Event Review

Wiggle Etape Cymru REVIEW II

by Sarah Lewis

Wiggle Etape Cymru 
Sunday 8th September 2013
Bangor-on-Dee, Wales 

Contrary to the majority of sportives spread across the year, there was only one route option at the Wiggle Etape Cymru: an 88-mile closed-road adventure through North Wales, taking in the Clwydian Range and Dee Valley (meaning around 6,500 feet of ascent!). Billed as the "UK's toughest closed-road sportive", I'll happily admit that it was an event I was a little nervous about - especially since my training had been pretty drastically limited by moving house, starting a new job and doing other 'necessary' things like IKEA trips and exploring the local area (read: pubs and places that do good cake). 

Also bucking the trend of many sportives, the organisers asked that participants picked up their registration packs in advance of the event - rather than the more traditional dissemination by post. While I heard a few mutterings of this being a bit of a pain, the mini (yet pretty comprehensive) cycle show that organisers, Human Race, had set up was definitely well attended and was handily just around the corner from the Horseshoe Pass for anyone that fancied a recce. 

On the morning itself I had a start time of 7.10am. Driving in however, it was pretty obvious that this timing would become a little more flexible as a long, winding line of brake lights and bike racks crawled into the distance. Due to the event taking place on closed roads, there was just the one entrance so traffic was a little slow. Being absolutely honest though, this was the only aspect of the day that I'd describe as being even mildly negative and it was just one of those things to get out of the way before unloading. 

Early start

Preparing for the off 

Amongst those making final preparations and heading to the start line, I met up with Becs and Lou from Team Mule Bar Girl - Sigma Sport who I'd arranged to ride with. Setting off at around 7.55, we rolled over the start line and had soon covered a couple of miles and warmed up a little. I knew from the mental image I had of the profile that the road would be going gradually uphill, but there was a short spike early-on that was definitely a surprise: almost immediately, everyone we were riding with was out of their respective saddles and grinding upward. Upon regrouping, we shared a few breathless and good-humoured remarks along the lines of "wasn't expecting that!" before getting back into a bit of a rhythm and following the very well-signposted route just south of Wrexham. 

The first feed station appeared after around 15 miles and offered a pretty good selection of sweet and savoury to keep you going, as well as the all-important portaloos and a Wiggle tent manned by mechanics. One of the marshals enthusiastically informed us that Panorama was just around the corner, with the Horseshoe Pass following not long after that. Heading off again, it wasn't long until we reached the top of Panorama - sort of without our legs realising! As the name suggests, the views were incredible across the valley so it was pretty difficult to concentrate on the road. 

Should have used my camera's panoramic setting... 

Seven miles on from the feed station the start of the timed Horseshoe Pass ascent appeared, signalled by some sort of contraption that picked up on the fact that the timing chips on our helmets had gone past - but looked more like it belonged in a dentist's surgery. With 6.1km of climbing ahead (and the knowledge that Geraint Thomas held the course record of 14.27 minutes) it was interesting to see the approaches of different riders, with the majority opting for a steady rhythm rather than really digging in. 

I'd had feelings of foreboding in the days and miles gone by, but the Horseshoe Pass was absolutely stunning and a really enjoyable climb. Being able to see across to the other side of the valley on both the lower and upper slopes provided a spectacular backdrop and was great to measure out your effort. Reaching the top I was pretty sure I'd be nowhere near winning the women's KOM competition, but stopping for a chat with a few other riders who were waiting to regroup, we were all in agreement that the Horseshoe Pass deserved its place as one of the 100 greatest climbs in the UK. 

Downhill after rounding the top of the Horseshoe Pass 

26 miles in, we met the start of a big loop out to the south west, towards Corwen. This next section offered some stunning riding on undulating roads which really made you stop (not literally) and appreciate the lack of cars. The second feed station popped up early in the loop and it was there we made the awesome discovery of boiled, buttery potatoes as an energy source. After so far nibbling on energy bars and custard creams, the platter of potatoes was a welcome break and something we then looked forward to at each stop. 

Feed station two - and the wonderful potatoes

Physics lesson 

Coming back off of the loop, the route meandered out to the north west before hairpinning back with a long, steady climb up to Llandegla somewhere around mile 55. From here, our legs were offered a bit of respite with a section along the A525 but there was a brief need to concentrate when an ambulance came screaming past. If it was for anyone taking part, then I hope they've had a speedy recovery. 

Further along the A525 was the next feed station which introduced another savoury treat: Welsh rarebit. This went down very well indeed with everyone clustered around the tent, especially since it had just started raining and they'd brought out a hot, freshly made batch oozing with cheese. Along with a rather inspirational sign in my chosen portaloo, it was great preparation for what was just around the corner: World's End. 

I don't often take photos inside portaloos, but thought this was worth it 

This was a climb that I'd conveniently forgotten about but just a couple of miles beyond the rarebit, the road swung sharply around to the right and a signpost warned of what was to come. Immediately you could see the road ramp up, with the majority of people succumbing to pushing their bike up the couple of hundred metres of tarmac at an unforgiving 25% I'm proud to say that we were part of the handful that stayed on the bike, drawing comments from locals who made us very aware of the profile ahead. 

Whilst coming over the top of Panorama offered breathtaking views tinted by glorious sunlight, World's End was still visually impressive, but otherwise pretty much what it said on the tin. The wind had picked up and it began to rain quite heavily from low cloud at the top. Ironically, a decision to stop and put on my rain cape meant that the sun tan lotion I'd optimistically applied earlier in the day ran into my eyes and made for some blurry, stingy vision. 

It's the end of the world as we know it 

Getting our breath back, we rode across the barren moor before dropping down to follow the Eglwyseg River and teeter through the ford that we'd been warned about at the start. Riding slowly across, tensing everything, you could see the dangerously silky green algae below - as well as the luminous green jackets of the trio of St John's Ambulance staff waiting nearby to scoop up - and patch up - anyone that took a tumble. 

Though the wet weather meant taking it slightly easier, the descent from World's End was a lot of fun and ran quite nicely into the last 20 miles or so - which were a simple backtrack of the first 20 miles or so. Undulating, but definitely downhill, the roads were relatively fast and we quickly dried off.  

We had a quick, final drop into the last feed station (which had also been the first, with the enthusiastic marshal) for a couple more potatoes. Here, I narrowly avoided injury from a rather comedy issue involving my cleats not having any grip on the floor of a portaloo which was conveniently positioned on a downhill (take note!). 

With a fresh and unexpected batch of adrenaline racing through my body at this late stage following the portaloo incident, the finish soon appeared. Rolling over the line, we were greeted by a booming voice over the PA, a medal stretched over our helmets and a well-deserved goody bag. 


Having not really known what to expect, I was absolutely blown away by the event's route, organisation, friendliness and most of all, setting. With a good deal more local knowledge and definitely more preparation, I very much hope to be back next year and absolutely blown away again.

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) 10 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 10 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 8 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?) 10 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 10 out of 10
Overall Rating 95.6%