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Route of the Month: XTERRA UK
Posted on: Thursday 26th July 2007
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With XTERRA UK looming ever closer we wanted to take a look at the bike course and see just what delights the organisers had in store for us. We despatched Sam Gardner and Julie Dibens along with Harry Wiltshire to take a ride round the loop with our trusty Garmin Edge and a camera and this is what they came back with. The Garmin profile looks like this:
Because there are so many photographs in this report we have uploaded the whole album to our Picasa site and it's probably best to have that open in a second window or you can watch them here as a slideshow. All the photographs are numbered and refer to the (n) in the text.
XTERRA UK has a split transition so we won't end up back where we started. Coming out of T1 (1,2) you will get a little warm-up on the only bit of tarmac on the whole course which is the access road to the lake. Let’s break those roadies in gently! After about 300m this gives way to a cinder towpath, still nice and easy but don’t worry -- it doesn’t last long! Overtaking slower riders here is no problem at all.
Very soon the course goes upwards on a forest road (3,4), the sides of the valley loom high above you and you wonder just how nasty Gareth (the organiser) was feeling... Depending on your fitness, this climb could be ridden in the inner or middle chain ring. The surface is loose but relatively smooth and is best ridden in the saddle. Multiple hairpins make you feel like a Tour de France star. Just when you’re finding your climbing rhythm the gradient increases and you go up a steeper narrower track (5) where overtaking is tricky or impossible. Luckily this doesn’t last too long and soon goes into a short but tricky off-camber narrow descent (6) with three deep ruts running down it, which are difficult to get out of. Getting the correct rut will require pre-riding. I took the right rut and was hitting my pedals on the sides, it was also very wet the day we rode it and extremely slippery. Be careful if it’s like this in the race, don’t take risks overtaking as it’s a short section and there’s plenty more climbing soon.
At the bottom (7) you turn right up another loose fire road climb (8), which when we rode it went ominously off into the mist (9,10). I can imagine the views are great from this track if the visibility is good. Keep those gears small and turning fast, these climbs go on and on (11)! Pacing and a good rhythm are vital, don’t go anaerobic or you’ll regret it! After ten minutes or more climbing on this wide track you turn off right onto a narrower track (12,13) still going uphill! There are a couple of obvious lines to take and if you’re not on these you will struggle with very loose stones and big rocks (14,15). Overtaking here could well be a problem and the track narrows further into a singletrack where passing is impossible.
As you crest the climb the singletrack is cutting through a lot of vegetation, it becomes quite technical and twisty (16,17,18) and was very over grown when we rode it. This should all be cut back by race. The path twists along the flat for 300 metres, then starts to descend (19,20,21) staying very narrow and the undergrowth obscures a lot of the bumps you’re riding over. Luckily it’s fairly straight and your speed will depend on your bottle, there are no major obstacles.
At the bottom of this track you turn left onto another wide fire road, the junction is obvious but the surface is loose as you turn. This track gives your pumped up arms a few minutes respite. Use it to recover, slipstream other riders if you can because all too soon you turn sharp left into ‘the impossible climb’ (22,23). We all tried it and failed miserably! (24) With a rutted surface of differing size rocks and branches and a gradient that increases gradually, it disappears into the distance with the summit in sight but a demoralising way off. It is best to admit failure before you lose all momentum and jump off and start running with the bike (24). Something to practice in training?
At the top (25), leave a little energy because there’s no downhill to reward you quite yet. A relatively flat hard pack track, generally two bikes wide but narrow in places (26,27) takes you to another loose fire road (28). This in turn is rolling (29) and leads you to a sharp high speed right hand turn (32) marked with a burnt out car (30,31) into a serious off-road section. It starts with a short climb with loose exposed rocks (33-36). Then a narrow path (37-39) runs on the left hand side of a grassy cutting through the forest, but the path was very muddy with deep puddles (40,41), and some better lines were available to the right. I’ll certainly be pre-riding this section several times.
As the path starts descending it joins a track that has obviously been used by 4WDs and winds down the hill, through a small stream and turns left onto a wide gravel road. This leads up a hill past a working quarry (42), watch out when pre-riding as the lorries use this access road. You then pass an ancient pagan tree circle (43,44) which we christened ‘Welsh Stonehenge’; we sacrificed a virgin quickly and carried on climbing.
Soon enough you turn right onto another slightly narrower gravel track (45). This is flat initially but then starts to descend (46) and get a little more over-grown (48). You then turn right off this track, into the highlight of the course for most people, a great purpose made trail called ‘Skyline’ (49-55). Considering the rain we’d had, it had drained pretty well, and looped in and out of the forest, gradually traversing the mountain, the surface was pretty good and encouraged you to let the brakes off a bit. There are a few tight corners, so be careful, and one very tight right hand hairpin, but this can be seen well in advance. At the end of the trail you go through a permanent wooden barrier (57) and turn left onto another fire road descent (56).
This smooth descent gives your pumped up arms a chance to relax slightly for a minute or two until you turn right onto the miners track (58,59). With two ruts running down it, it can be difficult to change lines. Generally the right rut seemed better. Watch out, you will need to brake as some of the middle corners tighten up mid bend.
The last few kilometres of the course have several small climbs (60) and some short technical descents, but beware after three hours of racing, and the big climbs earlier on in the lap, they do sap the energy. Concentration is essential on the descents because there are endless rocks that jump out at you waiting to knock you off.
Most of the descents are very rocky and loose, one in particular is off camber and very tricky (62,63,64) and followed by a steep single track climb (66,67). Look at where you want to go on the sections and not the obstacles you are trying to avoid! The few flat sections (61,68) in between offer small chances to rest, but even these have a few hazards like fallen trees (69,70,71) and slippery bridges (65).
All of a sudden you are in the valley floor again (72). You pass around a couple of murky ponds (73,74) and join a track parallel to the railway (75). This where the run comes out so you may see other athletes. T2 is in a different location to T1 and, being Wales, it had to be in the local rugby club (76).
All in all it is a great race course. Lots of different terrain, lots of climbing, Skyline is a great trail. I am very interested to see how long the laps will take at race pace. It could be an epic race! A good biker will win XTERRA UK, that is for sure, but most people should be able to get round it if they pace themselves. In XTERRA the challenge in conquering the course is as important as winning the race.