Bryan Chapman Memorial 2016.
05.15 leaving the hotel. Dark. Damp. Cycle to start, riders everywhere, sign on, find Toby, find Tim. This is the Chester Road Club team for an Audax Classic.
06.00, Tea, food and we are off all 200. Strange machines, Elliptigo, tandems, MTB, Carbon Racers, Steel single speeds, tourers, titanium, inclusive. Panniers, seat packs, long distance kit. Anticipation, excitement, once more unto the breach.
Stage 1 Chepstow to Bronllys Honey Café 72k (45 miles)
Groups on road, jumping groups, loose Tim, find Tim, plenty of climbs, beautiful graded, fast downhill few cars, cold, damp, long sleeve jersey, no sun, fine pace, new country, Honey Café a marvel, fast, efficient, bacon, happy staff, sun trying to come out, headwind.
Stage 2 Bronllys to Llanidloes 160k (100 miles)
Bit of blue sky, smaller groups, just us three, passing other groups, head wind, sun out, motorbikes, dangerous drivers, dangerous motorbikes, wide bar mtb, Chatting to other groups, big day, big country, into Mid Wales, roads I know, Builth, hills, Rhayader, think of taking scenic route to Llandiloes, stick on main road and route, should of took scenic route, more hills more smiles. Traffic much lighter. Wall to wall blue sky, too cold for SS jersey. Pretty Llanidloes, Great Oak Café, excellent service, riders on floor, all tables full, sat in sun, all feeling good, high pace for a 600. Tim and Toby loving it.
Stage 3 Llanidloes to Kings 225k (140 miles)
Leaving Llanidloes in SS, hardly warm but in hope, sunshine, big sky, Route 8 to Staylittle, stunning valley, gain 300 meters with no climbing, off route, on best route, this is Wales, join main route at Staylittle, beautiful roads, abandoned mines, remote pubs, beautiful climb, deep gorges, effortless climbing to the high point of the Bryan Chapman, magic drop to sea level, pass through Machynlleth, mountain road under Cader Idris, lovely climb, amazing panorama, Toby and Tim, gentlemen of the road, Just seems us three lost everyone else, super-fast decent to Cross Foxes, Dolgellau, slowest traffic lights in the world, approach Kings Youth Hostel, bloody hell that was steep, organiser has a sense of humour, bike everywhere, riders sleeping on grass, good food, three courses, see old friends, bump into the same groups we have been seeing all day, we are riding together several hundred meters apart. Youth Hostel stuck in 1972.
Stage 4 Kings YH to Menai Bridge 313k (195 miles)
Wall to wall sunshine, warm, short sleeves, beautiful roads, fine pace, sea, Barmouth Bridge, Estuary washed in sun, people eating ice cream, holiday atmosphere, coast road, Cardigan Bay, Beautiful Harlech, Castle, sandy beaches, mountains, Wales at its finest. Leave coast, head inland, Spar stop, catch group, stay on back, slight uphill, group goes backwards, leave group, how the hell will they finish? Stunning Beddgelert full of tourists and sunshine, stunning lakes, mountains and climbing up to Llanberis Pass, Snowdon Towering above, Parking tickets, shimmering lakes, mighty mountains, overtaking a tandem with a bind stocker, in awe. Stop at Pan Y Pass, amazing mountain decent to LLanberis, on to Menai, cross bridge under a low sun, find control, baked potato and beans, excellent control, put on winter kit, getting cold, Team Chester Road Club all doing well.
Stage 5 Menai to Kings YH 396k (246 miles)
Back over bridge, turning for home, soon dark, stuck on little lane, little sign of life, people in pubs, getting cold, gps says 2c, valleys with no lights, no cars, only people are near pubs, under Snowdon once more, 1000 stars, Toby lights fail, have spare, following moon, amazing cycling, Tim, puncture in the cold, only mechanical, climbing to Trawsfynydd, long climb, longer than remember, never stops, legs good, sickness in group, high on moor, no sign of life, long drag, long hours in saddle but just over half way, -2c, can’t feel feet and hands, cold. Beautiful, hear owls, dropping, fast decent, soon in the valley, soon at Kings, pass rider who has lost a chain, feel guilty not offering to help, but the slope was too steep for me to get back on bike, back in YH. Bikes everywhere, some only just got there for the 1st time, choice of food or bed, Tim chooses bed, Toby and I choose food, sleep on floor, riders sleep where they can, noisy, cleats on floor, survival blankets rustling, People snoring, 2 hours, up out into the darkness once more.
Stage 6 Kings to Aberhafesp 461 km (286 miles)
Dark, -3c, dawn coming, past Dolgellau, long long climb up to Corris, not as steep as it looked, Sickness in group again, hard getting food balance on long stuff, riders ahead, riders behind, freezing cold, sun touching top of mountains, awe inspiring country, valleys in deep blue cold, high speed decent, even colder, cold to core, amazing amphitheatre, Welsh mountains, winding road to Aberhafesp backed in sunshine, still subzero, falling asleep on bike, legs good, shout at self to stay awake, perfect blue sky, world is waking up, Aberhafesp = haven, bacon, beans, toast, half an hour on an air bed, rice pudding, world is warming up.
Stage 7 Aberhafesp to Llandrindod Wells 512k (318 miles)
Beautiful day, refreshed, stuck behind tractor, take off winter kit, Dolfor Mountain Road, rider with snapped spokes, he would finish, wall to wall blue sky, inspiring views, beautiful climb up to Dolfor, wonderful descent, all climbing effortless, legs good, Herb Garden Café, another perfect control, tea cake, riders everywhere yet we see hardly any on road, warm now 17c. Just a 100k or so left 500 done.
Stage 8 Llandrindod Wells to Chepstow 615k (382 miles)
Last leg, Perfect sunshine, SS jersey, dropping to Builth, beautiful valley, avoiding main road, undulating, cycle path of quality, soon onto Abergavenny, soon back with crazy motorbikes, some long climbs with fantastic views, lovely wide descents, high speed, past the Honey Café, it full, it is excellent, we don’t stop, up one long long climb, see some club cyclists descending, I wonder if they have any idea how long we have been riding? lots of gears left, all riding well, all in good humour, nearly home, one massive descent, did we really ride up that? We did. In prompt café stop, slow service, sat in sun, lovely, ice cream, feel like a tourist, one last dig to cut the miles down, fast on the flat, feeling effortless after nearly 600k, man with hammer can turn up any time, but stays away, Usk, one last long climb, Tim has good humoured swearing outburst, laughing, panoramic views, a pleasure, passing other groups, and then an amazing descent, we can see the Severn Bridge, soon in Chepstow, soon at the finish. Debbie and Jet, more food, starving, not enough decent food at control, handshakes, but it takes a while for a 600k to sink in. Top team. Top ride and summed up in one word by Tim Williams – Blimey.
Toby and Tim had a magnificent first 600k. Couldn’t ask for better company. Crossed Wales twice, climbed many a mountain and crossed many a valley, well and truly audaxed. Blimey once more. What next?