The Black Mountains, some of Wales’ wildest country and familiar stomping, or should that be ‘yomping’, ground for the elite of the British Army, and for one weekend a year the ideal location for an event that is rapidly shaping itself up as one of the best of British mountain bike events.
The Black Mountains 3 Day is not a race, too much of the course takes on public rights of way and permissive paths across open farmland for it to be a race. It’s technically an endurance challenge, a bit like an off-road sportive if you will. What it definitely is is hard, very hard.
The three days are a unique challenge to most mountain bikers: three days, one time trial and two point to point stages. David, the organiser and eponymous ‘Bearded Man’, knows the Welsh hills like his own back garden and manages to mesh together a huge variety of trails, from grassy moorland paths, to winding forest singletrack, to open forestry roads.
This year, only the second time that the event has run, the event was made doubly hard by the poor excuse for a summer we’ve been having recently. The trails were soaked, huge puddles stretched across sections of the trails and fun, off-camber, rooty descents suddenly became the stuff of nightmares. The Friday evening time trial took its toll on bikes and riders, Getaway Cycles providing the event maintenance were fully occupied, and a number of the less proficient riders decided that they had had enough before the event even began.
The remainder, what was left of a full field of 200, kicked back in the event village, enjoying the hot showers, free food and free ale, prize giving. With no prizes for times being awarded, the selection of prizes given away by the events sponsors went to all and sundry for everything from ‘having a big smile’ to ‘the best beard’.
Saturday was a clear enough day with the route taking in the country around Crickhowell and the mountains of Mynydd Llysiau and Waun Fach. Beautiful terrain and spectacular views abounded, but the nature of the terrain can be indicated by the fact that the word “climb” features no fewer than eight times in the four short paragraphs that describe the route in the manual.
The huge breadth of riders who enter the event was also made crystal clear on this first major test with the top riders of Ergon-Niner and Team Torq clocking times of around 3hrs 30mins and the slowest recreational riders somewhere over 9hrs. The mud had made it incredibly tough and there were further abandonments, riders preferring to browse the trade stands and get first dibs on the showers at the tented village.
Once again on the Sunday there was an orgy of prize giving, topped by Sam from Singular Cycles who has begun a traditional of doling out a 29er frame to the tallest man riding only a 26er. This year’s competition was so stiff that no distinction could be made between the two tallest riders and a tie-breaking arm-wrestle was called to the huge amusement of the crowd.
Those who rode out on Sunday were, however, in for a treat. The rain that had occasionally come blowing across the valley in cold, soggy curtains made way for hot sunshine, albeit occasionally dented by a blast of weather. The riders wound their way through the lush, midge infested forests that cloak the Talybont reservoir before turning their faces to the long climb of the Gap and the amazing panorama that opens up from the summit.
With the bulk of the climbing done, the surviving riders were treated to a flying descent and a helter-skelter rock garden before riding under the finish in glorious sunshine.