TransWales Express

Day 3: Llanidloes – Machynlleth
Distance: 83km (Our Distance – 63km)
Climbing: 2,555m ascent
Special Stage: 6km descent at The Climax Trail
Saddle Sores: Definite Chafing
Hours on the Bike: 6:00

The glorious conditions that accompanied the opening two days of the 2010 Gore Bike Trans Wales vanished today and were replaced overhead by murky skies and a constant drizzle which served to increase the difficulty on what would turn out to be a very difficult stage.

Today’s stage, the longest at this year’s event, was set to be an 82km mammoth, which incorporated some serious climbing metres. We struggled with the sheer volume of climbing involved with yesterday’s stage and with 400m more of vertical climbing scheduled for today, we were approaching the stage less than enthusiastic.

However, things started well. Will got his hands on the bike he wanted before we started the event, a Merida Ninety Six Carbon courtesy of the Merida guys and we took our places on the starting grid feeling surprisingly upbeat.

As the stage got underway, we gradually climbed along country lanes and fire road for around 20km as we left the previous night’s camp behind. The road made for smooth going and we managed to reach the stage’s first watering point, at approximately 23km, in less than two hours – the quickest 23km of the event for us so far – a bonus considering most of it had been uphill.

Our fast pace was soon diminished however as, just after the water stop, we embarked upon another of this event’s trademark climbs – a gruelling plod through open moorland, a task made even tougher by the conditions, which matched our mood rather aptly. The overcast conditions and constant rain ensured that there was very little visible scenery, so we contented ourselves with eyeing the wheel in front in a bid to keep in touch – something else which proved beyond our means.

Team Singletrack looking cool in yesterday's sunshine.

As we approached the end of the moorland ascent with the broom wagon for company again, the trail transformed into some descending singletrack which flowed along the edge of a valley – with a gorge running along a few hundred feet below. As the singletrack ended, it was replaced by a sheer rock face, which in the conditions, had become a slick death-trap, what with a vertical 200 foot drop just inches from the left-hand edge of the track.

A section of Singletrack - the people in view soon made mince meat of us

The treacherous conditions made the decision to walk across the rocky section all the easier and prevented us from attempting the consequent rock climb – not that we were complaining.

As we re-entered more open moorland, the kilometres steadily ticked by as we travelled on old farmland track and access ways before returning to more beloved singletrack. However, this section wasn’t to be our friend.

Our progress on the singletrack section began well, as we gathered speed and began eating into the distance, then, just as we found our rhythm, disaster struck.

The singletrack gave way to a double-track styled section of rock akin to the trails that are so prominent at one of my favourite trail centres, Dalbeattie. The huge slabs of grooved stone had become super slick and having gathered momentum before we reached that point, we hadn’t sufficient time to adjust and hit the rock at full speed and the results were astounding.

Leading, I hit the rock first and after only several seconds, my bike lost traction, skidded sideways at 20mph (from what I could see of my speedometer before the rock) bounced over and into a large slab and flung me from the bike – thankfully my SPDs had released themselves by this point – so that I landed over 30 foot away in the ditch. I’m beginning to feel that my luck is going to run out soon, as I managed to have another pretty soft landing today given the trail surface as I reacquainted myself with the hedge. Five foot to my right and it would have been headfirst into another rock slab.

Here's the culprit - slippery

As I composed myself, I turned around to see Will had also decided to say hello to the ditch. While he didn’t hit the rock at the same pace I did, his disembarkation was equally impressive as he was flung ungracefully through the air.

Two minutes later we were both back in the ditch again – If there was an international synchronised crashing competition, I think we would be in with a shout.

A few minutes of heavy laughter and a few silent thanks followed before we thought better of remounting and consequently pushed our bikes through the next half kilometre. Speaking to some of the riders who finished at the front of the pack today, they informed me that almost everybody opted to walk around the same section which saw us airborne – so while we are nowhere near as fit or as fast as most people here, we can console ourselves with being a little crazier than most.

Shortly, we reached that point – the Lunch Stop – at just over 48km and paused to re-fuel our engines, although the spirits in Team Singletrack were relatively low.

The cumulative effect of today’s accidents, growing fatigue and mechanical mishaps (Will’s derailleur wasn’t playing ball) forced us into drastic action.  Upon reaching a cross-road which signalled another 17km of climbing to come before we reached the beginning of the day’s Special Stage – a timed downhill section at the Climax Trail – we opted, somewhat reluctantly to take the main road back to camp.

While we didn’t want to take the easy option, we felt it would serve us better to get back to camp, get some extra rest and see if our injuries heal sufficiently enough to allow us to board our trusty steeds in the morning without any additional pain.

We still accumulated over 60km on the bike today and while the special stage promised much, I think it is better to get back in one piece than to exhaust yourself on the hill.

Optimistically for us, we weren’t the only ones to suffer from misfortune today, Lawrence, a Singletrack Magazine fan we met on day one, managed to miss a turn-off just over 15km into today’s stage and endured an hour-long battle to return to his initial starting point – a task which forced him to cut today’s stage short as well.

We will wait and see how our injuries are faring in the morning and, all being well, we will be ready to tackle stage 4.

Williams Thoughts: “Trans Wales – a laugh a minute experience”

The Bikes
Merida Ninety-Six Carbon (Will):
Impressively light, you can see why there are so many of these bikes at this sort of event. Also reassuringly tough – survived rolling down a hillside and broad siding down a road, albeit it minus the rider.
Sunn Shamann S1 (Nathan): The Sunn took a few more big hits today as I reacquainted myself with the hedge – definitely made of pretty tough stuff. Drivetrain is strating to develop a wheeze but it’s still smooth.

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