteristically efficient and one of the first to take our places in one of the starting pens. Previous to the event riders had been allocated a start time within 15 minute windows. Similar to the etape du tour, riders were then grouped in metal pens and released in controlled groups at 4 minute intervals, this -quite effectively it seemed- kept the riders spaced out on the road and kept huge unwieldy groups and overtaking to a minimum.

The Startline

Being one of the first off in the first wave meant that the initial group we were in set off like a rocket. A sizable peloton had already formed as we swung out of Margam Park onto the main road. The 2011 route opened with a roughly flat section as it headed down the coast which made for some extremely fast group riding and brought the legs on (or caused a few to explode) before we hit the hills. Not so with this newer route where the jagged profile started unrelenting from a few kilometres in, quickly sorting and selecting the group into thinner waves. I held with a group pushing an ambitious pace towards 40kmh until we hit the first real hill out of Maesteg and my legs and heart brought me back to reality and I was spat out into no-mans' land, a position that I was to become quite familiar with for a lot of the day. Descending from the top of Maesteg there was a slightly dicey section, one of the only parts where I felt safety could have been improved as we descended quite steeply on to traffic lights as the route switched back sharply up the main road to the right.I joined forces with a guy in La Fuga kit and we pressed on up the valleys over what in many rides would be considered climbs but here seemed comparatively insignificant.

The temperature continued to rise through the morning and the day gave way to unbroken blue skies making for frequently breath-taking views.At 70km the ride got serious as we climbed the Black Mountain onto open moorland at each side. The wind had picked up a little and an already tough ride was made even tougher on these exposed sections.Descending we entered a fabulous rolling section with the wind at our backs we bombed down through country lanes over rolling roads where even the slight ups felt like downs. It was too good to last though as we took a sharp hair pin we paid for our gains and fought back into the wind for a good hour on a road that seemed to endlessly rise, only reaching the top around 110km in.

food station in the heat
Much Needed Feed Stop In The Heat

I took my first feed stop soon after, which was well manned and well stocked with energy products and fruit and sweets. The energy was much needed as there was no let-up in the route as the climbs just kept on coming. As we eventually hit the bottom of the Devil's Elbow myself and the rider next to me acknowledged the timed climb signs, looked at each, shook our heads in something approaching despair and ground on at the same steady pace. This climb was a bit of a monster, not as long as some of its brethren but steep and twisting, building to a steep crescendo at the very top where the photographers had kindly gathered to capture every grimace.

cruel devils elbow
The Cruel Devil's Elbow

Then came Rhigos with a completely different character starting almost imperceptibly from the town with a gradual ramp, I tapped out a steady rhythm with a rider at my side but still felt the lactic build as we approached what I thought was the top, but merely a section where it flattens out a little and where the real climb announces itself, snaking into the moorland ahead.

climbing the bwlch
Climbing The Bwlch

The last big challenge wasn't far behind, the Bwlch, yet another grueler, what it lacks in gradient it makes up for distance and at this time in the ride it was a very steady grind. Descending the Bwlch we were hitting some pace but were flagged down urgently by a steward in the road. I slowed to a stand-still around a small huddle of riders already congregated in the road. A very unfortunate accident had left a rider in quite critical condition forcing the organisers to cordon off the road. Our group was slowly filed passed after a short and sombre wait however the road behind was closed for around half an hour while a helicopter landed and airlifted the injured party to hospital.

Trying to put the accident behind us we pushed on to the valley bottom and a closing section which was finally comparatively fast and flat and allowed for some great group riding, but our eagerness to get home was fractured a little by many traffic lights which all seemed to be against us.We eventually made it and entered the event village to the enthusiastic compere's announcements who was still going strong from that morning. I gratefully enjoyed the complementary pasta, noodles and a sports massage.

post ride massage
Post Ride Massage

The Dragon Ride in its current form really lives up to its ferocious reputation. The distance, the relentless climbing with the really big hills weighted to the end give it a difficulty that puts it up there on the European sportive stage. It's difficult to fault the organisation as the day ran smoothly from start to finish. It's very sad that the end of the race was overshadowed by a serious accident however it's difficult to see that the organisers could do anything differently here and only serves to highlight that unfortunately there is some danger in cycling in all circumstances.The only points I'd make are that making the event closed road would really lift it to a higher level, one which really befits an event of its stature, and possibly a little controversially; I think the route would benefit from a few faster rolling sections, as quick group riding is a big part of what make these big sportives such a joy. But already a superb, if slightly painful, day in the saddle that I'm sure I'll be talking about for years to come.

The Dragon Ride 2014 priority window will open at 9am on Thurs 3rd Oct. Those who entered/paid for both the Dragon and Etape Cymru this year and those who have entered 5yrs or more of the Dragon Ride will be eligible to enter.

General entries will be open on 10th Oct. Go to: www.humanrace.co.uk/cycling

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 9 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 9 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 10 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 10 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 9 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 94.4%

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13th June 2013 3:08pm lanternerouge wrote:

Great review of what was an exhilarating day :)

14th June 2013 2:01pm RichardNeil wrote:

Comprehensive review, but not everything was as perfect as suggested - crowded feed stations for one. The review correctly highlights the high number of traffic lights particularly in the early stages. My 'rolling' time was almost 25 mins less than my start to finish time, emphasising how much time can be lost due to factors outside my control.