Sarn Helen Sportive

sarnhelen Paul’s View

A cold start saw about 140 riders depart from Llandarcy, but at least it was dry. Considering it’s such a fantastic route, there really should have been more riders (Wheelers contingent was me, Mark Kneen and Rob John. I think Louis did the ‘unofficial’ ride, but I didn’t see him). Action Bikes need to do a better PR and marketing job if they want the event to survive.
On the plus side, the feed stations were better than last year, as was the signage and marshalling. There were even stewards on motorbikes at regular intervals! Also proper timing mats/chips this year.

The route went up to the Beacons via Glyn-neath, through Ystradfellte and down the Devil’s Elbow – still covered in gravel and sketchy as ever. On to Defynnog and then Llandovery and the feed station. This is where the route split. The ‘shorter’ one was 80 miles, I opted for the 118 miler, which went on up around the Llyn Brianne Dam – stunning. Devil’s Staircase was as painful as ever but the decent made it worthwhile. Down the valley with a tailwind on to Llanwrtyd Wells, back round to Llandovery where a small group of us started overtaking the 80 milers.

paulBlack Mountain is always more appealing when you can actually see the top. A light breeze also made it doable in a reasonable time. Fast decent into Brynamman and then onto Pontardawe and back to Llandarcy, when the sun decided to come out.

I managed to do the 118 mile route in 7hrs 50, whereas the 108 mile Tour of Pembrokeshire took me 8hrs 33!! What a difference a lack of headwind and some extra miles in the legs makes.

Over the 118 miles, there was 2819 metres of climbing, so a good test of fitness. I really enjoyed the ride, especially the route around Llyn Brianne – awesome, as the Yanks would say. I didn’t feel like I’d been ripped off this year, either. Highly recommended. Lets have a few more Wheelers out next year, tho.

Paul E

Mark’s View

Paul being faster than me I let him go and completed the route with a couple from the unofficial Mumbles CC plus two others who joined us including Richard Webster, ex Wales and Lions markInternational. Unlike Paul, I didn’t find the feed stations better than last year…. maybe he ate it all! Welsh cakes and soup at the first run through Llandovery and limited Welsh cakes and apple pies on the way back. Last year I remember trays of bananas and far more Welsh cakes as well as organisers handing out jellie beans on route. No energy bars/gels but plenty of energy drink/water though. We were about mid group, with half the the longer route riders behind us, so they can’t have had much at all.

Louis and Rhys passed us just after the Devil’s Staircase and we saw them again briefly in Llanwrtyd Wells as they made a water stop but then they were gone.

Our group managed 8h 40m but we had 1hr 10 mins total stoppage with a puncture and feed stations. Timing, despite the mats, was all over the place. According to the official time I was 10 mins behind the group I rode in with. Amount of climbing seemed to depend on device – Garmins with altimeters clocked 2,400m, those without and iPhones around 2,800m.

The route is excellent, especially the loop around the reservoir which has stunning views. It deserves more people doing it and that is perhaps what is needed to provide the funds for the level of support you get on bigger events.

Last year I gave them the benefit of the doubt. I guess the feed stations were just about adequate but not great value for money, especially when you compare with what you get at other events… Louis and Rhys had the right idea.

Mark K

Louis’s View

I shouldn’t complain as we didn’t enter the event but when we got to the Llandovery feed stop after you but before loads of other people the first thing they said to us was “do you want some soup you can’t have any Welsh cakes as that fat guy just ate them all but we got tea if you want it” we thought soup or tea was probably the last thing we wanted considering we’re in the month of May so when you saw us the second time we had popped into Spar for a can of Coke.


Rob’s View

I entered the 80 mile ride at short notice to support someone from The Wave who was riding in a group of about 10 as preparation for the Paris 2 Barcelona charity ride in aid of Maggie’s Cancer Care. I then had the opportunity to introduce myself to Paul and Mark.

At the start I got involved in adjusting the saddle height for a lady rider in the P2B group, meaning that I was the very last rider to start. As I rode to catch my mate I quickly came across a group of 3 including saddle lady and realised that the event would be a significant challenge for them, so decided to ride in support of them and had my first experience of riding constantly within the sight of the broom wagon!!! At Glynneath found that there was a plan in place for the three which was to increase their mileage by pulling them out from the 3 major climbs, so I found myself last on the road and now on my own – so plodded on passing riders eventually picking the three up again the other side of the Elbow. Came across the Wheelers club run and stopped to be sociable but obviously made little impression as I wasn’t mentioned in the club report!!! Carried on with the three through Sennybridge fixing their puncture and then on to Llangadog, when they again pulled off. Up over the Black’s but not such a fast descent due to mist and strong winds. Picked the 3 up again at GCG and rode with them to Rhos where fixed another puncture for someone on the side of the road who had been there for 45 minutes. He and I then rode together back to the finish.

Caught up with the 3 later and they all got to the end suitably challenged but pleased with the distance they had covered, so I felt that my time was well spent.

Agree with Mark about the timing chip issues, in my case I wasn’t credited with a start time only finish, yet got a time!!!

Paul’s quite right that the route for the Sportif is scenic and the 80 mile version could be a reasonable (long) club run but for 30 odd quid the infrastructure has scope for improvement. Then again riding roads in company of other cyclists, particularly if you’re passing them is very nice. Having said all that I enjoyed my day out and that’s the test.

All the best


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Sarn Helen Sportive

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