Torrential downpours, lightning and even snow lashed the hillsides around Margam Park in south Wales on the Friday before the inaugural Men’s Fitness Dirty Weekend on 28th-29th November. The weather turned the grass fields and dirt tracks into gloopy swamps – perfect conditions for fans of off-road racing.
A sunny Saturday saw the crowds gathering quickly for the day’s main event: a duathlon of 5km run/23km bike/3km run, taking in some of the finest mountain bike trails in the UK. At the starting gun, 170 competitors formed a close group as they hurled themselves down the dirt path.
By the end of the race there would be several hours separating the first and last racers.The initial run took the group in a long loop through forests, over hills and, of course, through plenty of mud. At the first transition, top British duathlete Lee Rankin led the field but, as a man more used to smooth Tarmac than boggy hills, it was not certain he would maintain his lead position on the bike – especially as he was being chased by the man who had designed the course, Ryan Evans, and who therefore knew where its nasty little surprises lurked.
As it happened, Rankin managed to increase his lead on the bike and by the time he left the second transition for the 3km run there was no-one to challenge his lead. Rankin sprinted home in an amazing time of 1hr 38min 40sec, five minutes ahead of Evans in second place.
Rankin said, ‘The mud and the steepness of the course made it more difficult than I was expecting, but I knew that if I could hold my lead into the run then nobody would catch me. I’m rubbish at riding through mud so whenever my speed dropped to a soggy crawl I’d get off the bike and run with it.’
Over the next few hours, the remaining racers crossed the line – all filthy, but all with a smile. The toughness of the mountain bike course had caught many competitors unaware, but most promised to return and tackle it again next year.
An overnight deluge meant that the competitors in day two’s main event, a 44km enduro race made up of two laps of the duathlon bike course, rode straight into churned-up tracks. Freezing winds, driving rain and three steep climbs in the first few kilometres made progress slow and slimy.
Confident riding put Peter Wood into an early lead and the chasing pack was nearly four minutes behind by the time he got halfway through the first lap. As the race went on Wood’s lead got bigger and he swept down the last descent, crossing the line in a zippy 2hr 40min 56secs. Wood said, ‘The conditions were tough. At times I was cycling blind because of the continual spray of grit. The hardest bit was probably the Fire Roads [the first 6km] because they're uphill and stony so you don’t get good traction. The final descent was my favourite bit – it was muddy but I felt I could still get up a good head of speed. My advice for riding this course would be to work on your climbing and descending technique. Try to stay seated on the climbs because it helps your bike grip the terrain better.’
Other riders may have struggled with the conditions but they all had one thing in common with the winner – a look of determination mixed with some pain on a mud-splattered face ten metres before the finish, and an expression of real satisfaction, possibly with a hint of relief, a few metres after it.
For a more detailed MF race report, get your hands on the March 2010 issue of Men's Fitness. You can subscribe to the magazine here. We'll give you five issues for £5. There's another Dirty Weekend race report here too.
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