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I have ridden in Wales a number of times over the years at trail centres, and I have only ever raced at Margam Park so I was looking forward to riding somewhere new. Fforest fields is just down the road from Bulith Wells and only just over the border.

I arrived late Friday afternoon and as usual for my trips to Wales, blazing sunshine. I pulled into the camp site and pitched my tent and sorted all my gear out. As usual for arriving on a Friday it was still fairly quiet. I decided to have some food and then head out for a walk on the course. The course is all on private farm land so was not sure what to expect. As I left the arena and followed the signs the course immediately pointed upwards, it kept climbing and climbing until I was able to look over the starting arena. I thought this was the end of the climb but as I continued on my walk I turned left and yet more climbing! Once I had reached the top the course then drops into the woods and what seems more like a full on downhill course run than an XC race loop!! This was going to be a technical course! Once the wood section was complete there was a nice gentle fire road descent followed by more climbing and another DH section of tricky descents and flowing single-track. Once this was finished it was open single track and a small fire road climb back to the arena.

A lot to take in and I spent the rest of the evening looking at some pictures I had taken of the most tricky areas that I felt I would be technically weak on just trying to work out what line would be best in terms of line choice.

The following day I headed out for my practice laps the first climb is long and the gradient is constantly changing making it very difficult to stay constantly smooth. At the top I checked the Garmin... 110m of climbing in just over half a mile!! As usual I took my first lap slow to really check out the technical lines on the descents. By the end of the lap the Garmin showed nearly 250m of climbing!!! This was going to be one tough race.

Race day and I was gridded on the third row... the whistle went and everyone accelerated hard. The start line winds gently uphill and a few riders in front were struggling with starting off in the wrong gear, I was able to jump a few places and then dive up the inside line for left hand turn that takes us back on ourselves and up to the first climb. As people tried to get the power down on the climb there was a bunching affect and everyone was looking for some space to try and make progress, I lost some places but didn’t panic. As I headed into the wood I had been able to recover from the climb a bit quicker than some of the guys in front and I put a squirt in to take some places back and also get some free space into the single-track descent. As we headed onto the next climb I caught up a group of riders and started trying to pick them off one by one up the climb. As I passed the last one another rider came flying past us all, I jumped on to his wheel and followed. He dropped me in the next technical section, this guy was quick! He catches up with another group in front but gets caught at the back off the group when there is a crash ahead. I catch the group and pass the guy that has gone down.

I finish the lap with a small group and push on, I began to fall back on the climb but kept the group in sight. On the second climb I’m caught by a rider from behind and we push on together, as we reached the summit I pushed a bit harder to try to get the lead into the single-track, but he had the same idea and a bit more of a kick and he won the battle. I follow him to the end of the lap.

My third lap saw me drop a lot of time for no real reason, I’m guessing fatigue that built up from racing the weekend before and riding at the Newport Velodrome midweek, but I was struggling a bit; I had lost the group in front I was chasing and buy the end of the lap had drooped a place. Heading into the last lap I gave it my all, I pushed and pushed for the whole lap and on the last descent I saw a rider in front, he had dropped from the group I was chasing, I had was going to have him! I pushed through the last bit of open single-track and as we approached the last little fire-road climb I was only a few seconds behind, I hit the bottom of the climb hard, the rider looked back but he was running on empty by the top of the climb I was on his wheel and as we turned right onto the flat I went round him as we lapped one of the open cat riders. As we entered the drop into the arena I knew the guy would try and come round me and sure enough he did but he was blowing again I attacked up his left side and as the left hand bend appeared I was right up alongside him and braked late forcing him out wide, I was able to get straight on the power and sprinted the last 50m for the line and 24th position.

Not a bad result in the end. I was hoping for a top 20, and looking at the results if I had kept with the original group I fell away from then it may well have been possible. As much as I enjoyed the course I was never quite able to get into a great rhythm come race day. I think the problem was getting recovered from the climbs and going straight into the descents. I think it’s more of a mind thing than physical ability but it’s something to look into.

Chris 
RAF Cycling and BucksMTB Rider

 

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