Day four of the Gore Bike Wear TransWales, powered by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport was a mixed day. Changeable conditions and some very tough climbs were tempered by great singletrack and a genuine ‘out there’ feel – particularly around the picturesque Nant y Moch reservoir.
The riders left Machynlleth at 9am and climbed up the black top heading southwards. Once the beast of a climb was done it was into the woods and onto the moors once again along an undulating rock infested double track. The rock base meant that the going was good and hard, resulting in a decent average speed. There was lots of fun to be had for the riders with plenty of techy little lines to keep folks entertained.
But pull back from the detail and the vistas along the trail running towards Nant y Moch reservoir are something out of Northern Exposure, summed up in two words: epic solitude. Except, of course, the TransWales riders are rarely alone: the camaraderie amongst them has been something truly special this year and its been building day by day.
The wilderness of Nant y Moch then brought riders to the start of the third special stage: an abridged 8.5km Nant y Arian trail centre loop. From the start line, riders hustled uphill along rocky double track that then careered downwards in a rock-infested high-speed fest with enough rock slabs, chutes, and steps to keep them on their toes. This gave way to several sections of pumpy singletrack descent that gathered momentum as they swept closer to the valley floor before spitting riders out onto fire road. This swept briefly to the lowest point of the loop before heading upwards remorselessly on the infamous – and aptly named – Leg Burner climb.
As any rider who has ridden Nant y Arian knows, the Leg Burner climb is a stomach churning lung buster right out of Purgatory that seemingly never ends. It’s like pushing a gradually growing rock up hill for eternity. Well, sort of. But yes, your legs do burn. A lot.
For the riders fighting it out in the general classification this was a pivotal special stage as there was quite simply nowhere to hide: either barrelling downhill or hauling up again - there was no flat. Any mistake here would play into the hands of competitors and any time loss could easily become significant.
Ryan Hawson (Ayup Lighting) is riding in the Schwalbe Solo Open Male category and has been having plenty of fun out on the trail; unfortunately he has been the unwilling recipient of special stage bad luck following his success on the climbing special stage on day one. Today saw him front puncture as he was pinning it, however his luck must be improving as even with the flat his time of 23mins 15secs was enough to take the stage win by 21secs from Greig Walker, himself just 13secs up on third placed Paul Whittaker (Stockport Clarion). This means that Hawson (Ayup Lighting) reclaimed the lead in the general classification ahead of Sean Grosvenor (Summit Cycles / Conti) by 24secs.
In the Schwalbe Solo Open Female category Rickie Cotter was out for blood after missing out on the podium on the downhill special stage due to double punctures. “I smashed it,” she said of her run afterwards: “I’m really happy.”
Her efforts certainly paid off as she beat her closest rival by just under two and a half minutes in a time of 26mins 9secs. Hannah Thorne pushed her hard and came in second in a time of 28mins 37secs. The previous leader in the category – Fi Spotswood (For Goodness Shakes) has returned home to Bristol – which means that Hannah Thorne is now the overall Schwalbe Solo Open Female category leader just 12secs ahead of Rickie Cotter.
In the Merida Bikes Open Male Team category Neil Richardson and Dan Lewis (RAFCC) put in the fastest performance of the entire stage in an average combined time of 22mins 57secs – a time that would’ve seen either of them take the win in the solo category. It was also a clear 2mins faster than the pairing of Darren Koslicki and Adam Wroz (Team Unknown) who were convincingly beaten into second on the stage and the general classification by some 2mins 10secs from in the Merida Bikes Open Male Team category.
Elsewhere, the Birzman Tools Mixed Teams Category saw a change in the overall due to the solid consistency of previously second-placed pair Claire Neuhoff and Simon Neuhoff (The Clantons): with a third on the first special stage followed by two second places – including on today’s special stage – they succeeded in making up enough time on the previous leaders Elizabeth Docherty and James Docherty (Ohh!) to take the lead by just 5secs. This all means that each of the top three teams (Team Ohh!, The Clantons, and Double Dutch) have each held the lead in the overall, and are now separated by less than 20secs.
All this means that the pressure remains on for the fourth special stage tomorrow, the Exposure Diablo Night Stage at Cwm Rhaidr. Rickie Cotter will be looking to stamp her authority on the women’s solo competition, whilst Hawson will be looking for a trouble-free but flawless run to extend his fragile lead. However, Cwm Rhaidr has a reputation for slicing sidewalls so he needs to be careful as another puncture could see him slip down the rankings. In every category nothing is settled so there’s all to play for on the fifth day of the Gore Bike Wear TransWales, powered by Mercedes-Benz Vito Sport. Blend into this backdrop one of the most loved trails in the TransWales’ history: the Doethie Valley singletrack descent as the highlight of the linking stage and the fifth day of the TransWales promises to be the best so far.