Fellowship of Cycling



Getting the miles in with your old mates is one of cycling’s great pleasures. Just as you learn about the topography of a country by cycling across it, so you fortify friendships by clocking centuries together.

By Rob Penn

Thursday 7th June 2018

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How best to organize a group ride, though?  You can always sign up with your compadres for the same sportive, but these events encourage us to ride solo, not as a team. To really test the mettle of your vélo-ship, you need a tough ride, over mountains in a remote part of Britain or Europe.

Arranging a weekend like this is, of course, a pain in the sacrum. I know. I recently organized one for eight friends – a 260-km loop of Wales’ largest county that we’ve christened the ‘Giro di Powys’. As well as a good route, you need accommodation with a secure place for the bikes, luggage transport, solutions to several other logistical problems and, of course, mates who show up.

A hunded emails after I floated the idea, we finally met at my house under a full moon on a Friday in March. On the first day, we rode from Abergavenny through the Black Mountains, up the Wye Valley, over the Abergwesyn Pass to Tregaron in the Teifi Valley, and back over the Cambrian Mountains to Rhayader: 170 km with 2,500 m of ascent and, critically for those of us in our forties carrying a few extra kilos, several short sections of 20% plus.

What could go wrong did. There were mechanical issues from the start. Tyres blew out; a couple of lads ‘blew up’; a chain snapped. We had to modify the route, bodge repairs and flag down a car for assistance in the wild, Welsh ‘outback’. Yet it was a corking day, an absolute blinder of a ride that re-invigorated my belief in the physical and emotional harmony of riding with friends.

We’re all in training for either the Paris-Roubaix sportive, the Marmotte or an Etape du Tour. There was no dawdling. We rode with purpose and kept the pace high. Encouraged by each other, we took our turn at the front of the bunch and leant into the pedals. No one got dropped. If a rider did fall off the group, someone else went back to get him. We climbed at different speeds, but we re-grouped at the top of each descent. Yes, there were boyish attacks, but we soon reeled the breakaways back in.

The joy of riding across mid-Wales is the quiet roads: with little traffic to intimidate us, we often rode in pairs and chatted about kit, kids and our careers. It occasionally felt like a mobile, self-help class. The kilometers flew by easily, at least a lot more easily than when I’d scouted the route on a cold day in February, alone.

Our Sunday ride was shorter: 100 km with 750m of climbing. We were beginning to gel as a team, though, and we hammered along the Wye Valley, riding ‘through and off’ into a headwind that would have hurt a single cyclist. We tore down the A470 to Hay-on-Wye and then crunched through the gears to reach Gospel Pass.

Flying down the Llanthony Valley in a tight bunch, with the sun on our backs and the cranks spinning effortlessly, it felt briefly as if our collective joy was fuelling our legs. I wondered why don’t we do this more often. Then I remembered – because I have to organize it.



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