Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dyfi Enduro: I must be the luckiest man alive

Star date: 4 May 2014
Location: Deepest daftest Wales
Event: Dyfi Enduro
Weapon of choice: Carbon 29er with way too many gears
Greatest achievement: Timely deployment of airbags
Greatest weakness: For once, excessive speed
Result: 20th

I haven't exercised much editorial control on this one,
so do feel free just to look at the pictures.

Last year my race effectively ended 20 feet into the first rocky descent. This year it effectively ended about 200 yards later. Oops.

Last year the cause was as mundane as a flat tyre. This year it was a pretty spectacular crash from which I was very lucky to limp away.

Last year I went on to cruise round with the weekend warriors. This year I was still among the fast boys and the whole thing was brutal.

Both years it was absolutely fantastic.

And my wife says I never look like I'm trying...
Great photo by St Peter Jones, co-organiser of the always enjoyable Dyfi Winter Warm Up (which uses some of the same trails, generally in a slightly moister setting - see my reports on 2014 and 2013) and roving marshal extraordinaire, who also found time not only to take hundreds of photos of the event but also to look after me following my crash and, half an hour later, catch me on the quadbike to check I was OK. And men can't multitask?

Learning from last year's mistakes (see here if you're really keen), I not only doubled up on tubes and tools (hoping Sod's law would mean I wouldn't need them - and I didn't) but also got to the start really early - like 40 minutes early - to make sure I didn't get stuck at the back again. Like at concerts where there are always these man-mountains with f***-off tattoos and disproportionately hot girlfriends who push through to the front just before the band come on, I did end up a couple of rows back once the pros arrived, but still in a good position.

The ride out to the forest behind the pace car was four miles of hell - constant testosterone-fuelled jockeying for position as 1,000 riders all tried to push through and get to the front for when we hit the forest. Like on a busy motorway, you leave a safe gap to the person in front and someone will pull into it. And if you don't leave a gap it just takes one clash of knobbly tyres when somebody misses a gear to send the whole set of dominos toppling over. Not my idea of fun at all - I much prefer mountain biking as a non-contact sport, it's hard enough coping with the terrain!

For once I didn't enjoy the first long fireroad climb either (although the bewigged shenanigans near the top helped). Sometimes climbing comes easy and sometimes it doesn't. This time it hurt. But I hit the top in around about 10th place and had loads of space for the first descent, which was fast, fun, dry and relatively easy, and I managed to hammer down it without mishap (see photo above).

This was followed by another big climb onto open moorland. It's lovely out there, all fantastic views and little bedrock ups and downs. The pain of the ascent forgotten, I was feeling good now as we headed back down again, my confidence boosted by my first stab at a gravity-style enduro event at round 1 of the Empire Cycles Enduro the previous weekend (report here). So it was that I launched myself down the descent with a sense of invincibility and a determination not to lose Gareth Jones ahead of me.

This first rocky downhill section of the day is one that will forever command my respect. It's not overly steep or uneven to start with, but last year it ripped my tyre in seconds. Putting this to the back of my mind I opted to test the theory of the faster, the better. The idea being that by the time a sharp bit of slate thinks about slicing through your tyre, you're long gone. And in that respect, speed was indeed my friend. No punctures this year!

Trouble is, my XC bike is not a slack-angled 180 mm full-susser like I borrowed for the gravity event. You tear over rocks at speed and it doesn't stay glued to the ground but skips around like a frisky lamb. As the track grew rougher, it became very clear that I was going too fast. With my new-found DH confidence, though, I managed to stay (relatively) relaxed, riding out a couple of nasty dips and regaining control. Result.

Only then it gets steeper. And I'm still going too fast. Apply brakes. Nothing. I'm not spending enough time on the ground for them to work. Instead I start to accelerate under the pull of gravity. Help, what do I do now? I remember telling myself out loud to drop my heels, get my weight back, drive the bike into the ground. Only the ground is now all flat, loose stones. The bike just skids over most of them, and when the tyres do bite they simply send the top layer of stones skittering over those below.

By now I'm officially bricking it. I'm out of control. I can't slow down. It's getting very bumpy. But wait, there's a corner coming up, maybe I can use the bank to scrub off speed. Yeah, if I was Gee Atherton. But even as I grab at this hint of an impression of a straw, I suddenly realise with horror that I'm never going to make it that far. I'm closing on Gareth Jones at an alarming rate and will almost certainly smack into the back of him first.

I hear this primal scream: SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII!!! (It never gets as far as the T.) It appears to be coming from my mouth. Part warning cry, part plea for divine intervention. I'm long past the relaxed stage now, I'm tense as piano wire, my body position all wrong, and the bike has turned into a bucking broncho. The front wheel slams into a dip, I fly forward over the bars.

At which point things often go into slow motion. And on this occasion it would probably have been in order for my whole life to flash before me. Only there isn't time. I just go BANG!

But here's the cool bit. My feet are still clipped into the pedals and pull the bike over the top of me as I somersault forward, before releasing the bike and launching it like a Scud missile - straight into the back of Gareth. A bit like this:

Top skills all round! Not only a breathtakingly audacious attempt to take out one of your main rivals for the crown of "Second Fastest XC Racer in Ceredigion behind Gareth Payne", but the perfect soft landing for all that shiny XTR bling on your newish bike. Talk about a double whammy. It's a tragedy nobody managed to capture my effort on film for posterity.

Meanwhile I'm lying in the foetal position right across the trail feeling somewhat discombobulated. A marshal scuttles over and shouts "Don't move!" I have an idea where he's coming from - you go over the bars at over 20 mph on a rocky descent and a spinal injury is a distinct possibility - but oxymoronically I don't feel paralysed. I'm more concerned about lying in the path of 1,000 onrushing riders, and rather than put their bunnyhopping skills to the test I crawl off the line for a little sit down.

Time to count how many fingers, have a nice sweet cup of tea, that kind of thing. I'm a little dazed to be sure, my back feels grated, but... basically I'm OK. So after a minute or two I untwist the bars, hop back on the bike and carry on. Gingerly.

The post-event shirt-off post-mortem reveals (other than what looks suspiciously like a bullet hole) that I managed to land on nature's airbags, the only soft bit on the body that won't snap in a high-speed rocky impact (yes, my arse), before skidding along a bit, roughing up my back and shoulder, and generally having a very lucky escape.

The only downside of landing on my backside was an element of numbness/malfunction in the right leg. Fellow XC racer Alan Colville had a run-in with a lorry a few years ago which resulted in him losing part of one buttock - he blogs as the half-arsed racer (you gotta love it!) - and he had to relearn pedalling a bike. I may now have a vague inkling of what he went through. For the rest of the race I felt like I had wonky wheels on the right-hand pedal stroke. This may also explain why I was battling with cramp from about half-way through. And I hate cramp. Well, everyone hates cramp. But I wouldn't normally have problems so early on. This in turn meant that I couldn't stand up on the climbs like I usually do, so I had to sit down, robbing me of any real power.

So, let's take stock. Overcrowded road section, painful climb, big crash, cramp. You're probably wondering how I managed to enjoy myself. Well, this is the Dyfi, the stuff of legend, must-do bucket-list event famed for its relaxed vibe and zany entertainment (including on this occasion a brass band deep in the forest and all manner of random camp nuttiness elsewhere). It's far from perfect, though. For a start, there are way too many riders - and this year the organisers let in an extra couple of hundred due to a computer error, when really they should have been looking at congestion charging. Let's do the math(s): even at get-outta-my-space 10-second intervals you're looking at three hours to get 1,000 riders down the first descent. So unless you have the fitness to get a wriggle on up that first big hill, the early descents are going to be all Alton Towers - endless queuing for just a couple of minutes of regimented fun liable to be spoilt by the other sardines crammed in all around you. Surely an event like this should be akin to cruising down an empty Route 66 in an open-top Mustang, not taking your Yank-tank for a lap of the M25 in rush hour. And don't get me started on the fireroad climbs - fireroad climb after fireroad climb after fireroad climb, it's the ultimate fireroad hillfest.

And yet... And yet...

Well, it's all about the descents, innit?

Oh, the descents. O... M... G...

There's rocky and there's puddly and there's flowy and there's scary. Proper nowt-taken-out descents, techy or fast or both. No prisoners taken. I've always had a thing for Goshawk, a fun technical climb leading into a swoopy rollercoaster descent that goes on forever - and then some. And of course there's the steep and exposed rough bedrock ridge of the infamous World Cup, not to mention the smoother slipperier rock of Caban Coch just before it. And my new favourite: a short, easy section that doesn't even have a name but where you clatter over these big flat rounded stones that make this amazing racket, clinking and clunking away like a million broken dinnerplates (Greek Alley anyone?). Pure magic.

The good, the bad and the ugly - carnage on the Caban Coch descent. I made a hash of this bit myself, although I didn't fall off and luckily there was nobody there to see it. 
Great video courtesy of Shem Llewellyn.

Right, time for bed, said Zebedee. Anyone making it this far will probably assume that the title of this piece refers to the crash. To some extent it does, but actually it's stumbling into mountain biking and getting to ride the Dyfi (rather than spending the day down B&Q or watching telly) that makes me the luckiest man alive. And long may it continue!

And for the record:

Gareth Jones wasn't hurt and didn't come off his bike despite my best efforts. In fact he didn't even stop - until struck by a couple of punctures later on which enabled me to pip him to the post - ha! However, the title of "Second Fastest XC Racer in Ceredigion behind Gareth Payne" went to Dylan Stephens on this occasion. Amazingly the three of us finished within one minute of each other in 19th, 20th and 21st places. We could see Dylan up ahead on the final painful, interminable climb that was the surprise sting in the tail after the free bar, but just couldn't close the gap. Gareth Payne finished seven minutes ahead in 10th. The winning time is astonishing, even for a pro.

I missed a sign half a mile from the end (I blame the concussion) and went shooting down the Builth descent rather than a new muddy descent through the trees, thus cutting out a couple of minutes and officially finishing 14th. Oops. I was 20th really. Either way I'm pretty pleased with that, especially in the circumstances. But ultimately I don't care about the result. It was all about the journey, man.

1 Dan Evans 2hr 35min 52sec
2 Neal Crampton 2hr 40min 29sec
3 Sean Grosvenor 2hr 45min 5sec
4 Phil Holwell 2hr 45min 50sec
5 Nic Smith 2hr 46min 29sec
6 Tom Ward 2hr 50min 38sec
7 Scot Easter 2hr 51min 6sec
8 Jon Roberts 2hr 51min 53sec
9 James Thompson 2hr 52min 25sec
10 Gareth Payne 2hr 53min 39sec
11 Mark  Fidller 2hr 54min 57sec
12 Chris Metcalfe 2hr 56min 5sec
13 Ian Palmer 2hr 59min 5sec
14 Chris Schroder 2hr 59min 12sec
15 James  Green 2hr 59min 21sec
16 Dafydd Roberts 2hr 59min 46sec
17 John Buchan 3hr 0min 19sec
18 Huw Thomas 3hr 0min 39sec
19 Russell Hall 3hr 0min 59sec
20 Dylan Stephens 3hr 1min 16sec
21 Gareth Jones 3hr 2min 16sec
22 Daniel Godwin 3hr 3min 16sec
23 robert jones 3hr 3min 45sec
24 Aled Roberts 3hr 4min 5sec
25 Matthew Jones 3hr 5min 53sec
26 Rich Holmes 3hr 8min 39sec
27 Matt Mountford 3hr 9min 0sec
28 rashad sadat 3hr 9min 5sec
29 Ben Gadley 3hr 9min 36sec
30 Mike Harper 3hr 11min 35sec



  1. Great review of the Dyfi. ...nothing wrong with fire road climbs, its my preferred method of climbing, (Must be a Dyfi valley thing)

  2. what a great way of spending a sunday ive done the last 2 & unless iam no longer ere I will be there next year ! great story