Monday, 10 October 2011

Etape Cymru reflections

I'm not really sure that 24 hours is long enough for a period of mature reflection, but on the other hand I do want to provide some commentary whilst events are fresh in my mind.

I was quite excited when the existence of the Etape Cymru was announced - a closed road sportive, only the 2nd in the UK, was to be held within striking distance of home on roads that I knew and liked. Despite some misgivings about its entry fee (£65), I spoke to Mendip Rouleur and we decided to bite the bullet and enter. From then until yesterday it's been a trail of disappointment I'm afraid. I appreciate not everyone will share my experiences, but here goes...

The first disappointment was when the organisers announced that registration for the event would only be in person the day before. Now, I totally understand why registration on the day is impractical for a massed start event with 1,500 riders. However, I couldn't make it to register on Saturday, and even had I been free it would have been nigh-on a 4 hour round trip for me to do so. This was not made clear at the point you entered the event, an important omission of a key term or condition that I consider to be close to fraudulent. (For those wondering how I did register, there was the ability to get a friend to do it with a nomination form). There are 2 solutions here: either make it absolutely clear when paying your money that registration will involve being at the event HQ the day before, or more sensibly (though less lucrative for the organisers) send out timing chips and the like in advance. The organisers must have known the plan at the time online entries were enabled - to repeat myself, I think this is deceitful at best and fraudulent at worst.

Second, not a massive disappointment this one, but a bit shabby nevertheless. Two days before the event we received an e-mail from the organisers stating that the gilets that were to be handed over in return for part of the entry fee hadn't been delivered by the supplier.  These were advertised as having a 'recommended retail price' of £20, yet we had the 'cost price' of £5 returned to us in lieu of the absent gilet. Aside from the financial aspects, which can't be argued with, even if again it feels a bit iffy, I simply don't believe the only communications about this between organiser and supplier were on Friday. It feels like a very small part of the truth has been revealed. As it happens I can live without the gilet very easily, but the episode further reinforced the impression of underhandedness.

Third, the choice of roads and the enforcement of their closure was very disappointing. I obviously knew that some of the climbs were on small, single-track roads, but I has assumed that we would be transited between those small roads on reasonable A roads, giving the riders chance to relax and enjoy the fact they were closed. There were a handful of miles that fell into that category, but even there the road closure was only in one direction, meaning there was still an element of danger. However, the majority of the miles were on small, country lanes, which aside from being muddy, rutted and laden with puncture-inducing hedge clippings in several places, were desperately unsuitable for a massed start bike event. They simply didn't have the capacity to accommodate the differences in ability of riders, meaning that when hills were encountered there were terrible bike traffic jams, and no few minor incidents as a result. Some of the big hills came early too, so there had been no opportunity for the field to sort itself out, meaning that staying upright and avoiding weaving riders was at least as big a challenge as getting up the hill. Poor, poor route selection. Unless you were a strong rider at the very front of the field, there simply wouldn't have been the chance yesterday to record the quickest time you were physically capable of.

And there were cars on the course! Not too many, but there simply wasn't the enforcement of the closed roads in places. Some marshals were good (very good in one case), but others just didn't look even vaguely interested in what they were doing. And then there was the missing arrows issue that I talked about in yesterday's post. These things added up to mean that the course management was sub-standard, way below what you should expect if you're paying what turned out to be £60 to enter.

One gripe I don't have personally, but which others did, was the lack of food and particularly water, at the first feedstop, and that's just unforgivable. The amount of climbing on the course was also advertised wrongly (being way under what it turned out to be), and for some reason I haven't yet got my head round the course was shortened on the day, meaning that most people didn't attain the 100 mile target that was promised.  We also started 15 minutes late.

If all that sounds a bit shambolic, well it's partly what we've come to expect at sportives. My sense of outrage is heightened on this occasion because of the inflated entry fee. Compared to other non-exclusively cycling events I've entered this year, sportives represent very poor value for money, and my patience has finally worn out; I'll not be doing any more for the foreseeable. Let's finish on a positive however - there were crowds a-plenty out yesterday on the course, certainly the most I've seen in the UK, and they were almost exclusively good-humoured, banging their pots and pans, cheering, and being clad in fancy dress in a few instances. Bless them for bringing some cheer to what was a pretty miserable experience otherwise for me, and for a few others I suspect.


  1. After registering on the Saturday I went and had a look at some of the course, and to say I thought it was dangerous was an understatement. I'm a Police officr by profession, so when I recieved the email about the lack of Gilets, as well as another email the day before about parking, the whole thing started to stink of someone trying to make a fast buck.
    You can't close roads by just putting a sign out, people ignore them, and even when I'm stood there in uniform, sometimes people try to drive through, and have to be literally shouted at. You need someone stood there, and who is also willing to step out and stop any traffic that is trying to go through.
    What did I do on Sunday? With the foreboding weather forecast, as well as the roads that the event was using I passed, and had a look round Chester instead. At the time I was a bit pee'd off that I wasn't doing it, but now I'm thinking more along the lines that I had a lucky escape.

  2. I don't think you were alone, judging by the fact only 977 started. I'm sure many people had a good day - the scenery and crowd were both fantastic. However, a day out in Chester is never a bad thing, and was certainly the safer option. Even before I crashed (previous blog post) I was feeling more exposed to danger than on open road sportives!

  3. I did post something on bikeradar which stated all of this prior to the event by a good few months. See the start of the Etape Cymru post in the forum talking about the state of the roads and group riding. Unfortunately this has a negative impact on future events. The whole purpose of my post was to highlight the importance of getting the event right to ensure longevity and getting people to ride in the area generally.

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