Margam Park is the first setting for the innaugral Epic Cymru 5 day stage race round South Wales. The race will be here for the first two and a half days before relocating to Dare Valley country park and finally returning to Margam for the finale on Wednesday. Aidan Bishop was on the ground to report on the racing action - here's what he had to say...
Turn out was good with sunshine greeting the 165 riders taking the event on this year, some coming from the USA, South Africa, Japan and, of course, all parts of the UK. The first stroke of bad fortune went to Mark Weir from the WTB-Cannondale team, landing Wednesday but waiting for their bikes until Friday, then discovering a crack in the rear end of his bike today. A spare part is on its way, but it meant he couldn’t take to the start today. First there was a briefing for the race in general, outlining what’s to come and clearing up any questions anyone may have had. With a total of 14 timed sections being totalled to give your overall time and therefore result. Within these sections will be ‘Trail King/Queen’ segments which should favour downhill riding more than uphill, today showed there will still be a good amount of uphill within them, however. So riders will be going for overall placing but will also be clocking up times in the ‘Trail King/Queen’ category also, some are choosing to sacrifice the overall in order to be fresh and solely compete for the ‘Trail King/Queen’ title.
Today was prologue day, with a near 10km route, all of it timed but the last section was segregated for the trail king cat, which had a brutal climb halfway through it. Riders set off at 20sec intervals in reverse number order, the next four days you will be free to go when you want. The prologue route was a good route but absolutely brutal to try and time trial as fast you could! Up and down all the way round leaving you empty by the finish.
Robert Williams saved himself for the Trail King and has taken the lead there and Erica Moks leading the womens. In the overall Jason Moeschler and Nicky Hughes are leading the mens and womens fields respectively. I didn’t feel great today, struggling to get out of the saddle and put any power down, but I’m sitting in 15th overall and there is after all over 200km to be ridden yet! What will be a bit interesting is to see how the next four days pans out, with a wide wide range of bikes being ridden here, today definitely favoured the lighter XC set ups, we’ll see what types of bike prevail come Wednesday.
Today saw the first proper day of Epic Cymru, 52km to cover taking in around 1500m climbing and including 3 timed sections to count toward your overall result…..it’s not easy!
Today’s loop took us out of Margam Park in a mass start at 10am, heading out to Afan forest park and then finishing back where we started again, thankfully the weather was dry with cloud cover. The timed sections will be what we’ll come to fear during this event, they are tough! After 14km the first one awaited us, a 1km fireroad climb to hurt you before turning into some nice flowing trail centre sections with another fire road midway to hurt you even more. Being able to go when you want meant people held a good pace all day to make sure they would arrive at the timed sections with less traffic to encounter, I was one of them but still had to try and pass a couple of riders in the singletrack parts, mostly it worked out ok though.
Not much break then a big timed section, just over 8km climbing Afans ‘Wall’ trail. After the first section was still a painful memory we figured this would be horrendous, as it turned out it wasn’t too bad. Pacing yourself was key and it often was on nice singletrack that allowed you to get some recovery, before long you were at the finish and refuelling at the feed station.
An even shorter transition brought you too the start of a ‘TrailKing’ section, from racing gravity enduro’s at Afan in the past, this trail I was familiar with, starting out on gravelly man made trail, a fireroad pedal and into ‘ZigZags’ trail, some pedalling needed within it but mostly a good fast and sometimes rocky descent, a good way to finish off the racing for one day. Another 15km or so later and you dropped back into the race village at Margam, all in all a bloody good day on the bike!