After seven days, four special stages, over 500km (312miles) of riding , and 14,500m (47,560ft) of climbing the Gore Bike Wear TransWales rolled home into Builth Wells. For the winners, the spoils of victory, but for all finishers the deep satisfaction of taking on this behemoth of a challenge and defeating it…
Linking stage Seven: Llanwrtyd Wells to Builth Wells, 62km
The final day of the Gore Bike Wear TransWales dawned bright and early for the riders after a particularly cold night under canvas. The dawn brought with it the warming rays of the sun and the promise – upheld through the day – of blue skies and sunshine. With riders waking their weary bodies after six relentless days in the saddle it was enough to know that 62km was all that lay between them and finishing the mammoth challenge that is the Gore Bike Wear TransWales. At journey's end the final standings would be announced and the odd beer quaffed in grateful celebration. But before the celebrations could genuinely begin, there was the small matter of pedalling the remaining distance home.
The linking stage took the riders up from the off and back into Irfon Forest, following some of the same trail that brought them to Llanwrtyd Wells yesterday, and around the flanks of Crugwydd at 455m, and then Bryn Mawr at 446m. The riders then dropped downwards before being confronted with the major test of the day's stage: the moorland climb up to Carndu at 537m that hoiked them up to the final slab of soul affirming wilderness of the Gore Bike Wear TransWales. Then the endorphine reward for the hard effort as riders charged headlong down the long and super fun descent towards the Elan Valley's Caban-coch Reservoir.
The course then eventually looped southwards and into Gorenoeth woods for a finial singletrack flurry before rolling the remaining kilometres back into Builth Wells and a well-earned chilled beer and a Gore Bike Wear TransWales custom Motion finishing jersey – worth £50 each – on the finish line. "That's a real technical performance jersey," explained Alex Metcalfe from Gore Bike Wear, "that the riders have been receiving really well."
However, the final kilometres saw riders really wind it up to finish with the throttle fully open so they could finish in top gear (or, for some, to get the whole thing over with as quickly as possible) and even the Squirts Lubes Solo Male Veteran category winner, Steve Heading (Whyte Racing), said on finishing, "It was hard – I've been following Johnny Pugh and he made me suffer…"
Nick Beauchamp, aka The Bear, was the final rider home to Builth Wells just short o the 6hr cut off at 3pm to rapturous applause after a very tough and gruelling week. Asked, ‘How much growl have you got left in you?' He replied, "Not a lot." Nick had been ill for a few days so making it home safe and sound was a genuine achievement.
But for all riders, the finish line was the end of the journey, where the hurt and the suffering could finally be shut off and overcome, and where memories of proud achievement and exhilarating riding could be lived for perpetuity in hi-def. And nothing could ever take that away from them.
"I thought this would be a breeze this week," explained Jay Horton (Team Certini), who, together with his partner Maddie, won the Merida Bikes Mixed category, "but aaargh! That was hard. I really admire the guys at the back. It's super tough." Maddie concurred over a cool bottle of beer, "It was a fantastic week," she said, "The Doethie Valley descent that just seemed to go on forever was just fantastic."
"It was wicked," agreed a happy Josh Ibbett (Iron Horse-Extreme), "it was good fun and a good social too – like a week with your friends." Asked how he thought it compared this year against last year's super wet TransWales Josh answered: "The camping's been really good: the organisers took on board the feedback from last year with good campsites, great showers, and the food was proper food – not slop – it was all really good." Josh finished in second in the Schwalbe Men's Solo category in a total time of 50hrs 02mins 32secs.
Jonathan Pugh (C) won the solo men's category
The winner – and fastest rider in the entire field and overall Schwalbe Men's Solo category winner – was Jonathan Pugh (Clee Cycles KCNC High 5) who was the only rider to go sub-50hrs with a total time of 49hrs 56mins 55secs.
Marika Covre (C) was the solo women's champion
In the Schwalbe Women's Solo category, the epic battle between Italian national marathon champion, Marika Covre (Ideal – Vivibike), and Wales' own Rickie Justine Cotter (Cytek) saw it's climax on Thursday when Covre beat Cotter by just 3secs. The final result after seven days of riding mirrored this 1-2, with Covre becoming the Gore Bike Wear TransWales Schwalbe Women's Solo category Champion for 2009. She did it with an overall time of 50hrs 17mins 47secs. This meant that – after an 8sec margin (despite Cotter crashing on the descent) in the NiteRider night time trial and a 3secs margin in the Brechfa forest special stage – the decisive blow had been dealt by Covre when she tore the gravel off the Lung Buster climb on the Nant-y-Arian special stage to finish by 1 min 24secs clear of Cotter by the end of today's final linking stage. Congratulations to Marika and commiserations to Rickie for a fight well fought.
The Merida Bikes Mixed category was won by British marathon champion Maddie Horton and her partner Jay from the second placed pair of Fi Spotswood & Michael Tomlinson (South Fork Racing). The Hortons won in an overall time of 50hrs 07mins 41secs. However, the success story in this category were third placed brother and sister pairing of Theresia and Werner Baumker (Team Charl '77). The south African pair had only been mountain biking since May of this year and Theresia had never even raced at night up until this week. Despite carrying a knee injury she and her brother made the podium in every special stage and finished in an overall time of 50hrs 27mins 52secs, some 20mins off the time of Maddie & Jay Horton.
Fulvio Damian and Elvo Del Puppo won the veteran's male category
Marika Covre was not the only Italian to take the win in this year's Gore Bike Wear TransWales: the pairing of Fulvio Damian and Elvo Del Puppo (also of Ideal – ViviBike) dominated their Ergon Veteran's Male category by finishing in an overall time of 50hrs 08mins 52secs – some 27mins ahead of their nearest rivals, David Reilly and Steve Partington (Isle of Man Fire Service). Graham Denny & Shane Dickenson (Cytek) finished third. But Fulvio Damian and Elvo Del Puppo are not strangers to the event as they have also competed in the TransScotland as well as previous TransWales', and have become something of minor celebrities along the way.
For the event's first ever Kenyan participant, Nickson Mwaura, the whole week has been a huge learning experience: it's been the first time he's ridden in Britain, as well as been on a full suspension bike, or been night riding. It's also been the first time he's done a multi day event and, despite the weather differences between Wales and his native Kenya, the sunshine today meant that, "[he] felt so much at home in the sun. This week has been totally different to home but I have really enjoyed it." He's also adjusted really well to the Teflon conditions on the technical trails and his special stage performances have improved markedly. On the final special stage at Brechfa who notched up 11th fastest in a time of 21mins 23secs: enough to move him up to 15th in the Schwalbe Men's Solo category general classification. Outstanding considering his position in the first special stage was a relatively lowly 39th.
Alex Metcalfe from Gore
Alex Metcalfe, Gore Bike Wear's man on the ground for the duration of the event, also saddled up and got into the saddle to tackle the challenge of 500km (312miles) during the week, as well as loaning out Gore Bike Wear clothing to riders to try. "I found it really good," he said at journey's end in Builth, "I did find it tougher than I expected though as switching from a linking stage to a special stage was very tolling on my body as the change from gradual work to harder, faster work was hard to train for."
That may be, but Alex's decision to participate was fairly last minute so, in truth, he'd done absolutely nil training bar his usual evening and weekend rides. This lack of preparation was to hinder him towards the end of the week, although making it through all four special stages and five of the massive linking stages on no preparation is a fair testament to Alex's ‘can do' attitude (and stupidity).
"The atmosphere was superb," he continued – from day two onwards it became camaraderie so much so that the drinking stations became meting places and the lunch stop became a place for a chat .You'd make friends at the dinner table; you'd share parts, advice, stories and really muck in together. It was a different atmosphere to any event I've been to.
"But for me, the lowest point was after the special stage at Brechfa – I'd blown big on the special stage and used my all. The 15km ride back was possibly the toughest 15km of the event; for those who must've blown it was 8km of hell and then 7km of holding it all in. So when you arrived back at the campsite some were pumped up from the awesome singletrack while others were just crying for their bed and a sleeping bag. I was one of them."
Alex eventually pulled out after day five due to severely inflamed Achilles tendons and sore knees, not to mention his developing John Wayne swagger.
Steve Heading (C) won the solo male veteran category
The Squirts Lubes Solo Male Veteran category was won by (Whyte Racing) in 50hrs 01min 14 secs – over 5mins clear of second placed Gareth Bowyer (Ffasiynau Anabelle Fashions), with Jonathan Edwards rounding the podium out in third.
Dan Lewis and Neil Richardson combined to win the men's team category
In the Saris Male category the forces had been battling it out all week, with the RAF pairing of Dan Lewis and Neil Richardson flying higher than both Andy Jones/Ben Jones (Clee Cycles KCNC) and the Army Cycling pair of Brendan Kay and Simon Gough. The RAF took the win with 2mins 20secs advantage over the Jones', and over 10mins on the Army Cycling pair of Kay/Gough.
Joy Bringer and Camilla Edlintook home the prize in the women's team category
The one horse race in the Buff Headwear Female category also came to a close today with Joy Bringer and Camilla Edlin (BAD By Association) crossing the line to finish in a total of time of 51hrs 00mins 16secs.
"You see all the young guys in videos doing super man seat grabs," explained Mountain Biking UK's competition winner Brendan Stevens, "but look around here: there's 180 folks who've ridden 300+ miles across Wales – these are the hardcore guys."
And he's not wrong: from hardened endurance racers; normal folks who wanted to realise their dream of achieving the challenge of the Gore Bike Wear TransWales; to riders who'd recently broken bones and battled to recover in time; to Kenyan Nickson Mwaura who'd never ridden in British mud and gloop, and Theresia and Werner Baumker who only started mountain biking in May and never ridden – yet alone raced – at night until the NiteRider night time special stage – all can say that they came, they saw, and they conquered.
For more, visit www.mtbtransuk.co.uk