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Etape Cymru Press Day REVIEW

by Sean Lacey

I rode the inaugural Etape Cymru in October last year, which although had a fantastic and challenging route, was let down by a number of logistical and organisational errors. I was fortunate therefore to be invited to the press launch of the revamped 2012 edition, which would be a good opportunity to see what new organisers Participate Sport (whose staff were organisers of the Etape Caledonia and London Triathlon) have planned to combat the problems.

Cyclosport's Sean Lacey takes on the Etape Cymru Press Preview

Meeting up in bright sunshine at a hotel in Llangollen, not hours off a flight back from his World Record time and Gold medal at the World Championships in Melbourne, Geraint Thomas was already the centre of attention with the various journalists in attendance snapping casual photos as he got ready and set up his bike. Yanto Barker of Team UK Youth and Le Col clothing fame was also in attendance along with James Golding, an inspirational guy who has survived cancer and raised countless thousands for cancer charities via his many cycling exploits. Staff from Participate were also making everyone welcome and had a quick chat with me before the off.

Getting ready for the ride

The Pros chat

Barely 2 minutes on the bike and we stopped on the bridge over the river Dee in the centre of town for the first photo shoot with all of us assembled along the one side. It made for some great photos no doubt; this is a stunning area of the world.

Back on the bikes and straight into the climbing, up towards the Panorama road - this was quite a surreal experience sitting on Geraint's wheel, someone with such a prestigious palmarès, and for me a real honour considering his achievements not days earlier in Melbourne. A quick stop to regroup and we were off onto the climb proper. It's a fairly long climb up and steep with it, a real leg tester this early on and featuring later on in the route proper. 

Here my gears were playing up something terrible, despite me re-indexing them the day before, this was to be a feature of the day as no matter how many times I tweaked them, including a full re-index later on at the top of the Horseshoe Pass, they never did work correctly all day. Nevertheless, the problems didn't detract from the truly spectacular scenery up here, even if the intermittent rain and hail tried to spoil the party. The views were stunning as we cycled along the top towards Worlds End; it's an area of the country everyone should visit at least once in their lives I reckon.

Wild Welsh scenery

Another meet up at the end of the flatter section and we turned around to head back down to wards the Horseshoe Pass, while Sky Sports Olympic correspondent Orla Chennaoui conducted a ride along interview with Geraint. As these things take a bit of setting up the rest of us had a bit of a chat at the junction while we waited for them to catch up. It had rained a little previously so wet and a bit cold we were eager to get going again!

Hillside gossiping

Onwards and definitely upwards, it was time to hit the Horseshoe Pass itself. A major feature of the event it features as a timed section. Very alpine in style, it's not horrendously steep but it is long, with a couple of switchbacks getting you to the top. Last year when I climbed it there was a horrendous headwind for the majority of the climb which made it a miserable affair, but today was much better, the rain had temporarily cleared and there was even a slight tailwind. 

Geraint, Yanto and the big boys were soon off into the distance so it was a case of find a rhythm and have at it. It was much easier this time and an absolute pleasure if truth be told. With a clear sky the scenery was something to be admired at my climbing speed and it wasn't too long before I caught up with the rest just before the top, where they had stopped for more photos and filming with the valley in the background.

Yanto on the lookout

One of Geraint's many ride-bys

Geraint poses for the cameras

Another full session done, we congregated at the famous Ponderosa Café at the very top of the climb and took the fast descent off the back of the Pass to ride the few miles to our lunch stop and main shoot at the Coed Llandegla outdoor centre. After a nice buffet spread it was a good opportunity to have a chat with the other journalists there from the major publishers and websites and even three local Mayors who were very positive about the event and the focus on their areas.

Time for lunch

Coed Llandegla, location for the interviews

The local dignitaries watch Geraint ride off road

I also had the opportunity to glean more information on the event from the organisers. Asked about the problems I encountered last year, all of which have been addressed - The most serious of the issues was the closed roads that had traffic on them, something you definitely don't want to come across when you aren't expecting it and poor signage which was easily tampered with. This year far more attention will be paid to this, with more trained marshals, and better integration with the Police and local residents to ensure they are aware of the closures and much better and more secure route signs. 

Yours truly

The start has now moved to Bangor-on-Dee racecourse, which is a far more suitable event HQ with the space required for the riders, event village and parking, which was haphazard last year in the maze of the Wrexham industrial estate, and better facilities all round. Also this year the start will be staggered, eliminating the mass start clogging up on the narrow roads only a couple of miles from the start. The other big issue I encountered was the poor state of the feed stops - even the first one early on was almost completely depleted of supplies (and I was no way near the back at that point), the following stations were pretty much empty of food and water entirely further in. Zipvit are again the nutrition supplier and it would seem that the stations will be much better stocked and more efficiently run to ensure every entrant gets the supplies they need.

The interviews and shoots with Geraint continued for another hour or so, and the journalists left one by one as their assignments were complete. All that was left was to get back to Llangollen, once again over the Pass which is a much easier climb from this side, then a fantastic miles long descent back into town. The sun was out for good by the looks of it and the pretty Welsh town was full of tourists again.

Llangollen from the bridge

The Etape Cymru was an event that promised to be fantastic last year, the Welsh scenery didn't disappoint but the problems did and as these all look to be in hand, this year should be the great event it deserves to be. Jennifer will be riding and reviewing the event and I'll be riding too and I think we are both really looking forward to taking on the challenge!