In 2014, Human Race staged the UK’s first ‘ultra’ distance sportive – The Dragon Devil – and a legend was born! Compared to a European ‘ultra’, the entry fee of £95 seemed very steep, especially as most continental sportives will officially be a race, include quite substantial prize money, protected bunches and provide all finishers with a jersey. However, a 302 km event with 4,900 m of climbing on our shores was too good to miss and I entered as much out of intrigue as anything else, and although the entry may be expensive, you are saved the cost of getting to Europe!
The Margam Park start venue is fantastic creating a great event village, with more than enough parking for the several thousand cars (it’s worth remembering there are very big queues to get into the venue on the morning of the event, so allow plenty of time to park).
In last year’s event they had just 2 allocated start groups for the 302 km, with roughly 300 riders for each. For 2015, the 648 entrants were divided between 7 groups and I was allocated the last group at 7:09, which only had 30 riders. Most people however decided to ignore their allocation and start in the 1st two groups, meaning there were +200 cyclists per group. As with 2014, this would have created a superb atmosphere, whereas the very small 7th group was somewhat underwhelming! It also dramatically changed the dynamic of the ride (for me at least).
After a briefing, the route leaves the HQ and takes a flat fast dual carriageway to Port Talbot. The difference with the previous year was apparent from the start. In 2014, the stronger riders immediately came to the front, forming a small peloton which worked well together. Although this bunch became smaller as the event continued, we stayed together and rode through the 1st bunch (having started in the 2nd group in 2014) to catch the front runners and form a strong group of 6. Sharing the work, we flew round the course and this pattern was repeated throughout the starters, which created a fantastic atmosphere and great camaraderie. In 2015, it was a very different experience and once onto the first climb (c 12 km), it lead to a very long solo ride, simply riding past individuals and groups already on the road and rarely riding or working with anyone. Great training, but not the same experience! In the future, if you want to ride with others of a similar ability, share the work and join a good bunch it may be worth ignoring the allocated start time and joining one of the 2 largest start groups.
Back to the course though, and what a route it is! Incredible, Welsh mountain climbs see you fly through the Brecon Beacons before heading South to the 20% Devil’s Elbow – one of the 2 timed hill climbs on the route. The weather was a perfect summer’s day with hardly a cloud in the sky and with incredible scenery it really was a beautiful ride. The route is extremely well signed and every major junction is marshalled, which make navigation extremely easy! After the feed station at 97 km, the route then swings North again with more long climbs before reaching Llandovery and another stop at 158 km. The ride then continues North before heading West after Llanwrtyd Wells, into the Cambrian Mountains and on to the 2nd timed climb – the 25% Devil’s Staircase. With sections of 28%, it makes the Devil’s Elbow seem like a walk in the park and the top is very welcome! With an incredible crossing of the mountains, you then head back to the feed station at Llandovery (224 km). The route then heads South West to rejoin the 226 km Gran Fondo at the base of the ‘Black Mountain’ – the last major climb of the day. From the top there are predominantly fast roads to take you home at a good speed.
The feed stations were very well stocked, but It’s worth mentioning that the pre event communications and website both stated there would be ZipVit ZV7 gels at all stations and with many people used to this brand, they chose to rely on the gels they could pick up on the way round to reduce the number they would need to carry from the start. However, only ZipVit caffeine gels were provided, which are only suitable for the last 90 minutes of a ride and can induce cramp if used for too long in an endurance event. This caused problems for many people. The moral of the story is not to rely on the organiser, but this is a poor mistake when combined with a £95 entry fee! (The organisers have been informed).
Despite the high entry fee, the start groups and gels, I really enjoyed the day and got exactly what I wanted from the ride. Although it doesn’t compare to a continental event, we are not on the continent and for a UK ‘sportive’, the Dragon Devil is among the best. The atmosphere is fantastic and it’s incredibly well run.
Would I ride it in 2016 – absolutely! Would I recommend it – definitely!
See you there next year!
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