DISTANCE 44 miles (74km)
MAIN CLIMB Word’s End
TOTAL CLIMB 1,170 metres
ACHTUNG! Some bad road surfaces
It’s not going to be pretty. The Dave Lloyd Mega Challenge is just that: a fearsome route of hand-picked Welsh hills that former Euro-pro and time trial comeback legend Dave Lloyd used to train on in the Seventies and Eighties. The whole route is 140 miles (224km), with an incredible 16,400 feet (5,000 metres) of climbing. Not easy, but truly satisfying once you’ve done it.
There will be a Mini-Mega Challenge too, 69 miles (110km), containing five of the 13 huge climbs in the Mega. Enough for most, and plenty for Lloyd and two of the clients of his coaching business at the end of the first week of January.
Alas it was too much for us, because the route of even the Mini-Mega wouldn’t fit in our map space, so I persuaded Lloyd to ride a truncated version. “We’ll still be able to show you three of the big climbs,” he smiled gleefully.
Lloyd was joined by ace time triallist and former runner Carl Saint, and an ex-rower who has recently started cycling, Jeanette Caldicott. Both are clients of Lloyd’s and both have made great progress since working with him.
“I was like a lot of runners,” says Saint. “I got to a good standard, running road, fell and cross-country races. I represented Yorkshire once and could run at five-minute mile pace, but as I got older I started to suffer injury problems. With me it was my feet.
“I started doing time trials in 2000 and made good progress, but then I approached Dave during the winter of 2002/3 and presented him with these impossible targets. I wanted to do a sub-20 minute 10 miles and a sub-50 minute ‘25’. Dave started coaching me and I achieved both of them,” adds Saint, whose personal best of 19 minutes 11 seconds for 10 miles is exactly the same as the British record Lloyd set back in 1981.
“And I did it using dropped handlebars and spoked wheels,” Saint jokes. It’s a reference to the times that Lloyd has wondered how fast he could go with his 1981 legs and the equipment that’s around today. Unlike Saint, Lloyd didn’t have those advantages back in the early Eighties and set his record on a simple road racing bike.
Jeanette Caldicott tried the gym when she gave up rowing. “I also began to ride a little bit, and then someone suggested I went on a local club run. I got keen and started riding more, then I had a go at racing and won a race on the Hillingdon circuit. I’ve progressed a lot since I’ve worked with Dave. He’s brought discipline to my training and I feel a lot more self-confident about my cycling. I’ve raced abroad and want to do more of that,” she says.
One thing that must inspire his clients is that at 58, Lloyd can still do it. He started training regularly on his bike a couple of years ago, although he has done some sort of training for most of his life. And given Lloyd’s full-on nature you can bet that training was full-on too.
Bitten by the bug
Now he’s been bitten by the cyclo-sportive bug, and is a regular at the front of some of the toughest tests of this new cycling challenge. This interest, combined with the epic rides he has done in the hills of North Wales, inspired Lloyd to create his own event.
“On the day, I bet people will be cursing me because the climbs begin almost as soon as you leave the start in Ruthin. Today we’ll miss the Bwlch Penbarras and head for the Shelf, which will be the second climb on the day,” Lloyd says, before the group ride off into a sunny day, but on roads awash from recent heavy rain.
The Shelf climbs the Clwydian Range, a 35-kilometre chain of hills that runs roughly north to south, right up in the north-eastern corner of Wales. The climb is on a narrow road that rises in steps, the Clwydians are on your left and there are spectacular views to far bigger mountains on your right. The crux of the Mega Challenge is in those mountains.
The Shelf descends close to the Nant-y-Garth pass, but the route for both challenges crosses it and heads for what the locals call the back of the Horseshoe.
So many cyclists have ridden these roads over the years. The Milk Race used them. The Horseshoe Pass has hosted the National Hill-Climb Championships and classic time trials. And when Merseyside produced cycling champions like they did pop groups, North Wales was their training ground for Lloyd, John Clewarth, Doug Dailey and others.
That is how Lloyd knows all these climbs, and how he discovered the next one, World’s End, a truly epic piece of road that winds up out of Llangollen onto a plateau of high moors above Wrexham. At the top you can see an area of land from Liverpool to Manchester and right down into the Midlands.
After World’s End the riders on both challenges will tackle Moel Arthur before the Mini-Mega ends in Ruthin. Mega Challengers will then continue south to the fearsome Cerrig and Bwlch-y-Groes, before tackling six further hills that Dave Lloyd calls ‘the Stingers’.
“It is definitely a challenge. I wanted something that would help people prepare for rides like the Etape du Tour or La Marmotte in July, and I think that this ride should do it. I took part in La Marmotte last year and saw for myself how tough it is,” says Lloyd after descending Bwlch Pen Barras and leaving me in Ruthin before putting in a few more miles with his troops.
TRAINING WITH LLOYDY
Lloyd’s approach is quite straightforward. He was guided in his racing career by a coaching legend, Eddie Soens, and like his mentor, Lloyd inspires as well as coaches his clients.
One of his favourite phrases is “training isn’t rocket science”. But, he feels, “People need someone to cut through all the information that’s around nowadays and keep them working in a way that will improve them.”
Carl Saint says: “Dave brought more structure to my training. He gave me intervals to do and hill reps, but he also got me to rest a bit more. He got me in the gym, and at the moment I’m training there each morning and doing some running after work. Then I ride at the weekends.Soon though I’ll start doing some intervals on the turbo during the week.”
Jeanette Caldicott is: “doing one long ride at weekends and turbo training in the week, doing threshold intervals and sprint work.” They both do pretty much what Lloyd was doing when he was racing, the only deviation being on the question of rest.
“I overtrained, and if there is one thing I’ve learned since I qualified as a coach it is the value of rest. You need to work hard. You need to do long rides and train in the gym for strength. You need to do intervals and hills and sprints for speed and power. But you need time to let your body assimilate all that, which is why I get my riders to take rest days and easy weeks,” Lloyd says.
* Age 42, single, lives in Slaithwaite, West Yorkshire
* Works as a software programmer and races for the Yorkshire Road Club
* Says that a bronze medal in the National 50-mile TT Championships is his best result
* Age 35, lives in Bicester, Oxfordshire
* Works as a sales rep and races for Team Luciano
* Says third place in a Jo Bruton series race is her best performance, but is proudest of finishing 45th in the international Tour of Brittany
DAVE LLOYD COACHING
You can see what Dave Lloyd has to offer at www.davelloydcoaching.com. Check out the challenge rides at www.davelloydmegachallenge.com.
Take the A494 east from Ruthin. Turn right (TR) onto the B5429. Turn left (TL) onto unclassified after Llanhydd Mill. TR on B5431. TL on A525 and 1st TR on A542. TL on unclassified as you enter Llangollen. TL onto B5426. TL onto the A525 and TL onto the B5430. TR on unclassified just after Graianrhyd. TR onto A494 and TL at Gwernymyndd and follow directions to Cilcain. TL on unclassified and follow this road over the Bwlch Penbarras back to Ruthin.