Not as well known as London-Edinburgh-London or Paris-Brest-Paris, but probably more challenging than either, the Mille Cymru is a 1000km+ ride that seems to cover most of Wales (the hilly bits). Chapeau to Trevor Stephens, who has let us have this ride report.
Shall I go or not? My right knee had been sore all week. £75 entry and £40 shirt, yes—f*ck it just go!
It’s Thursday the eve of the Mille Cymru 1018K and I’m camped next to the Upton Magna village hall watching a fellow entrant Tim doing some last minute repairs on his bike. Don’t get me wrong I’m not perfect, I always forget something (e.g. long fingered gloves, leg warmers, camera etc.) but I believe in preparing my bike well in advance of any long rides and I didn’t think this was the best time to be changing tyres, adjusting brakes and gears. Later that evening while having a meal and a few beers in the Haughmond Inn I asked Tim, “Have you done other long audax rides before?” “Oh yes” was his reply, seems he had done the LEL last year but finished 22 hrs out of time, best I don’t try and ride with him then!
Day 1 Breakfast – toilet – more breakfast – clean teeth – get on the road
75 Hrs in hand
After leaving Upton Magna under a threatening black sky with the third wave at 11:10 it was an easy first 20K—that was where the easy part ended. The first of the long climbs started with Long Mynd (411m) which wasn’t steep but it was a long climb and gave a little taste of what was to come in the next three days. On the descent the heavens opened and set the tone for the rest of the day with heavy thundery showers following. At the 61K mark the first control was the AUK ‘van of delights’ at Knighton Cemetery where I bumped into Tim who I would not see again until the end of day three. After another undulating and scenic 40K it was time to climb up and over the Gospel Pass (545m), then on to the second checkpoint at Llanthony (115K) and then onto Tintern for the next control at Kingstone Brewery (165K @1745hrs) where I sampled a bottle of their aptly named Challenger ale. With the first sleep control only 105K away on the other side of the Brecon Beacons it was constant climbing and descending and it was starting to get dark as I started to climb over Mynydd Eppynt (454m.) Feeling a little tired by that point and with my right knee starting to pain me I let the rest of the group I was riding with go ahead which gave me time to think if it was worth continuing with the ride on day two. Whilst descending deep in thought, all of a sudden the sky lit up and it sounded like world war three had just started. After I caught up with about ten riders who had been stopped by the Army, we were told that they were out on night manoeuvres and we were not allowed to move on until the road had been cleared. By the time we were released from martial control a few riders were shaking with the cold but with only 10K to go until supper and a night’s sleep we pushed on and arrived at Llanwrtyd Wells (270K @0120hrs.) With only 4.5 hrs in hand it was a quick eat as much as I could—a lovely hot sausage chilli casserole and rhubarb crumble and custard followed by three hours sleep. (No time for a shower, I don’t smell that bad.)
Day 2 Breakfast – toilet – more breakfast – clean teeth – get on the road
20 mins in hand
I was feeling good this morning with no aches or pains and really looking forwards to riding the 306K circular route out to the west coast and on to St David’s the UK’s smallest city, a place I last visited when I was 16 on my FS1E moped. The start of today took me on some familiar roads from the Brevet Cymru around Llandovery and after 50K took me up Llanllwni Mountain (402m) and on to the first control at Cilgerran (360K) where I had breakfast No3 courtesy of two audax volunteers from their farm house with views to die for. The next stage took me on to St David’s which was the same as 30 odd years ago but without my Uncle Charlie in the coastguard station. Leaving St David’s and climbing countless hills via the Cleddau Bridge (Audaxers love a good bridge) and info control at Lamphey followed by three foot tunnels (Audaxers love a good tunnel) I got to the Smugglers Inn control (478K) at Amroth where there was a large collection of classic hot rods taking part at the Pennine Sand speed week. The next control was once again the AUK ‘van of delights’ (494K). After riding most of the day by myself I left with Henry from Holland who had completed a 1200K audax in Ireland just the weekend before. We made good progress as the next section was mostly on the rolling A40 and we arrived back the Llanwrtyd Wells control (576K) just before midnight to feast on lamb hotpot and fruit with rice pudding followed by a shower and 4 hrs sleep.
Ok calm down! Just think about it and try to stand again. Was this the end of my Welsh adventure? With 442K still to go I did think so with my right knee swollen, stiff and bloody painful so out with the Zapain and Naproxen hoping that they will help.
I had some breakfast – toilet – some more breakfast – cleaned teeth and decided to push on as I had no idea how to get back to Upton Magna unless I follow the route sheet and I figured pain is only temporary, quitting lasts forever. After yesterday’s lovely weather the rain to start the day didn’t lighten my mood and after only 10K the Devil’s Staircase (481m) at 25% (1 in4) meant that I had to walk as it was too painful to ride. This was followed by the mountain road over Gamalit (471m) and Cenglau (481m) after 30K following more medication I was feeling better so pushed on to the first control which was down a 2K long 17% narrow lane where I passed others climbing back up from another Audax volunteers’ home (636K.)
Following breakfast No3 I climbed back up and headed off once again in the company of Henry and others to follow the mountain road to the Elan Valley reservoir info control (668K) and then on to Llanidloes control (703K) where I might have made a mistake by having a reduced price chicken burger in the local Spar shop. With only about 180 miles left to go I thought it would also be a good time to start using caffeine for the first time so following coffee and more pain killers we pushed on to follow the mountain road (509m) to the next control at Barmouth which was once again the AUK ‘van of delights’ this time I had a coffee to go with the cake and biscuits (777K).
With only another 99K and Snowdonia in the way of the next sleep stop we pushed on and climbed and climbed what was to be the hardest section of the whole ride. By the time I got to the next info control at Waunfawr (841K) I just wanted the day to end, but with 35K left to go we still had the Pen y Pass (359m) to climb which once at the top would have an easy drop down to finish. We reached the top at 2330hrs and the temperature had dropped to 1 degree and the ride down was cold wearing shorts and short fingered gloves (see I said I always forget something). By the time we arrived at the control in Betws y Coed (876K) we were close to being hypothermic but the helpers including Tim who had abandoned on day 1 had blankets at the ready and soon had us warmed up. At this point I wasn’t feeling like eating anything, I just found a space to put a mattress and tried to sleep.
No sooner had I put my head down at the end of day 3, I started to feel unwell and had to make a dash to the toilet. Well not to put too fine a point on it, this continued frequently for the next 3 hours without much chance of any sleep. I believe this was all caused by the chicken burger consumed in Llanidloes. Audax rule No1—if you are not eating or sleeping the best thing for you to do is get riding so I left with a completely empty stomach apart from pain relief for my knee to ride the remaining 142K.
After only 12K the first major climb of the day loomed the Cwm Hafodyredwydd (485m) pronounced Bl**dy B*st*rd! By the top I was in deep despair but was able to keep some water down but by now it was light so after ten minutes I pushed on down the other side where I wished I had leg warmers and full fingered gloves. It must have been close to freezing and all this at the end of June? It doesn’t get this cold in January back home! After the first info control (924K) the sun came out so I was able to warm up a little but my knee pain had returned. With the last long and steep climb completed the Bwich y Croes (545m) also pronounced Bl**dy B*st*rd! it was down to the last control at Llanwddyn Community centre (951K). Here I had a short kip for 10 mins which made me feel better but I was completely dehydrated and hungry. I try a little breakfast with coffee and I’m able to hold onto it—yippee!
I then had 6 hours to ride 67K back to Upton Magna by 1400hrs, I just might be able do this I thought to myself. Apart from a nasty climb out of the control it was plain sailing all the way to Shrewsbury where with only 5K to go I take the wrong turning, the only mistake I made apart from not taking enough clothing on the whole ride—what a tw*t.
I finished with 1hr 32mins in hand, one of only 60 to finish in time out of 85 starters, but I’m sure I would not have been able to complete this ride without the help and encouragement from the many wonderful people both on the ride itself and at the controls so a massive thank you to all those involved.
Apart from my knee giving me grief and a severe case of food poisoning it really was a fantastic experience and with such beautiful scenery that you will only ever see from a bicycle saddle after making the effort to climb a mountain.