Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Trans-Wales Mountain Bike Challenge...

A week has passed since I've returned from the U.K. and, though I'm still getting back into the swing of real life, I have a few loose ends to tie up... Fixing a busted mountain bike, sorting through photos and helmet cam video, updating this here blog. The thing is, real life is hard work... a constant battle to plan and prioritize and find time to accomplish everything.

Lining up for day 1.
Stage racing, on the other hand, is easy. Here it is summed up quickly:
  • wake up, find clean chamois
  • eat
  • tell legs to shut up about the dull ache and ride
  • eat
  • clean bike, lube chain
  • drink recovery beer(s), eat
  • hang out in team bus and talk shop about the race
  • glass of wine to put you sleep
  • repeat
Sure there are days when crawling out of bed is a little tougher. There are days where the stage just goes on and on. Days when you're convinced your body can't handle it. Days when the weather and trail conditions conspire to make it as hard as possible to keep the motivation to turn the pedals. But really, it's simple. Sleep, eat, ride, beer, repeat.

The norm: heather, sheep, and incredible views.
Anyway, here's a quick shakedown of my thoughts on each stage. Keep in mind, each day was a 70-85 km "linking stage" taking you from point A to B. Untimed, but you have to finish within the time limit. Somewhere within that "linking stage" is a timed "special stage". Think a 10 - 20 minute time trial at red-line in the middle of a 5-6 hour endurance ride.

Good weather, by Welsh standards.
Stage 0: This was supposed to just be a 40 km "prologue warm-up." Mickey and I got lost and ended up riding the entire first stage, before ending up at the Knighton Football Club a day early. All's well that ends well, I suppose, because I ate 2 dinners that night after doing 80+ km on a ClifBar and a bottle of energy drink.

View from the remains of Clun Castle.
Stage 1: It sucked doing the entire previous day's ride all over again, but it was easier the 2nd time around. The trail had dried out considerably from the day before, and it was easier going with the group energy of 200+ riders together. Although I still got lost when the group convinced me to turn left when the day prior I had gone right at the same spot. We were all ashamed when we had to re-climb 700 vertical feet after they ignored my warning and I followed like a dim-witted lemming.

Make time every day for beer and puppies.
Stage 2: We actually hit some decent trail in this stage. I don't remember much about it other than the weather was decent and I got some video chasing sheep through a field. The timed stage was on a downhill course with some tabletops and doubles, and I rode it like shit, but it was fun as hell. Somehow, at this point, I find myself in 9th overall and realize that I should change my goal from "finishing in one piece" to "finishing in the top ten."

Stage 3: Definitely the low point of the race for me. It was my 4th day of riding, and I knew I had 4 to go. The weather was crap - cold, blustery wind and rain that was more like 105% humidity than rain, but it felt like needles when the wind gusted. The ground was a soggy, spongy, rutted mess covered in sheep shit that soon covered me. I found a good wheel and stared at it all day hoping to not use my brain once. The only bright point: good company for the day - I found the group I'd ride with the rest of the week.

Unlucky sheep.
Stage 4: "And if it takes shit to make bliss, then I feel pretty blissfully." Stage 4 is when it started to get good. Really good. Not sure if it was the low point the day before, or the miles of beautiful forest fire roads or the flowy, fast singletrack, or the incredible views, or the intense special stage - a 6 km romp down a rocky, wet downhill course, but it was awesome. Also had that "over the hump, know I'm going to make it" feeling. My bike starts to make a funny screeching / croaking sound, and the mechanic and I can't find the culprit.

Stunning, lush, green.
Stage 5: Another day of beautiful trails and fire roads through a very rural, lake-spotted country side. Sunshine and rocky, technical goodness kept the motivation high. The special stage was a 5 km descent on flowy, bermed man-made singletrack followed by a 4 km climb known as "the legburner." Super fun. The stage ended with a surreal ride through a wind farm, with the turbines turning smoothly and humming quietly as we descended into our midge-filled campsite. The sounds coming from my bike sound like a "raped badger" and upon finishing the stage, we pull the seals off my freehub to find that the bearings have collapsed. Of course, no one has a spare 29er rear wheel with a 12x142 thru-axle, so I'm on a borrowed bike for the last 2 days.

Fix a muddy flat. Nick had some creepy green slime for sealant.
Stage 6: They claimed this day would be a gem, but I found it to be a slog. In one section, we crossed the same river 14 times, sometimes it was waist deep. Novel? yes... fun? meh. Especially on the borrowed Lynskey, which was the wobbliest, least-stable bike I've ever ridden (no Ti for me, thanks). The final descent through a long, wildflower covered valley was supposed to be the icing on the cake, and the views were spectacular, but every time the trail started to get good, it was interrupted by something horrible: deep, soggy, unrideable grass; hub-deep, mud-filled ruts; washes where the trail had been swept down the hillside; sheep-stopping fence gates. It felt good to get it over with. But the special stage was a treat - a night stage that had us climb 3 km up a fire road, and then descent through another man-made berm-and-table-top-filled trail center. I caught my 30 second man on the climb, held the gap through the descent (coming off the bike once, but recovering quickly) and finished 9th quickest on the day.

Stage 7: Short but sweet. The final day was wet and rainy and muddy, but the trail we rode held up well in those conditions. There was some combination of great riding and the knowledge that you were less than 50 km from the end that made this day a pleasure. I was shattered when I crossed the line, and still had to finish the 3 km special stage for my final time - I had a minute above and below me on the rankings - near impossible to make up or lose in a 7 minute time trial, so I rode hard, but conservatively and finished 10th overall.

Riding and drinking crew.
So that's the shake down. I was given an on-the-spot prize for being the idiot who spent his summer vacation in a cold, wet, muddy shire: a bottle of Spitfire Ale and a crappy "summer holiday" picture frame. But it was worth it. I met some incredibly cool people, had a chance to see every aspect of Wales, tested my desire to continue to ride a bicycle, and consumed more Stella in a week than I have in the rest of my life. My only advice to anyone trekking over there to do something similar is: BYOB. Oh, and bring waterproof over-shorts.

The rest of my photos are up here:
2011.08.13 Trans-Wales Challenge

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nice rotten..enjoyed the vieo & write-up.