On Sunday 8th September, the roads of North Wales will play host to the Wiggle Etape Cymru, the UK’s toughest closed road sportive. Event ambassador Geraint Thomas is sharing his advice on how to tackle the route’s toughest climbs.
Starting and finishing at Bangor-on-Dee Racecourse, the route will take participants across some of the most beautiful and rugged landscape that the UK has to offer. As one of only a handful of closed road sportives in the UK, double Olympic Champion Thomas, says that the event will be a “great opportunity for amateur cyclists to ride like a pro for a day”.
The event’s organisers, Human Race, have played up to the sportive’s tough reputation and incorporated some of North Wales’ most challenging climbs.
Thomas, who amazed cycling fans by riding the Tour de France with a fractured pelvis, advises participating riders: “It’s a very challenging route – it takes in some epic climbs like Horseshoe Pass, The Shelf and World’s End, which are tough even for us pros.”
Fresh from traversing some of the most feared peaks in the Tour de France, and having regularly ridden the Etape Cymru’s climbs himself, Thomas has passed on some trade secrets on how to tackle the toughest climbs along the route.
The Long and Steady Climb
When we think of the quintessential long and steady climb we might immediately think of continental Europe but these climbs do exist in the UK and the Horseshoe pass is a prime example of such.
This is the first big climb and the most iconic part of the route. Coming 20 miles into the event it is a 6.1km climb that reaches some steep gradients and ascends 317m. Despite these big numbers, Thomas says that the climb is perfectly enjoyable for anyone. “There are some sections, such as at the start of the climb, where the road kicks up and it easy to focus on that, but in reality it is a long steady climb by UK standards and anyone can do it.”
The Team Sky rider adds: “When attempting a longer climb it’s important to focus on your breathing. My advice would be to start the climb conservatively, stay seated and focus on setting a smooth and steady tempo. Sit back in your saddle; choose a gear where you can comfortably spin the pedals. Try to maintain the same tempo all of the way up, getting out of your saddle on the sections where the road kicks up and you feel you can no longer sustain a steady seated rhythm.”
The Steep and Tough Climb
Whilst Britain may not be known for having the highest mountains in the world, what it is known for is having its fair share of steep and tough country roads; and The Shelf is no exception.
50 miles in and climbing approximately 260m, The Shelf is a much punchier climb than the Horseshoe Pass and according to Geraint Thomas, steeper climbs offer different challenges: “When you approach The Shelf you’ll get an appreciation of why it’s called The Shelf; it’s pinned onto the side of a sheer face. Sections of this climb are very steep so it will be likely that you spend a majority of your time out of the saddle.”
Geraint says in order to do this: “When getting out of the saddle on this climb try to avoid tensing your upper body or gripping your handle bars too tightly when you are standing as this will cause you to waste energy. Relax your upper body and focus your energies on getting power into each of your down strokes and you should, in theory, fly up those steep bits.”
He adds: “This can only be described as a 15 minute slog, so when the gradient allows for it get back in the saddle as this will help you conserve energy for the really steep sections.”
The Last Climb of the Day
The last big climb sees riders hit the highest point of the day. At nearly 438m the World’s End is a worthy adversary and offers a final big challenge before the course undulates to the finish. Thomas says: “I’ve ridden this before many times and it’s a good challenge. It’s similar to Horseshoe Pass. There’s a short punchy section near the beginning and then after that it’s a fairly slow and steady in-the-saddle climb. At 60 miles in this is the last major climb of the day before a winding finish so you can afford to give it all you’ve got.”
He finishes with a word of caution: “World’s End ascends over an exposed heathland so the wind can be fairly volatile. There’s a possibility that you may be cycling into a strong headwind. When facing the prospect of a strong headwind on a climb don’t panic. Take it slow. Try to maintain a good cadence and a good rhythm and get out of your saddle if you feel that you’re struggling.”
For more information as a whole on the route as a whole visit http://humanrace.co.uk/events/cycling/etape-cymru.