DISTANCE 40 miles (64km)
MAIN CLIMB Southerndown
TOTAL CLIMB 550 metres
ACHTUNG! Stray sheep on coastal stretch

Magnus Backstedt might be a pro bike rider but he’s also a family man, and the family man chose this ride.

“It starts at the Vale of Glamorgan Golf Club, which has really nice restaurants, a hotel and a fantastic health spa with a gym, treatment rooms and a full-sized swimming pool. I thought about your readers and thought what could be better than coming here, getting the family booked into the spa, and taking a nice ride on quiet country roads and along the South Wales coast,” he says.

It’s a good ride but a wet one on the day we meet. “It has been quite a bad year in Wales, but it has everywhere in northern Europe, I think. It’s not usually like this,” Backstedt explains.

He’s even wondering if the weather might have something to do with his up-and-down form this year. “I’m OK when I’m at my functional threshold doing a 90 or 95 per cent effort, but when I go deeper it’s just like I can’t use all of my lungs and that cuts my legs dead. We are beginning to wonder if it’s some kind of allergy and I’m going for tests soon,” he says.

Problem Tour
He thinks that is the reason why he was eliminated from the Tour de France. “I had been going OK, and on that stage we decided to make it hard from the start because we were close enough to yellow to get the jersey. The first 60km were up and down, but I was going fine. Then there was this fourth-category climb and about halfway up I was suddenly short of breath. It was like I shut down from the waist down. I went straight out of the back.

“I calmed down and got back on top of it. There was 100km to go, but I went OK. I could see the numbers on the power meter and they were normal for the kind of effort you need to get to the finish on your own inside the time limit. I think I would have made it too, but there was a real steep hill just before the finish and my breathing and legs went again. I ended up four minutes outside the cut-off.”

Backstedt is clearly worried, but he also conceded that part of his problem might simply be the racing he has missed over the last few years through various injuries. “Yeah, I think that
getting to the end of this year and doing a good winter — you know, putting in a good base and maybe not doing the track — will see a difference,” he says as he clips in and sets off into the deluge.

The first part of the ride hugs the M4 then turns south and west to run alongside the pretty Ogmore Estuary. Backstedt doesn’t play golf at the Vale of Glamorgan club but, as befits a man wearing Argyle leg warmers, he does play, and he points out a nice course nestling in the dunes before arriving at a bit of road he uses a lot in his day job.

“The road through Wick goes to a roundabout in Llantwit Major and it’s fairly straight with hardly any traffic, so I do flat efforts and I regularly use the roundabout to do a ten mile time trial out and back along it. I’ve done 19 minutes 45 seconds on my TT bike but with open wheels,” he says.

It’s a stretch of road that has seen a lot of world-class cycling as Nicole Cooke’s family home is in Wick, but after doing a loop along the coast Backstedt rides only a mile or so of his test course then turns right for some quieter lanes.

imageLittle Italy
He calls in at a little Welsh bike shop with a big Italian feel, Forza Cycles, for a warming espresso and we talk about the Garmin-Chipotle team. “The team has been great. It’s been a really satisfying experience. JV [Jonathan Vaughters] hand-picked riders who would fit together, and by doing that he has created a great environment. Collectively we’ve felt we had something to prove, as even in Qatar people were saying that we were a team with a couple of names at the end of their careers and nothing else. I think we’ve proved that isn’t true,” says Backstedt.

The team have exceeded expectations, but who in Backstedt’s view has been a
particular revelation?

“As a cobbled Classics specialist I have to say Martijn Maskaant. He is so laidback. He could sleep for 24 hours, then if you wake him, feed him and stick a number on his back he’s
an animal.”

What about the performance of the team, especially Christian Vande Velde, in the Tour?
“Christian has always had that ride in him, but he’s not been allowed to show it because he’s spent his career pulling other guys up mountains. The team had total confidence in him and in the end they brought home a great result.”

From Llantwit Major there are more nice lanes, a stretch of quiet A-road after Cowbridge, and a very pleasant run back to the golf club through the Hensol Forest. “Riders associate South Wales with big climbs, and I do a lot of my training on climbs like the Bwylch. There are some short, sharp climbs if you want them, but you can get some speed in your legs or have an easy day. A lot of locals ride in this area,” Backstedt says before heading off to take the family to the beach, “if it stops raining long enough.”

imageYOUR GUIDE: MAGNUS BACKSTEDT
* Age 33, born Linkoping, Sweden
* A pro rider since 1996, currently rides for Garmin-Chipotle
* Lives in Pontyclun, South Wales; married to Megan; they have two daughters

WHICH WAY?
From the golf club head north on unclassified under M4. Turn left (TL) on B4264, TL on A4222. Turn right (TR) on unclassified before M4. TL on unclassified in the centre of Llanharry, go over the M4 and TR on unclassified. TR and TL on unclassified. TL on unclassified just before Ruthin TR on A48. TL on B4524. Follow through Ogmore to St Bride’s Major. TR on B4265. TR on unclassified before Wick and follow signs to Llantwit Major. Take the B4270 north out of town past Llandow and TR on unclassified into Cowbridge. TR on A4222. TR on A48. TL on unclassified to Welsh St Donats and continue north back to the golf club.