We set off at a leisurely pace up the first fire road climb which turned out to be fairly long but pretty steady as we chatted on the way. At the top we headed down the short trail to the start of stage 1 to find things were not quite so dry under the trees. The stage was a bit damp and slippy in places but not bad. It was pretty much flat out type stuff with one little rooty section to negotiate and got a bit looser and stonier towards the bottom. There wasn't too much to worry about line choice wise; it was just going to be a case of how fast dare you let it go? As it turned out this was going to be the common theme for all the stages.

Stage 2 start

Another long fire road climb took us out of the forest and on to open hill sides towards stage 2. The views were stunning and we rested a while at the top before trying stage 2. This stage started with fast, steep fire road before turning into loose steps leading into two bermed switchbacks. After that there was some more fast, loose downhill before a long fire road (slight) climb to the finishing trail which was just mental, fast as you dare, loose slate. The last section was bloody good fun but I thought I'd be knackered from the pedal when I got to it in the race?

Beef recognised some of the trails from the Dyfi Dnduro he had done and knew stage 3 involved the "World Cup" trail. However we had to get to it first and this involved a long pedal up one of the most horribly surfaced fire roads I've had the pleasure to ride on! After we got off the fire road the last bit of the climb was actually quite a nice trail. Stage 3 was the "World Cup" trail with an extra bit before it. The first section was tricky due to the rock strata cutting across it diagonally, then there was a sharp left on to the trail Beef knew. This started out with an obvious line to a small jump and then things kept getting faster and steeper before a ninety degree turn onto the fire road to finish. The trail goes straight down the top of a ridge too and would be another test of nerve to ride flat out.

Stage 3

The next transition took us down hill to the bottom of the valley before we headed up again. This one was really long! When we got to the start of stage 4 we found the start to be somewhat of a contrast to the stuff we had ridden so far. It started with a steep chute straight off the fire road to a left turn (i.e. no run out!) and then some techy, freshly cut trail through a load of tree stumps and roots to another steep roll down to a stream. It then went steeply up some rocky terrain before resuming the more familiar pedally / flat out style trails we were now familiar with. Getting your gearing right would be crucial for the climb - or would it be quicker to run??

Steep start to stage 4

Stage 4 dumped us back out near the bottom of the first climb of the day so we knew what we had in store for most of the last climb. Once we had plodded up the fire road we turned off onto a muddy, damp trail that led up and out into fields for stage 5 / the seeding run.

We had timed all the transitions and made them easily at our steady pace except for the last one which seemed a bit tighter. Stage 5 turned out to be a bit different from the rest - it was grass all the way! Steep and off camber grass for the most part too! There were three drops at the top which we checked out before rolling down. About half way down we stopped and  worked out the best line through the hair pin - definitely "cutting it" in our opinion/tests. That was really the only place we had worried too much about lines all day. That didn't mean the course was rubbish though. Oh no! It was really good fun and was going to be super fast. The rest of the team were going to love this when they turned up on Saturday.

At the finish I checked the log on my GPS: 22.4 miles, over 5000 ft of climbing and we had been out for 4 and a half hours! I had already decided another full practice lap on Saturday wouldn't be a good idea! I texted Phil, Shakey, Mick and Stu the stats and fended off the "which bike" replies before saying bye to Beef and Danni and heading off for a well earned pint.

After a quiet night in Machynlleth I arrived at the race site on Saturday feeling pretty good. I got myself a coffee and relaxed in the sun while I waited for the lads to arrive. By the time they arrived and had finished the usual fruiting about we didn't really have time to do a full lap without killing ourselves so I proposed we do stages 4, 1 and 5 as a mini (still big enough!) practice loop.

We headed out and then immediately stopped as Mick's rear wheel had punctured. He headed back to the van and then eventually we used the map/GPS to short cut up to the top of stage 4. The steep start caused everyone to exchange looks then we all had a go and made various messes of it! I went in too fast and was off! At the bottom of the stage everyone was hyped up on the fast, fun finish and the discussions on lines, gears, technique etc started. Good racing discussion and banter all round.

Next we did stage 1. Near the top I had a bit of a chain snarl up. I feared my expenditure had not cured my problems from the previous round? However it had been fine all the day before? I'm not sure what was up but while I remedied it the rest of the lads nearly had a head on with some folk pushing back up the track, two abreast! They weren't amused with the fools. We plodded back up to the top of stage 1 via the more sensible fire road option and then headed for stage 5.

A quick blast down 5 put a smile on everyone's faces and then we chilled out and made use of the burger van while we waited for seeding. There appeared to be some confusion over at the tent where our seeding run times were supposed to be posted so Mick and I decided to just head up and wait at the top of the hill as it was such a nice day.

Soon enough the time came and riders started to be counted down and raced off down the hill. It's not usual to be able to see them for long but the open course meant all those waiting could watch them for quite a way. As I sat on my bike in the queue to start the guy about four riders in front of me crashed on the second drop with a sickening crunch! It didn't look good (I later found out he broke a rib and collar bone) and proper did my mojo for those first three drops! When my time came I took them nice and steady. I then sped up and forgot totally about the first bends over the brow! I stayed in the tapes (just) and then also cocked up an off camber bit further down between some trees despite knowing all about it! Oh well! Plenty of mistakes and not too fast like usual but I was down in one piece :-)

At the bottom we re-grouped and the banter commenced. Our times were actually all pretty close:

Philip DAVIS     2:57
Keith CLARKE     2:59
Stuart NESHAM    3:03
Michael RAYNOR   3:10
Pete HALLS       3:11

Last jump on stage 5

That night we met up with Toder and Dave who had done an uplift at Antor Stinog that day. Beer and pizza set us athletes up for the big race day!

The weather continued to be amazing with a sunny start to Sunday but rain was forecast for later. I hoped it held off until after we were down. That grassy field was great fun in the dry but would probably be a nightmare in the wet.

As Mick is in Grand Vets and I was slowest out of the rest of us we set off together with plenty of time to spare to get to the first stage. Most other people arrived at the top early and the usual friendly atmosphere abounded. Those of us racing immediately after each other introduced ourselves to those we hadn't met at previous rounds. Unusually I wasn't nervous and when my time came I pedalled off to enjoy myself. I got down stage 1 without major incident but with a few small mistakes. At one point I got a good rear wheel drift and scared myself a bit.

I quite enjoyed the long pedal to stage 2 as I knew if I just kept to my pace I'd make it easy. I had time for a rest and a snack before starting stage 2. Despite this I was still absolutely knackered by the end of the middle fire road section. This was the only time I got sight of the guy in front during a race stage but I'd run out of energy and couldn't catch him. He saw me and picked his pace up too. Still I never had anyone catch me all day either which is good!

Meanwhile unknown to the rest of us Phil had snapped his chain on stage 1 and had to roll it chainless.

On the way to stage 3 I passed Mick who had another rear puncture. I asked if he was ok as I passed but didn't want to stop on the "horrible fire road". As I waited to start stage 3 Mick came through and made his start time ok. Also Beef borrowed my shock pump as his shock didn't feel right. It turned out the pressure was fine but the damping was knackered. He was just going to have to ride a pogo stick for the rest of the race.

Stage 3 jump

I cocked up the first part of stage 3 with a poor line and came to a stand still. Grrr.. I got back on and did the rest ok but was a bit mad with myself. For the big climb to stage 4 I found myself mostly alone. It's weird how there can be 300 people riding a route and yet you can still get a few miles like this?

At the top of stage 4 I was pleased to see most people not really cleaning the chute/bend combo well though one or two did do it impressively. When my turn came I made a mess of it again and dabbed. A little further on before the second chute I caught my left foot on something and it felt like I'd broken my toe. It proper hurt! I carried on though and surprised myself by managing to be lined up and in the right gear to clean the steep rocky climb from the stream. It didn't feel like racing though - just like I was plodding up a transition hill - I was going that slow! The rest of stage 4 (the fast bit) put a smile back on my face and the adrenaline kept the pain in my foot at bay.

At the bottom I came across Mick who had had to scrounge a tube to fix another rear wheel puncture. He asked to borrow my pump and as I squatted down to get it from my Camelbak the pain from my foot kicked in. Ow! :-(

On the last climb I was passing quite a few people who were obviously knackered. Many were pushing sections and would be struggling to make their start times. Luckily for them there haven't been the penalties there should be for doing that this year. Shame for me though - I've never missed one.

As I climbed it did spot slightly with rain and for a minute I was a bit concerned that it would rain proper before we rode the last stage? However when we got to the top it had passed and I was entertained by Mick having to ride straight into the last stage with his seat up due to his late arrival caused by his puncture on stage 4.

I took the last stage steadier than in seeding but got all my lines much better and it all felt much smoother and better. As the others came in we compared stories of cock ups and specualted on who had beaten who. I was pleased my spending had worked and my chain had worked flawlessly all the way round.

At the finish we hung around a while chatting with all the people we've met over this race series but as usual we had to head off for the long drive home without knowing our results.

A great end to the series - particularly the course and the weather and it was nice to have a few more of the team take part. Cheers lads.

The results are here.

The overall series results are here

Well done to Beef and Shakey on their results overall.

A sad footnote is that Steve Parr is not going to be organising another series next year. Thanks for all you've done to get this great race format up and running Steve. I hope somebody steps in with something to replace it and keep all us riders happy.