TransWales Express

To anyone who was wondering what happened to Team Singletrack after Stage 3 of the Trans Wales, we have been out of signal range and therefore unable to post.

Thanks for all the messages of support so far as well – they’ve been helping us onwards!

Here’s the reports for Days 4,5 and 6

Day 4: Machynlleth – Cwymystwyth
Distance: 71km
Climbing: 2,636m ascent
Special Stage: 8,3km with 421m ascent and 426m descent
Saddle Sores: Nappy Rash
Hours on the Bike: Nathan 5:20 William 6:20

Today saw the separation of Team Singletrack, as Will, suffering more from growing fatigue and injury than myself, suggested that we tackled the 71km stage at our own individual pace – a decision which has probably aided us both.

Greeting us at the starting line of today’s stage was horizontal rain combined with a head-on wind. If the conditions that turned against us yesterday had affected our progress, this weather promised to make the day’s riding miserable all round. Thankfully though, after 3km, the rain dispersed and the sun came out to dry us all of – a weather shift which would become prominent throughout the day.

Similarly to yesterday, today’s 71km stage got off to a steady start as the first 15km were predominantly on country lanes or fire road which allowed everyone to stretch their legs and get the heaviness out of their muscles before we embarked on any serious climbing.

True to form, it wasn’t long before the climbing began as the road turned a sharp bend and disappeared, almost vertically away from my eyesight.

Gritting my teeth, I tried to keep contact with the wheel in front and it wasn’t long before I settled into a rhythm and with a firm target in sight, I soon found myself up amongst the leading pack of riders – heady heights given the positions we had been occupying for the last two days.

However, before I could get dizzy with my high-flying position, I was soon being dropped by riders more technically skilled and fitter than myself as we entered a very long section of loose surfaced, rocky, narrow road which was at the very heart of one of this country’s stunning valleys.

I was feeling surprisingly good considering the distance we had covered so had a very quick rest-bite (for those who like the new phrase!) and ploughed on determined to reach lunch – at 38km- as quickly as possible.

Trying not to lose sight of the wheel in front

Still relatively fresh, I reached lunch in good time having caught some of the leading riders again as the lunch stop coincided with the focal point of today’s ride, Special Stage number 3 – an 8.5km loop around a section of trail at Nant Y Aran trail centre.

With many riders stopping for a rest, I decided to make best use of the rhythm and momentum I had gathered and went across the timing marker straight away and began the short, rocky technical climb which marked the beginning of the stage which quickly transformed into a speedy, rocky section of downhill.

The downhill was fast and furious and unfortunately for me, I suffered a blow out on the way down as my rear wheel planted into a sharp edge of slab. A quick re-tubing ensured I hadn’t lost much time and was soon back on what turned out to be an all encompassing trail – catching up to a few of those riders who had passed during my mechanical adventures.

We flowed and twisted through a superb section of singletrack running precariously close to the edge of a significant drop which kept riders alert. The trail itself incorporated kicker bumps, drop-offs and continual downhill switchback turns, all of which made for an exhilarating section of trail which had me grinning from ear to ear as I strived to roll through the berms and pump through every bump and jump possible. Out of the singletrack we crossed into some doubletrack descent before we were spewed out the end and on to the start of the second half of the stage – a 4km fire-road climb – nicknamed the ‘Leg Burner’ and for good reason.

Having used most of my energy to follow the smoothest and fastest line through the singletrack, I soon found the climb too much and was forced to get off and push – consoling myself with the fact that I’m here to finish, not to compete as I was left for dead by countless riders who blasted past as if the climb was nothing

Looking cool?

Special Stage finished and lunch ate, I set off again and travelled across some more road before hitting the start of another gruelling, seemingly endless fire road climb as I tried to get back into the rhythm and ignore the aches of pain shooting through my thighs.

At the half-way point, I drew level with a rider called Alan and settled into a good pace alongside. Upon reaching the top, he summed up the atmosphere between us perfectly by saying – “If there’s not a space centre up here I’m going to be pretty disappointed.”

I had been feeling a little sorry for Alan as he was trailing an Orange 5 with him whilst riding on flats, but just after the water stop we turned a corner into another rocky, wet and speedy downhill section, where Alan and his bike came into their own.

The loose, slippery section had me hanging onto the bars for dear life as my brakes appeared powerless to assist as Andy cruised off bouncing through every bump with ease.

It wasn’t long before we faced another long, winding fire road climb and suitably exhausted, we  were rewarded by a stunning view as the road opened out into an open expanse which was covered in windmills.

As the trail began to descend again, we passed feet from the gigantic white structures and I couldn’t help but feel utterly insignificant in their shadow as they provided a ‘whooshing’ soundtrack for the next 10km of riding while we skirted around and between them in what was a very surreal surrounding – it felt like I was at the top of the earth.

Pulling out of the wind farm, we hit another section of rocky downhill which my brakes found a little easier to deal with before hitting the last of the days climbs – a 25degree gradient lung buster. As we approached the last crest, camp came into view and a furiously fast section of downhill road followed as I rolled through the finish line feeling a million miles from the rider I was at the end of yesterday’s stage.

Will made it back just an hour later and well within the day’s cut-off point. He was in the company of two other riders and he looked pretty pleased with himself as he crossed the line with the ‘broom wagon’ nowhere in sight – I’m pretty sure the injuries won’t be stopping him tomorrow either.

Williams Thoughts: “Good day – the special stage has been the highlight so far”

The Bikes
Merida Ninety-Six Carbon (Will):
Really good bike. Light, fast, easy to push and well kitted out. Took everything that was thrown at it today and was smooth through all the rocky sections.
Sunn Shamann S1 (Nathan): The Sunn was a fantastic companion today. The trail had lots of long, challenging climbs and some pretty sketchy downs, all the while I felt secure and safe. My puncture on the special stage has bent the rear rim and the brakes are suffering from the sheer volume of power required but I’m starting to feel at one with the bike.

Day 5: Cwymystwyth – Cilycwm
Distance: 75km
Climbing: 2,362m ascent
Special Stage: 7km Night Ride
Saddle Sores: Ever seen a Baboon
Hours on the Bike: Stage – Nathan 6:10 Will 7:45 (Special Stage – Didn’t participate)

Day 5 of the Gore Bike Trans Wales over and my body is beginning to reach breaking point. I’ve developed aches in places I didn’t know exist and I think the blood flow to my buttock is permanently blocked.

Again Will and I decided to take the day at our own separate pace, I should mention at this point that Will has been riding in flats all week, something I give him great respect for doing as he is one of only a handful of riders taking that approach and we again finished roughly an hour apart.

The Trans Wales forecast for the day was wet – but not necessarily as a result of the holy liquid dropping from above. We were scheduled to ride through the Doethie Valley and an area called Strata Florida and in doing so, we were told to expect up to 14 river crossings and we weren’t disappointed.

After a relatively short section of road to begin, we were back into moorland and making our way through the valleys once again with some stunning views all around.

It wasn’t long before the captivating views and easy going trails had churned up some hefty mileage, enough to take us off the beaten track and begin another lung busting technical climb, one which saw us gradually gain in altitude as we tackled continual rocky obstacles throughout a sustained 20minute period of climbing before we entered the  Strata Florida area, where things began to get wet, very wet.

A little happy splashing

If river crossings weren’t enough, the entire double track trail, which amounted to a significant portion of today’s ride, was rocky, fast and overflowing with knee deep puddles everywhere you looked.

As I followed behind a procession of riders, we formed a carriage train, as everyone followed the rider in front, hoping to find the shallowest point in every puddle. As hoots of laughter echoed around at those who fell in to the water after finding their front wheel suddenly disappear into an invisible chasm below, shouts of encouragement could also be heard for any rider who made it through each large puddle and crossing without stuttering to a halt.

Out of the tail end of the section, the group of riders I was with could be heard laughing and chatting about the previous section, and it seemed to have gone down well with everyone.

In keeping with form, the laughter soon died away as we embarked upon another long climb,  passing over the tops of valleys on roads which opened out on to some more stunning scenery, justification for the hard work put in over the last few miles.

Not a bad view

Shortly we hit the bottom of a short fire road descent, just enough recovery time before we crossed a main road and embarked upon an astoundingly tough, rocky, technical climb which had me panting and puffing like an old air bag – and I pushed my bike the entire way.

The climb seemed to go on for an agonisingly long time, before levelling out and signalling the start of a long singletrack descent across the valley side.

The singletrack section, which undulated for over 6km according to my speedometer, incorporated a mixture of short steep climbs which involved rocky step-ups and sometimes patches of bog, alongside some very technical descending lines which required intense concentration to prevent the rider from sliding off the edge of the track and falling down a steep embankment, something which did happen to one rider I saw although thankfully there were no serious injuries.

Just as I began the singletrack section through the Doethie Valley, the heavens opened and the consequent downpour only served to increase the difficulty of riding the trail. Growing fatigue resulted in me making some simple mistakes, as I caught my pedals on rocks and in the ditch on numerous occasions, a few of which resulted in a superman dive over the handlebars.

Spot the riders

With the weather making progress painfully slow and difficult for me, I lost sight of all riders in front and behind and was left to feel completely isolated and I made the most of it by fully absorbing the atmosphere.  The view of the valleys all around and the sight of singletrack to come as far ahead as I could see was almost idyllic, if is had stayed dry I think it could have been one of the best bits of trail I’ve ever been on.

Eventually the singletrack came to an end and for the first time in my Mountain Bike exploits, I was happy to see road as the final 7km back to camp were mercifully smooth as I cruised through more A roads and back to camp thoroughly soaked but in one piece.

Today is also scheduled to host the fourth special stage – a 6km night ride – but with the weather conditions as they are, we have decided to conserve our energy for tomorrow, the penultimate day of the 2010 Gore Bike Trans Wales.

It promises to be another gruelling challenge.

Williams Thoughts: “Wet, tired, sore – The Trans Wales walk is tougher than you’d think”

The Bikes
Merida One-Twenty 300-D (Will) :
The bike doesn’t make the rider
Sunn Shamann S1 (Nathan) : The drive chain didn’t enjoy the volume of water it was subjected too today, but still kept on going. It’s nice and light for pushing up hills as well.

Day 6: Cilycwm – Brecon
Distance: 77km
Climbing: 2.056m ascent
Special Stage: None
Saddle Sores: No progress
Hours on the Bike: 0:15

A ping pong ball sized lump at the top of my left thigh brought today’s stage to a very premature end.

Having awoke in the morning with my new companion for company, I decided to suit up for the torrential rain and see how far I could get – the answer proved to be not very far at all.

After only 3km, we hit the first, small climb of the day and the pressure of the saddle on my thigh area ensured that any climbing became painfully uncomfortable.

So it was that we rolled back into camp a mere 20mins or so after leaving.

While I was disappointed to miss out on the days route, my inability to ride did afford me the opportunity to see firsthand the background organisation that goes into an event like this.

It is amazing to watch an entire camp: Marquee, Kitchen, Dining facilities, mechanics shed, medic tent, massage tent, riders tents and equipment and the much despised portable loos all taken down in just over an hour then transported across country and re-erected before any of the riders reach the stage finish.

The organisation behind the event, from the evening catering all the way through to the on-route support, has been first class and any apprehensions that facilities would not been adequate have been thoroughly shattered. A sentiment that is echoed amongst all the riders I have spoken too.

Still, I’d rather have been riding.

Williams Thoughts: “Pretty easy day – I liked that one”

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