It may have been beautiful –Wales just is, but what on Earth possessed us to do this ride we don’t know. It may have only been 100Km, which on the back of a couple of 200Km rides doesn’t sound much, but the Devil is in the detail.
Perhaps we should start by explaining what the Cambrian series is. Aside from the usual “calendar” events, there is also a list of “permanent” rides that you can pick up and do whenever you feel like. This includes DIY Permanents that you design by yourself, such as the one we did before.
As a subset of the permanent rides is the Cambrian series. Most of these are hilly affairs from 100Km to 1015Km. They’re for the lunatics of the Audax community. With the 1K the 1 denotes the distance in hundreds of Kilometres and K its order in the series.
The Cambrian 1K
With this series and indeed many other permanents, you can pick up the route at whichever point you fancy. For us, Mountain Ash was the nearest, so we set off for Mountain Ash late yesterday morning before stopping for coffee at the rather rustic Pla’s Thai Cafe.
They’re a real bunch of characters in there –the cafe is as basic as they come, but the people working there are warm, welcoming and entertaining. They let us bring our bikes in; we had coffee and a good laugh with the people there.
Anyway, we left Mountain Ash via a cash machine to get a receipt, acting as a timestamp for the start of the ride. We now had 8 hours to get around this rather absurd but undeniably beautiful course.
The 1K is an exposition of many of the epic climbs in our list. Some of them more than once!
Bryn Du (1)
The first big climb of the day was Bryn Du. It’s number 96 on the official 100 Greatest Climbs list and it is a bit of a stinker, at least for the start of it. The hill up to the end of the residential area is very steep, but mercifully it then levels off a little to a more manageable slog.
On reasonably fresh legs it wasn’t too bad a climb at all. There are a number of switchbacks that allow you to break the climb up into chunks, but it eventually opens out and you catch a tremendous view over the valley to your left. There’s more climbing to do at this point, but the worst is arguably over.
From here there is a long descent into Ferndale, where our first control would be. We stopped at a garage to buy junk food and to take a comfort break before climbing up Penrhys Road, down to Gelli and the start of the next climb.
The Bwlch (1)
We attacked the Bwlch from the Gelli/Treorchy side. Whichever side you take, the Bwlch is never easy but despite Bryn Du and Penrhys the legs still felt remarkably good. What wasn’t so good was that we barely seemed to be covering any ground at all. With the flatter 200’s we’ve done we’d be well into 60km-80km with this level of effort, but the hills kept coming with little respite.
Anyway, the gradient on the Bwlch didn’t seem so bad and we made it to the car park at the top where an ice cream van was waiting. A quick stop here for more water/coffee and an altercation with a flock of strangely aggressive sheep and we were on our way.
The next stop was Maesteg, which is quite a slog from where we were, especially on such hilly terrain. We headed through Price Town, Pant-yr-awel, Llety Brongu and a few other places we’ve never heard of before finally reaching Maesteg for a slightly longer stop.
There’s no way you can call Randonneuring glamorous. Eating a pasty at a petrol station in the middle of Maesteg –trying to conjure up lunch with limited options and limited time. We wouldn’t have it any other way and the test of resourcefulness is a lesson for life (ok…ED).
The Bwlch (2)
Our next destination was Cymmer and yes, that meant we were going over the Bwlch again, but from a different side. We we’ve been up this way before when we rode back from Neath. It’s a particularly beautiful way to climb this particular mountain, particularly as you look back down the road from the top. However, under Audax rules you need to be aiming to average around 15kph, but on a ride with so many stiff climbs, this proved very difficult indeed. Yes, you can make up time on the descents, but you are fighting a battle against time and lactic acid buildup in your legs, back, neck and pretty much everywhere else.
Still, the descents had so far been incredible and from the Bwlch it was no different. Coming down the way we went up the first time seemed to go on for an age, but boy it was fun and a great chance to cool off a bit. Treorchy lay at the bottom and marked another control.
We found a tremendous little cafe with wood panelling on the walls and a little sweet shop, almost trapped in time from decades ago. Once again, the people here were brilliant, accommodating and yet again the bikes were allowed in. The coffee & cake was also excellent and very much-needed, because another epic climb lay ahead.
The Rhigos was next on our list. It’s number 98 on the epic climbs list, but apparently not from this direction. Instead, the climb out from Blaenrhondda is an unspeakable slog that seems to go on for an eternity. With the legs and back screaming it may not have been any longer a climb than the Bwlch, but it was certainly harder to maintain the motivation to continue.
Still, as is often the case with these big hills, the reward of a stunning view and an incredible descent made it all worthwhile. Wales really is a beautiful, lush and green country.
From the Rhigos we dropped down into Hirwaun for another control. Much of Hirwaun industrial estate appears to be abandoned and there were few signs of life around there. However, we managed to find a guest house that mercifully had someone in it and was willing to sign the brevet cards.
We were almost on the home stretch now, but as we headed back to Aberdare, Bryn Du rolled into view. Strewth…here we go again.
Bryn Du (2)
Why do an epic climb once when you can do two of them twice. Such was the insanity of this ride, we ended up hitting the sort of climb you may only see once on a big ride…half a dozen times. The first trip up Bryn Du was relatively straightforward. Second time around was an entirely different ballgame.
This time it hurt…a lot. Legs, on fire. Back, ruined. Backside, don’t ask! Even the arms were starting to struggle and I was only using those to hold on.
To make matters slightly worse, we were running out of time. Our 8 hours were running down quickly, we had to stop at Maerdy for a receipt and then get back over the mountain to Mountain Ash for the finish.
From Maerdy we found what we thought was a cycle path, which quickly turned into a gravel track. 25mm tyres and gravel are not good bedfellows and that ate significantly into our time. We made it to the start of the Llanwonno climb (yes, we’re not kidding) with about 10 minutes left on the clock. Still a lot to do before reaching Mountain Ash.
We got back to the start a little late, beyond the cutoff. We’re pleading for clemency on account of all that suffering.
Still, the Trefil Travail after all that should be a walk in the park…