Just over an hours drive from my home is the lovely gateway town to Wales of Abergavenny. It boasts a great location surrounded as it is by the Brecon Beacons National Park, location for some great walks and cycle rides. Infact 2 hills in the vicinity were included in the first edition of Simon Warren's book, 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs. It hosts many festivals including Food & Cycling related ones. Indeed the Cycling Festival will take place this year between the 23rd & 29th of June. Make sure you check out the website, www.abergavennyfestivalofcycling.co.uk as this truly is a Festival of cycling with many events taking place culminating in the National Championships for both Men & Women on the Sunday.You can have a chance to ride some of the National Championship course on the Saturday by entering one of the Sportifs available that day.
It was approaching the late May Bank Holiday and we still hadn't chosen somewhere to stay so we took the opportunity to drive the Bay Cycles Team Campervan to a little site outside Abergavenny. Looking closely at a map before we left I realised we would be very close to the base of a climb that will be used in the National Championships and also witness a stage finish in the Tour of Britain this year, The Tumble. I have driven my car over this climb on many an occasion as it offers beautiful views from the top and also gives access to Blaenavon where there is a museum to coal mining known as The Big Pit – a very interesting place with an opportunity to take a trip underground to see what it was really like for the miners and being a National Museum of Wales it is absolutely free to get in.
Anyway, a quick discussion with the missus to clear the plan and the bike was loaded in the campervan ready for a pre- breakfast ride up The Tumble on the Sunday.
Sunday dawned and it was really a continuation of Saturday i.e. overcast and misty rain – this is Wales and there is a reason why it is so green. I dressed up nice and warm with leg warmers and a long sleeve jersey but also packed a waterproof jacket for the descent back down off The Tumble. From the site it was a quick jink under the rather busy Heads of the Valleys road and I was in the village of Govilon which nestles at the foot of the climb. A short downhill section led to a rather non descript right hand turn signposted Blaenavon (light vehicles only) – Hang a right here and you immediately start to climb, albeit gradually.
As you start the climb there is 30 mph speed limit sign and underneath is another sign marking the start of The Tumble 10% - 6km. Now one bit of this I believed (6 km) but 10%? I think this was referring to the maximum gradient as opposed to the average gradient. The climb starts to steepen as you approach the bridge over the canal after which the road bends a sharp left and enters a wooded section. For about a 1km or so the road is more or less dead straight to another hairpin which coincides with a steepening of the climb – maybe to the 10% mentioned – and also a deterioration of the road surface.
Being under the trees did ensure that the conditions began to feel quite muggy so the jersey was unzipped to allow a bit of cooling down. This section is quite a grind and isn't helped by that road surface. You soon reach an old pub on the left and a cattle grid where you leave the shelter of the trees. At this point the temperature dropped and the wind hit me head on and the jersey had to be zipped up. As a consolation, in spite of the occasional low cloud, the views were great – I'm sure I could see where we were staying.
Looking ahead the climb slowly plods upwards disappearing round corners that made it look like you are not far from the summit. Unfortunately with a rather cooling headwind, sheep and the occasional car for Company it was a steady ride towards the many false summits. Painted on the road were various signs that cycle races had used this climb before with support showing for UKYouth and Kristian House.
Turning a corner the moorland opened out either side and a sign off to the right pointing to a pub that I knew was the highest pub in Wales, I knew I was the near the top and that the 'false' summit wasn't actually that at all. Tucked in to a small dip in the moor on the left was the Keepers Pond and car park which more or less marked the top. However, looking ahead I could make out in the gloom a white line painted across the road so sprinted for the mountain prime, Froome and Quintana were nowhere!!
At the top I hung around long enough to take some pictures but soon realised that what I had been told about the top having its own micro climate was true – it was bloomin freezing. A few pictures taken, the rain jacket put on I was happy to click up the gears and start the descent back down to Govilon. I consider myself to be a reasonable descender and with the Continental GP4000S fitted to the Domane I was fairly confident that I could have a bit of fun going back down – how wrong I was. I didn't realise that the bends had no camber on them and were actually flat. However, this had the effect of making the corners feel as if they were off camber and this combined with the rather damp conditions meant I wasn't experiencing the fun I should have had. Remember, the broken up surface under the trees on the way up, well this was mirrored on the way down and one of hairpins at the bottom felt as if it was more than 90 degrees forcing me almost to standstill round the corner.
Soon I was back in Govilon and spinning back to the Campervan – Penny was still in bed so my timing was ideal.
There are loops you can do to incorporate The Tumble within a ride but it worthwhile getting an Ordnance Survey map to check out some of the back roads as you would probably want to avoid the rather busy Heads of the Valleys Road. Also, if you are going with the family then Abergavenny is a lovely market town that they can wander around whilst you enjoy the scenery. After your ride Abergavenny has loads of coffee shops and cafes to replace all that energy you've used up.
For us, with the rain that eventually got worse and due to us having our dog and needing to sit outside we chose Coffee #1 ( http://www.coffee1.co.uk ) as, with its awning, great coffee and lovely welsh cakes made it ideal. Further at 60p for a Welsh Cake was all very well priced but make sure you watch out for the fierce cat!