The annual Dragon Ride in Wales is one of the oldest and most popular cycling sportives in the UK.
Originally inspired by the popularity of the Italian Grand Fondo, Lou Lusardi brought the first Dragon Ride to Bannau Brycheiniog (the Brecon Beacons) in 2004 with just 280 riders.
Since then, it’s reached iconic status, with tens of thousands of people having taken part.
Sunday 23rd June 2024 will see the Dragon Ride return for its 20th Edition.
In this article we speak to Dearbhla Cormacain, who is Operations Manager at Human Race and one of the organising team for the world-renowned Dragon Ride. She takes us behind the scenes of the event, sharing information on the Dragon Ride routes, support and what makes this event so special.
This guide provides an overview of the event that is due to take place on 23rd June 2024. Please read the rules, entry conditions and information on the official website if you want to take part. In the event of any discrepancy between this guide and information on the official website, please rely on the official website.
1. Tell us about the Dragon Ride routes
Human Race took over the organisation of the Dragon Ride in 2012. This is when the start/finish moved to the current venue, the picturesque Margam Park located near Port Talbot in South Wales.
We have four different challenging route options, which have a variety of distances, but all of which showcase cycling in the Brecon Beacons and the incredible scenery and rugged beauty of the Welsh landscapes. All the routes start and finish at our Margam Park HQ, Port Talbot, South Wales.
- The most recent introduction is the formidable Dragon Devil Ride. It’s a colossal 296km ride through some of the most stunning scenery with sweeping descents and challenging climbs.
- In addition to this distance, we also have three other route options available: the 213km Gran Fondo, the 157km Medio Fondo and the 98km Macmillan 100.
2. Explain the profile of each Dragon cycle route
This link will take you to the Dragon Ride route map and profiles.
Routes are subject to change for 2024 but we expect that they will be very similar to 2023.
The Macmillan 100 is a 98km loop rising north out of Margam Park into the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.
Riders will begin their journey passing Port Talbot on their left-hand side before then rising into the hills of the magnificent Welsh countryside.
- The first climb cyclists will encounter is Sardis Hill, a short but punishing ascent over 1.1km. Although not as tough as the three longer routes, this sets the tone for what is about to come.
- You’ll begin to ascend the Rhigos at around 50km, a long (5.6km) but fairly manageable climb at an average 4% incline.
- The Bwlch will be the final big climb of the day at around 65km in, slightly shorter than the Rhigos but it might require the smaller ring as you’ll be ascending at an average incline of 5.8%.
- There is one feed station located in between the two major climbs, so you’ll be able to stock up before you go again!
Those taking on the Medio Fondo will face six major climbs along the 157km route.
- Sardis Hill will once again be the first.
- Just before 40km in, where those cycling Macmillan 100 carry on, you will turn left heading up further into the National Park and onto the next major incline, this being Glynneath hill, a 3.2km ascent at an average rise of 5.4%.
- Riders will then face Bwlch Bryn-Rhudd before arriving at the first feed station.
- Next up is the notorious Devil’s Elbow. You’ll also have the chance to compete for a prize here as the 1.3km ascent is our closed road timed climb, but beware as you’ll be pedalling up at an average incline of 10.3%.
- At this point you’ll be glad to know that you are heading back towards Margam Park but will still have both the Rhigos and Bwlch to overcome. There will be two more feed stations to help you on your way, however.
The Gran Fondo route will require riders to complete over 200km and take on eight major climbs.
- You’ll take on all the same climbs as the two shorter distances but the extra 56km on top of the Medio Fondo features two major climbs, the Black Mountain and Bwlch Cerrig Duon, both coming in at over 5km and an average incline of 5.8% and 3.7% respectively.
- There will be an extra feed station located around 65km to help with the monumental challenge being undertaken!
Dragon Devil Ride
The Dragon Devil; it doesn’t get tougher than this. Just under 300km, over 4600m of ascent and 10 major climbs.
- On top of the eight climbs featured in the Gran Fondo, there is also Sugar Loaf Hill, a 2.6km climb with an average incline of 6% and the hardest climb of all: the Devil’s Staircase which is not the longest at 1.3km but includes an average incline of 12.5% topping out at an insane 29% halfway up.
- There are six feed stations to help riders get round this monster of a route.
Please note that all routes are subject to change and will be confirmed in the lead up to the 2024 event. GPX files can be found here for all 2023 routes.
3. What are the highlights of this iconic sportive?
A very tough challenge
First and foremost, the Dragon Ride is tough, really tough. It’s often called the toughest sportive in the UK. It’s a full day’s riding and we mean it, with some riders taking well over 12 hours to complete the course.
The Dragon Ride is also one of the most stunning bike events in the UK. Combining savage climbs and savage beauty, you’ll find that your breath is taken away by not just the brutal ascents but by the amazing natural surroundings.
You can’t beat the feeling of arriving at the start line first thing in the morning, sun barely risen and the mist clearing off the sloping hills of the Afan Forest Park. Being part of a group of nearly 4,000 cyclists, setting off on an epic ride through Wales, to undertake some of the most difficult but famed climbs: the Bwlch, Devil’s Staircase, Rhigos, to name a few. Completing those climbs, riders are rewarded with stunning views across the Welsh countryside.
Though most of the ride takes place on open roads, we do host a timed closed-road climb on the infamous Devil’s Elbow. This is a key climb and will once again be returning for the 2024 event. The Devil’s Elbow, one of the most feared climbs in the British Isles, features on the Devil, Gran Fondo and Medio Fondo routes. The fastest male and female to complete the timed-climb will be awarded King and Queen of the mountain and will receive a prize bundle containing commemorative gifts from our sponsors!
You’ll find plenty of locals cheering you on and there’s fantastic comradery between the riders. With some travelling from as far as New Zealand, everyone has their own story to tell.
Making your way back to the finish line, you will be greeted by the hundreds of friends and family of the nearly 4,000 taking part who make sure to cheer every rider over the line. As you cross the finish line you will feel elated to have ticked such a challenge off your bucket list of must-do sportives. Is it easy? NO! Is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!
Five-time Dragon Slayer, Faith Gladwyn, had this to say about the experience for riders:
“The Dragon Ride is a great goal, and for those who go down the road bike route it is a focus for all the effort. The reward is a ride in a beautiful area with people of a like mind, and a massive sense of achievement at the end. The Bwlch and Rhigos have always been my favourite parts of the Dragon Ride.
I’m very slow, but the sense of achievement is always there when I reach the top and get to see the panoramic views. Coming through the finish is the best moment! So, to summarise…Do it! But if you are as new to cycling as I was, make sure you do lots of training. If you can visit the course as well, you will do much better. Not only will it be a reality check, but it will inspire you too!”
As Faith mentions, crossing the finish line will bring upon an unrivalled feeling of achievement as it dawns on riders that they have just ‘Slayed the Dragon’. Many riders then stay in the event village to soak up the atmosphere as there is live music, a variety of food on offer, a bar and places to sit and chill out.
The ride is extremely well organised with every participant receiving mechanical and medical support, electronic chip timing, well stocked feed stations, free car parking, prestigious medal, sweep vehicle for those who cannot complete the route and HUGE bragging rights!
4. What training and preparation do you recommend for the Dragon Ride?
Undertaking any of the four Dragon Ride routes requires a significant level of fitness. This type of event shouldn’t be done on minimal training and we recommend sticking to a good training plan in advance of event day to be able to enjoy the ride and finish within the time limits.
Whilst the event is for everyone, both new cyclists and seasoned pros, we do provide training advice on our website to help get you over that finish line.
5. Are there time cut offs?
Like all events, the welfare and safety of all our riders and crew are of the upmost importance and for this reason, some of our rides include cut-off points. This means that you must arrive at a certain point of the course before an allotted time.
Please note these times include the minimum average speed that each distance needs to maintain to achieve the cut-offs. The times are inclusive of any stopping time.
Full details of the cut-off times will be released closer to the time of the event, however here are the times we used for the 2023 event. Please note they are subject to change.
6. How to plan your nutrition?
We recommend you come to the event fully fuelled with snacks and water that you can bring with you out on the route.
In addition to your own snacks, there will be several feed stations carefully positioned around the route so that you can restock and refuel before taking on the biggest climbs. Depending on which distance you sign up for, there will be a set number of feed stations you will be able to stop at.
- Devil Route: six feed stations (at 65km/102km/134km/168km/204km/227.4km/256km)
- Gran Fondo: four feed stations (at 65km/120km/146.5km/176km)
- Medio Fondo: three feed stations (at 65km/88.3km/117.2km)
- Macmillan 100: one feed station (at 58.7km).
Food at the stations
Each station varies with what is on offer, but some staples of the Dragon Ride feed stations include our famous roasted herb potatoes, bananas, chocolate bars, naked and cereal bars, jelly babies and tortilla chips. We do review what we offer so there is potential for some new additions at the 2024 event!
We also have a feed station that offers sausage rolls, filled wraps, croissants and pastries that will help keep you fuelled along your challenge! All routes except the Macmillan 100 pass through this feed station.
We are delighted to confirm that SIS will be back for the 2024 event and they will be providing us with products for all of our participants out on the course and at the finish line. More details will be revealed in the lead up to the event, but in previous years this has included GO Isotonic Energy Gels, GO Hydro Tablets, GO Energy Bakes and REGO Rapid Recovery sachets for when you return to the event village.
You will always have access to fresh drinking water to re-fill your bottles at all stations.
As you cross the finish line, you will be able to enjoy a chilled can of isotonic ERDINGER Alkoholfrei beer alongside an SIS recovery product to help you with the post-race cooldown!
After that, all of our participants are offered hot food. In 2023, there was traditional Welsh lamb Cawl with sourdough bread and a teacake on offer. There is also a vegan option. Confirmation of the 2024 post ride meal will be given close to event day.
7. What kit choices do you recommend?
With the highest point of the Dragon Ride over 500m and the lowest point at sea level, you can expect some differing weather conditions over the course of the ride.
It can be quite cold and windy at the highest points and warm and sunny over the lower flat parts of the route. As such, we recommend that you bring a waterproof jacket that can be stored in a pocket and even arm and leg warmers that can be removed if needed.
We’ve just partnered with Santini, who will be designing our 20th Anniversary Official Event Jersey. You can pick one of these up upon entry or include it in your entry type with one of premium packages.
Both front and back bike lights are mandatory. You may find yourself finishing in the dark so make sure to come with both lights attached and charged up!
8. What support is there on the route?
Mechanical and medical support is at the forefront of our planning for this event.
- We have a great team of motos who circulate all four routes checking on riders and who riders can contact in case of emergency.
- We also have a team of roaming mechanics on hand to assist with any unfortunate mechanical that occurs mid-ride (though we encourage every participant to bring their own basic repair kit).
- There is also the wider crew and support staff who do a fantastic job of monitoring the 300 kilometres of road in which our participants will ride.
- Feed stations also have medics, bike mechanics, toilets plus food and drink on hand to all riders should they need.
If for some reason, things aren’t quite going to plan and you are unable to continue with the event, we have sweep vehicles which will bring you and your bike safely back to Margam Park.
We also have a dedicated phone number available for riders to contact the team should they need assistance.
9. Where should people stay?
Margam Park is surrounded by Welsh countryside on one side and the South Wales coast on the other side. This means that there is a plethora of beautiful towns and villages to stay.
We work with Dramatic Heart of Wales who showcase some of the most gorgeous cottages, hotels, campsites, and BnBs in and around the Afan Forest Park and the Bannau Brycheiniog National Park.
If convenience is your preference, then Port Talbot (roughly a 7-10 min drive) and Swansea (roughly a 25 min drive) are obvious choices. Port Talbot is the closest town to the event with many riders choosing to stay there over the Dragon Ride weekend.
Due to the popularity of the event, we recommend booking accommodation early, in order to get your accommodation of choice.
10. Can people hire bikes?
Yes absolutely, we are delighted to announce that for our 2024 event, we have partnered with On Your Bike and they will be offering quality bike hire from brands such as Orro Bikes, Brompton, Trek, Whyte, Marin, Lapierre, Raleigh, Forme, Frog, Haibike, and Volt.
On Your Bike provide a broad range of cycling essentials, and their team aims to serve customers with brand products and quality services. You will be able to book your bike through a dedicated hire hub and choose from a selection of bikes ranging from a hybrid up to a full carbon road bike that will be delivered to the event site and can be collected on event day, saving you the hassle of transporting a bike!
Hire hub details will be revealed in February 2024.
11. How should cyclists get to the event?
There are a few options for how participants can get to the event.
The closest international airport is Cardiff Airport, which is just under an hour’s drive to Margam Park. Cardiff airport has car hire facilities and public transport links.
Cyclists can drive to the event, and we offer free car parking at Margam Country Park. The event car parking is situated just a few hundred metres from the start/finish area. However, car parking space is limited, and for environmental reasons, we ask riders to car share wherever possible.
There are two stations close to the event: Port Talbot Parkway and Pyle.
Pyle is approximately a 15-minute cycle from the event and Port Talbot Parkway is approximately 25 mins.
Alternatively, if you are planning on adding some extra distance onto your route for the day, you can cycle to the event! You will come in via a different gate to cars and the route will take you directly into the event site.
12. What tips would you give to someone wanting to do this event?
You may arrive with the intention of finishing the Dragon Ride as quickly as possible, but we really implore you to enjoy this experience as it really is like no other. There will be close to 4,000 other riders out there with stories to tell, be it riding the Dragon Ride or elsewhere. Whether it’s at feed stations, in the event village or riding side by side on the route we encourage all riders to get to know each other.
We also recommended that you really prepare for the day’s cycling. Make sure to get out and complete your training rides so you’ll be in the best shape to tackle the many climbs that you’ll encounter.
Please also prepare your bike! Book it in for a service in advance of event day so that you can be confident in your equipment as well as yourself.
13. What is there to do before/after the event?
The Dragon Ride event takes place in a stunning part of the world, with Wales’ renowned Bannau Brycheiniog (the Brecon Beacons) National Park right on the doorstep of the event village.
There is a lot to do and see in this part of Wales, so much in fact that we put together this Weekend Guide for our riders and spectators. From amazing places to eat and drink to some of the best walking routes in the country, we’ve packed it all into this handy guide.
If you want to get in a warm-up ride the day before then we’ve included three routes that might take your fancy. They are stunning Wales bike rides, with routes that pass some of the prettiest towns in the area, which we’ve also detailed if you don’t fancy the riding in between and would rather spend your time exploring these hidden gems.
14. How do you enter the Dragon Ride?
The Dragon Ride is the most prestigious cycling event in Wales (and possibly the UK) so Dragon Ride entries are extremely coveted. The event sells out annually.
In 2020-2023, entry to the event was ballot entry only. For 2024 the event has moved away from the ballot and entries will be open during a series of entry windows throughout the year.
You can register for updates and priority access via the website, here.
Included in the registration process is a simple registration form which asks for your personal details along with some additional information including your estimated finish time.
Looking for a UK charity bike ride?
You can also choose to do the Macmillan Dragon ride and fundraise for Macmillan, this being the official charity of the ride.
Pricing is as follows:
If someone has ridden Dragon Ride previously, they qualify for a loyalty discount, this being a minimum of £10.
If you’re entering as a group, we also offer discounts for groups of four and eight riders, saving you up to £151 on entry!
Once registered and paid you will receive a confirmation email to confirm your entry. You’ll then receive regular event correspondence in the months leading up to event day.
You can withdraw from the event and claim an 80% refund of your entry fee up until around three months before the event and transfer to another Human Race event up until one month before the event. The full cancellation and transfer policy can be found here.
We hope to see you at the 2024 Dragon Ride!
A big thank you to Dearbhla and the Dragon Ride event organisers for their insights that have allowed us to create this article.
Have you taken part in Wales’ Dragon Ride?
How did you get on? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Looking for more information on cycling the Brecon Beacons? Read our guide here.
The Dragon Ride is included in our list of the best sportives in the UK. Read more here.
Got a question for Dearbhla?
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