Why do people keep coming back to do the Autumn Epic? What is so special about the route?
There's a couple of things:
- It's well designed
- It's in an unfamiliar but spectacular part of the country
Originally designed by Epic Cycles of Ludlow it was inspired by Italian Gran Fondos. Being one of the first sportives in the UK they took the time to make it right - after all who knew if this new "sportive" type event would even be popular, back in 2005?
In particular they made a route with rhythm - good stretches of flat or easy undulating roads in between the challenges. It wasn't just up and down slogging.
The first 10miles or so was easy - a warm up, and the first couple of hills were OK though long - another characteristic of the Epic.
Then you came to the Abbey-cwm-Hir climb - very long, not super-steep but definitely a classic mid-Wales challenge - longer and with more height gained than the usual UK hill.
After a food stop in Rhayader was the biggest challenge of the day - climbing to the top of the Elan Valley - 3 miles long and 800ft of ascent into remote, uninhabited wilderness. A long descent past the Elan reservoirs and plenty of flatish riding let participants recover.
Then came the sharp shocks of super-steep Parkstile Lane and the notorious Glascwm. The latter is particularly challenging as you can see all the steepness from the bottom, and during the event there's usually riders walking it...
After this more easy riding and just two further anonymous hills that on a normal ride wouldn't be a problem. But at the end of a day of Welsh hills they can be significant challenges to you getting home.
A final, long, fast descent back to the start means all that pain and difficulty is swept away and you have time to relish having "done it" - a good feeling as you are likely to have only recently thought that it would never end and that you wouldn't do it.
Two aspects here:
One - much more hilly than England. The hills are longer, go higher and offer bigger vistas at the top. Because the hills are bigger there's also more flat in between them - the hills take care of the respectable climb total - 8,600ft in just 8 chunks. The Chiltern 100 (another big, "original" sportive) can take 20 hills to gain 7,900ft on a ride that slays rather than inspires.
Two - remoteness. Mid-Wales is sparsely populated and takes an hour or more to get to by car. Few riders are familiar with it so most are surprised. I can recall puncturing at the top of the Elan Valley riding the 2009 Epic - I stopped to fix it and realised I was totally alone in an enormous landscape with not a single dwelling for miles around. Another aspect of remoteness - very few cars.
What it adds up to is an area that offers loads of potential for challenging and exciting routes with variation, with rhythm. For 2021 I'm going to be designing a new route for the Epic - first in 15 years, and my challenge will be to produce something as good as the original.