Afan Schwalbe 4X NPS and Euro - Rain, Rocks and Rubbing
A weekend of racing from a Welsh valley - it was never going to be a dry one...
From Dirt Issue 113 - July 2011
Words by Seb Kemp. Photos by Grant Robinson.
Friday evening of the May Bank Holiday was spent battling through the gridlock of half–term traffic. Nose to tail, crawling west into the setting sun, eventually making it to the pleasant little valley in South Wales where a weekend of congested racing was to be held. The golden light and pinkish clouds held great promise but like too many race weekends and Bank Holidays, days when the weather counts, conditions were less than favourable.
The course, dusty and dry the evening before, turned wet, gloopy and greasy in places. Riders used to hard–pack conditions struggled on tyres with tight tread patterns. The rock garden – a unique feature in 4X track design – gave riders white knuckles as they scrabbled and scratched for traction on the mud smeared stone. The wide track tapered down to one distinct lane as racers followed the line of least resistance. Jumps became rollers to pump and pedal over as the earth gathered resistance in the dampening conditions. The soft terrain slowed the pull of gravity and the somewhat long course became tiring for riders to push pedals in the practice session and early motos. But after lunchtime the clouds weakened as they too became tired of lightening their load. Then the breeze took effect and the track began to dry up and speed up just a little bit, and just in time for the knock out rounds to begin.
The action, which had been damp and wet to watch at first, became closer and passing happened right up to the final corner in some rounds. Some tumbles occurred between riders as the track narrowed towards the rock garden and the rapidly drying course allowed riders to try previously unexplored lines in an attempt to pass. Riders who looked timid and out of their depth earlier in the day started to attack. Shoulders loosened and eyes lifted from front wheels making the racing more lively>>
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[part title="Rain, Rocks and Rubbing..."]
In the ladies there wasn’t much need for the earlier rounds as each entrant was guaranteed a spot in the finals. Charlie Green was looking good for a win but Nicola Anderson of Naked Racing pipped her for the win.
Stand out performance of the day was Dylan Grell–Delsol in the juvenile category. Unbeaten in every moto all weekend (and all year I’m told) he comfortably took the win, looking like he was riding a different course entirely. As one of the commentators blurted over the microphone, “No one is able to touch him...and not just because he is only twelve years old". Not very classy, but good for an awkward laugh.
Sunday morning brought little of the promise but more of the curse. Welsh rain tried to drown out anything and everything. Looking out of the bedroom window was more like peering out of a car windscreen on the M4 when following an articulated truck. Wetness swirled and spirits stumbled.
Some riders upon hearing the downpour on their tents and vans just packed up and headed home. The ones that did brave the storm still attempted to hide from the wrath rather than get in some practice. Regulations meant everyone had to do one practice run, but many held off right until the last minute. The track was slower and even more mucky than the day before. It was miserable being perched on a Welsh hillside with very little shelter.
When the gate piston fired up, so did the riders. The racers that had stayed from the day before did so to test themselves against the best of Europe, and a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop them. Only a handful of Euros made the journey over despite it being a useful way of breaking up the journey to Fort William for the World Cup. Those that did had some calibre, even if some of them didn’t have class (I haven’t got space to go into the dirty tricks and dodgy calls of some, but let’s say they stand head and shoulders above the rest).
Duncan Ferris came back to rectify the heart break of Saturday’s racing and again started out favourably by qualifying second. But whilst leading his quarter final and looking comfortable for the round win he slid out on the relatively straight forward turn four just after having a quick glance over his shoulder. Many spectators were gutted for Duncan as he has the class to take home the win, especially at a race which requires real bike handling skills. Another drive home over the Severn with steam coming out of his ears.
And so the day’s, or weekend’s, action all boiled down to one minute of excitement on the last few turns. Riders packed dirty bikes into the vehicles, spectators shed their dirty gumboots and the catering stand handed out all the uneaten sausage to those lucky enough to be nearby. As the tired and filthy attendees slipped out of that Welsh valley and onto whichever roads would take them home, or onto the next stop, they were greeted by a sunny early summer Sunday evening. It seems the Afan area had attracted all the lousy weather whilst much of the country had basked in sunshine all weekend. A shame that at first had dampened the proceedings, but in the end added a bit of real mountain bike spice.