YOUR GUIDE: Dave Lloyd
DISTANCE: 32 miles (51km)
MAIN CLIMBS: Moel-y-Gefir and Back of Bwylch
TOTAL CLIMB: 800 metres
ACTUNG! Both climbs are long and steep
“I USED to include this circuit in my long training rides when I was a pro. My parents lived in Four Crosses, so I’d start from their house, ride here, do this loop and maybe others like it, then go home. Five-, six-, sometimes seven-hour rides. Phil Bayton used to come up here sometimes and we’d do it together.
“Phil was Mr Halfwheel; we’d set off and he’d put the half wheel on me and we’d ride like that, him always half a wheel in front, going harder and harder all day. One time I got back home after a seven hour ride and I was so tired that I couldn’t speak. Phil trained harder than he could race,” Lloyd tells us as we sit in the Lake Vyrnwy visitor centre just before the start of the ride.
Lloyd was famous for being mad keen on training, just like his mate Bayton, another pro from the same era. It’s fitting, then, that the ride he’s chosen for us is a very challenging one, but it’s also one set amidst savagely beautiful scenery. However, Lloyd admits now that his regime was often too hard.
RIDER TURNED COACH
Today he runs a business, Dave Lloyd coaching, and he’s had some spectacular results. Wendy Houvenaghel and Carole Gandy are among his clients, and their results since working with Lloyd speak for themselves. The regime he sets for his clients cuts no corners and spells hard work but, says Lloyd, “The most important sessions are rest. You have to train hard, but you have to give your body time to adapt. I didn’t do that, and sometimes it cost me.”
From the visitor centre, where there is ample car parking, the ride heads over the Vyrnwy dam and left onto the road that runs along the northern shore of the huge reservoir. Lloyd has only recently started riding his bike regularly again, but as he sets off towards the first climb he drops down into his distinctive crouch that was familiar to thousands who followed time trialling in the Eighties.
It seems unbelievable now, but just a couple of decades ago, big crowds attended major British time trials, eager to witness the latest battle between the likes of Lloyd, Phil Griffiths, Ian Cammish or Daryl Webster. “We had some real needle going. We were characters. Mind you, the cycling press in those days helped by giving the races lots of coverage,” he says.
The lake road is flat, although the surface is quite rough, with big potholes that need to be avoided. The most remarkable thing, though, is the lack of traffic. On the whole ride we see only five cars.
“I haven’t been here for more than 30 years, but it hasn‘t changed one bit. You didn’t get any traffic up here then,” Lloyd says.
Lake Vyrnwy is surrounded on three sides by a wall of mountains, which is what we had come here for. Lloyd attacks the first, the Moel-y-Geifer, with typical gusto. Out of the saddle when he has to be, sitting and spinning when the gradient allows. If he still looks good on the flat, it’s Lloyd’s climbing that really belies his age.
“I thought I would have lost that. They say your climbing ability is the first to go, and I struggled when I first started riding again, but I’m going quite well on the hills now,” he says.
Moel-y-Geifer is a long climb, but not as relentlessly steep as others in the area. The top few pitches are quite exposed, and the descent is long and fast. The road wriggles down its wide valley and affords good, far-reaching views of any traffic coming up the other way, although there was none on the day we shot down it.
The descent ends at the north-western tip of Lake Bala, from where it’s another flat run to the next climb.
“I’m not sure of its proper name, we always called this climb the Back of Bwylch, because its behind the Bwylch-y-Groes, but I think the valley it goes up is called Ty-Nant,” Lloyd tells us before the gradient becomes too severe for talking.
VIEW FROM THE TOP
This one is hard; it twists and turns, the gradient changes and just before the last part the road clings spectacularly to a rock face. The view from the top is as breathtaking as the climb’s gradient and we stop to admire the scene, where we can look down on Bala spreading out map-sized below us.
To complete the route, turn left at the top of this climb and hurtle back down to Lake Vyrnwy. But if you have the legs left for it, the Bwylch-y-Groes, possibly the most notorious climb in the country, presents itself as an optional extra just before you. The Bwylch was made famous by the Milk Race, an annual two-week stage race that often used mid-Wales as an arena. Today, climbing the Bwylch is still considered a cycling rite of passage.
“It starts in Llanymawddwy village,” Lloyd tells us before plummeting down and out of sight to the bottom of the Bwylch. Minutes later he returns at a fair clip, “Breathing through me ears,” he says as he forces his way to the top. “I had forgotten how steep that was,” Lloyd gasps as he comes to a halt at the summit.
Back down to Lake Vyrnwy and another flat stretch along its southern side, and soon we are back in the car park again. “I enjoyed that. I think I’ll have to come back and do two laps,” says Lloyd with a smile as he looks wistfully back over the lake at the peaks he’s just conquered. He savours the moment, and so he should: the old workhorse averaged 18mph, and that included his ascent of the Bwylch-y-Groes.
DAVE LLOYD: WE ASK IS THIS A COMEBACK?
“I won’t race again,” says Lloyd at the suggestion of a comeback. “But I am enjoying the sportive events I’ve started doing,” he adds.
So what exactly inspired someone with his obvious competitive nature to start training again?
“I was invited to lead a training camp in April, so I started going out last winter and I really enjoyed it. You know, just enjoyed riding my bike, rather than enjoying training on it like I used to.
“I’ve always trained. When I stopped racing I ran a lot, although I didn’t enjoy it much. Then I got into the gym and Concept 2 rowing. I also did a lot of turbo-training when I had my frame-building business, but I can arrange my work better now so I can get out on the road during the day.
“I did the camp and it went well. The lads there were saying why not race, but I won’t. I am too competitive, and if I get into all that again I‘ll want to win and start thinking I have to do extra training. If I do that my business will suffer.
“I can just enjoy the sportives. I did the Merseyside Wheelers one first and met up with mates I hadn’t seen for 20-odd years — Pete Maxwell, Ricky Garcia and Phil Thomas. Last Sunday I did the Étape du Dales and I came 12th. I’m doing one around this area on Sunday, and I‘m going to do La Marmotte in France.”
DAVE LLOYD: THE FACTS
* Aged 57, lives with wife Chris in Neston, the Wirral
* Only British rider to make it through Peter Post’s cull when the Dutchman took over the TI-Raleigh squad in the Seventies
* Had to bow out of top-level pro racing due to a heart problem
* Came back to win two national 25-mile time trial championships and turn pro again, this time for Raleigh’s domestic team
Start at the Lake Vyrnwy visitors centre. Turn right (TR) and ride along the dam wall. Turn left (TL) on B4393. At north-west tip of the lake TR on unclassified to climb Moel-y-Gefir. At Pen-y-Garth fork left and TL on B4391.
At Pont-y-Llyn TL on B4403. Just before Llanuwchllyn, TL on unclassified to climb Back of Bwylch. At top, follow the road left and descend to Lake Vyrnwy. At lake, TR on B4393 back to visitor’s centre.
(This ride originally appeared in Cycling Weekly June 8, 2006)
YOUR GUIDE: Dave Lloyd