5 day endurance mountain bike race, covering over 200 kilometres of the South Wales mountains and valleys, ascending over 6000 meters.
Well.. here it is, my very own website. A HUGE thank you goes to my wonderful Aunty Max for helping me set it up.
We had to post something, so I searched through my Sealskinz blogs to see what I had.. I decided to re-posted my story about Epic Cymru; this was quite the adventure and with my brother by my side..
August 2015- We didn’t really know what we’d been signed up for, and hadn’t ridden any of the tracks before. I knew it would be hard and I was looking at it as a riding boot camp. I also knew there were timed sections purely aimed at the enduro/downhill rider, these were titled ‘Trail King/Queen’ stages. This is what Joel and I are good at, so our focus for the week was not in the over all time but for the Trail King (TK) stages.
Saturday was the introduction to the event. Everyone had individual start times and there was a short 10km loop we all thrashed round. Joel managed to do a quick practice, he came back and I thought he was about to cry. He just kept saying how horrible it was, It was basically a cross country loop. Even the TK section had massive amounts of climbing within it. Joel’s super fit and got the skillz to pay da billz, Joel recently won a local event we do called the Batch Burner; It’s 50km all over the Longmynd, with 4 big climbs and 4 descents. I’m just trying to paint a picture.. But after the prologue Joel was in 2nd place for TK but already 50seconds back. He was battling against Rob Williams, a local enduro whippet, and the fact he put that much time in to Joel showed how physical it was.. Rather than technical.
During practice I was getting my bike sorted so raced it blind. I knew 10k wasn’t far so pushed myself. Almost instantly a girl had come off in front of me, I helped her stand up and just pointed her back to the start, she was literally meters into the course and didn’t want to continue. I carried on up the climb, as we started descending my smile widened.. Although there was now a big build up of traffic. Another girl fell off right in front of me and into the bush, it was as if she’d never crashed before, I knew she was ok, it was one of those slow motion crashes into a pillowed bush, but she still lay there “stuck”. I helped her up and again carried on. The course was hard, extremely physical, but I’d zoned out and was enjoying the pain. Reaching the summit was the start of the TK, I caught my breath for a minute and then powered on. It was wicked fun, but I was glad I was prepared for the climbs. All of a sudden my pedals just stopped, they were jammed with fern and bracken, I tried back pedalling, but it was making it worse. My rear mech rammed itself into the cassette and wouldn’t move at all. I jumped off the bike and eventually managed to sort it and carry on to the finish. With all that I’d finished 8th and over a minute back. Is that a taster of the week to come?.. We were both pretty deflated.
Stage ONE (day two)
Now if I’m honest, the day’s blended into what felt like a month of continuous riding.
Although I do remember after missing the mass start, Joel and I basically rode on our own only crossing a handful of people. The novelty was exciting, “I’m just on a riding boot camp with my bro”.. Stoked! It also meant that when we got to the timed descents we had a clear run. After the prologue taster we knew there was no point in pushing ourselves on the timed climbing sections.. Most of the competitors seemed to get the memo and were Lycra’d up with their carbon hardtails. (Ok, I don’t think I’ve explained how this works yet, it took a while before I knew what was happening. Basically everyday we do a loop between 50-60km, this loop isn’t timed, everyone starts at the same time and there’s no cut off point. However, within the loop there are timed sections, about 4 a day, 2 climbs and 2-3 descents. You have an overall time, combining all timed sections, and you also have a Trail King time. It’s like the Tour De France, there’s the overall leader wearing his yellow jersey, and then the King of the Mountain wears his polkadot Jersey).
So me and Joel were aiming for the “Polkadot Jersey”. After day 2 Joel had won both TK’s and gained a good amount of time, now only 14 seconds back, he was back in the game. I also managed to gain a couple of places. We finished all timed sections still with 20km of riding left, safe to say the climbs started to get very boring.
Stage TWO (day three)
Today we start again from Margam Park, but finish in Aberdare. So we gathered our things and took them to the bag drop area, hoping they’d be at the finish when we eventually got there too. It was another long day, think we spent 7 hours on the bike, my butt felt like it was on fire. Just over half way round were feed stations, filled with beautiful homemade cakes and flapjacks, but me and my blimin’ dairy freeness couldn’t have anything, and all of the bananas had gone, I was gutted. I could really do with some fuel about now and there’s over 20km left to go. There’s only so many gels you can consume, I was reaching my limit. Thankfully the marshals and medics were amazing and started pulling food out of their own lunch-boxes that I could eat. You guys saved me that day.
Just after the feed station was a timed climb, this climb was ridiculous, 13km of constant ascending, it took us up one of the downhill tracks.. At this point I was desperate for some downhill action, this was taking the biscuit. We saved our energy and walked most of it. The TK sections were real pedally but good fun. I came 2nd on the first TK section and still had gas in the tank. The final TK finished at the venue in Aberdare. I was going for it, the track was good fun, with of course a 2 minute plus fiery climb in the middle. The descent was a real fast, extremely rocky road. I got half way down and had a flat! I was gutted, I knew I was going well and I was clawing my way up the ranking for the Trail Queen.. But now that was out the window. I used my emergency C02 canister filled with sealant, but the tear was too big, not knowing the track I didn’t know how far the finish was, could I just run it, or should I just do it properly and put in a tube. luckily Jamie the sweeping marshal (who we’d become good friends with) came down and helped me put a tube on, I got to the finish very deflated, but Joel had come through and smashed the stage. One of the medics described his experience of watching Joel come through the finish line, as being genuinely more terrifying than being charged by a hippo. (Which actually happened to him in South Africa) I went straight over to WTB tires to see if they could help me out. They were amazing and gave me a ‘trail boss’ for the rear and a ‘break out’ for the front. Couldn’t wait to see how they’d hold up for day 4.. The day for the downhillers apparently.
Stage THREE (day four)
We were looking forward to today, it’s been bigged up as the trail King day, using proper descents and old school downhill tracks and with 3 timed Trail King sections. It was a scorcher of a day, after riding the first climb and then the first TK I was PSYCHED!! The track was so much fun, it was in Bike Park Wales, which I’ve never ridden before, but will return. They sent us down a handful of tracks in one, finishing on Rim Dinger, we were warned to be careful on that one, It’s got it’s name for a reason. However, our WTB’s were solid, I felt confident the entire way down and went for it. I knew I’d ridden well and later received a text from Ben from Bird, who was watching the live times and said I’d won by 18seconds.. Boom!! The finish of the first descent lead us very nicely to Bike Park Wales cafe just in time for lunch, we’d made some lovely friends at this point, Pete and Hugo, so for the first time all week we actually had lunch. After a leisurely 45 minute stop, we continued to the second TK section, they sent us back up to the top of Bike Park Wales, then traversed across to Mountain Ash. This used to be raced on as a downhill track a few years back, before I’d started biking unfortunately. Dropping in to it blind I instantly fell in love, it was fast and fun! I made a few mistakes not knowing the track, coming off the track a handful of times but I was still loving it. This is what I thought the Trail King was going to be like all week, at least it was making up for it today. Coming through the finish I had the biggest smile! Not far behind me was Joel who came storming through like a hippo. Almost instantly I heard my phone go off, Ben had text me the results, nervous to look, but I had to! We’d both won the stage!! Chidleys for the win! We were stoked. We trucked up to the final stage with 20 odd km left to go. They sent us via the main road for a while, but this is the steepest road any of us had ridden, we were having to zigzag our way up. Then there was a loooong, tedious fire road climb which eventually brought us to the top of the descent we’d finished on yesterday (where I got my puncture). So today was hopefully redemption time, I knew I could’ve done well yesterday and it went out the window along with the overall. So for me it’s about the individual TK sections.. Would be rad to get Trail Queen for all 3 descents today..
Pushing myself on the climb, I’d forgotten how long the climb actually was.. This is a killer to race, it’s at the end of a 55km loop and now we’re gunning it to the finish. I got to the same point where I’d punctured the day before and it was all good, I smiled and went hard for the last bit, I knew it was downhill at this point. I came through the finish significantly faster than the day before and with a huge smile.
I waited for Joel to come through (he liked me to go first, so if something went wrong in my run, he could come back up and help me, he’s the best brother and team mate).
And then I got to whiteness what the medic was on about.. He came charging through the finish line with a thick trail of dust following him, looking like he actually had an engine on the bike blowing out smoke, I’ve no idea how he can physically go that fast. He couldn’t stop in the finish area, luckily people were sharp and moved out the way.. Because he couldn’t stop. Apparently on the previous day a man walked up the track with his dog, saw Joel charging towards him and just threw his dog in the bush. Then timidly asked if anyone else was coming down, luckily it was just me left, and after my puncture it was a very deflated finish. I’d managed to find another source of energy, I’d won that stage too, but that final descent/sprint climb had completely ruined Joel, he had nothing left. Thankfully the catering team had saved us some biscuits, I couldn’t eat any, but Joel had a tray stacked of biscuits, a plate full of mini donuts, a Welsh cake and a Swiss roll.. He didn’t put much of a dent in to it, but it was quite a site to see Joel collapsed surrounded by copious amounts of biscuits and cakes. This was the last night everyone would spend together, tomorrow is the last day of racing then we’re booking it home. The event organisers had a local band booked, they were awesome. It was a shame because everyone was so tired, the band played their first set before prize giving and spot prizes, which forced people to keep their eyes open a little longer. I’d won all 3 Trail King stages, so was called up for the podium 3 times, if people hadn’t seen me, they certainly knew about me now. Joel won one too, he was a close second on the other 2. But we still got to stand on the podium together representing the Chidleys, Sealskinz and Bird.
STAGE FOUR (Day Five)
During riders briefing we quickly realised it was another torturous day. Two TK sections, and the final descent had a 2km climb in it. Joel knew he didn’t stand a chance against the whippet with a 2km climb, so we went out to enjoy the last day. As soon as we woke up it started pouring, it didn’t stop all day. We packed our things away in the rain, and waited to start.
We rode with Pete and Hugo again, before we’d even reached the first summit my teeth were chattering, my hands were so cold I was struggling to grip the bars. I thought to myself I don’t know if I can actually finish today, we’re not even 10km in and I’m struggling. I didn’t say this out loud and pushed through it. We had our first descent which started with a few kilometres of flat pedalling, I was pooped and didn’t have the power or energy for this. The last section was downhill, but nothing technical. Struggling to hold on to the bars I didn’t think I’d done well, but turned out I was only 0.4 seconds from 1st. We hadn’t even done 20km of our 50 and I was shivering uncontrollably. We were at the feed station and a bit of a mess. The medics were worried and offered the warm jeep to get ourselves warmed up, but I knew if I got in the jeep I wouldn’t be getting out. Thankfully one of the emergency items we had to have was a survival blanket. So we made them in to ponchos and wore them under our “waterproofs”. It was the best idea ever! I genuinely don’t know if I’d been able to carry on if it wasn’t for that.
So with our blankets tucked in we carried on through the rain. We had 2 long climbs to do before reaching the last “descent”.
As we made our way up the final fire road, Matt our new medic friend came running after us, he was shouting “don’t stop, don’t stop, I’ll catch you up” once he reached us he held out a banana for me and a chocolate bar for Joel! What a legend!
Finally we made it to the last descent of the epic 5 day endurance race! I didn’t feel tired anymore, I had another burst of energy just excited we were actually about to finish. I went ahead of Joel and pushed through the horrendous 2 km climb, just when I thought it levelled out and descended there was a short steep climb. I rode it out whilst screaming and then a nice steep bit to finish with. That “descent” was exhausting! Joel stormed over the finish. Both knackered we had a big hug of relief and made our way to the official finish at the arena. The finish was very dramatic in the stormy rain overlooked by a massive castle, but then my eyes were drawn to someone stood on the side off the track.. I was starring at him for ages, as I got closer I realised it was my Dad. Our parents had come to surprise us, exhausted and stoked we’d finished, it’s safe to say a few tears were uncontrollably shed, Joels alright now.. Jokes 😉
The event organisers were at the finish with huge smiles too, they’ve done an amazing job sorting out this event, Joel and I were proud to be a part of it. It pushed us both to our limits with some wicked riding.
Which brings me to one of my favourite sayings “It doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun!” This week was brutal, but so much fun! I couldn’t of had a better ridding partner than my brother and to both be representing such fantastic sponsors Sealskinz and Bird Cycleworks is the cherry on the cake.
Joel had gained time and lost it again, then gained some more. Which after an hour of descending over 5 days he finished in 2nd place only 47 seconds back!
I was out of the overall the day I got my puncture, so hadn’t even looked at the results till a few days after the event. I was stoked to see I’d actually still finished 7th. Which was also annoying to see if the puncture hadn’t of happened I would’ve also come 2nd.. But I didn’t, that’s just the way she goes. I rode well, got 3 Trail Queen titles and was surprisingly a close second in a lot of the pedally TK stages. I came 2nd on the very final descent, just 8 seconds back with that horrendous 2 km climb, we were both stoked!
We’d like to say a massive thank you to Matt Page for organising the event. The medics and marshals were outstanding, WTB tires and Squirt Lube were a huge support throughout the week. And of course we couldn’t of raced without the support from Sealskinz and Bird Cycleworks. Bird were a great sponsor for the event, not just helping myself and Joel, but anyone else who needed help with their bikes.
We’re looking forward to next years EPIC #epicchidley #epiccymru
See you out there,