This Sunday 8th September, the lung-busting, leg-aching Wiggle Etape Cymru takes place in Wrexham, North Wales. Billed as the UK’s toughest closed road sportive, the 88-mile route takes in some major climbs, including the infamous Horseshoe Pass – 6.1 km long, and up to a 20% gradient in places.
It’s the perfect ride to put your climbing to the test, surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside in the British Isles.
If you’re taking part, then get yourself prepared for what lies ahead with some trade secrets from one tough pro – Geraint Thomas; event ambassador, double Olympic Champion, Team Sky rider, and known most recently for riding the Tour de France with a fractured pelvis.
Geraint rides these climbs regularly, so this is the insider story on what to expect and how to ride them.
Climb 1- Long and steady
20 miles into the race comes the first tough climb; the Horseshoe Pass. A 317m ascent over 6.1km, the gradient reaches 20% in some places.
“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.”
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.”
Climb 2 – Steep and Tough
50 miles into the course now and tough climb number 2 rears it’s head; it’s ominously titled The Shelf. Climbing approximately 260m and described as ‘punchy’, if an Olympic cyclist describes it as steep, you can bet it will feel it.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
Climb 3 – High, Windy and Last
You’re tired, but you’re nearly there, and at 60 miles in you are about to hit the highest point of the day. The Worlds End is nearly 438m, and is exposed, so prepare to face the elements.
“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.
“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.”
Wish you’d entered the Wiggle Etape Cymru? There are a limited number of first-come, first-served on-the-day entries available