Alan Thomas: The Dragon Riding Legend
The Dragon Ride is one of the oldest and most iconic sportives in the UK, renowned as being the toughest and most legendary in the British Isles and it will be returning to Margam Park for its what will be the 18th edition in 2022.
Local Brecon Beacons resident, cycling enthusiast and Dragon Riding Legend: Alan Thomas will also be returning in 2022 to complete his 17th Dragon Ride!
We caught up with Alan to discuss his incredible achievement and lifelong dedication to the event.
Alan was born and raised on the edge of the Brecon Beacons, the home of the Dragon Ride, and is now living in Oxfordshire working as an Environmental Consultant.
Why did you first sign up to the Dragon Ride?
“I remember back in 2004 Gran Fondo’s and sportives in general just started getting going and gaining traction. I had previously entered a couple in the UK, but then I saw the Dragon Ride being advertised and I thought it was a no brainer to enter, especially as I’d be riding on the roads I know so well. I remember my first Dragon Ride had a few hundred riders, and now it is up to four thousand or so. It’s great fun and it goes in the diary every year!”
Lou Lusardi birthed the very first Dragon Ride in 2004, with just 280 riders, he was inspired by the popularity of Italian Gran Fondo’s in his home country. At the time there were only a handful of sportives in the UK and Lou saw an opportunity to bring this type of event to the Brecon Beacons. An insight that has proven correct and stood the test of time, with thousands every year now slaying the gruelling Dragon Ride.
Would you say you were a cycling enthusiast?
“I have been a cycling enthusiast for years! I started cycling when I was about 17 years old, I used to ride regularly with my brother. I find that it’s a great way to de-stress, getting out in the fresh air and seeing the countryside. Ever since I started, I have been a bit obsessed really.
Pre-covid I tried to ride 3 or 4 events a year around Italy, Belgium, and Switzerland. I normally try to have a big ride in the Spring, two in the Summer and one in the Autumn. I tend to line up my events with races that are on, and go with my friends or family to watch, and make a bit of a weekend out of it.
The Dragon Ride is a really testing course, so it’s great preparation and keeps you motivated.”
What is your goal number of Dragon Ride events to complete?
“I don’t have a goal number really; I would quite like to hit 20 just because it’s a round number. I just think it’s an absolute privilege to keep going, I mean I’m not getting any younger, so to be able to do this many is an honour, and it keeps me fit!
It is just an achievement I look back at and think…Oh wow…it’s been a long time actually. My wife thinks I’m mad, but she and my friends/family are all really impressed with how many I’ve done, and they are all incredibly supportive. Also, it gives me a focus for the year, so that’s good.
I did miss one Dragon Ride in 2009 though, I entered but broke my wrist during training. It was raining and I hit a bit of mud whilst going too fast, so that was me done for that year!
In terms of route, I believe I did the Macmillan (100km) one year, but other than that I have stuck to the Medio Fondo (157km). My normal weekend riding is around 100km, so the Medio Fondo is a big step up and it has lots of steep climbs. I don’t try and set a PB each year, I just like to enjoy the ride and take in the stunning scenery. I do try to keep up my pace though and not drop off too much, but I’m just getting a bit old to be setting PB’s. I am really impressed how riders do the Gran Fondo distance, it’s not for me and the mammoth Dragon Devil is completely out of the question, loads of respect to anyone who does either of those.
I haven’t fundraised for charity previously but in 2022 I will be raising money for MacmIllan Cancer Support.”
Don’t let the name fool you, the “Medio” Fondo is still considerably tougher than most other sportive’s longest routes, coming in at 157km and 2111m of climbing. On this route you’ll take on some of the most famous climbs the Dragon Ride has to offer and the sweeping scenery and quiet roads of the Brecon Beacons.
Why do you love participating in the Dragon Ride?
“I have participated in many sportives over Europe, such as Maratona dles Dolomites, the Marmotte, Dieci Colli, and the GF Pinarello, as well as in the UK the Tour of the Cotswolds, my local White Horse Challenge and many more, but the Dragon Ride is the only one where I re-visit each year.
It’s a fantastic route, it’s geographically stunning with lots of history. The course is really testing, there’s some great hill climbing, and the scenery is spectacular. I just love to soak it all up when I go along. There’s something about re-visiting the hills and mountains where I grew up and have ridden on for 40 years that makes it so special.
It’s always great to go past my home village, see how the valleys are developing and changing, swapping between industrial and agricultural areas. Other than the classic climbs such as the Rhigos, my favourite climb is Glynneath Bank because it goes up towards my home village and I have probably cycled up it hundreds of times. Last year I made a quick pitstop to go surprise my mother as I passed and that was a real highlight for us both.
In preparation for the Dragon Ride, I like to re-visit the route a few weeks before, get some hard rides in, remember the climbs and see my family. It’s great training and other than a few gym sessions, cycling is my main way to keep fit.
If I had to sum up the Dragon ride in three words it would be Wonderful, Wild & Welsh and I would recommend it to anybody.”
The evolution of the event has always had the spirit of Wales at its heart combined with a true passion for cycling. The popularity and the demand for this type of cycling challenge is massive and it has now become the largest UK open road sportive, and a must-do event in the cycling calendar.
Add this bucket-list event to your cycling calendar for 2022 and enter the ballot – https://www.dragonride.co.uk/enter-2022/