Chasing the dragon ride

Dragon Ride logo

The Dragon is the UK’s leading sportive, and it’s easy to see why. The Ride combines stunning scenery, long alpine-esque winding climbs, rolling roads and fast technical descents. The administration is impeccable, and the scale of the event – relative to other British rides – is something else.

Car parking congestion meant we were late starting. Matt and I teamed up with Mike – Jonny’s mate – letting Jonny and Will shoot off on a pretty hot pace. The route from Pencoed took us straight into the hills, and on to Bwlch mountain within the first 40k. Early on, finding groups to work with was tricky: not that – with over 3000 riders – we were short of people, but we found we caught and overtook each small bunch. As a result – and despite all three of us climbing really well – I was disappointed with the time at the first rest station at the top of Rhigos.

Matt dropped back on the descent from Rhigos, so Mike and I pressed on. I found the longer steadier climbing suited me far more than the severe 15% ers in the Chilterns, and we kept passing people with exhilerating frequency. By mid-race we also managed to get into some handy groups and picked up the pace on the long flat to rolling sections. Arguably the length of the ride could be shortened – something discussed during post-race debriefing – but personally I enjoyed getting more experience working with some good riders, and inparticular the Fred Baker Cycles team. If the route were shorter it would be fun to have a good go at the climbs; but on the other hand the overall challenge is in the testing length and thus it brings tactics to the fore.

We wound our way through beautiful valleys until Bwlch mountain reared up again for the return pass. Mike dropped me, but nobody else passed me as I settled into a rhythm until 100 miles ticked on my bike computer and I crossed the summit. Once over the top we soon realised that – with under 17 miles remaining – a sub-7h30 was on. The descent was very fast, and – bar one short climb – it was mostly flat to the finish. In the last 10 miles we really put the hammer down and this was probably the hardest part of the race.

If you keep up with my posts you’ll know my time! Here’s the route. And here are the photos.

Would I do this again? Yes, although I’d want to ride with a team to avoid spending more time looking for groups than actually working with them. There aren’t many rides in Britain that have long climbs like this, so it’s an ideal step on the road to an overseas sportive. It’s definitely one to get on your palmares!

Sunny Surrey

I’ve made my first couple of ventures out of London for some cycling over the last week – and it feels great to be back two-wheeling in the sunshine. Catching the train from Waterloo to Epsom, I’ve broadly followed this route down to Rusper in Sussex, then across to Leith Hill and the North Downs, through the idyllic Ranmore Common and finishing with the Alpe D’Huez-like Box Hill bends and a downhill run-in back to Epsom.

Tuesday was a lone ride in windy conditions, whilst Saturday I was accompanied by Matt on his first countryside outing on his new Trek 1.7, basking in the gloriously warm bank holiday weather. The latter ride’s enjoyment was heightened by Jonny chasing us for the duration: he’d started early from Fulham, and called us from Betchworth whilst we were in Rusper. A track style pursuit followed, but I’m pleased to say we kept our distance up the road until he slid off to Cobham and we to Epsom! I added a 12-mile warm-down to Regents Park from Waterloo and around the North London hills on the way home – 75 miles all up at 16.5mph average.

Leith Hill from this direction is a terrifically enjoyable climb, made even more satisfying by the fast decent through Abinger Common. And I also particularly liked the narrow winding lane from West Horsley back into Effingham Forest, with flowing fields bathed in sunlight emerging around each bend through the tall trees and long shadows. 

There are tons of variations around the North Downs for more climbs or longer rides; see Al’s blog for our February/March rides. I’m also tempted to try the double-chevron climb from Cranleigh up into the hills towards Shere soon – my friend Ruth recounted a scream-inducing experience on a recent Forest Man training ride. A rival for Toys Hill?

Hills of North London

Where are the best hills in North London? And how can I fit them into a training ride?

Last Saturday I experimented with a route that took in as many hills as I could remember – without specifically sitting down and planning a well-researched route. I set off from my flat and headed for Alexandra Palace – a nice hill to warm up on – before doubling back at the roundabout back down to the foot of Muswell Hill in order to tackle something a bit sharper. Staying in the saddle, Muswell Hill certainly got the blood pumping and the coast down through Queens Wood was welcome.

My route joined Highgate Hill midway – although a slight diversion would swing down and take in this little stinger in full too – then turned right through Highgate village, over the mini roundabouts and left on Hampstead Lane towards Kenwood House. This takes you on Spaniards Road – past The Spaniards Inn – then down through Hampstead itself. From here I went straight south on Avenue Road to Regents Park for four laps (fast/easy/fast/easy) – this could be extended or cut, depending on time/session – then out of the park to Primrose Hill and the little rise of Elsworthy Road (see Tom Boonen pic from my Paris-Roubaix post). The next hill came in the form of Belsize Park back up into Hampstead and the reverse of Spaniards Road towards Highgate.  Approaching the village I turned off right down The Grove and Highgate West Hill to the Heath.

Saving the best for last, a left turn took me up Swain’s Lane. This is Al’s favourite hill in North London and – being the first attempt I’ve made on the bike – I’m inclined to agree: it’s a little stinker! but great fun at the same time. It brings you back out on Highgate High Street, so a loop could be added back round Highgate West Hill for hill reps. I finished off with a nice draft from the traffic down Holloway Road to Highbury and my flat, just in time for lunch and the FA Cup semi final.


100-miler route