The final day of competition also becomes the day of reckoning and the day of revelation as the greatest stretches of trail on the event finally reveal themselves, reports Matt Skinner in the sixth of his daily reports…
Day 6 included linking Stage 6 from Llanafan to Rhandirnwyn
with a total distance of 80km and 2,600m of altitude gain. This was followed by Special Stage 4, a 7km time trial around Cwm – Rhyiadr with 260m of elevation gain.
Endurance is an often over used word, but the inaugural Merida TransWales has been a tough test of both mental and physical endurance through some truly breathtaking scenery, adrenalin overloaded trails, and through the elements themselves.
Friday’s linking stage was slated to be the longest single hop but also the biggest, baddest day of the whole event as it also featured the final and deciding sprint special stage after a full day in the saddle. But, by the end of the evening, the duelling will be done and all will be settled: the victors of which will not be announced until Saturday evening at the end of event party where the Merida TransWales Champions would begin their hard won reign. But a hefty slice of rugged mid-Wales lay between the leaders and glory, and getting to the special stage start, let alone its finish, was going to be a test in itself.
Caught atop of a 479m high open moor is not where any one would want to be as thunder and lightening crackles with rage in the sky above. But that’s exactly where the remaining riders were as they rolled out of the overnight stop at Llanafan and clicked down through the gears en-route to Rhandirnwayn, 80km and 2,600m worth of climbing south. Riders’ legs and bodies were already pummelled by the gruelling distances already covered and, for some, the punishment just proved too much as both bodies and bikes caved in: for those that remained, seeing the end of Friday was going to be hard earned, but the pay off would be more than worth it.
The long, rugged descent from the top of the Bryn Llyn Egnant at around 480m, with its snaking single and double track continuously dropped away across river crossings and carving singletrack, was merely the warm up act to the headline trail of the entire event: things were getting progressively sweeter despite the soaking that the heavy rains had doused the riders with in the first few hours of the day. Next on the billing, following a quick drinks stop outside the ruins of the Strata Florida abbey, was the snaking valley of river crossings hidden in the midst of the Tywi Forest.
Amidst dense rock gardens and huge slabs the trail fled down stream with riders carving lines between the rocky debris and flowing water – sometimes up and over back-flowing small waterfall steps – while the trail criss-crossed the river, shadowing the water’s descent further towards the Llyn Brianne Reservoir and, at one point, merging with the river: enthusiastic stories of bikes plunging to stanchion high depths wrung from the riders made it clear that staying dry was not an option.
Then came paradise: the wet and the waiting were over. Finally it was time for the headline trail to be unleashed on the riders. It was time for the Afon Doethie valley descent: a 5km trail that swept the riders along its sinuous length, inspiring tired legs as they spun through the clefts and folds of the contours, seemingly endlessly onwards towards an ever increasing serotonin payoff. For those who know Bicknoller Combe in the Quantocks, it is this magnified by a factor of five: a flowing, undulating singletrack descent wrought from Heaven that flits high above the Afon Doethie river below and gradually, seamlessly makes its angelic way to Nant y Bai below.
The final leg of the day gave the riders the quick once over of the new community project trail at Cwm-Rhyiadr that would be the 7km special stage later in the evening. With one almighty fire road climb that hurt the singlespeeders in an act of surgically precise sadism, the trail then dragged riders downwards on pumping singletrack laced with tyre and skin shedding razor flint: an off here would hurt – a lot.
Riders hauled their weary behinds around the loop to round out a day of immense riding: both in distance, the conditions themselves but more importantly, the quality of the trail itself. Day six was the day of reckoning: the day when riders broke the back of the gargantuan beast that is the Merida TransWales, the day when the final and deciding special stage was run, and the day that thoughts could finally turn to rest.
But, for now, the results of the overall and the final special stage won’t be known until after the final linking stage from Rhandirnwyn to Builth Wells to bring the entire event full circle. The final push will see the riders take on 75km and 2,500m of climbing to bring an end to the first ever Merida TransWales: but, for many, the sentiment that will see them through was that they would make it, they will finish this final push whether on their bike or crawling. It is as simple as that. For some, the spoils of the win, for others the satisfaction of having survived to complete the gargantuan challenge; all are champions, and all have bloody sore arses.
All photos courtesy of Matt Skinner!