‘Remember to pack our wellies as it might be a bit muddy.’ How glad was I that Nadene (my wife) registered what I was saying at 4:30am as we were packing for the TrailMasters this past weekend.
The Ritchey TrailMasters was a MTB race based in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, run over 3 days which consisted of timed special stages linked by un-timed sections. The idea is to race the short special stages and then taking it easy during the linking stages but still ensuring you finish in the set cut-off time every day.
Wellies were an essential component of the weekend unless you wanted to slide around barefoot or with wet and muddy shoes. The Welsh weather, like a difficult child, was not playing ball. Whilst South- East England was experiencing a heat wave, repeated showers turned the trails into a mud bath in Wales. This made cycling a bit tricky especially if you were further down the field.
The weather (after some comments from competitors) forced the organisers to rethink the routes, moving the night stage from Friday to Saturday and shortening all stages. The planned 215km total distance with about 30km of timed special stages was reduced to 150km of which around 15km was special stages. This did not quite fit in with my training plans as I was hoping to use the event as a training block for Crocodile Trophy which I plan to race in October.
Some of the other riders at the sharper end of the field also preferred the original longer distances but I do have some understanding for the organiser’s decision as Nadene finished the Saturday stage with 5 minutes to spare before the 5 hour cut-off time. (See her report for Bikemagic on the view from the other end of the field.) It is always difficult to find the right balance to make it difficult enough for the front of the field but manageable for the rest. You do have to commend John for setting off at 7:00am Sunday morning marking out a new route.
With such short timed sections the racing was very close and any mistake like one wrong line choice could cost you a few seconds dropping you down the standings. For example, starting Sunday there were only 5 seconds between Oli Holmes (CNP-Orbea) in 2nd and me in 3rd for the overall solo male GC. I didn’t expect to find myself this high up on GC as I’m more a marathon racer and these short stages were far better suited to the XC racers.
Friday’s stage started off at quite a relaxed pace behind the lead-out quad and I reckoned the pace would increase as we hit the first proper climb but Ben Price (Torq Performance) kept a manageable pace up all the muddy and slippery climbs. We arrived at the first special stage without really pushing it into the red and were therefore ready to blast it at full speed. Unfortunately I got tangled in tree branches when trying to avoid some muddy ruts which cost me a few seconds. I managed to hold off Oli but not fast enough for the fast charging Ben. The rest of the stage I decided to up the pace a bit to get some training in but still not killing myself. The fact that the linking stages were not timed made for a nice change to normal events. Whereas you are normally pushing yourself as hard as possible without blowing up and looking over your shoulder all the time this was more like a fun day out on your bike just enjoying the ride. None of those ‘chased rabbit’ feelings
Following day one, I was thankful for the warm shower to get cleaned up after sliding around in the mud for over three hours. Dinner was provided by the crew from the ‘Luff’ bus and we left early to go and get ready for the night stage.Perhaps I should have hung around as whilst I was getting ready the rest of the diners were voting on moving the night stage to the Saturday. I arrived at the start all kitted out and ready for the night stage just as the results presentation started. It therefore looked like I took the podium presentation very serious being all kitted out.
First special stage of day two consisted of sub 3 minute technical decent and this is where I made my first serious mistake taking the wrong line, unclipping and struggling to clip in again thereby losing almost 20 seconds on Oli. Second special stage started off with a flat rooty section before dropping onto a fire road section taking you back to the start of the section. The first section proved a bit tricky in figuring out where the trail is as I was the second person through and the wood was a bit dark and it therefore involved spotting an arrow and aiming for it. Seems the riders further down the field had to contend with muddy churned tracks and a few found it faster to push than to try and ride through the mud.
Saturday night saw us tackle the timed night stage. Unfortunately we had to hang around the start of the special stage for a while waiting for it to turn dark and we therefore set off with a climb without a proper warm-up. This proved painful and halfway up I wished I had skipped dinner. I played it a bit save on the decent which was perhaps a wise choice as Oli’s CNP-Orbea team mate came off and fractured his collarbone.
Going into Sunday there were only 5 seconds between Oli and I and we both took it easy to the first special stage. This started off with a fire road climb and then dropping into a fun singletrack decent. Finishing I could hear the guys behind me hollering as they were enjoying the singletrack. Arriving at the second special stage everything was set up but the timing official was nowhere to be found. After a while Oli and I decided to ride down and see if we could find anybody. We were told by the marshal at the finish that they weren’t ready for us and that we had to ride up to the start again. Luckily this wasn’t a long section (just over 2 minutes) and by the time we got back up the start they were ready for us. Oli went first and I gave him about 30 seconds before setting off. Coming around a rocky corner Isaw him running with his bike – unfortunately his tyre had come off. It wasn’t all plain sailing for me either, as my chain got stuck and I had to jump off get it loose and run up the last little climb.
The rest of the ride was mainly on fire and paved roads and was therefore pretty fast. The 10km climb up Esgair Dafydd tested the legs before dropping back to the start.
I enjoyed the event even though I personally would have preferred something a bit longer and harder. However, on balance I think the organisers got it right for the majority of the field. The weather complicated things a bit and we could have sampled so much more of the great Welsh riding under different conditions. Hopefully the sponsors and in particular the main sponsor, Paligap, the UK distributor of Ritchey components, , will see a future for this event in years to come.
Full results can be found here.