‘It is so well organised.’ I kept on hearing these words from different people over the course of the Black Mountains 3 Day event and I have to say I fully agree with them. The personal touch started as soon as you took the turnoff at the Estate with a marshal directing you the camping spot and continued throughout the weekend. Another reason for the success of the event is due to the 200 rider limit which resulted in short bike wash, shower and food queues. (The order of priority differed from rider to rider with large numbers opting for a post ride burger before cleaning up.)
The 3 day MTB stage event, organised by the Bearded Man team, had us riding some of the best trails the Brecon Beacons in Wales had to offer. Camping, with tents all set up when we got there, was on the Glanusk Estate along the river Usk. Tudor Brewery was on site providing the well deserved end of day refreshments with Ian Luff, owner of the famous Drop Off Cafe at Afan trial centre. The Luff bus was feeding hungry riders that couldn’t wait for dinner time. Loads of us found ourselves going back for a second helpings and in some cases a third burger.
Friday started off with a short time trail consisting of two 6km loops around the Glanusk Estate. This short ride introduced us to the mud we would be experiencing on the Saturday. Keeping in mind that June 2012 was the wettest June in the UK since records began and you can understand that there were a fair few mud puddles to negotiate. Unfortunately I had decided to do a proper warm up before setting off, so by the time I started the course had been churned up by half the field and I ended up considerably muddier than the first couple of riders. As this is not a proper race, awards were given for various reasons during the prize giving and some of the prices were pretty awesome and included movie cameras and custom Singular 29er frames.
Saturday we were greeted by a bit of drizzle (aka patchy rain), luckily nothing too serious and it did clear up as we set off behind our police escort to Crickhowell. As soon as we hit the first climb Huw Thomas upped the pace a bit and he was followed by Ben Price from Torq and two riders from Guernsey Velo Club. The five of us ended up riding together for about three quarters of the course which included a few hike-a-bike sections. Normally one would be able to ride more of the route but all the rain made for some muddy challenges.
In the rider briefing the previous night we were warned about three danger points. First of which was a crater and supposedly one would be fine if you kept to the right (we were warned that if you did not keep to the right, the horrible crater would literally swallow you – a very scary thought). We all spotted the three arrows pointing downwards and the guys in front of me kept way to the right. Being lazy I didn’t want to go too far right as that meant I would loose a bit of height and would have to ascent again. Unfortunately my pedal caught a rock and I ended up in the mud. So much for trying to save some energy. In the crash I managed to bend my gear hanger which, combined with the mud, resulted in a lot of gear issues. Every time my chain got stuck I would have to get off the bike and then chase back to the guys. On one of the climbs I got stuck in my granny gear and it took ages for me to catch up to the GVC boys. By this time Ben and Huw had upped the pace and I only saw them again at the bike wash. Around the 10km to go mark there was short section where a grader had gone through the forest and sticks were all over the track. Huw managed to end up on his back and I started cramping from carrying my bike. This came to be known as the ‘stick walk’ and was a real pain in the backside.
The section after the stick walk was fast which was vey welcome as I was looking forward to a hot shower and one of the Luff bus burgers. The rest of the afternoon one could hear constant cheering as some muddy rider rolled over the finish line with a big smile.
Sunday’s ride saw us riding on hard packed trails with few muddy sections and the pace was therefore by far faster compared to the previous day. Only downside was that we had to do the stick walk on the way out and back again. Thanks for that Dave! The climbs were rewarded by some interesting descents and we got to experience some of the magnificent Brecon Beacon views. I was lucky in that I had no falls or mechanicals (thanks Getaway Cycles for doing a great job on the gears) and the only issue I had was with a big flock of sheep. Some farmers were shepherding their sheep along on quads and I was told to pass the sheep on the low side of the mountain. I therefore had to try and run past the sheep with my bike on my back but the boggy grass made this a bit of a challenge. Also the faster I ran the faster the sheep ran. Stupid sheep! Towards the end I gave up and passed the sheep on the high side while riding on the track. This must have upset some of the farmers but I promise to buy them some beers next year.
I managed to be the first one back to find that the car was already packed (thanks Nadene) and all I had to do was to wash the bike and myself and stuff myself with more burgers from the famous Luff bus.
What a great MTB weekend. I’ll definitely be back next year.