Pic: Jon Brooke
Llanidloes to Machynlleth
Total distance: 91km
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.
Pic: Jon Brooke
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 [I] 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.
Pic: Jon Brooke
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.