***update photos at the end***
Yesterday was one of those events that will always stay with me. I accompanied my son, Rob, to Bangor-on-Dee racecourse on the border between England and Wales. He had signed up to race the Cymru Etape – an annual tough cycle race of 86.5 miles and 2000 metres accumulated height in North Wales. See here. Over 2000 competitors aged 20s to 70s battled the gruelling steep lanes including the famous Horseshoe Pass.
I’m a bit annoyed with myself because when Rob registered for this race last winter he’d asked me if I’d cycled the course and if so, how long it took me. He knows he rides faster than me and wanted to gauge how long he’d take. I replied that yes I’d cycled all of it but only in bits over the last 5 years! I estimated it would take me about 8 to 9 hours to cycle with my Dawes Super Galaxy touring bike, especially with panniers and me carrying excess body fat. Once the Spring days became longer I intended to take a room in Bangor-on-Dee and leave my baggage there early one morning in order to do the whole course. Then I’d be able
to report to Rob on the condition of the road surface, exactly where the cattle grids are, the pot holes and how deep the fords are. However, chest pains that were diagnosed as stable angina followed by unstable and angioplasty on June 25th put paid to me doing the route this summer. All I could do was to put my bike on Rob’s car alongside his and be his support man (rather than lead-out rider) yesterday.
In my opinion the organisers and sponsors of the Cymru Etape should be more considerate with regard to the energy bars at the feed stations. The competitors pay an entrance fee and this goes towards the food. Yet they provided PowerBars, which according to their website is not vegetarian (many contain pork gelatine) this means that the several dozen veggies in the race are disadvantaged by having to carry all their food while the omnivores can pick theirs up en route. This is what many veggie and non-pork-eating cyclists had to carry!
Ironically, this is a closed road event, so the way to Bangor was circuitous since the roads closed at 5.30 in the morning! Because Rob had registered his estimated time as quite slow he was put in the last of 14 waves. I waited a few hundred metres past the start to cheer him on and already saw three riders with punctures! Then finally Rob came and up to me! I worried about what was wrong but although we were concerned about being cold at 8am, he said he was already hot and can I take his jacket!
During the race I knew I had at least 5 or 6 hours to kill so I got on my bike and headed away from the race roads, east along the Cheshire cycle way Route 70 and then to my friends John and Sally Pierson, who live in the ancient market town of Malpas. As we chatted about books, angina, the merits of glucosamine for combating arthritis and we drank Earl Grey, I received a set of text updates from Rob. I thought I’d better head back in case he suffered a mechanical breakdown that wasn’t fixable or worse! When I returned to Bangor-on-Dee, I and a marshal made a directional mistake so I ended up cycling the final kilometre of the race to and beyond the finish line. The time was 12:00 and already 3 riders were passing me, no doubt wondering what fool was this! In any case the crowd cheered me on and laughed as they guessed I hadn’t really just cycled 85 miles, although I had done over 20 at my sedate 12 mph.
Rob used his own cycle computer so knew his distances and times.The texts from Rob tell their own story:
(10.09am) @30 miles. Horse (Horse Shoe Pass) took about 22 mins. Have overtaken many others.
(12.01) 51.5 miles
(13.08) 70 miles
(13.20) 70.5 miles. Gear cable snapped! (gone back to ) feed station with mechanic looking at it.
(13.26) on way
(14.21) Done. Waiting for massage.
His final time was 6 hours and 2 minutes 59 seconds. Very good considering he was delayed by the broken gear cable.
I didn’t know he’d finished I was waiting at the finish to photograph him receiving his medal but must have turned chatting to other parents when he flashed by!
He passed just about as the announcement that the median rider had gone through. Ie half of the riders have finished. That meant Rob, who started in the last wave of about 140 riders must have overtaken about 1000 other riders! Well done lad. His actual ride up the King of the Mountains sub-race of Horseshoe Pass was 21.59 mins – brilliant. I’ve done it last year in 35 minutes. Gareth Thomas the guest celebrity (Rugby captain) and cyclist did it in 25 mins although the fastest was an amazing 15 minutes.
The race results are here. Search for Rob Nelder number 2046.
Rob was given a medal and a carton of Vitacoco coconut juice and he queued for a well-deserved massage.
For our final journeys of the day, he drove east to Nottingham and I got on my bike for the wandering rural 20 miles back home to Chester. A warm glow to finish an unforgettable day.
Rob raised £275 for the charity, The Willow Foundation that gives treats and holidays for young cancer patients. He exceeded his target but you can give more at https://www.justgiving.com/Rob-Nelder/
Photos taken by SportsCam. First we have Rob riding up Horseshoe Pass followed by him leaning into a downhill bend.