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Paul Whittaker at the Ritchey Trail Masters
The Mini Trans Wales
Aug 2012

Pictures to be uploaded soon

All change this year, what was the TransWales is now known as the Ritchey Trail masters and instead of being 7 days of riding with single special stages most days is now 3 days of riding with 2 special stages each day (well that was the plan anyway). Also a change of start venue as we all pitched our tents near Llanwrtyd Wells which is home of the World Bog Snorkelling Championships and other ‘wacky’ event likes the Welsh Open Stone skimming Championships and the Real Ale Wobble. We’re also based here for the full three day rather than moving from place to place as we did for the TransWales the expense and logistical nightmare of moving each day must have finally got to the organisers.

Get my tent up, sign on and collect my goodie bag containing a thermal mug, pint glass, T-shirt and the usual bumf of product catalogs. The pint glass will come in handy as we have an on-site bar and vouchers for up to 6 drinks each.

Day 1
It rained on and off during the night and I hoped that would be out off the way for a dry days riding but as the morning wears on (12pm start) the rain gets heavier and by the time we’re assembled on the start line everyone is in waterproofs.

The plan today is ride out into the hills west of Llanwrtyd then after a lunch stop at about 18 miles in it’s the 1st special timed stage then there’s another water stop and back to base for a few hours before riding back out to the same special stage to do it again in the dark. I can’t remember any outstanding feature of today’s ride except it was wet if it wasn’t actually raining then we were riding through foot deep water or a very steep hill. By the time we got to the lunch stop which only about an hour after starting I was soaked through fortunately it wasn’t cold or I would have been properly miserable. The special stage was at the top of another big hill and stated as some rooty singletrack through a forest then at the first of the bigger puddles almost everyone I spoke about it fell off (me included) as the bottom was quite soft your bike stayed put while you didn’t, shortly followed by one of those slow motion over the handlebars moments. Back on the bike and some more rooty singletrack then out on to a shale track with some good sized drop offs mostly into big puddles then some more grassy / muddy singletrack and out onto a logging road and a long climb back up and to the finish. Didn’t think I’d been too rubbish in the twisty / rocky stuff and hoped that I’d made some time up on the climb.

First Special stage
There was a nice steep technical descent from the special stage then a spin along some tarmac then I realised where I was and knew that there was a massive climb about to come. It’s a sneaky one too because you gain about 200 metres height then lose half of it and gain another 200m. We finish off with a singletrack downhill that’s probably really good usually but today it’s a muddy minor watercourse and lots there’s lots of gates to open. Back at camp the bike is jet washed, I’m showered and then go and find some tea and food in the catering tent. Shortly after the heavens really open for a good few hours and a vote is taken to not do the planned night stage that day but instead we’ll do it tomorrow night and do the shorter route which was planned for Sunday.  This means that for Saturday there will be three special stages two during the ride and one as the night stage. The rain actually stops not long before we were due to be doing the night stage but it does allow the prize presentation for today’s riding to take place outside. I think the 39 seconds I win by in the Vets cat were either all made up the fire road climb or I didn’t fall off as far from my bike as other people. The prize is vouchers to be spent on products from our sponsor plus a bottle of bubbly which I didn’t spray around (everyone was already wet) and a leaders number board with my name spelt wrongly.

Day 2
It’s still raining but today we’re off at 9:30 and heading south and east into Crychan forest. Much like yesterday it forest track and ‘special’ off piste stuff that the organiser excels at finding trouble is everywhere is wetter even than yesterday which does mean that the inevitable mud doesn’t actually stick to you or your bike for long as it’s soon washed off by either rain or puddles. The first special stage of the day is one we used back in 2008 which is a sideways traverse downhill through some properly rooty tracks. It’s a bit of a lottery getting down in one piece and staying roughly on course while dodging around people falling off / getting stuck but I make it to the bottom in one piece. Which one person didn’t manage, they did cross the timing mat while on their bike but that was up out of view of the crowd gathered on the fire road just down from there. What we saw was a man minus bike come tumbling out of the woods. The next special stage is quickly upon us it starts with some more rooty forest where there is a multitude of lines to take most of them consisting of peaty mud with very little traction it seems quicker just to get off and run at times. Finally out of the trees after a quick bike jog up a very steep little climb and onto a fire road climb / descent where I hope I’ve made up some time. Lunch is right after the special stage so a quick butty and a brew then off back into the woods for some really good rooty technical downhills followed by the inevitable fire road climb. Up on top of the hill there a rolling section of track with all the dips full of water and as I’m on my own for a while there’s no one ahead of me to use as a guide to how deep the water might be. Most of it is ‘only’ hub deep with occasional thigh deep parts one puddle even has a sneaky drop off which catches some people out completely and they go for a dip one unlucky sole does this and breaks his wrist too. Back at camp and within an hour of getting back there’s glorious sunshine which gives us chance to dry out wet kit and get ready for that evenings night stage. But before we do there’s prize giving for today’s special stages. No top 3 for me in the first one and strangely neither in the second. I check the print out for the days stages and the first was correct I was 9th but I won the second one and got no podium which is a shame I’d got ready early and had my Clarion top on for once. It’s all sorted out and a get my vouchers and I’m still leading overall by 1 minute 1 second. The location of the night stage has been moved because of the weather it’s now a 3km ride away then straight up a fire road for 1km a technical (wet) descent through a small river crossing and back to the start on another fire road. I go as hard as I can on the climb then hang on for dear life coming down overtaking loads of people on the way up but as we’ve started in a completely random order I’ve no way of knowing if I’m overtaking the fast boys or someone who just arrived at the start early don’t get held up or crash so hopes are high for a decent placing.

Night Stage
Day 3
Time for breakfast then its prizes for last night’s stage and the overall standings. I’ve done enough for the stage win beating the second place vet by 33 seconds so my overall lead is 1 minute 39 seconds. Today’s special stages are quite short so hopefully... We were supposed to be doing Saturday’s ride today which was looking like a good one 85k over to the east and back west via the infamous splashes a good 4x4 track with multiple crossings of the river Towi. But there’s the trouble the river is too high so another route has been hastily put together and we’re going back into Crychan forest a bit further south this time as it turns out and we re-ride very few of yesterday’s tracks. At least I think so it all looks very familiar maybe we did some bits in the opposite direction. After not enough km it’s the 1st special stage and really good one too. It starts off on a fire road climb but we quickly turn off that and deep into the woods for some very Peak District like rocky narrow singletrack preceded by some rooty drop offs. I make a bit of a meal of the drops but get a good run down the rocky bit and after about 3 minute stage 5 is over. It doesn’t seem like we’ve been going for more than another 20 minutes when there a car parked up and another timing mat to cross, it’s the start of the last special stage. The briefing is “It’s 500m long, down, flat then up” Less than two and a half minutes later it’s over, he was right about the length but forgot to mention that the flat bit was mostly underwater but charging through puddles at least lets the guy in front know you’re coming through. At nice break along some back roads and we stop for lunch under a bus shelter in Cynghordy then some more back lane and under the impressive Cynghordy railway viaduct. I have one of those déjà vu moments it’s one of the climbs we did last year a real stinker which I walked up last year. Not going to be defeated this time and ride the lot and even pass the eventual winner in the open men’s cat while he’s pushing up the steepest bit. He’s soon back on his bike and is past me and away in the distance along what seems like a never ending fire road climb. We don’t really get a good pay off for the climb as the drop back down to the A483 stays on fire road, it’s fast but not very challenging. A few miles along the main road and I’m back at camp though for some reason I thought I was going south towards the finish and not north this is despite me having a GPS on my bars telling me so, I wondered why nothing looked familiar. While we wait for everyone to get back and the final numbers to be crunched there’s time to relax, clean the bike and body again and pack stuff into the car. By the time prize giving starts most people have gone and the winners in the stages for today and the overall contenders are just applauding each other. In the first of today’s stages there had to be some extra number crunching done for my cat. The winner (not me) was clear by 10 seconds but the next 3 all showed the same time of 3 minutes 19 seconds. With the hundredths of seconds included I got second place. Then for the last stage it was third for me but again it was all very tight with the stage being so short the first place guy was only 7 seconds up on me. Then the overall positions were announced I hoped to have not lost enough time to slip out of first place given short timed sections today but it was still a nervous wait as third and second place were announced. But I did it by 1 minute 32 seconds and retained the Vets cat title even if it wasn’t quite the event it was last year or even the event that had been planned to take place this year.

I came away with a cheque for £150 for the overall win, vouchers worth £340, two bottles of spray quality Italian Champagne and a whole bag full of wet dirty clothes.

  Report by Paul Whittaker