Cycle Training - The Tumble


 

You can’t step onto the hallowed turf at Wembley and bend a free-kick into the net on Cup Final day. You can’t tonk a six over the Mound Stand at Lords before a Test match; nor can you put down your strawberries and practice a few cross-court passing shots on Wimbledon’s Centre Court while the balls are being changed. You’d be arrested, and following a moment of notoriety in the tabloid press, you’d be back home facing mortified children and a mute wife. However, you can stretch your legs on the very same ground consecrated by the sporting gods of cycling, without risk of apprehension.

I’ve spent years slowly picking off the great climbs of the Tour de France, the Giro and the Vuelta. I’ve pedalled in the tracks of the gods over Tourmalet, Galibier, Izoard, Col de Pailhères, Alpe d’Huez and the Hourquette d’Ancizan. I’ve loved every mile of it. Last summer though I had the opportunity to stay put and pit myself against my heroes. The consecrated ground is coming to me, at home, in Wales.

By Rob Penn

Monday 26th March 2018

In early September 2014, the Tour of Britain whizzed through my corner of Monmouthshire. The pros will have climbed ‘the Tumble’, the hill that I train on year round and that features in the new Velothon Wales sportive. The Tumble (also known locally as ‘Iron Mountain’, ‘the Fiddler’s elbow’ and ‘Keeper’s’, after the wee tarn near the top) is not exactly ‘Hors Catégorie’. It hardly compares with the infamous European climbs and the elite pros will make light enough of it. For ageing amateurs like me, though, it’s a belter of a climb: six kilometres at an average gradient of 7.2%.

From Abergavenny, you head north-west up the Usk valley to the outskirts of Govilon, where the climb proper starts. The road lurches up steeply, over the Brecon and Monmouthshire canal and round a tight left-hand bend. Here I can usually smell the acrid odour of braking traffic, descending on the opposite side of the road. The first landmark, after a long, painful straight is the ‘Fiddler’s elbow’. Round this and the gradient nudges into double figures, through a conifer plantation. The road is deceiving: it doesn’t look that steep and even though I’ve been climbing the Tumble for years, I still check my GPS device at this point. This is where the inner voice harangues me – ‘give up’.

Cross the cattle grid and you’re out onto open, treeless moorland. There are fantastic views west, up the Usk Valley towards the high, twin peaks of the Brecon Beacons and back over your shoulder, north into the glacially sculpted hills and valleys of the Black Mountains. Not that I’m ever ready to savour them: the gradient eases off here but the cross wind – an eager little devil – usually hits you, heaping torment on to the pain. There are a couple of short, steep, out of the saddle ramps before the final section – a luxury at 3-4% - past the tarn and on to the top.

Stage three of the Tour of Britain finished on the summit. Mick Bennett, the race director was proved correct in his assumption that the Tumble will be a ‘significant moment in the race,’ and the ‘toughest summit finish yet’ of the Tour of Britain, revived in 2004.

If you fancy a tilt at the Tumble yourself, contact us and we'll give you all the pointers. The sportive riders will pile over the top, down to Blaenavon, across the spectacular landscape of Llangynidr moor and back along the Usk Valley to Abergavenny. It really is a great route, all on roads I know well.

I regularly climb the Tumble, and I always remember September, when I saw how it’s really done. 

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