Merida Bikes TransWales 2008: Day 1

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Linking Stage One
Builth Wells to Cilycwm, Llandovery
Total distance: 67.5km
Climbing: 1,812m

Followed by:

Special Stage One
Exposure Lights Maxx night time-trial, Cwmrhaedr
Total distance: 7km
Climbing: 260m

The first stage of the 2008 Merida Bikes TransWales kicked off at 9am on Sunday morning. Taking the riders from Builth Wells through to Cilycarn, Llandovery some 67.5km away, it tested and warmed up legs and hearts in equal measure; just as well, as the evening would see the racing begin proper with the fast and furious Exposure Lights Maxx night time-trial. The results of which would decide who would pull on the leader’s jersey and truly get the Merida Bikes TransWales firing on all cylinders.

Over Saturday night the non-stop rains finally eased and the cloud cleared to reveal a Smirnoff-pure night sky much to the relief of one and all. Although the ground had taken a soaking – as much of the UK has for the past few weeks – this meant that riders wouldn’t also have to battle with the sky falling on their heads. But steep rocky descents and challenging ascents still meant they had to be on their toes as the conditions under tyre were Teflon slippery – particularly over roots and rocks – and would leave the hesitant or nervous plopped unceremoniously onto the deck.

The route swept riders out of Builth Wells and up a gradual Tarmac climb that gave way to a fast forested descent as a wake up call. Riders then spun their legs through Llangammarch Wells and into Crychan Forest and its mix of fireroad and singletrack; a 1km portion of which served as special time trial that would seed riders starting order – fastest first – for the evening’s special stage.

Conditions were tough but virtually all was rideable with enough tenacity and luck. But large mud holes, crown-high puddles and maliciously slippery roots did their best to unseat riders, pitching the unlucky ones over the bars and into the welcoming mud. Some thought better of it: “The first bit of woods for the special stage was so dark it was initially very difficult to pick a line so I thought it was quicker to run with my bike and then pick a line once my eyes adjusted [to the light],” said Trek 69er Collective singlespeed rider Matt Car at the stage’s finish. “But the dark never appeared, so I ran pretty much most of it.”

Matt’s cyclo-cross efforts placed him well, and guaranteed him an early start for the Exposure Lights Maxx night time-trial in the evening at Cwmrhaedr. But others weren’t quite so lucky: last year’s defending TransScotland Men’s Solo champion, Andy Barlow (Whyte Bikes) had a uncharacteristically tough time of it. He ended up finishing way back in the field; a result that put him on the back foot in his title defence before he even got onto the start time of the Exposure Lights Maxx time trial.

However, some monster fast, rocky and steep descents, more altitude gaining, and some sinuous knife-edge singletrack – as well as some fireroad and Tarmac work to spin the legs out – was to come before riders could even begin to think of letting it all hang out in the dark.

The route took the fastest riders just over four hours to complete the 67.5km stage and arriving in Cilycwm to a bright welcome and the privilege of having some warmth to dry out tents and gear, before relaxing and preparing for the killing it on the singletrack in the pitch black.

Cwmrhaedr is a purpose built trail of roughly 7km and is essentially a non-stop 3.5km climb followed by the same in descending. Quite simply it’s non-stop from start to finish. A grinder of a fire road climb gives way to a sharply switch backing section for the last grunt to the summit, before curving downwards on fast, rolling and pumpy sinlgetrack that convulses downwards at warp factor nine. But its deceptively smooth appearance belies a fickle underbelly: loose flint, rock slots and shards litter the trail in places waiting to snakebite or rip the tyre carcass of the unwary.

In the end, punctures would claim a fair few riders – including the seeding stage time trial winner Jean Claude Van Derf Veken. “It all went wrong and I got a puncture on the downhill,” he explained afterwards, “I lost three or four minutes riding down on the flat as I didn’t take any spares with me which was really foolish. I’m really gutted.” His misfortune helped Scotland’s Andy Barlow to make serious time as he absolutely blitzed his lap – despite having to make his way through traffic – to finish second behind Builth Wells local, Ryan Bevis, and to keep his dream of a title defence a reality.

Day two will see the second linking stage taking riders 71.5km and all of 1985m of climbing from Cwmrhaedr to Llansawel via Brechfa Forest, where the second special stage will take place: for some this will be the perfect chance to pull away, whilst for others it’s a second bite in attempt to right wrongs. But either way, A1 riding is guaranteed to get the endorphins going for all the riders. It’s just beginning…

Coming up on Day 2

Linking Stage 2: Cwmrhaedr to Llansawel via Brechfa Forest (71.5km, 1985m of climbing).

Full results at www.mtbtransuk.co.uk

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