This isn’t really my blog post to write – it should be Meg’s. But she’s a teacher and term’s just started, so she’s currently buried under a stack of books, chugging the millionth (ish) cup of coffee of the day … and I’ve been commissioned to write this, for the princely sum of a cuppa and a Penguin. Read on to hear about Meg’s mission to beat the Tumble.
As any frequent readers of the blog will know, Meg and I had a crack at Velothon Wales back in the blistering heat of summer. While I had a pretty good run and made it back before being cooked alive, the aforementioned blistering heat got the better of Meg. She was a couple of hours back down the road with a gaggle of my family, and at ~60km an unofficial water stop brought everyone to a halt. With the air temperature hitting 37°C, Meg keeled over and that was that. The paramedics came and revived her before her long-suffering dad chauffeured her home. Needless to say, Meg was thoroughly annoyed at missing her chance to climb the famous Tumble and so began a mission to get Meg up the hill!
After recovering from the disappointment of fainting out of the Velothon, Meg and I sat down and planned a ‘Meg-othon’, broadly following the Velothon route but using B-roads in place of the (frankly awful) dual-carriageway stretches. We picked a Saturday when we were both free all day and set off at a good cake-and-coffee pace. The weather gods had other plans and we were almost immediately soaked to the skin by the first rain we’d seen for about a month. Things went from bad to worse as we descended Belmont Hill into Caerleon. The prolonged dry weather had left the roads greasy and covered in grit. Approaching the bottom Meg was left with a choice between gravel and a damp drain-cover; her back wheel slid sideways and she was unceremoniously dumped onto the unforgiving tarmac. Sheer bloody-mindedness carried us as far as Usk where Meg discovered that her elbow had a ~1/4 inch deep crater in it (the bleeding concealed by a fetching red jersey). Despite some exceptional service from Sprockwobbles café (expert patching – and they even nipped to the chemist for more plasters while we ate cake!) it became clear we weren’t going up the Tumble that day. The nearest bailout point was the train station in Abergavenny, infuriatingly at the foot of the Tumble, but discretion is the better part of valour so we headed home.
By this point, Meg had gone from frustrated to downright p*ssed off. Fortunately, we had a bonus shot a couple of weeks ago while house-sitting for Meg’s parents near Monmouth. Hoping that ‘third time lucky’ would apply, we plotted a ~90km route which would loop us up to Abergavenny, over the Tumble, down to Pontypool and back to Monmouth via coffee in Usk. After polishing off our coffee and pastries we set out. It wasn’t a particularly stunning day, but equally it was dry and not too windy. The first 20km to Abergavenny were lumpy, and gave us a good warmup. We paused briefly in Abergavenny to top up our water bottles at the excellent Gateway Cycles before attacking the Tumble.
Meg approached the climb with some trepidation having heard all about it from various people but she was determined to get up it without stopping. The Tumble is a persistent ~10% for the first 3.5km of its length, before flattening out to ~6% in the final 2km. This makes it a bit of a grind the whole way up, especially on a pretty heavy steel tourer. Despite the gradient we chugged steadily up, winding through the hairpins near the bottom and into the seemingly endless wooded section.
After ~20 minutes we rumbled across the cattle grid which separates the lower wooded section from the exposed upper slopes. At this point we were rewarded with an easing of the gradient and a spectacular view over the valley. Pedaling upwards we finally reached the summit, 512m above sea level, marked by a slightly drab sign. Made it!
From the summit we descended into Blaenavon before picking up the cycle trail alongside the Pontypool and Blaenavon railway. This made for a few miles of very relaxing riding with the added bonus of some excellent blackberries and sunshine. Turning northeast out of Pontypool we hit more lumpy terrain and by the time we arrived in Usk we were thoroughly ready to return to the excellent Sprockwobbles for a cheeky coffee and a wedge of cake. Departing Usk we span the remaining 30km or so back through Monmouth and home to slump in contented tiredness on the sofa.
Victory. No fainting, no crashes. Good job Meg!