Gore Bike Wear Transwales: Day 1 and 2

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transuk_gore_lo resSunday 16th August, Day One: ‘It begins…’

Linking Stage One
Builth Wells to Llanidloes
Total distance: 91km
Climbing: 1650m

The first stage of the 2009 GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales kicked off beneath optimistic skies as the 180 massed riders rolled out from the start town of Builth Wells at 9am on Sunday 16th August. The upbeat character of today’s weather was a far cry from the monsoon of last year and a sign (all and sundry are hoping) of good things to come.

Riders had flocked to mid-Wales from all around the globe, with no less than 13 nationalities and 4 continents represented, including the US, Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Ireland, and Holland. Africa is also represented at the GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales for the first time in the shape of 28 year old Kenyan Nickson Mwaura, a second hand clothing dealer from Gilgil, near Nairobi – a place that Nickson explains is characterized by rocky and technical riding. With plenty of rocks and singletrack on the menu during the week Nickson should feel fairly at home, despite the relative cold.

Today’s stage was billed by course designer and Builth Wells local John Lloyd as a ‘warm up’; it would ease riders’ legs into the rhythm of things without the strain of tackling one of the time trial special stages – the riders will be unleashed on the first of these tomorrow at the Climachx trail, near Machynlleth.

JB1_0143_Jon Brooke

The stage took riders all of 91km and 1650m of climbing from Builth Wells to Llanidloes in the north, via three passes – Carn Gafallt at 393m, Moelfryn at 522m, and Blanc Du at 422m – and the flooded Elan Valley with its spectacular sequence of reservoirs and dams. With firm going under tyre and a variety of trail deployed for the event’s opening gambit, the mileage was liberally eaten up. A fairly hefty slab of tarmac and cycle path aided progress still further. But the weather was the greatest factor with little damp of greasy spots to slide riders off-trail along the way.

Out of Builth and the trail worked its way towards Newbridge-on-Wye and then Llanwrthwl before ascending to the purple heather covered plateau of Carn Gafallt. From here, riders dropped down an all-too short but loose fire road descent before dropping to the shore of Caban-coch Reservoir, the most southerly of the Elan Valley’s manmade lakes. The route then hugged the shores of the four reservoirs, steadily climbing, before reaching the windswept lunch stop. Then came the trail of the day: the descent off the top of Moelfryn to the River Wye (Afon Gwy in Welsh).

Gently dropping off the moorland top, the trail quickly became a boulder and gulley strewn adrenaline fest which instilled a do-or-die mentality to plummeting downwards. Rounded boulders embedded in the dirt became inviting kickers over wheel-grabbing (and destroying) trenches; rock slabs became perfect flat banks for railing turns and carving high lines; and loose babyheads kept riders loose and hanging it out until the full-fat 3km descent finally came to an arm-pumped close by the riverside.


Brendan Stevens and Steve Marks, winners of Mountain Biking UK (MBUK)’s GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales competition, rolled into the finish of the day’s stage at Llandilioes rugby club buzzing after their first taste of big day riding in the heart of Wales. “We can’t believe more people don’t do this: we’re loving it,” said Brendan. “We normally go out and blast for two hours, taking the mick and enjoying all that banter, but today we paced ourselves and finished feeling really strong. It meant we could take in the scenery and really enjoy it. It was stunning.”

Brendan entered MBUK’s competition by text, but when he was called by the magazine to congratulate him on his win, he thought he’d won a bike. “Seriously, I couldn’t remember entering,” he said, “but I enter so many competitions I must’ve lost track.” But he and Steve also won a BOB trailer full of Gore Bike Wear kit, NiteRider light systems, High5 energy drink and gels, Schwalbe tyres, Squirt lube, Buff headwear gear and the loan of two top end carbon Merida FLX3000 hardtails for the event.

Nickson Mwaura completed the day’s stage comfortably and was looking forward to being let off the leash on the first special stage at the Climachx trail. Nickson only arrived in the UK two days before the start of the GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales, and his only taste of British riding – up until the start this morning – was a lap of Richmond Park in London. But not only is the event his first ever stage race, but it’s the first time he’s ever ridden a full suspension bike (a Merida 96, courtesy of Merida Bikes) too.

Nickson is here for the tough competition and to gauge himself against it, but above all to learn: to learn how to pace himself for stage events, and to learn the discipline required for stage racing. But he’s no stranger to winning: he’s white-washed pretty much everything he’s entered since his first race in 2003. At home his exploits have elevated him to hero status, something that he takes seriously and selflessly as he’s now mentoring four younger riders, as well as organizing charity races for Kenyan conservation causes.

Speaking with him after the close of the day’s stage, he told the GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales team that he’d like to be competitive and win the Schwalbe Tyres Male Solo category, but is pragmatic that to finish first, first he must finish. “The cold air was the worst thing today: I’m not used to riding in these conditions. But I very much enjoyed it and found myself faster on the singletrack than other riders but was a little slower on the flat. I read about this event in magazines for the last three years and I dreamt about gauging myself against the other riders and now I am here.”

Asked how he started riding he explained that, “I just fell in love with mountain biking through my brother when I was at school: I wanted to be a conservationist but my mother didn’t have the money for the extra schooling so I thought, ‘I cannot fly in the air, but here on the ground with the dirt and the rocks and the geology I can ride and still be part of it.’ Completing an event is the best thing to experience: winning comes later. But finishing is the greatest. Then, if you’re good enough to grab the win – then you should grab it as no-one wouldn’t like that.”

With no special stage today the leader board is currently blank, however tomorrow’s stage – all 85km and 2900m of climbing (but with 3100m of descending) of it – will see the first special stage on the technical Climachx trail, and with it the first leaders of the 2009 GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales. As Nickson says, “The real job starts tomorrow.” It’s about to get interesting…


Monday 17th August, Day Two: Enter the Climachx

The second day of the GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales saw the riders head into some big terrain with big climbs and huge descents, as well as the first special stage to truly light the competition fuse.

Stage Two
Llanidloes to Machynlleth
Total distance: 91km
Climbing: 2523m

Special Stage One
The Climachx Trail, Machynlleth
Total distance: 11km

Today’s linking stage rolled out of Llandiloes at 9am to follow the River Severn towards its source in Hafren Forest before exiting the riders prior to the ascent of Penycrocben at 469m – an open moor which was the site of a Roman fortlet that today merely guards stunning views to the south east. The trail then gently sped downwards towards a tricky rocky chute that spat riders onto a bridge before a short hike-a-bike. Lunch was served at the head of the descent towards the Dyfi Valley to help riders refuel and regroup before charging down a wet and rock slab lathered trail. The descent dropped the riders Foel Fadian at 564m into the Dyfi Valley itself amidst scenery that to die for. “I always forget how good the scenery is here,” reflected singlespeeder Matt Carr, “it could be Scotland or Patagonia.”

The Climachx trail is perhaps one of the lesser known gems on the Welsh trail centre map; lacking the trail blazing history of nearby Coed y Brenin or the well-publicised trail density of Afan Argoed in south wales, it’s often overlooked. But make the effort as the final descent is genuinely one of the finest trail centre descents in Wales. Beginning off a rolling start down some fireroad it swoops downwards on undulating singletrack and into the woods for an extended section of flowing but rockier terrain. Stone slabs and steps pepper the descent as it snakes its way around the flanks of Myndd-Fron-Felen with enough square edges to see one unlucky rider accruing no less than four punctures. For those with full pressure running in their tyres, the descent then careers faster and faster until the bermalicious crescendo that helps them recreate the speeder bike scene from Return of the Jedi. For those with punctures, it’s the rumble of rim on dirt and rock and sketchy turns or a long walk.

Unlike previous TransWales events, for the 2009 GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales the special stages are ran during the linking stage itself so that riders’ flow wasn’t interrupted. They leave the event village in the morning, ride to the special stage, race, and then ride off to the day’s end afterwards. This means that tactics on the linking stage are now very much part of the game: should riders go out on the first part of the linking stage in order to arrive at the special stage with clear trail ahead of them for an unimpeded passage? Or should they go steady and hold plenty of reserve in the tank for when they reach the special stage (but also risk getting caught up in traffic on the special stage itself) and then light up the afterburner? For the case of the first man down the special stage it was both.

Johnathan Pugh was first through on the linking stage and the first to the special stage gate; he then put the hammer down and redlined to the finish some 11km hence, and although he admitted afterwards, “[it was] hard on the climb and I was in the big ring I kept on telling myself, ‘don’t pussy out – keep it in the big ring’, I clicked down about halfway up,” not even the sporadic jet scream of low-flying RAF (Royal Air Force) jets could distract him putting in a time of 25mins 56secs. “I was pleased with that as I couldn’t have gone any faster.” He didn’t need to: he was the fastest on the Climachx stage and two minutes clear of his nearest rival in the Schwalbe Tyres Male Solo category.

But unlike other endurance racers Johnathan isn’t on a carbon fibre lightweight rig, he’s on an aluminium 120mm travel Trek Fuel EX that weighs in at the 29lb mark all in – 7lbs or so off racing weight. But such solidity and capability means that he can nail the descents without shirking hitting things hard and flat out. Couple this with 2.5in tubeless tyres and Johnnny feels he can, “more than make up any time on a long descent.” Interestingly, Johnny isn’t the only racer who has swapped a light weight 100mm full suss race bike for a trail bike’s superior firepower: Josh Ibbett of IronHorse-Extreme is aboard an Iron Horse MKIII and Steve Heading of Whyte Bikes is on a Whyte E-120. Josh clocked 28mins 20secs to take second on the day in the Schwalbe Tyres Male Solo category; Steve Heading romped the course in a total time of 28mins 03secs to secure the leader’s jersey in the Squirts Lubes Solo Male Veteran category – his time that would’ve placed him second in the Schwalbe Tyres Male Solo category ahead of Josh. Proof, if ever it were needed that fast riders are fast, no matter what bike you put them on.

For Nickson Mwaura the Climachx was his first chance to get to grips with British trail centre terrain; for the duration of the linking stage – as he was yesterday – he’d been right up there with the front runners and seen his way safely down the descent off Foel Fadian – although he admitted he didn’t expect to encounter such a severe trail during the event – but the special stage itself saw him struggle with the wet conditions under tyre making things still trickier for the Kenyan. “It was wet and when you placed your tyre somewhere it just went,” he explained, “I came off on the rocks and didn’t have it [mentally] together.” But by the time he rolled over the finish line he’d clocked the 43mins 45secs, roughly 17minutes off the pace to finish 39th overall.

In the Schwalbe Tyres Female Solo category the Italian Marathon Champion Marika Covre (Ideal – Vivibike) put a great effort in with a committed display of flat-out racing, looking confident and assured on the descents until she overcooked it on one of the final berms and lost valuable seconds. In the end she had to settle for second behind a scorching aggressive ride by Rickie Justine Cotter (Cytek). Cotter took the trail by the scruff of its neck to clock the fastest female ride of the day in a time of 34mins 40secs, a clear minute and 21 secs faster than Covre.

Last year’s solo female winner Fi Spotswood returned for her fourth consecutive TransWales event; this time, however, she was competing in the Merida Bikes Mixed category with riding partner Michael Tomlinson (South Fork Racing) and looking for another top podium result. However the Merida Bikes Mixed category looks like being a close-run one as Maddie & Jay Horton (Team Certini) have strong designs on the overall. Maddie & Jay Horton took the early lead in the GORE BIKE WEAR TransWales by romping home on the Climachx trail in a time of 29mins 49secs, just under a minute up on Spotswood and Tomlinson who finished in 30mins 42secs.

The respective category winners of the special stage automatically become the respective leaders of Schwalbe Tyres Solo, Squirts Lubes Solo Veteran, the Merida Bikes Mixed, the Ergon Veteran’s, the Buff Headwear Female, and the Saris Male categories with their overall times reflecting the allotted time limits for each linking stage, plus any time penalties accrued along the way.

Tomorrow sees the riders head southwards via special stage two at Nant-y-Arian – including the infamous (and seemingly never ending) Leg Burner climb – before continuing to the stage’s end at Cwmystwyth some 73km and 2300m of climbing hence. The special stage itself will be a real test of pacing, endurance, and technique as it will take up 25km of tomorrow’s total distance, combining rugged natural trail with sublime singletrack, and a significant amount of climbing. It’ll be a real test of the current leaders’ metal and could potentially see a significant shift in the overall.



Schwalbe Tyres Female Solo category

1 – Rickie Justine Cotter (Cytek): 00:34:40
2 – Marika Covre (Ideal – Vivibike): 00:35:21
3 – Amy O’Loughlin (Beyond 925): 00:39:06

Schwalbe Tyres Male Solo category

1 – Jonathan Pugh (Clee Cycles KCNC High 5): 00:25:56
2 – Josh Ibbett (IronHorse-Extreme): 00:28:20
3 – Jon Bowie (TriSmart: 00:29:38

Squirts Lubes Solo Male Veteran category

1 – Steve Heading (Whyte Racing): 00:28:03
2 – Gareth Bowyer (Ffasiynau Anabelle Fashions): 00:30:06
3 – Jonathan Edwards: 00:30:13

Merida Bikes Mixed category

1 – Maddie & Jay Horton (Team Certini): 00:29:49
2 – Fi Spotswood & Michael Tomlinson (South Fork Racing): 00:30:42
3 – Theresia & Werner Baumker: 00:38:08

Ergon Veteran’s Male category

1 – Fulvio Damian & Elvo Del Puppo (Ideal – ViviBike): 00:30:15
2 – David HYPERLINK Rielly & Steve Partington (Isle of Man Fire Service): 00:37:43
3 – Mark Johnson & Ray Herring (Bicyclemania Old Duffers): 00:43:40

Buff Headwear Female category

1 – Joy Bringer & Camilla Edlin (BAD By Association): 00:48:46

Saris Male category

1 – Dan Lewis & Neil Richardson (Royal Air Force CA): 00:29:07
2 – Andy Jones & Ben Jones (Clee Cycles KCNC): 00:29:10
3 – Brendan Kay & Simon Gough (Army Cycling): 00:32:32

Overall Standings After Special Stage One

Schwalbe Tyres Female Solo category

1 – Rickie Justine Cotter (Cytek): 14:34:40
2 – Marika Covre (Ideal – Vivibike): 14:35:21
3 – Amy O’Loughlin (Beyond 925): 14:39:06

Schwalbe Tyres Male Solo category

1 – Jonathan Pugh (Clee Cycles KCNC High 5): 14:25:56
2 – Josh Ibbett (IronHorse-Extreme): 14:28:20
3 – Jon Bowie (TriSmart: 14:29:38

Squirts Lubes Solo Male Veteran category

1 – Steve Heading (Whyte Racing): 14:28:03
2 – Gareth Bowyer (Ffasiynau Anabelle Fashions): 14:30:06
3 – Jonathan Edwards: 14:30:13

Merida Bikes Mixed category

1 – Maddie & Jay Horton (Team Certini): 14:29:49
2 – Fi Spotswood & Michael Tomlinson (South Fork Racing): 14:30:42
3 – Theresia & Werner Baumker: 14:38:09

Ergon Veteran’s Male category

1 – Fulvio Damian & Elvo Del Puppo (Ideal – ViviBike): 14:30:14
2 – David Rielly & Steve Partington (Isle of Man Fire Service): 14:37:43
3 – Mark Johnson & Ray Herring (Bicyclemania Old Duffers): 14:44:05

Buff Headwear Female category

1 – Joy Bringer & Camilla Edlin (BAD By Association): 14:49:18

Saris Male category

1 – Dan Lewis & Neil Richardson (Royal Air Force CA): 14:29:07
2 – Andy Jones & Ben Jones (Clee Cycles KCNC): 14:29:10
3 – Brendan Kay & Simon Gough (Army Cycling): 14:32:32

The specific TranWales Week is as follows:

Overall distance (approx.): 500km (312miles).
Overall climbing (approx.): 14,500m (47,560feet).

Day 1:
Builth Wells – Llanidloes
Distance: approx. 91km
Ascent: approx. 1650m
Descent: approx. 1634m

Day 2:
Llanidloes – Machynlleth
Distance: approx. 79km
Ascent: approx. 2523m
Descent: approx. 2668m

Day 3:
Machynlleth – Cwmystwyth
Distance: approx. 78km
Ascent: approx. 2268m
Descent: approx. 2025m

Day 4:
Cwmystwyth – Cilycwm
Distance: approx. 69km
Ascent: approx. 2012m
Descent: approx. 2156m

Day 5:
Cilycwm – Llansawel
Distance: approx. 68km
Ascent: 2183m
Descent: 2153m

Day 6:
Llansawel – Llanwrtyd Wells
Distance: approx. 63km
Ascent: approx. 1734m
Descent: approx. 1679m

Day 7:
Llanwrtyd Wells – Builth Wells
Distance: approx. 68km
Ascent: approx. 1976m
Descent: approx. 2044m

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Cotic RocketMAXer. Schwalbe Magic Mary Purple Addix front. Maxxis DHR II 3C MaxxTerra rear. Coil fan. I have been a writer for nigh on 20 years, a photographer for 25 years and a mountain biker for 30 years. I have written countless magazine and website features and route guides for the UK mountain bike press, most notably for the esteemed and highly regarded Singletrackworld. Although I am a Lancastrian, I freely admit that West Yorkshire is my favourite place to ride. Rarely a week goes by without me riding and exploring the South Pennines.

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