Event report: 2017 Dragon Ride L’Etape Wales by Le Tour de France
639,010 kilometres ridden. That was the collective achievement of the 3,544 cyclists that finished the 14th edition of Dragon Ride L’Étape Wales by Le Tour de France on Sunday. 3,544 riders with 3,544 individual stories to tell. Stories of limits pushed, demons conquered, ambitions realised, memories honoured, money raised and heroes emulated.
The setting for these stories was the spectacular Brecon Beacons and their fabled climbs. Names like Bwlch, Rhigos, Devil’s Elbow, Black Mountain and Devil’s Staircase were spoken in reverential tones as riders congregated at Margam Park early in the morning. It was not long before the event village was abuzz with the sounds of freewheels, cycle chat, the screech of the steam from the coffee van and a good luck message from Chris Froome on the big screen. Trek Bicycles were on hand with a selection of last minute essentials, some special offers on clothing and shoes and a very enticing competition to win a customised Project One bike. There was plenty of interest in Tannus Airless Tyres from those looking to guarantee a puncture-free ride. Yellow Jersey Cycle Insurance were equally busy making sure riders were covered in all eventualities, as well as handing out some handy freebies.
Before long, waves of riders were set off to begin their journeys. Four distances were on offer ranging from 100km to 300km, each featuring plenty of climbing. Anyone flagging was given a unique boost when they arrived at Devil’s Elbow, where the Tour de France’s very own Didi the Devil was positioned. The look on riders’ faces as they came round the hairpin bend to be greeted by Didi, jumping up and down with his trident and offering very vocal encouragement were priceless. Didi was joined by a group of vociferous supporters from official charity, Macmillan Cancer Support, who were on hand to offer encouragement and thank riders for raising an anticipated £120,000 via the event.
The Devil’s Elbow was also the site of the closed-road timed climb competition, denoted by dozens of polka-dot flags snaking their way up the mountain. Steven Green was the fastest male rider up the one kilometre ascent, with its average gradient of 9.8%. His time of four minutes and eight seconds saw him crowned the 2017 King of the Mountains. The title of Queen of the Mountains went to Emma Frost, who completed the climb in five minutes and thirty-four seconds. Both were awarded a Tour de France, polka-dot, climbers jersey signed by Chris Froome as well as entry into L’Étape du Tour that takes place next month.
Over 300 riders out on the course were on their third consecutive day of riding, having taken part in the Dragon Tour on Friday and Saturday, which featured some stunning riding along the Gower Peninsula and the opportunity to tackle Bettws Mountain. A special nod of respect from the rest of the peloton was reserved for these hardy souls as they drained their legs of every last kilojoule of energy on Sunday. Plenty of kudos was also on offer for the participants taking on the monstrous 300km Dragon Devil, with its 5,000 metres of climbing.
Before long, the roads of South Wales were dotted with bikes. Riders from all over the country, and indeed beyond were represented. A particularly large contingent of Dutch cyclists were on the start list, suggesting the legend of the Dragon had made its way across the North Sea. Riders faced some challenging weather but battled through the elements with steely determination. Spirits were high at the feedstations, with anecdotes of life on the road shared amongst those pausing for breath and refuelling with the Science in Sport Go energy products on offer. Back out on course, the BIKE Channel cameras were capturing the action (and some fairly dubious Alberto Contador impersonations on the climbs) ready for their highlights show later this week.
As wheels continued to turn so did the hands of the clock and as the afternoon arrived, triumphant riders began arriving back in the event village to a chorus of cheers from the supporters who had lined the finishing straight to see home their heroes; their two-wheeled conquerors. Much needed refreshment was quickly provided by ERDINGER Alkoholfrei and their low calorie, isotonic recovery drink. Macmillan Cancer Support fundraisers had access to the VIP tent, where free massage and refreshments were on offer and top fundraisers were awarded with Tour de France prizes.
For the second year running, Dragon Ride L’Étape Wales was an official Tour de France sportive, part of the global L’Étape series. Having taken on the alpine-like climbs with full moto-support, met Didi the Devil and battled for the prize of best climber, the Tour experiences continued back in the event village. Revelling in their achievement, finishers enjoyed perusing a display of Tour de France memorabilia, immersing themselves in a virtual reality Tour experience and learning about the race’s illustrious history in the museum. Those looking to rest their legs were able to kick back with a cold drink and enjoy coverage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on the big screen alongside Didi who had made his way down from his mountain.
André Quentel, Deputy CEO of Le Tour de France organisers, A.S.O., had travelled from Paris to take part in the 230km Gran Fondo distance and said the following after crossing the finishing line: “I had the pleasure of riding Dragon Ride L’Étape Wales for the first time today. I have worked on both professional and amateur cycling events for many years, and yet this truly was a unique event. The Welsh landscapes are fabulous, the challenge is very tough, the organisation is excellent, while the Tour de France experiences add some real magic. The atmosphere amongst the riders out on the road was electric. See you all next year in Wales!”.
An emotional welcome awaited the final riders to cross the finish line – a number of whom had been out on the road for upwards of 15 hours. Nobody present could fail to recognise what completing the ride meant to these riders, nor the grit and determination involved in taking on the challenge; not just on the day itself, but in the weeks and months of determined preparation beforehand. It was a fitting end to a day of endeavour and achievement.
A pre-sale of entries for next year’s Dragon Ride L’Étape Wales by Le Tour de France, as well as the Dragon Tour, will take place for 48 hours from 10am on Monday 12 June. This will allow riders to beat the annual rush for places that sees thousands of entries sold in a single day when the event is officially launched in the autumn. The 2018 event will take place on Sunday 10th June and will again start and finish at Margam Park. Those wishing to guarantee a place should visit http://www.letapeuk.co.uk/