I got back from work on Tuesday night and did my final checks on the bike, only to find that I had a problem with the clutch! The engine was just about run in from the full rebuild the week before, so everything else was good to go.
I took the bike in to ET James first thing to have the clutch checked, and it turned out to be a blown seal on the slave cylinder! Thankfully they sorted it in no time at all (thanks very much Jonathan!) and off I went to sign on and scrutineer at the Lakeside in Llandrindod Wells. I got there at about 10am, signed on, chatted to a few familiar faces, then got my bike into the parc ferme - t's always a relief, even though I'm very thorough with my bike prep!
After that I went to walk all three special tests, starting with the Crossgates test at Church Farm. It was bone dry in the couple of weeks leading up to the race and so it was when I walked it, they'd introduced a new wood section which looked good fun, but obviously kept the old favourites like those big crowd pleasers the ditches. Onwards then to the Abbeycwmhir test which I'd not ridden before but looked really good fun, a fairly long grass track with off camber corners aplenty. Finally I went over to Pontrhydfendigaid which was my favourite last year, and it was fairly similar again, but with a couple of extra technical sections thrown in.
It was a long day, I was out of the door at 8:30am and got back at around 6pm! I packed the car and then stuffed myself silly to stock up on energy for the next morning, day 1.
Day 1 (Thursday):
A start time of 08:19 and a race number of 38 meant I was on the second row of the Sportsman class behind the sidecars. It was great to have friendly faces on my minute to do battle with throughout the 2 days; Kev Price, Paul Williams and Martin Williams.
I was a bit nervous as I always am before the Welsh, it's a huge event not just for me personally, and it was important to me to get a good result this time as opposed to riding for a finish for the first time, like I did last year. This year's target was a gold medal, so something close to a top 20 finish.
Anyway, off we went, straight up to Church Farm, and as soon as we got into the field, I gave the bike a handful to test the levels of grip and nearly spun out! Yes, it was deceptively slippery at that time in the morning, so it wasn't going to be easy. There were a good crowd of spectators cheering everyone on (and off) as they flew by, which is always a wonderful thing to experience. I went round fairly steadily, I didn't want to start the day on a sour note! I knew it wasn't a good time I set but I was counting on making up time on the next two tests and staying clean throughout the event.
By far the stand out moment of day one was an incident at the end of check 2. The dust on the forest tracks was unreal, it was so thick you just couldn't see where you were going unless you hung back. We managed to get to the check with quite a bit of time to spare and ended up huddled next to the sidecars that were waiting for their minutes at the yellow flag. There we were having a good chin wag, when out of a wall of dust came a bike, and they obviously hadn't even seen the check or anyone in it, and crashed straight into the back of a sidecar, then another bike came in, then another! It was chaos, people were shouting, horns going to warn other riders, engines revving, dust everywhere, a pile of bikes and some very worried faces. Once out of the way, we checked if everyone was OK, which thankfully they seemed to be, although we weren't quite sure how! The bikes were looking a bit second hand after their fender benders, but everyone was up and about and set to continue. The marshalls quickly went up the track to warn other riders and slow them down. To be fair the whole thing shook me up, I caught it on camera and it's not good viewing. I hope everyone is indeed OK after that.
The dust proved to be a challenge all day but we adjusted to it and just got on with it. There were some tough checks throughout the day but I made good progress and felt happy with my riding. I had a small off in Strata Florida on one of the rock slabs, but other than that stayed on all day.
The test at Pontrhydfendigaid was going well until I clipped one of the fence posts on the flat grass section and stalled the bike, then I caught Kev and a decent sized roosted rock hit me in the throat, making me gasp for air for the rest of the test! Not only that, but then Kev and I both caught a sidecar and where he managed to sneak past, I ended up in a wheel to wheel drag race and decided not to take my chances, so I had to wait a few extra corners before I could take a wide line and cut inside behind them. The final test at Abbeycwmhir was good fun, my training paid off here, I felt comfortable and set a good time.
Day 2 (Friday):
We'd all seen the weather forecast...thunder and lightning and heavy downpours for most of the day, a complete contrast to the fantastic dry weather the day before. I got up at 4:30am and made sure I packed my wet weather gear and plenty of spare gloves and goggles. My start time was 07:19 and off we went in the general direction of Abbeycwmhir. The first check was hard going first thing in the morning, but it warmed me up nicely for the test.
Now then, the organisers had a nice little surprise for us when we got to the test, it was being run in reverse! Slightly bemused and under a cloud of early morning fog and a wet looking grass track, I set off first from our lot and kept it upright, although there was a fair bit of sideways action too!
The going was tougher on day 2 in a lot of places, not just because of the rain, but some of the hill climbs were amazing, you'd have a hard time walking up them! Brilliant fun and very satisfying when you get them just right (the first time ;).
Onwards then towards Pontrhydfendigaid for the second test, which actually turned out to be even drier than the previous day! I felt like I had a really good test and enjoyed it. I wolfed down as much food as I could manage, topped up with water and fuel, then set off for Strata Florida. Until that point, we'd managed to avoid the bad weather, but in typical "sod's law" fashion, I took my jacket off at Pontrhydfendigaid because I was too hot from wearing it all morning. The heavens opened during Strata Florida and it rained really hard! We got soaked and then had to ride a long road section and ended up freezing cold, but it's all part of it.
From then onwards the checks were tough, with quite a right one at Cwm Irfon, the penultimate check. The last check was loose and we had time in there to refuel at Beulah and do the test at Church Farm. I got into the check, then left and dropped onto the tarmac road. About a quarter of a mile down the road, my bike just cut out! NOOOO! What a disaster I thought, I've worked so hard and got so far, I'm clean on time and everything, what's gone wrong? I wheeled it a bit further down the road to a lay-by and set to work trying to find out what had happened. My first thought was that I'd run out of fuel, it felt exactly like those symptoms when the bike died, I had a look in the tank, but no, it was half full. It hadn't locked up, so I knew it hadn't seized, so then I thought maybe the jet is blocked in the carburettor, but I didn't want to take the carb off with the bike being so dirty and it would waste a lot of time, so I decided to pursue other options. The air filter was pretty clean, so I was happy it was getting air. I could hear the change in the engine when I was kicking over after adding a little throttle, so I was confident fuel was getting through, but I tipped the bike on its side to let some fresh fuel flow through to the float bowl anyway. Still nothing, it would kick over just fine or turn over on the electric spark, but wouldn't fire. Next I suspected the spark plug, although I doubted it, it was new on Monday. I put a new one in and still it made no difference. I was cursing my luck at this point, but I wasn't ready to give up until I was absolutely certain there was nothing I could do. Some mates stopped by to check if they could help, which I was really grateful for, but there was nothing doing. After some pondering, I thought...it has to be an electrical fault, it seemed the only other obvious way it could cut out like that for no reason, so I started with the kill switch, but that was all OK, then I took the headlight off and started playing with all the connectors, when I was done I hit the electric start and she started purring like a kitten again! I was back in it! I quickly got all my gear back on and put my tools away and then tried as best as I could to make up any lost time.
Thankfully I got to Church Farm in enough time, but with all the torrential rain we'd had, I was wondering whether or not they'd send the Sportsmen round (they make up a large part of the entry with around 200 riders). It was on though, and boy was it slippery! I took it steady yet again and quickly caught 2 riders, which turned out to be really bad luck because in the next section, we dropped down into a stream, the rider in front fell off and blocked the track, and I just couldn't stop, I had built up my momentum for the climb the other side and picked a line, and it was like ice. Long story short...I crashed into their fallen bike and had to wait for a marshal to help us get going again which cost me about 30 seconds. The crowds were absolutely loving it, bikes and limbs were flailing around left, right and center and I'm sure it was a joy to watch, but believe me it's no joke to ride it! Try as I might I just couldn't get any speed up and the lack of grip was phenomenal, I've never known any other place like it to be so slippery at the slightest drop of rain.
I eventually got round the test and then happily trundled down the road to the finish line, having cleaned both days, feeling good and unhurt. We had a good chuckle discussing the day (mostly our antics at Church Farm), then posed for a few photos and then packed up to go home.
The bike has a broken weld on the left hand side radiator and the rad guard fell out too, but other than that, it's just the electrics that need sorting before the next race.