The past weekend saw the last round of the CRC MTB Marathon series for 2012 at Ruthin, North Wales and in my opinion the best one of the series. The weekend was packed with the Vitus road sportive and Exposure Lights Big Night Out (ELBO) MTB night event on the Saturday. Sunday followed with the main MTB Marathon event, featuring four different distances to choose from.
Nadene and I decided to make a long weekend of this and found ourselves amazed by the great red and black trails at Coed Llandegla Forest. Definitely worth stopping off at the trail centre when in North Wales – even if only to sample the cakes at the MTB centre.
With the Crocodile Trophy (9 day MTB stage race in Australia) less than a month away, the 150km road sportive around the greater Clwydian Hills area seemed like the ideal training ride. Being lazy I decided to not to bother taking a road bike or to change to slicks on the MTB bike. Battling a headwind for the first 60km on my own made me doubt whether this was such a good move. However, I was quite thankful for the lower gearing when I saw guys zig zagging up the 20% climb of the day.
A tailwind for the next 60km helped to make up time till I hit the 6km long Horse Shoe pass. The pass is not especially steep but there are no sections to recover on the way up. The views from the top were truly astounding and made it all worth it. What followed was a fast fun decent to the finish in Ruthin followed by a great burger from the new event caterer – ‘The Great Aussie Feast’.
The night ride is usually one of my favourite events of the year but I decided to listen to the voice of reason (Andrew Patterson from Patterson Training) and skip the night ride. (Thanks Andy – my legs were very thankful.) So while riders were going over Moel Famau and descending Frith Mountain then back up across Moel Famau again I was stuffing myself with some of the best spare ribs from Britannia Inn at the foot of Horseshoe Pass.
Sunday’s MTB route saw us head into the Clwydian Hills again and featured a great mix of flowing single track, dual track, technical forest paths and sheep tracks. The course was dry for most part which made for some fast riding, requiring concentration and fast reactions all the way around.
The Swiss rider Simeon Niederer was chomping at the bit, so as soon as John Lloyd pulled over on the lead quad, he was off not to be seen till the end. Sally Bigham from Topeak-Ergon showed why she is one of the best female marathon mountain bikers in the world and dropped the rest of us on the 5km climb up Moel Famau. I managed to catch Sally as the route levelled out and we rode together for the next 15km which included some challenging loose rocky climbs.
At the first feed station the long route was set off on an extra loop bringing us back to the feed station where we joined the other distances again. I had decided to skip the first feed station so I enjoyed some great single track and forest paths by myself. Sally (who stopped at the feed station) managed to catch me as we got close the feed station for the second time. Following a short climb up Moel Arthur we found ourselves on the best decent of the day – a rocky dry riverbed trail in the forest where we averaged around 45km/h going down while passing some of the riders from the shorter routes.
The decent was followed by some single track but this made passing a bit tricky. At this point (halfway into the route) I felt that dreaded tail wiggle of a flat tyre. Some ‘muttering’ followed while struggling to get the tube valve stem nut off (leaked sealant from previous tubeless conversion) and I ended up spending over 10 minutes fixing the tyre. By now Sally had caught me and disappeared into the distance not to be seen again. Being paranoid about another pinch flat I used two CO2 bomb to inflate the tyre to road tyre pressure which resulted in a big fright as I tried to brake on the next fast long grassy decent and finding no grip.
At the 4th feed station (which was a bonus as we were told of only 3) the guys were quick to point out that there is a fast girl in front of me (if only they knew how fast). I thought we had about 5km to go but was told it is 13km, so I filled up my bottle, stocked up on bananas and backed off the pace a bit. Well, 3km on I was told ‘2km to go’ by a marshal which was actually correct and I found myself at the finish – where the timing guys were quick to tell me a female beat me.
I had a great day out on my mountain bike and not even the puncture or getting beaten by Sally could put a damper on my day. A special thanks needs to go out to all the local marshals who came out in force. We didn’t have to stop at a single gate as each gate along the 85km long route was manned by smiling volunteers.
This brings the 2012 CRC MTB Marathon series to an end and in my opinion John and Mike saved the best for last. Looking forward to next year’s series.