A year goes by so fast nowadays, they say it gets faster the older you get, proof I’m getting a bit long in the tooth I suppose, as the 2013 Dyfi round seemed like five minutes ago. This is one hell of a loop, probably the toughest one on the UKGE race calendar, with it’s relentless long fire-road climbs and gnarly sharp-rocked stages, these rocks eat tyres like some kind of evil recycling machine. Last year’s stages consisted mostly of the above, without too much variant on terrain, except the fantastic grassy top gear spinning stage 5. In 2014 the UKGE crew had been busy, real busy, as there was lots more off-piste gnarly shit going down, to put the fear into the heart of many a rider.
Last year the whole weekend was wet and crappy, this weekend was set to be mixed, well it is Wales after all! The Buchanan clan arrived Friday morning, quick change and off I went to do the loop with great mate and fellow Intense/Blazing Bikes rider- Coop. We had both been training pretty hard ready for this one, Coop especially, he had dropped an amazing 1 ¾ stone (11kg) in the three weeks prior to the event and was like a primed hunting dog. The day was pretty nice in the weather department, giving us maximum sweatage for the long climbs, transitions ranging from 35 to 50 minutes of uphill grinds.
This was much the same as the previous year, but last year’s stage 1 times were null and void after a nasty crash and hold-up at the top. The top section of steep rooty single-track rode so much better this year, but was still pretty tough to get round, especially the sharpest of bike stopping turns at the top. Wind your way down the snotty stuff and you joined the wider motorcycle tracks for the next ¾ of the stage, the beginning of which was a long flat then slightly uphill hard-pack pedal fest, draining the energy of the fittest of riders. As it became gravity boosted this section then became the gnarliest part of the whole weekend, as fast as you dared go down and over the water filled holes created by years of motorcycle racing, some could be doubled up by the bravest of riders, each of which trying to buck the bike with the severity and sheer pace of the ride. This part (especially with a half face helmet on) was a real heart in mouth affair (a rider clocked 43 MPH (69KPH) on that section last year! It then shot off into more natural loam/root twisty terrain through the forest to the bottom.
The top of this was more of the fresh cut forest stuff, tight and twisty, but quite flowing, out of here into more fast open stoney whooped out motorbike tracks. It veered off the stone to a bit of a root-fest single track through the trees to finish with a drop down onto the fire-road. Coop was hauling ass down these tracks, brimming with confidence, I was scared and at the outskirts of my skills level trying to keep up with this aggressive Welsh Bulldog of a rider.
On the transition to this stage you did a big long uphill for ages, to go down into the valley (all fire-road) then have to go up again for a hell of a slog over to the top of stage 3. This was held on the local bike-park type track called ‘Cli-machx’ as used last year, but this time they had cut out the bullshit open muddy road at the bottom and added some proper gnar at the top. This top bit was real fresh-cut soil and roots with some nasty steep drops and evil catch berms to keep you on your toes, the slop took out many a rider as the weekend went on. The final part of this snotty top section saw Coop have a huge over-the-bars, he was shaken but not stirred! The bike-park section was still very enjoyable, a bit pedaly and seemed to go on for quite some time till you hit the final section ready for the next long slog up to the start of the next stage.
This was the one that got all the riders chomping on the bit, the tricky one, the one that tested riders skills, it always seems to be stage 4 at all the races! A quick blast off down a straight stoney quad track (like last year) but all of a sudden you were on the brakes big time to hook a right over a bus stop then back down crossing the quad track where the real test began. Things then got steep, straight into slick natural rutted tight turns through the trees and undergrowth. Due to the dampness of the soil these remained tricky and tough to keep the bike in the right ruts. Coop was hauling these bits leaving me in the wake of his mud, I knew this was going to be the bit riders struggled on, especially the steep exit out onto the fire-road. A short blast along then down the fire-rood and it was back into another section of natural wood used last year, then a veer off the fast section to more tough fresh cut stuff, much like the previous section. Unfortunately for Coop he ripped his mech clean off his Tracer down this stage and his pedaling was over for the day, it was great for me, as it meant I could finally ride faster than him, just about!
STAGE 5 (QUALI TRACK)
It took us a fair while to reach the top of this open hill, Coop decided to ride it chain-less and walking up the transition prior, we were in no rush we just chilled our way up talking shit the whole time, Coop hoping Shimano were to be present over the weekend. The weird thing about Dyfi is that during most of the riding there are hardly any views, just that of the surrounding forest, but when we finally reached the high open fields looking down to the race village way below the surrounding area was stunning. No wonder Dan Atherton has moved there, it was great to think he was going to race this event too, hopefully re-connecting with the UK Enduro racers after his comments on his previous UKGE race back in the start of 2013 after Afan.
This stage was so different from the rest, flat out grassy fields with big drops and mounds to ping off and test the stiffest of suspension set-ups. We sectioned it at first, especially trying to clear the big bowl drop near the top, it was so much fun, definitely my favorite stage, I was keeping up with Coop on here, even catching him on some of the grassy corners with the aid of the Baron tyres plus the big grip and rolling speed of the 29er Enve wheels, my confidence was at full power! Half way down before the arena a great spectator section had been added where it got steep, rough and off-camber, then it was down to the finish, through the now familiar site of the finish-line Enve/Smith massive blow-up gazebo.
By now most of the factory looking stalls were set up in the race village, no Sram, but fortunately for Coop Shimano were there and kindly fitted his bike out with a new Zee mech, cheers guys. Doc was now present and so was his Focus electric bike. It was amazing to see the look of disgust on people’s faces turn to a un-stoppable grin from anyone who had a go on it, so much fun!
DAY 2, QUALI TIME
Come Saturday morning and the place was buzzing, two camping fields full of excited racers, dying to get on their pride and joys and blast the Welsh terrain. No rush for us in the morning, as I had done the 33 k loop the previous day. Whilst having my brecky Dan Atherton came over, bike fitted with the most aggressive looking Conti mud tyres front and rear for his early morning practice, a bit of mutual piss-take as ever and he was off, looking factory in that distinct yellow and white kit. I awaited Coop and we hit the transition around 10.30, to blast the top half of stage 2 and a couple of sectioned runs of stage 5. The weather was still good and the grass was drying out nicely from the night’s dew. The top of stage 2 had held up well throughout the day and rode even better, so we pushed up and blasted stage 5 a few times, just having fun, we were both really on for the qualifying, excited.
After the usual wait and mince around I headed up the proper transition to the quali stage. At the top there was a 15 minute delay as the timing bar was fixed, this meant loads of the other racers ended up gathering at the top, all crowding round the top parts of the track to watch other riders as they went off. I went off in pure attack mode, determined to nail the drop gap, but never counted on what would happen on the first dropping right hand bumpy corner. I went too wide, jumped and landed on the outer side of a bump at full chat. The front tyre folded and the next thing I knew I was seeing stars. Everyone had seen my big face-plant up top, my bars were twisted, as was my seat, I picked up my peak and whilst seeing stars loosely sorted out the cockpit and saddle whilst trying to get my head straight, as two riders came past. Gutted and angry I cracked on, my blood boiling. At this point I thought it had started raining, but no, it turned out to be a big nose bleed and claret was covering me and the bike all the way down, the looks I got at the bottom were just classic, the damage was done, I had lost a whole minute, BOLLOX!
After cleaning myself up and explaining constantly to people what had happened I went on up to the spectator spot to watch the Seniors and Pros come through. This lot were nailing it, some scared me, but others were pure impressive. Out of the Pros, some unusual lines were taken, like that of Leon Rosser straight lining the lot in a brave move, Donny seeming glued to the ground and Atherton just hit a small hump half way down and got enough lift to then clear the whole section, showing the difference between a top UK rider and a top World rider. We headed down to check out the times. Athy had unsurprisingly taken the top pro spot, with a 4 second lead on Phil Shucksmith and Donny 3 seconds behind Phil. Biggest surprise of qualifying was that of Junior rider Leigh Johnson, he won Juniors and posted 2nd fastest time, just 2 seconds behind Athy, WOW!
DAY 3, RACE TIME
During one of the times I awoke during the night with my family of four and two dogs stuffed in the back of the van it was seriously pissing down, I hoped this wasn’t set in for the following day. Fortunately on awaking the sky was bright, even though the ground was sodden, I was thankful the grass stage was the last one, giving the fresh green growth time to dry itself out. Considering my big ground kissing incident I felt fine, just a mild headache to start the day off. We were soon up in the start-off area for Steve Parr’s most pointless brief interview, as no one can hear it, surely he knows by now, GET SOME LOUDER SPEAKERS STEVE!
For me it was a very different day, as normally I am milling around near the front of the Vets pack, but with the nightmare qualifying I was near the back. It was great to ride all day with some different chaps, they didn’t take it quite as serious as the front-runners, but the banter and laughs were still the same. I spent most of the day riding with a fella doing his first Enduro on a borrowed bike, he was shitting it on the stages, but being a tri-athlete made me look un-fit on the climbs! The day went on and I had to do a fair bit of overtaking on the stages, never really getting held up, it was also good to be at the back of the Vets and hook up with mates at the front of Masters quite often, but I wasn’t into them watching me go off on every stage, talk about nerve racking! As I had crashed prior I had a nagging sensible voice slowing me down, I only silenced this annoying critic by stage 4, which I rode well.
I was soon at the top of Stage 5 again, ready to take revenge on it in attack mode. I ventured over to where I had crashed, ‘how could I have crashed on that’ I thought as I looked at it. I needed the pre-race run piss, so that was done on the spot where I went down, like a dog staking its’ claim to territory, this time it was mine! Off the line pinned, down the drop and I hit the corner (on the inside this time) I got round and heard the big cheer back up at the top by fellow riders, but as I hit the next bermed corner I realized I had made an amateur mistake. Low tyre pressures sometimes won’t be noticed on fire-roads and snotty DH sections, but when nailing flat-out dry grassy turns the optimum pressures are essential. At some stage during the day I must have burped both tyres and they were seriously low on air, so it was foot-out roll-over tyre time to nurse her in, the stage had defeated me, the gauge afterwards showed 11psi rear and 9.5 front, kinnel! I was chuffed in the end to have dragged it back from nearly last to 9th place, but without the minute balls-up and low tyres I’d have been floating around the 5th mark, I seriously need some UKGE luck soon!
Winners were Women- Claire Bennett, Under 18- Leigh Johnson, Grand Vets-Stephen Collins, Vets- Marcus Jones, Masters-Andrew Titley, Seniors-Ed Roberts, Elite Female- Helen Gaskell, Elite Male- Dan Atherton. Worth a mention were Donny in 2nd Elite with a big lead over Phil Shuksmith and cage fighter Leon Rosser with a very respectable 4th making the move over to Enduro. Our Coop managed 6th in Seniors, Vini pulled out a very commendable 2nd Juniors. Leigh Johnson would have been 6th in Elites, that lad’s going a long way! An amazing effort and highly commendable went to Andrew Weames who came in 11th in Masters riding no less than a Santa Cruz V10 full DH bike, he was exhausted but got round the whole thing on it!
Big thanks to UKGE crew for sorting some impressive tracks, even Athy said to me at the end it was pretty hard, now that’s a bit different to his reaction to Afan last year. These tracks are definitely getting rougher and tougher, which can only be a good thing.
Words Jim Buchanan
Pics Doc Ward, Jim Buchanan