Last weekend was the first round of the Welsh Gravity Enduro Series at Afan. This, along with my sacrificial smelting of an old 9 speed cassette, marked the beginning of the race season (season sounds cooler than year so I’m gonna stick with it).

I was really looking forward to this one. I’m a massive fan of Welsh trail centres and the structure of the race sounded interesting. The idea was that you can race each stage as many times as you like and then take your best time as your final result. This means if you messed up you got another chance. Considering the amount of mistakes or mechanicals i’ve had in my last few races, this sounded quite appealing. You could even keep an eye on your times and work out when it was quitting time by popping in to the cafe or checking online.

For this race I wanted to make sure I was fully prepared. The last race of 2015 was spoilt my by laziness and inability to properly check over my bike. I made sure everything was in working order, I put some training in and even watched some youtube videos of the trails before hand. The only thing that could ruin the race now was a crash, an emotional breakdown or a sudden realisation that my inflated perception of my riding skills are unfounded.

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Clean bike looking well enduro in a moody garage.

Note: I picked up a Mudhugger FR on the way to the race and popped that on. Those things are awesome!

I set off with a riding buddy on Saturday morning down to Afan with the aim to get at least one lap of the trail in before race day. The race details had been posted through so we checked through that and were confident we could get the 4 stages done in time. Four hours later we arrived in Afan. Once we said a teary goodbye to new close friend, the car heater system, we were physically (but not emotionally) ready to ride. As we begrudgingly received the first puddle in our loins, the car heaters’ warm breathy whispers were nothing more than a bittersweet reverie (please take that sentence as my entry to this years ‘most pretentious and contrived MTB metaphor’ awards).

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The photo shown when booking on to the race – Photo Credit WGES Facebook
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The sloppy photo of reality (also the name of my last family portrait) – Photo Credit @welshgravenduro Twitter Account

Genuinely, once you splashed and squelched up the first climb it really wasn’t that bad! We cruised up the hill and actually enjoyed the climb. We also managed to get in one run on each stage too. The course was brilliant. It was fast, flowy and even rocky in places. Definitely my idea of good riding. I summer visit is on the cards!

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Stage map for the day.

Come the morning of the race we felt well prepped and ready to have fun in the rain again. After registering, tagging up the bikes and applying our super aero number plates we managed to get out on the trails for 10:30am. There didn’t seem be a massive rush of people leaving the car park at this time but those who we saw were happy and excitable. Like fluffy enduro puppies who had just wee’d behind the curtains.

We decided to do the stages in order and go the Black Stage 1 first. This stage was full of berms and rollers. It was pretty smooth and flat out other than on tricky rock garden halfway down. I had a smooth run and was happy to tick this one off the list after getting down in 1min 34. Dale struggled to get clipped in on the start line and lost time so we were going had to revisit it.

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The wet transition to stage one was… wet.
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Artistic innit.

Stage 2 was next. This was a short rollercoaster of a run. A typical bermy trail centre descent where you had to let off the brakes and push as much as possible. Loads of rollers meant plenty of free speed through pumps and jumps too. It was a short stage at just over a minute and we were both happy with first run but went back up to give it another go just in case.

Up next was the longer, rockier and more peddaly stage three. This started with twisty bit of woodland singletrack with a few g-outs and fast berms. Before long you were out of the woods and into a pedally rock garden which preceded a few rock drops and a slab filled and fast paced hillside traverse. At just under two minutes it was enough to have you blowing by the end. Luckily we both had a good run at just under 2 minutes so this one was considered done too.

Stage 4 was going to be the most exhausting and technical of all the stages. At just under three minutes it was easily the longest stages of the day. This one had been the most chewed up too as it had a few muddy and slippery corners and was properly exposed to the weather. Once you had navigated through the queue and dodged the piles of abandoned enthusiasm, brought on by views of the cafe at the finish line, you were ready to roll into the last descent of the day.

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Dale clattering through the last rock roll before the last two switchbacks.

This section was fun! It started with a couple of chutes into swooping rocky turns followed by a couple of muddy switchbacks. The corners were muddy enough to swallow up a misplaced front wheel but luckily this didnt happen. After you had made it through the twists and turns it was another typical Welsh valley high speed hillside traverse with drops and catch berms. Finally, two tricky hairpins popped up before the finish. I crashed twice on these in practice but played it safe and held it together in the final run. 2min 57 on this run was enough for me to call it a day.

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The finish in site as Dale navigates the second to last turn of the day.

We rolled back to the cafe feeling like we’d given it our all and really enjoyed the event. I have always enjoyed the atmosphere and sociability of other enduro event I’ve done and this was no different. Friendly and chatty people all round in spite of the weather and the tracks were spot on! After a head to toe jet-wash of bike’s and bodies we chucked the bikes in the van grabbed a coffee and were happy with the day before we’d even checked the results. A 10th for me in Seniors, a 38th for Dale in Masters and caramel slice in my face hole finished the day off nicely. Looking forward to the next one!

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