After months of training and preparing for the three big rides this year, the first ride finally arrived and the week leading up to it saw everything go wrong!

Firstly my back that had been in tip top shape all year decided it was time to remind me it was still capable of flaring up! A trip to the Chiropractor to try and resolve it quickly, helped, but not enough and I spent all week off the bike trying to get it to settle down. I ended up applying some Kinesiology tape to it, to try and help it along.

The next problem was contracting a cold and sore throat from work colleagues. This happened late on in the week, about the Thursday and I was straight on the meds trying to head it off!

On Saturday I was getting mucus out of my nose like nothing I had ever had before! It was disgusting and very brown! My throat was sore and I was contemplating whether or not I could do the Dragon Ride. However I woke up on Sunday feeling a bit better and with less mucus, so thought I’d just get the job done!

The plan was to go faster than last year when myself and Ian posted a time of 5hr 58mins. However, for several reasons this didn’t quite happen, although only by 7 minutes!

The day was a beautiful sunny one, in many ways a little too beautiful. We started off about 09:30 with temperatures at about 19 degrees. This was quite pleasant. The winds were very light at this point only 3 to 4 mph. We made our way to the first climb and the temperatures started to rise as we did. We made good work of the first climb and enjoyed the stunning scenery, then had fun on the descent.

After a little bit of flat you start the second climb of the day. The legs were nicely engaged at this stage and we were feeling good. However as the climb went on the sun was getting hotter and on this side of the climb there was no air, no breeze. The sun was just beating down on our backs and heating us up. Feet were throbbing in shoes, heads were thumping in helmets and bodies were just cooking. We were now getting into the mid 20’s and the lack of any breeze made it feel worse.

As we crested the top, there was a much needed wind. The only issue with this was that from this point on we would suffer a headwind or a side wind that was definitely stronger than the speeds forecasted, all the way home.

The next challenge to face us was getting across the Becon Breacons. This is a tough section as it is very open, you are exposed to the elements with nowhere to hide. To add to that the terrain is very rolling, although the tarmac is not! It is quite a slog across this section and really does split the riders up. Ian and I made good progress across here, passing many riders. When we got to the other side we enjoyed a very long descent. I kept checking behind me as I expected riders to be catching us up, but there was nothing, we were in our own little pocket of the ride.

That section of the ride did take a chunk out of me and my body started to show the signs of having the cold. My energy banks were not feeling great and we were now heading to the infamous Devil’s Elbow. The terrain leading up to this is again quite rolling and you know when you hit the bottom of the climb as you stop rolling and start grinding!

You head to the first hairpin and then the fun begins, gradients of 17 to 23% greet you. Many people are walking, some that ride up are barely turning the cranks, some spin past you as if it were flat, although these are few and far between. This hill occurs after 56 miles and many hills, so it is not to be taken lightly. All you can do is sit in and at your own pace make your way up it.

When I got to the top I felt drained and now my back was started to tell me it had had enough. We descended down to the second feed station of the day and had a few minutes rest, topping up drink bottles and for me a nice sausage roll. It also gave me the opportunity to get off the bike and stand up, well at least try! It took a while for me to straighten out! After a few hamstring stretches we were off again, facing more climbs and not short ones at that!

With about 15 or so miles to go you hit Neath and a climb that I had forgotten the length of! This was so hard this year, my back was screaming at me and my energy banks were very low, the sun was taking its fair share. Ian had to wait for me at the top and when I go there I had to get off the bike and on the grass verge to do some more back stretches. This was the only way I would get to the finish.

The other cruel twist of fate was the final run in, the last 10 miles were grueling, we had a full on headwind that just wouldn’t let up! The wind had changed direction as we had, had a headwind on the way out in the morning! All ride long we had thought about the finish and a nice tail wind to push us home. It was not to be. Two little lumps left but the last one was just a bit too much and I shouted at Ian to just go and finish strong. I got to the top and turned into the park, gave what I had left and crossed the line about 30 seconds behind Ian.

I was broken.

95.5 Miles with 7,178ft of ascent in a moving time of 6hrs 5mins. Official overall time, including feed station stops etc.. was 6hrs 33mins.

I could hardly get off the bike and when I did, I just didn’t know what to do with myself. My body went into a bit of shock and my breathing was all over the place. Emma was there to sort me out and after 5 minutes I was starting to feel human again. I certainly felt 100 times better last year at the finish than this year.

Considering the conditions being more extreme than last year and what my body was putting up with, I think only 7 minutes slower than the year before shows I am in much better shape overall. The cold and throat were unfortunate, the back was down right annoying, but these are things that are sent to test us. Test me they did and I can honestly say there were 3 or 4 occasions when I just wanted to get off the bike and quit. I didn’t, I stuck it out and dug deep, very deep and finished one of the most challenging rides I have ever had, not just the terrain, not just the heat and wind but also my broken body.

I am actually pleased that I had such a tough ride, last year was much easier for me and I almost feel that last year I peaked at this ride, a little too early.

Now it is time to rest for a few days and to start work on strengthening my back again. I have plenty of time to prep for the L’Etape Du Tour and ensure that this doesn’t happen on the day. I am on the meds to clear the cold and sore throat as well. If anything this has actually boosted my confidence.

Probably to the relief of everyone in the car, Emma, Ian and Belinda, I actually lost my voice after the ride. I could hardly speak! Even today, Monday, I still can’t speak that well, so it will be a nice quiet evening for Emma!

Next up is the big one, L’Etape Du Tour.

I am riding three events this year for Leukemia Care, The Dragon Ride (Completed), L’Etape Du Tour (July) and Rise Above (August). If you would like to sponsor me you can do so by following this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardWyeth

Thanks for reading, here are some pictures from the day:

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