Linking Stage Five
Machynlleth to Ponterwyd
Total distance: 56km
Followed by: Special Stage Three
Climachx Relay time-trial, the Climachx trail, Machynlleth
Total distance: 15km
The Merida Bikes TransWales is piling on the drama: with the third special stage on the Climachx trail getting things off to a white-hot start – with leads being swapped in many categories – the event then leapt up the hills and into the wilds once again for a truly adventurous linking stage.
The Climachx trail is 7km north of Machynlleth: 15km long with 600m of climbing it is essentially one long climb broken up by singletrack sojourns before heading skywards once again. At the summit it fires back down on extended singletrack descents that increase in speed and technicality as they progress with rock slabs, sweeping berms, and roller-coaster singletrack littering their lengths. It’s non-stop both up and down, and a true test of guts and fitness. Team riders would ride half each in a relay style, whilst soloists would ride the trail in its entirety.
Going into the special stage, the USE Solo Men’s leader was RAM Bikes’ Ryan Bevis. But following the previous surprise performance by Belgian Frans Claes (Connections Granville) in the last special stage Bevis knew he had a job on his hands on the 15km time trial to defend his lead. “I’ll be looking over my shoulder for Frans,” said Bevis on the start line. And he wasn’t wrong: the Belgian overhauled Bevis’ 20 second gap off the start and finished a further 16 seconds up despite riding the final descent on a rear flat. The result puts Frans on top of the USE Solo Men’s leader board, 15 seconds up on Bevis. With the racing fire now blazing in his belly, all eyes are on Frans to emphatically stamp his authority on the final special stage that begins tomorrow’s penultimate day of the Merida Bikes TransWales.
The closest race so far has undoubtedly been in the Niner Singlespeed category: despite only having two entrants they’ve been fighting tooth and nail since day one, and with one second between them coming into Climachx special stage it was all to play for. Henry Richard Lansdown (Bike Shed Wales) left the start line 20 seconds ahead of Matt Carr (Trek 69er Collective) but Matt put the hammer down and overhauled Henry on the first portion of the climb. Heading into the singletrack and Henry gave his all in chasing Carr and retook the lead. The pair battled and swapped the lead several times before the 69er Collective rider made a mistake that put him on the deck and allowed Henry to climb clear. The crash cost Carr time but also his rhythm, allowing Henry to creep clear in the GC by 1 minute 31 seconds. But it’s not a foregone conclusion in the overall: tomorrow’s final special stage at Nant-y-Arian features a monster grinder of a fire road climb that may allow Carr’s climbing ability to reel Henry’s lead back in for a truly nail biting finish.
In the High5 Mixed category the lead changed yet again following the third special stage: Meggie Bichard and Ed Kerly (Team Chance) lost two minutes to previously second place pair of David Evans and Lily Mathews who won the stage. Evans and Mathews now take just over a minute and a half advantage in the GC into the final and deciding special stage tomorrow at Nant-y-Arian. But the battle is far from done, and either team could take it in the deciding round.
Similarly, things have gotten a little closer in the USE Solo Women’s category as previous stage winner Fi Spotswood (Iron Horse/Extreme) had to settle for second place next to Katrina Brown (Deeside Total Endurance). Katrina won by 23 seconds to close the gap somewhat between Fi and herself in the GC. She now has to repeat the performance and put another 50 seconds into Fi if she’s to take the overall win on the Nant-y-Arian time trial. As with many categories, it’s all to play for.
Following the special stage, riders saddled up for the fifth linking stage that would see intrepid Merida Bikes TransWalers turning southbound to Ponterwyd, some 56km and 1800m of climbing distant. Climbing up and back into the wilds around Plynlimon, the route took the riders through the high moorlands towards Nant-y-Moch reservoir. Just short of the scenic reservoir, the riders had to ford the waist deep and strong flowing waters of Afon (river) Hengwm: the strong force of the water meant riders had to tread very carefully, help each other across, and ensure that those struggling were fished out to safety as quickly as possible.
Following the river crossing, the route was cut short to save rider’s legs after a particularly punishing day. With an easy single lane tarmac cruise down to the camp site at Ponterwyd, rather than an extended detour around Nant-y-Moch and into Nant-y-Arian itself, riders were grateful to finish a long day with the weather warm and dry for much needed rest and recuperation.
It’s been a truly memorable day – both of riding and racing – that has helped set things up for a climactic finale with tomorrow’s final and deciding special stage just up the road at Nant-y-Arian. But nothing is guaranteed and – as we’ve seen – in racing anything could happen and it’s pretty much guaranteed that anything will…
Coming up on Day 6
Special Stage 4: Nant yr Arian
Followed by: Linking Stage 6: Nant yr Arian to Strata Florida (68.5km, 1968m of climbing).
Full results at www.mtbtransuk.co.uk