Words: Charlie Currie
Photos: Charles Robertson
Three weeks on and the 2017 British 4X Series made its third stop of the year at Afan, South Wales.
Better known for its trail centre loops, Afan is a 4X rider’s favourite. It take things back to true 4X with loose rocks, a drifty surface, wideopen corners, monster doubles and a huge rock garden. In my mind it’s one of the best race tracks on the circuit. There’s massive line variation and it’s fantastic to see the guys and girls trying all the different ways you can tackle the track.
The flip-side of the track is how gnarly it is – and there were plenty of tires, mechs and rims that took a beating through the day. Practice kicked off and immediately got pretty wild. The first challenge is to find that elusive fast line through the rocks, the second is to get over the pro-line doubles … some guys sailed them first run, others took a few attempts and a tow in from a mate to get them nailed.
Motos are the first race runs and are used to decide who makes it into finals. From the first drop of the gate, riders were reminded how unpredictable Afan can be. Riders were washing out on the loose ground all of the place and plenty of moves were being made to get to the line first.
Two riders that learnt this the hard way were Jason Jessop and Oscar Powell. Neither had lost a single lap all season and finally had their winning streaks broken. In the third moto, Jason took a nasty crash down the first straight , catapulting his bike into the first turn. Fortunately, he got up, finished his run and went on to take the overall win. Oscar, also in his third moto, punctured which left him unable to defend the Cornish riot behind him.
In the big guns elite field it was a battle between Will Evans and Luke Cryer – both were hungry for the win, Will having missed the podium at round 1 and took the win at round 2.
Semis began with a run-off to decide who make it through. I was pitted against Will Soffe and Euan Rossi and managed to motor on through.
Pro Elite semi-finals were up. In the first of the two, it would be Will Evans and Davi Roberts to progress to the A- Final, with Lewis Ashe and Joe Wallbridge heading to the B-Final. The second was surely going to be a scrap. Luke Cryer and myself got away early to make their way through to fight for the overall win. Alex Metcalfe and Ben Jones would be battling in the B-Final for the final podium position.
These kids were really showing their natural talent. With many of the features on the course being twice their height, it was spectacular to see them giving it their all. Keep a close eye on these young guys and girls over the coming years, they will surely be stars of the future.
The final consisted of the Madley brothers, Jack Skinner, and Rueben Mills. There was no brotherly love around in Afan. George Madley just pipped his brother Luke to the 3rd spot, behind Jack Skinner in 2nd, and Reuben Mills taking the number 1 spot.
As always, the young shredders went out all guns blazing. After snapping his mech hanger in practice, and converting his bike to single speed, Fred Hunt put up a good fight but couldn’t get any further than 4th place. Louie Partridge was looking fast all weekend throughout practice and motos. He finished with a respectable 3rd place, behind William Chater who took another 2nd place. In a league of his own Cornish weapon, Zac Hudson continued his perfect season, not losing a single lap all day.
It is always quite scary how rapid these lads are. Tom Bell and Dec Willicombe had a score to settle. With both of them having taken a win this season, it was all or nothing. But you cannot oversee Will Mills. Last year’s Juvenile National Champion was looking smooth all day. Tom Bell unfortunately had a moment just out of the gate which set him back, meaning he would finish in 3rd. Will Mills went full gas trying to get himself into the lead, but it would only be 2nd. Dec Willicombe showed his class and took his second win of the year.
The ever-consistent Oscar Powell was on form this weekend. A slight bit of bad luck meant he got a puncture in his third moto, which I am sure got him fired up for the final. Two of the Cornish young guns were in the mix. With Fin Keogh on the tail of Powell, and Alex Piper holding off the attack of Matt Griffin. Piper managed to get past Griffin to get himself a solid 3rd place. Fin Keogh laid down his smooth and stylish riding form but it wasn’t quite enough to get past Oscar.
Andrew Cooper had a solid day of racing. Changing to his new trail bike, he looked clean through the rock garden. He would have to settle for 3rd on the day though. Joe Prestwood, with one win the season under his belt was on the pace and took a close 2nd. Reece Richards made his return to 4X after a couple of seasons off, and certainly was up to scratch. Smashing his way through to take the win on his trail bike.
Big Fun 17+
There was no lack of skill in this category today! Some great racing went down, with all of the riders having huge grins on their faces. 4X newcomer Ryan Faultless took the 3rd spot, close behind Angus Child in 2nd. It was Martyn Nicholas who took the win, after a 4th place in Chicksands, earlier this season.
We saw the return of Tom Burch. He last raced at the 2016 series finale in Harthill, where he was just a point away from winning the Senior Series overall title.
He definitely hasn’t slowed down over the past few months! It was unlucky to see him slide out in the final turn while in 2nd. That meant Mop Head passed him to take 3rd, with Alastair Keen coming in 2nd behind the constant pinner Lee Feery.
Jason Jessop continued his series domination, despite a hard crash in his third moto. The only Veteran to send the huge pro-line doesn’t show any signs of stopping his winning streak any time soon. Behind him was 2016 National Champion, Neil Harbour in 2nd, and Michael Dewsnap who has recently recovered from a broken collar bone in 3rd.
Elite Women (open)
Series leader, Tyde D’Souza was unable to attend this round, as she was preparing for he AS level exams. Was it time for Megan Wherry to take her first 4X National win? Unfortunately, she will have to wait for another day. She took a hard hit over the second pro-line jump during Saturday practice, hurting her ankle. The women’s final did not disappoint. Hannah Escott lead until she slid out meaning the ladies behind her slipped past. Courtney Abbis took the 3rd spot, with Kelly Salone taking 2nd, but it was all about Rona Strivens, holding out to take her first National win!
Pro Elite Men
It’s always super exciting watching the Elites. The standard is incredibly high, so it could be anyone’s game. Especially on this track! Coming out of the gate the four were level. As Evans, Cryer and Roberts cut inside of the first turn, I went for a swoop pass, which set me ahead of Davi Roberts. Davi pulled it back and put the gas down. At the front, Luke Cryer was hot on the heels of Will Evans, but simply couldn’t find a way past. Will showed his class to hold on to take his 2nd consecutive win of the year, with Luke Cryer in 2nd, and Davi Roberts in 3rd.
Afan has always produced some epic racing, but Round 3 was off the chart. The bar has truly been raised! Without a doubt, 4X is the most accessible form of mountain biking. You don’t need a specific 4X build. Any bike will work if you want to give it a go! Downhill riders, BMX riders, XC riders, give it a go. All your skills will be put to the test in this amazing form of racing.
There is now a slight break in the Series, as several British riders are heading to 4X Pro Tour rounds in Winterberg and Fort William, at the end of this month. Round 4 is on the 25th June, at Redhill Extreme, which has just gone under some pretty major renovations! We hope to see you there!
For more on British 4X visit: http://www.british4x.com