It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m camped out near the light charging station in a big barn in the middle of nowhere, Wales. Cilycwm, to be exact. I just finished my recovery drinks – a bottle of Stella and a cup of instant coffee. We ended up here after leaving Cymystwyth (the Welsh love their vowels) and enduring a 74 km slog over some fire roads, 14 river crossings (some almost waist deep), some loose, questionably rideable shaley double-track climbs, and the most tiring mud bog of a “descent” through a stunningly beautiful valley.
Today’s ride was a linking stage, getting us from Point A to Point B, and tonight there will be a timed special stage. A long grinding fire road climb up 675 vertical feet and then riding some unbelievable swoopy, bermed manicured trail back down. We did a little scouting loop today to see what we’ll have to ride in the dark. Amazing.
I’m currently in 10th place overall, but seem to be slowing down each day on the special stages. Perhaps it’s the 3 – 4 pints each night, and the wine with dinner. But what are you supposed to do when you’re swarmed by midges and charmed with good company?
Today was a rough day, mentally more than anything. Yesterday I finally pinpointed the noise coming from my bike for the last 100 km: a bearing in my freehub body had collapsed. Of course, it’s not a standard size and easily replaced, so my bike is no longer rideable. Luckily, my new mate Jon lent me his XTR kitted Lynsky Ti 29er and I rode that today (sorry for all the river crossings!). As great as it was to have a nice bike to ride, it was not my bike, and though I’ll end up finishing this race on that bike, I’m not as quick or confident. And the saddle is a serious ass hatchet...
But more than anything, I’m learning the highs and lows of stage racing. Some days you’re on, and the trail is just stunning. Some days are a grind and you just keep your head down and try not to get too deep in your own head. Either way, you have to get up each day, throw a leg over the frame, and convince your body it’ll be alright once you start moving. The promise of great views, or great trail, or just an “on” day are what keep you going, and the camaraderie is amazing (thus all the beer).
So, after tonight’s special stage, I’ll pass out in the Merida team bus for one last night, and look forward to putting this race in the bank. When it’s all said and done, including my accidental repeat of stage 1, I’ll have put in 589 km of riding with over 16,800 m (55,000 feet!) of climbing. Top 10 would be icing on the cake, but I’ll be happy with this showing either way.