Billed as ‘The UK’s toughest sportive’, The Monster was never going to be a straightforward day on the bike. With 1000m more climbing than the renowned Fred Whitton challenge in the Lake District, The Monster packed in 4200m (13,779ft) of up into just 195km (120m) of forwards, which is a lot.
On Saturday morning we were woken up as feared by the sound of rain hammering into the windows of the B&B in Llangadog. The forecast had been terrible for the ride for two weeks in the lead up and any hope of a last minute reprieve had been emphatically quashed with 30mph winds and rain set to take hold of this corner of Wales for the whole day.
Registration took place in the village hall where numbers were mounted to frames and the handy drop-boxes were filled with food and clothing to be collected at feed stations around the course. A mini tub of Assos chamois cream was also included.
Riders were set off in 2 minute intervals from 9am, and it wasn’t long until the first of the days 16 (approx) main climbs was being tackled. With the hedgerow encroaching well into the road, a tough gradient and loose road surface, there was no easing into this ride. The section from here to the first feed station at 38km was actually fairly free flowing and fast, aided by a tailwind across the Glasfynydd Forest.
The first of the day’s major challenges came at kilometre 59, not with the Devil’s Staircase climb but with three bridges in the valley leading to the climb each having been breached by the rain-inflated rivers. Unsure on the protocol in these situations, we just rode across and hoped for the best. Starting at the right hand extreme of each bridge, the current had you precariously near to tumbling into the icy water by the time tarmac was reached at the far side. No casualties as far as I know. With shoes full of river water, it was then time for the aptly named Devil’s Staircase climb. Rated 9/10 in the Britain’s 100 Greatest Climbs book and with 25% ramps in the first half, this was an absolute brute of a climb. The slippery road surface turned getting out of the saddle into a game of Russian Roulette with wheels sliding all over the road. My Garmin clocked the steepest section at 29.5%, not really sure how I stayed upright.
With this out of the way, there was little reprieve as the course entered the toughest stretch of the day. Hot on the heels of the Devil’s Staircase came the Bwlch Esgair Gelli (2.5km @ 6%) and then 100Climbs number 195, Gamallt (1.2km @ 9%).
It was still chucking it down at this point.
The middle third of the ride remains a bit of a blur. There was a lot of going uphill and a lot of going down some treacherously wet descents and a couple of food stops along the way.
Once I realised there were just three main climbs to go my mood improved markedly and I rode straight on past food stop 4 to avoid delaying the end of the ride any more than was strictly necessary.
The penultimate ascent was the most wind affected of the day, with Sheep Fold Climb offering 1.6km of ascent @ 8% into the worst of the 30mph winds from the South West. Getting over the ice-rink like cattle grid at the bottom was hard enough, and with 100 miles already in the legs this was a real slog of a climb.
It was however followed by a sensational descent into the valley on the other side. Smooth, empty roads tumbling down over a set of sweeping bends was enough to bring a smile to my face for the first time in about eight hours. It was soon wiped off at the base of the final climb which whilst looking small on the profile, was coated in a layer of moss most of the way up which led to minimal traction and a number of riders resorting to walking up to avoid injury.
With this out of the way, it was pretty much downhill all the way home. Back in the village hall of Llangadog we collected finishers t-shirts and the remains of what was left in our drop boxes from around the course.
The brutal nature of the weather led to only 62 of the 115 entrants even making it to the start line and a further 18 failed to finish the course on the day. A handful of riders made it to the Goose and Cuckoo for dinner in the village, where we shared stories of the highs and lows of the day.
The Monster really does justify its position in the top echelon of tough rides in the UK, with or without the weather. Anyone doubting this will be delighted to hear of the rumours of an enhanced 300km, 6000m iteration in the pipeline for 2017.
The nuts and bolts of the event worked seamlessly, with signposting, food stops and friendly staff all out of the top drawer. The event photographer, Anthony Pease, also did a sensational job in the conditions, with output miles better than you get from sportivephoto.com who seem to have a monopoly on the larger mass participation events.
More photos here: http://www.anthonypease.com/Monster-Sportive/
We stayed here (100 yards from the start, 10 yards from the pub and put on a great pre-ride breakfast – recommended): https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/3735972
Ride on Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/635416214/overview
I’m doing things like this ride this year to raise money for this: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Charlie-Woodall