At 9.30am on Sunday 15th August the Gore Bike Wear TransWales, powered by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport – Britain’s only 7-day mountain bike challenge – got underway in mid-Wales. In all, some 200 riders from 16 countries – including Germany, Holland and Kenya amongst many others – left the start point of Penmaenau Farm, near Builth Wells to head out along and over the hills that separated the day’s beginning from it’s end in Knighton some 58km away. The weather gods were smiling and warm temperatures and sunshine proved fine trail companions for the riders for the duration of the day.
Although the 58km distance is relatively short for by TransWales standards, course designer and co-organiser John Lloyd had ensured that the first day was not necessarily going to be an easy one. With no less than 1810m of climbing in that distance racked up over three major climbs – and an imbalanced 1780m of descending – the trend for the day was most definitely an upward one. Which was fitting as the first special stage of the TransWales – where the competitive element of the event would truly kick in – was a climbing time trial.
Although it was just 500m long and was reasonably sustained in gradient with no killer kicker at the end there was a fly in the ointment: it came a third of the way up the second major climb of the day up Great Rhos at 660m. This meant that riders’ legs were well and truly warmed up (or wrung out) by the time they arrived at the start line; to do well here would require riders to wedge the bit firmly between the teeth and turn the pedals as powerfully as possible whilst having the shear blooded-minded ability to buffer the lactic burn at the same time. Quite simply there would be no hiding in this race of truth: you either had the legs or you didn’t.
In the Schwalbe Solo Open Female Category, last year’s overall second placed female soloist – and current National 24hr Solo Champion – Rickie Cotter (WXC Racing) proved she had both speed and endurance in her legs as she stormed the special stage in 1min 51secs – a clear 18 seconds ahead of second placed Hannah Thorne with Fi Spotswood (For Goodness Shakes) in third. The Schwalbe Solo Men’s Open Category was closer fought and saw Ryan Hawson (Ayup Lighting) take the win by 6 seconds from Sean Grosvenor (Summit Cycles/Conti) in a time of just 1min 31secs.
After catching their breaths, the trail continued upwards once again, broke through the tree line and onto the moor tops for a hard-fought yet impressive panorama of mid-Wales. With the gravity credits bursting after the final very sappy section of the climb gleefully taking its toll it was time to head downhill. Finally. The riders hurled themselves headlong – and in some cases headfirst – into the slip-sliding mud-fest that Radnor Forest had been preparing for them.
Scything through the trails on Teflon trails they contoured around the forest tracks and then downwards at speeds in excess of 50kph with mud flying in all directions, tyres breaking out sideways, and – for some – rear mechs not being able to take the heat and deciding to exit the kitchen altogether. Eventually the trail dropped them rotor-pinging and grins splitting to the lunch stop by Pilleth. From here it was a relatively short spin and one last climb to finally and gratefully bring the day to an end with a quick pint at one of the local pubs at Knighton before the final wobble to the stage’s finish. In the end the first riders home were Darren Koslicki and Adam Wroz who completed the day in 3hrs 57mins with the last riders coming in safe and sound in under 7hrs.
With the warmth and sunshine keeping spirits high – plus the local watering hole – tomorrow’s stage is still largely out of mind. However, it’ll be a test with its 2140m of climbing and constant up/down course profile. But nothing good ever comes easy and tomorrow promises some true trail gems for riders’ to savour as it takes the Gore Bike Wear TransWales, powered by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport west from Knighton to Landiloes some 68km away.