Guest Post: From Radyr to Llantwit Major, via the Bwlch – by Gareth Thomas

I’ve had my road bike for a little under four years now, but there was a period when it stayed in the garage for at least two years just gathering dust.

I rescued it last summer and have been gradually building up my fitness with the goal of completing Velothon Wales in May.

As it was a bank holiday on Monday I’d planned a challenging route (for me) and had always wanted to do the Bwlch from the Rhondda valley side after a handful of efforts from Nant-y-Moel over the years on various different bikes.

The plan was to set off at 08.00 and take the Taff Trail to Pontypridd. I had then planned to ride to Treorchy, Maesteg, Aberkenfig and Bridgend before meeting up with my wife and children in my favourite (ever) pub. The pub being the Plough and Harrow in Monknash.

It’s fair to say that my ride didn’t start as planned. As it was my turn for a lie-in, I’d managed to sleep until 08.00. I’ve found that training when you have children is always a constant battle between getting enough miles in and spending quality time with your little ones. As a “compromise” I’d agreed to shorten the ride to meet my family in the beach at Llantwit at 13.00. This meant a shorter ride, given my late departure, and sadly missing out the pub.

Thinking on the spot I (mis)calculated that, by going via Llantrisant to Treorchy and then down the Ogmore Valley rather than the Llynfi after the Bwlch, should sufficiently shorten the ride to enable me to make the agreed rendezvous point. This was despite the extra few miles to Llantwit rather than Monknash.

After a breakfast of pancakes (made from banana, eggs and protein powder) served with almond butter, I eventually set off at 09.30.

I stuck to fairly major roads but as it was a bank holiday this wasn’t an issue. If and when I do this route again I will have to set off quite early in the morning on a weekend to ensure I don’t meet heavy traffic.

I chose a slightly higher gear on the Pentyrch climb than my previous effort but still only got a PB on one section according to Strava.

The route up to and from Cross Inn are both steep but as I need the hill work anyway I didn’t mind that.

As I’d been building up my fitness since last summer I felt quite strong, the gradual increase up the Rhondda valley wasn’t a problem. Mentally though I hadn’t realised how far Treorchy is from Radyr. The road signs started playing tricks on me too. I passed at least three telling me that Treorchy was 3 miles away and those signs were fairly well spread out.

I nearly missed the turn off for the Bwlch and headed up Cwm Park. Luckily, I recognised the junction though, as I grew up in Nant-y-Moel, so circled back at the now derelict petrol station.

Just at the junction for the Bwlch I was overtaken by a much faster cyclist which didn’t help my confidence. It was a hard slog up the Bwlch, but I chose a fairly low gear and plodded on. The view when nearly at the top is incredible. As the road double backs on itself up the climb a simple glance to your left gives you a fantastic feeling of accomplishment.

The brake free descent into the Ogmore Valley was pure joy and took my right back to my childhood in more ways than one.

The Ogmore Valley Cycle track is then a fast, traffic free, way of getting from Nant-y-Moel to Sarn without the need for negotiating the climb at Blackmill or “the bends” the other side which can be quite hairy on a bike. The route follows the old railway tracks which once carried coal down the valley from its numerous pits and washeries. It is very scenic and runs along the River Ogmore which I did my A’ level Geography project on. Unfortunately, as time was against me I didn’t appreciate the views as much as I should have.

At Bridgend I cycled past the Brewery Field the local “big club” for me growing up and I then picked up the road out to Ewenny. I was feeling tired but okay at this point until I saw the road sign for Llantwit Major and noticed it was 9 miles away. In my head before setting off it was only 4 or 5 miles (another poor estimate). This brought in quite a bit of stress for me as I knew the clock was against me and I can’t stand being late.

The undulating lanes out to the coast also took its toll on my now tired legs. My quads especially were giving me pain I’d never experienced before. I began to wonder how my legs were still pedalling. I decided that it was probably more to do with habit now rather than any strength or fitness.

Even the road down to the beach at Llantwit was a struggle. The narrow lanes didn’t deter cars from overtaking me though, despite the oncoming traffic. What on earth possesses some drivers to try to save a few seconds in such a short stretch of road?

At the end of the 80km ride the hugs off my children, happy to see their Dad, and my very supportive wife were a welcome respite.

According to Strava 6 people did the Bwlch climb from Treorchy that day. I didn’t mind that I was the slowest and a good ten minutes off first place. However, judging my effort against all 2016 climbs really put my fitness into perspective. Out of the 424 rides I was in position 422. A fair way to go then before I made any dent in the stats. I need to stop doing these comparisons and remember that the only person I’m competing with is myself.

Strava

The ride took quite a bit out of me and made me realise how much work I have to do before the Velothon. Welcome advice came from an old friend, recently an iron man, in the evening though. His sage advice was simple and to the point. I merely have to “grow a pair”!

by Gareth Thomas

One thought on “Guest Post: From Radyr to Llantwit Major, via the Bwlch – by Gareth Thomas

Leave a Reply