Dyfi Enduro singletrack downhill
On Wednesday evening 28 April, I received contact from my friend and regular cycling training partner, Michael McCutcheon with a call to arms to step in for his team race partner. Due to a last-minute change of circumstances, he was unfortunately not able to make the Dyfi Enduro race scheduled for the coming Sunday. With only three days notice, no targeted training and only a 40lb free-ride/all-mountain bike to ride, this was a challenge I was not about to shy away from. At this stage I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was letting myself in for.
Saturday morning involved a 6 a.m. start. A quick shower, followed by some breakfast shovelled down in a hurry and it was on the road to catch the 8:20 Dublin ferry to Holyhead. A four-hour train journey followed to deposit us both just outside the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park, in the sleepy village of Machynlleth. It was only few hundred yards more to the camp site from the train station, where the tent was erected upon arrival.
As part of the camp site entertainment there were two marquee tents, one housing a cinema, where 3 different bike films were running on continuous loop and a second adjoining one where delicious food and drink was served to the sound of music in the form of a Rasta DJ spinning some chilled 7″ 45 rpm reggae tunes and later in the evening some live bands. At midnight the music came to an end and the camp site gradually descended into silence as the temporary residents retired, providing the calm before the storm.
By 8 o’clock the following morning, the camp site was buzzing again, with the sort of nervous energy prominent before a big race. Both Mic and I consumed multiple breakfasts. A race debriefing was held at 10:30, after which riders commenced uptake of positions on the start grid in anticipation of the 11 o’clock start. A rolling start from the exit of the camp site ensued for the 650 competitors on the strike of the 11th hour just as planned and was led out of the village towards the hills by a team of marshals in a van and on moto-cross bikes. While I managed to start near the front, I struggled to maintain position on my 40lb Kona Coiler Deluxe and steadily started going backwards as soon as the climbing started, as riders on bikes about half the weight of mine cruised by.
The first climb was a non-stop 5km fire road drag of just over 300m ascent. 3/4 of the way up, my team partner Mic who had started much further back in the grid, passed me as he made steady progress uphill. Mic would spend the rest of the course passing competitors on his way to a formidable 61st place finish. While I slogged it out up the seemingly never-ending climbs with countless riders passing me, when the gradient reversed, I made the extra weight and stability of my freeride rig count for everything it was worth, blasting down past the very riders who had passed me not so long ago. This pattern was to become the order of the day as it drew on into the race.
Three more monster climbs ensued, each followed by unfortunately what seemed like only very short downhills were I gave it my all, before a very welcome feed station greeted riders at about 3/5 distance, or 31km. At this stage I could already feel the significant strain of the unaccustomed effort I was subjecting my body to, but after a short refuelling I swung back into action. I would have to crest 6 more significant climbs before I would reach the finish after a total of 53.44km including no less than 1860m of vertical ascent. Crawling up the last big climb of the day, another competitor on a single speed greeted me saying he remembered me passing him on the 2nd descent of the day. According to him, as I passed him he said he tired to jump on my back wheel and added, “but after 50 yards, realised it was a really silly idea”. It was just the sort of compliment I needed to hear at that stage, to give me that much coveted second wind as the climb dragged on mercilessly.
As the end neared, marker signs appeared trail side detailing the remaining distance, as if to encourage the tired riders on, first with 10km and then with 3km to the finish. The first 200 riders were sent on an “extra” loop which added ca. 5km to the full race distance. The remaining 450 would be sent the “short” way. As I passed the marshal taking count, I and the other riders in my group were informed we were in about 150th position – Long course for us in that case! I lost a handful more places and clawed a few back in the usual manner on the remaining up and down hills respectively. After 4h18m49s I finally cruised into the finish in 165th position, covered in mud, but elated to finally arrive at the desired destination in one piece, where I met Mic who had been waiting for about 30mins at that stage. As we stood around clapping in the next few riders including a team on a tandem, another competitor came up to me and said, “Hey, I recognise that jersey”, pointing to my Trajectoires Cylces Team jersey, “You passed me at an absolutely ridiculous speed on one of the downhills!”. This was the perfect comment that summed the day’s racing all up for me.
It was then time to make the way back to the campsite, which was still a full 10km away, but thankfully downhill for the most part. Depositing the bikes and the muddy bike gear at the tent in exchange for a towel and clean set of clothes, it was off to the leisure centre next to the camp site. £1 bought us access to what I can only describe as what felt like the best value and most appreciated shower I can remember in a long time and capped off the day’s riding in perfect fashion.
Standing beside the central social area beside the main marquee, I spotted a fellow rider just arriving back from his ride, cycling by on a Jones 3D SpaceFrame. I hurried after him across the field to catch him for a chat and geek out over his titanium bike. The simple yet unambiguous ice-breaker of “Nice bike” was employed to launch the conversation, followed by much more in-depth admiration, tech talk and titanium bike stories exchange. A test ride was accorded me upon request and I was finally riding my dream bike for the first time. The ride has to be experienced to be believed, as it is unlike anything I have ridden before.
Finally it was time to indulge in some of the tasty food served in the main marquee. Both Mic and I enjoyed two full dinners as we attempted to replenish some of the several thousand calories consumed that day. More music and socialising with fellow riders ensued until one by one we called it a day, falling into our tents completely exhausted yet more than happy with the day’s memorable events.