This is largely what my entire year has been about. The Trans Wales is the only multi day off road endurance event in the UK at present and to say its tough would be giving it an injustice.
Quoting from the organisers “concept”, the event spans from the English border to the Welsh coast covering some 500km’s (350 miles) and climbing 15,308m (approx 42,000ft)
To put it into perspective, several club members road the Nemesis and Nemesis II rides which were 2 weeks apart. The Trans Wales is a slightly shorter distance each day but with more climbing. Now do it off road in mud and over rocks, throw in a race somewhere in the day or even at night, add a time limit each day, then do it back to back for 7 days. I’ve done LEJOG in 6 days and I still say that Trans Wales is tougher.
Having said that, it is good, the camaraderie is fantastic, the scenery superb and the riding covers just about all possibilities so there’s something for everyone during the week.
I was entered with my buddy Dave in the Male Vets Category. There were supposed to be 5 teams in our group, but so far we’d only seen one other team so were unaware of our competition
DAY 1 - Sunday
Builth Wells to Knighton
Race stage is a 2km technical hill climb
Every morning rolls out at 9am. We assemble on the line 15 minutes before and there’s a generous nervousness to start as the MC interviews riders to set the scene.
We roll out of Builth following the quad bike and we’re started. Each day started with a few km’s of road work just to get the legs going and then all too quickly it climbing starts.
After just 9km, we’re at the start of the special stage hill climb.
Dave goes first over the timing mat and he’s storming up the hill. Honking a huge gear powering up, I’m quickly of behind him and spinning away. The climb starts at about 15% and at about 2/3rds up, it goes technical over loose shall and slabs of granite. Dave tries rolling a big gear over and some how teases his 29er over the stuff. We’re now close to 25% climb, I’ve sat back and spun but have too much air in the rear tyre and I’ve lost traction. A quick dismount and leg it looses a few seconds but then quickly on and tank it to the finish.
Totally stuffed from a quick blast, we compose ourselves. I’ve dropped the pressure to about 30psi and now have grip again and we set off for the rest of the days riding, just keeping an eye on the cut off time.
We easily make it home for about 2:30, an hour inside the cut off.
Day one over
Results at the end of day 1
Special stage 00:04:46.040
Link stage 06:30:00 (this represents the cut off time, or the max riding time without a penalty)
We now realised that there are 2 teams doing the full 7 day event and 3 teams starting on Wednesday riding the mini event, but we’re not sure how that will affect the overall.
We couldn’t believe our competition got exactly the same time as us on the hill climb and suspect a timing glitch, still they had a 5 second penalty for missing the cut off, so we’re ahead by a slender 5 second margin
DAY 2 - Monday
Knighton to Clun
Race stage is a 5km loop including a technical 3km descent and 2km fire track hill climb
By road, it was only 7 miles to the stage end but we were soon up high on the grassy moorlands slipping and sliding our way across fantastic scenery enjoying cool but fine weather even if the ground was a bit damp in places
The next special stage was at 20km’s and this time we were a bit more warmed up and ready for it.
Dave went off first and was again flying. He had put in loads of training in the earlier months and was much fitter than me. Single track is not really our best discipline but we were hurling down the single track as quick as we could. Dave opened up a bit of a lead on me but neither of us put a wheel wrong, cresting the berms and taking the drop offs in our pace. Certainly the 29er was really giving Dave confidence.
We popped out onto the fire track and raced back as fast as we could, crossing the line in 07:07 dead. We gave it everything and needed a few minutes to recover.
A quick top up with Hi5 and we were off again
We rolled into Clun at 14:45 easily in front of the cut off
Day two over
Results at the end of day 2
Special stage 00:07:07
Link stage 06:30:00
We were now in the lead by 2 minutes and 26 seconds
For the 2nd night in a row we took to the podium twice. First for the quickest special stage and the second time for holding the overall lead.
DAY 3 - Tuesday
Clun to Llanidloes
No special stage
Today is a hideous slog. We’re getting worn down by the camping, filth, and general fatigue of the event. Although there is no special stage, the gradients to the climbs are very severe. The wind is against us and before long, the rain starts.
We’re climbing wide and very long fire traps at snails pace. It’s like riding an Alpine climb just trying to find a rhythm and get into some sort of flow. Once up, the exposed moorland kicks in and up again, seeming never ending into a monstrous headwind that splits the field up. We’re usually in the middle of the quick rider group and even this group is spread out over a mile or so.
Because there’s no special stage, the cut off is bought forward to 3pm.
Dave has a mechanical, but to be honest, I was so tired, I can’t even remember what it was. It set us back about 30 minutes though.
The further we went, the worse the conditions became. The trails moors were complete bogs, the rocky drovers trails were like ice and the wind like a wall. Eventually the end was in sight and we dropped down into a sodden camp site to pitch our tents in the rain and try to recover and dry out.
It was a close one today, coming in at just 20 minutes before the cut off
As there were no special stages and both vets teams were inside the cut off (our competitor’s home slightly before us due to our mechanical) the overall results stayed the same.
DAY 4 - Wednesday
Llanidloes to Machynlleth
Race stage is a 3.5km technical downhill trail called the Cli-machx
Last year, I had a big wipe out on the special stage. It fast, very rocky, quite a few rock slabs and drops off’s of several feet. Towards the end of the stage is a steep upwards right hand bend over a rock cut into the rock face. It’s totally blind and last year I staled, cut in too soon and face planted the rock face. I was on the deck for what seemed an age. It was only Dave who forced me to get up and ride that got me out and going again. So this section was my personal demon.
To top that, 3 new, fresh legged, clean kitted vets’ teams had arrived for the 4 day “mini” event. We understood they couldn’t compete for the overall, but we had more competition for a stage result.
On one of the many long mind numbing ascents, Dave got chatting with what looked like a pretty good pair. You could see they had good technique, rode side by side everywhere and kitted out in matching everything. There a couple of track riders basically, but when probed further, they’re both training coaches for British Cycling. One on the track, the other at off-road.! We had no chance.
A great couple of guys though. They knew everyone and were quite happy telling us all about the training rides they had coaching Ben Swift the week before.!
Well, it passed the time but really put the pressure on.
70km was the start of the special stage. Again, we’re not the best by a long way at trail centre style riding, but we figured we had nothing to loose, turned off the “sensible” switch and went eye balls out.
The first km is superb flowing undulating single-track where you can really whip up the pace, taking air and getting into the flow. Then there’s a trick flat but rocky section where the rocks have large fissures. Most riders, including us, found it quicker last year to get off and run, so we did. Then it’s full on descending. Rock drop off’s, tight switchback and flowing berms. Just getting near the end and I ease up a tad as my demon approaches and bugger me if I didn’t do it again. Just turned in too soon as I crested the rock, but I was ready for it, pushed myself off the face, a quick remount and gone, maybe 10 seconds lost in all. Then it’s a flat out sprint for the line, topping 60kph down the single track and a nice little jump tacking air over the line. Fantastic. We thought we’d nailed it. Certainly couldn’t have done any better.
Full of adrenaline, we’re chatting like kids on smarties for the last easy roll in to the camp site.
Day four over
Results at the end of day 4
Special stage 00:11:59.80
Link stage 07:30:00
We missed the podium by just 23 seconds and missed the top spot by just 32 seconds. Given whom the competition was and that they had fresh legs, I was happy with that.
Our overall lead extended quite a bit. Our main competitors completed the special stage in 16:33, extending our lead by another 4minutes and 30 seconds.
DAY 5 - Thursday
Machynlleth to Cymystwyth
Race stage is a 8.5km loop over drove road, technical downhill and the “leg burner” hill climb
This is one of my favourite days riding. It’s a tremendous climb up onto the high moorlands but once there, the drovers trails (which are single track) and superb and the blur just eats up the miles. Dave’s 29er is equally in it’s element and we’re eating up the distance and enjoying the ride.
Today is the first of the river crossing. Many in the event have been talking about it. With all the rain, the river is bound to be high, but to be honest, many of the “puddles” were deeper. One actually covered both wheels, I joked to Dave that that was the only real benefit I could see in a 29er. You could take another 3 inches of water before swimming.
The river approached and the photographer was ready. He said a few had tried, most had walked, and 1 or 2 made it across. Not to be perturbed, off I went and got to within just a few feet of the opposite bank before the front wheel stalled on a large rock. Almost made it and better than last year J. Dave walked.
Dave hadn’t been feeling to good at breakfast and was struggling to eat so was trying to ride a paced day, but would do what he could on the special stage.
We pushed on a soon arrived at the special stage. Whacking down a couple of gels, we were ready. They started us with 20 second gaps. Dave first, then me.
The first section is a rocky drove road and a hard 1km climb. By the top I had nearly caught Dave, but as soon as it levelled out, he just pulled away. The “puddles” were great fun. Hitting them (2ft or so deep) at 30-40kph was a real blast. It felt like you’d just hit a wall from the instant deceleration, but push on hard.! A sharp left and into the single track. Less technical than yesterday but still tricky on wet rocks and roots, we’re again pushing it. Then suddenly I pass Dave. He’s punctured and has a totally flat rear. It was full of junk, so I guess it must be a side wall pinch. What to do now? Back off and be safe but loose time or steam on. Well I couldn’t hear the fat lady singing so push on. It’s not over until it’s over.
Out of the single track and now it’s a 3km time trial up the fire roar. By the way, the ave gradient is 12%!
I slowly real in 2 riders, the second just before the last bit of nearly single track (uphill) and with a final blast, I’m across the line.
Totally spent, I recover for a few moments. Then the lunch is nearby so grab a tuna sarnie. Having devoured it, I’m looking for the banana’s and Dave comes across the line. “Well done mate, what happened?; I had a pinch flat, tyre off, tube in, tyre on and pumped it up.” I thought we’d lost big time and the main event was over.
We set off after a rest and I was feeling a bit down. Exhausted and thinking we must have lost our lead.
The next section took us to the forestry visitors centre so we stopped for a coffee break, only to find one of our main competitors there already. He’d got lost and was almost 5 miles from where he was supposed to be and still not finished the special stage. Ohh deep joy, luck was shinning on us.
That night, we found out that again we had missed the special stage podium but only by 2 minutes 30 seconds for 3rd and 6 minutes and 3 seconds for 1st. We were convinced that if Dave hadn’t punctured, we’d have taken the stage.
Overall, our gap had increased as our main competition got a 14 minute penalty. When you don’t finish a stage, the rider who didn’t finish gets the slowest time, then the 2 times are averaged
So our lead now was more than 15 minutes
Day five over
Results at the end of day 5
Special stage 00:36:27.117
Link stage 07:30:00
DAY 6 - Friday
Cymystwyth to Cilycwm
Race stage is a 5km exposure night stage
Dave woke feeling very poorly. He couldn’t eat and had been up most of the night with sickness and diarrhoea. He looked dreadful.
But this was my second favourite day with a total of 13 river crossings and superb drove road riding. Buoyed by the talk around camp, Dave decided to give it a try.
Instantly I knew he was seriously off form. I kept dropping him, and he just couldn’t get into his stride. The climb up the tracks was again long and hard. Some technical single track climbs were thrown in which were great, but took even more out of Dave. By the time we created the 1st main ascent, he was 20 minutes behind me. That had NEVER happened before. I pulled up at a first aid truck and waited. He looked broken. After a short chat, he decided to climb off, get a lift to the lunch stop and see how he felt later.
That left me on my own, but undeterred, I stormed on taking all 13 crossings with ease. I rode with a guy on a Cove and together we had a blast.
Arriving at the lunch stop totally wet and getting cold, I scoffed a sarnie and was about to leave when Dave rolled in
Amazing.! Some 10 minutes behind me but still riding. He looked even worse though and after another quick chat, he decided to pack. That was the end of Dave’s Trans Wales.
I hooked up with another group we’d gotten friendly with over the week and the 6 of us set off down the Florida Nevada trail for the long ride back to camp.
I got there before Dave and set up. Clearly he wasn’t going to be riding the special stage later tonight.
I checked my time off (21:38) had tea and got myself together. I’ve never ridden off road at night and I was pretty nervous about doing so. The course is a 1km fire track climb, 500m single track climb and a 2 km single track downhill with a couple of rock drop offs at the top. Not too challenging, but in the dark this was an unknown to me.
I rode up with a few others to steady the nerves, then 5 minutes before my off, it poured down. So in the driving rain I set off, time trialling up the fire track. I can’t see anything. It’s raining hard, there’s crud flying around all over my specs and I’m steamed up. Deep joy. Here comes the single track. I can’t even see the first corner so take a moment to stop and clean my glasses. I now realise it’s not just the spec’s the we’re in the cloud. Visibility is about 10 feet. I’m going to die out here.!
Hating every pedal stroke, I push on, walked down the rocky section and felt like a blind man feeling my way down the track rather than riding it.
I finished, but it must have been slow. I hated every moment of it. No longer a night virgin, but no desire to repeat the experience.
As Dave didn’t ride, the same rules applied as they did to our competition the previous day so Dave got the slowest time of the night.
I thought it must be over.
Dave didn’t finish the day so we had a penalty, then a massive time loss on the night stage. I thought we must have lost our overall position.
Day six over
Results at the end of day 6
Special stage 00:46:28:00
Link stage 06:30:00
DAY 7 - Saturday
Cilycwm to Builth Wells
Race stage is a 2km lap around the woods above the start/finish
There were presentations for the night stage but not the overall results. So I checked the posted results sheets to find we were still in the lead by just 30 seconds.! I couldn’t believe it. But thinking we’d again get a penalty for the days ride as Dave had packed and also he’d be given the slowest time for not riding the special stage.
In my mind it was all over. I’d have to settle for 2nd again
It was pouring down. With the forecast completely wrong (light drizzle) the heavens opened. Dave set off to catch a lift back to Builth and we said our farewells.
On a dreadful morning, I set off. Tired and disappointed. The riding became silly. It was a total mud fest. The tracks became swamps, you couldn’t see and there was no fun at all in squirming around in the mud for 35km’s to lunch. I arrived at the lunch stop at the back of the fast group at 13:00 thinking we were all going to miss the cut off. It was that bad that nobody was out ahead.
Then we heard the organisers had shortened it slightly and after a nasty climb and descent, they bought us back by road. It was just too dangerous to ride the rest of the trail. We were all quite happy to accept the decision.
So back to Builth, drop off the Camelback, down a couple of gels for the last frantic special stage. Thinking it was game over, my heart wasn’t in it, but I did what I could and although there was little left in the tank now, I had a go, but not expecting much.
After a clean up and pack to go home, there was the final ceremony at 16:30.
Our main competition had done well and took a 3rd spot on the podium for the stage. I really thought it was all over.
Then came the overall standings. They gave 3rd to the quickest mini event rider. (My heart sank again). 2nd went to our main competitors. How could that be? And then, yes, 1st, Trev and Dave. I couldn’t believe it. Because Dave withdrew on medical grounds, we didn’t get a penalty. I was just 2 seconds slower than the combined time of our competitors and so held onto the lead by a mere 206 seconds.
I just couldn’t believe it. “..and I did it on my own..” I said, they crowd laughed and clapped. A great moment.
Yes, it was a great event and Dave is recovering well even though he’s now 1stone lighter. It was also the last of it’s kind as there won’t be any more 7 day events unless mtbwales can find a new sponsor.
I’m proud to have ridden 2 events and to have placed 1st in our category. Just to finish is an achievement. We didn’t get our top 50 place due to the time penalties, but so what, we did our best and came out on top.
.. and next…
2012 was going to be Trans Alps, but I’ve decided my multi day mtb events are over. It’s just too gruelling. So 2012 will bring a road adventure, I don’t know what, but I have a few idea’s.
Single day events are still very much on the cards and Thetford winter series will soon be upon us so once I’ve recovered, with enthusiasm re-ignited, I’ll be looking for future events and hope that some of you can join me from time to time.
Here’s to the next big adventure