A cycling newbie, Nadene van der Merwe doesn’t call herself a mountain biker, but had a great time at the Ritchey Trailmasters anyway.
The first edition of the new Ritchey TrailMasters powered by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport event took place over a three day long weekend of August 17-19, in and around Llanwrtyd Wells, central Wales. The concept combines linking stages (untimed long distance rides) with special stages involving off-road time trials. There were cut-off times for all stages.
I’ve ridden a few 50km CRC marathon events but most of the time I come to races as myself as my hubby Werner’s support crew. I love riding my bike but my mountain bike technical skills need a bit of work.
I agreed to ride the 85km second day of the Ritchey Trailmaster with a bit of nervousness, then. In fact, I’ll be honest, I refused point blank, thinking it would be far too technical. But ‘no’ and ‘can’t’ aren’t in Werner’s vocabulary, and I ended up having a great time, in a cold, wet and exhausted way.
We left a pleasantly warm London at 5am on Friday morning. As soon as we crossed the Severn Bridge, we were hit by torrential rain, which stayed with us for most of the weekend. Once we’d arrived, we pitched our tent overlooking the rolling, sheep grazing Welsh hills.
Stage 1 (55km – 1 special stage) started at midday on Friday. While Werner was racing I made use of this time to get my tyres made tubeless, courtesy of Stan’s NOTUBES from event sponsor Paligap. They’re also the Ritchey distributor and were showcasing a selection of Avanti bikes. An assortment of mountain bike gear was up for sale at an amazing £5 a piece.
After a few hours, the very wet and muddy riders started to return. Due to the severe weather conditions, the riders voted to postpone the special night stage to Saturday and therefore Saturday and Sunday routes were switched. I have to admit, the announcement of a shorter route on Saturday made me immensely happy.
I woke up Saturday morning to the rain pattering against the tent and was hit by the realisation that I would have to tackle 60km of riding in mud and rain.
We set off at 09:30 and approximately 9km in we reached the first special timed section, which went through the forest along a trail full of wet roots and ruts. I spent most of this section off my bike.
The linking stage that followed consisted of muddy single and double track and what seemed like a lot of climbing. Riding through the muddy puddles was a gamble as you were unable to tell the depth. It was a matter of get in granny gear and pedal (or paddle) ferociously.
The second special stage was a 2km loop and mainly consisted of downhill ‘running’; the collection of lines were very muddy, slippery and with my limited technical ability, unrideable.
Over 100 riders had already gone through and the surface looked like a ploughed field as a result. Being fast and fit and in the front definitely comes with some added benefits.
The section ended with an 800m climb on a fire road – finally something I could ride!
Thankfully as we finished the loop, we came to a what felt like a well deserved lunch stop. At this point I realised I would have to ‘race’ back to ensure I finished within the five hour cut off time.
Covered in mud, I reached the finish line with five minutes to spare and was greeted by a rather proud, and clean, Werner, who had completed the stage in less than 3 hours.
I felt exhausted but after a nice hot shower and a burger prepared by the Luff bus crew, I could finally reflect on the day. I really enjoyed the ride as the linking stages were not timed; most people therefore took it fairly easy which created a great atmosphere among the riders.
I did find the riding very technical, especially as the terrain was very wet and muddy, but it was easy enough to get off my bike and push. This also made me aware that I need to develop my technical riding skills so I can keep riding through these tricky sections, which will make an event like this even more enjoyable.
The Ritchey Trailmaster catered for a range of abilities as well as types of experience. Talking to other competitors, it was just as enjoyable for a couple who wanted to ride as a pair; racers who wanted to take it seriously and people who treated the linked stages as social rides and took on the more difficult timed technical stages individually.
With the picturesque Welsh countryside, it all made made for a very enjoyable weekend that not even the wet weather could dampen. I will definitely return next year with the ambition to complete all stages which, quite possibly, would then classify me as a ‘mountain biker’.