DISTANCE 50 miles (80km)
MAIN CLIMB Gospel Pass
TOTAL CLIMB 1,000 metres
ACHTUNG! Watch the narrow roads
Jody Crawforth is in a bullish mood as he chats over breakfast at the Smithy Bunkhouse in Pantygelli, South Wales: “I want to get back into it this year. I lost motivation a bit over the last year, but I’ve found it again and I want to win and get placed in the National Criterium Series. I also want to get up there in the mountain bike series and National Championships.”
He’s here for a training weekend and get-together with his new team, Arctic RT. The air conditioning specialists are celebrating their lengthy team sponsorship by joining forces with bike manufacturer Premier to form a squad that looks very strong. And if the happy atmosphere in the breakfast room is anything to go by, they are going to enjoy 2008.
Crawforth has represented Great Britain at mountain biking and cyclo-cross. He’s a handy road rider too, and doesn’t see any of these disciplines as being mutually exclusive. “Many cyclo-cross courses today are just like off-road criteriums. The circuits are very fast and the skills are the same, going into corners and sprinting out of them as quickly as possible. Skills are my strong point.
“The training you do for cross and criteriums spills over into mountain bike racing too. When I started racing it was on a mountain bike, and I even did downhill in those days, so I’ve got a good base of skills. A mountain bike race is pretty full on, so the training I do, say one, or one and a half hours of going hard and sprinting for traffic signs, works for that too.”
The team’s route master is Danny Axford, or rather Dr Danny Axford as he is now. A former Cycling Weekly Rides subject, Axford has got the PhD he was working for when we last met. He leads the group out of Pantygelli, which is just north of Abergavenny, and off into the hills.
It’s a crystal clear day, and the riders swish through the narrow lanes out into the Ewas valley, heading for the Gospel Pass. This is a route that circles the Black Mountains, then gives you an opportunity to ride right into the middle of them.
As the road tilts upwards, James Dobbin is anxious to show the class that brought him two national hill titles, but he’s taking it steady in the name of team harmony and his own body. He still has problems after an accident took him out for most of 2007. “I got knocked quite badly and my body got out of line. I was fine for the hill-climb, because that is such a short effort, but I still feel it on longer rides. I am getting better though,” he says.
The group descends past the improbably named peak, Lord Hereford’s Knob. Then the route flattens out to Talgarth and Langorse Lake, before climbing through the village of Bwylch to join the Usk valley. Here the road is wide and flat, giving me a nice photo opportunity by the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal, which is undergoing a big restoration project.
In between shots Crawforth reflects on his just finished cyclo-cross season. “I did quite a bit of training but my results weren’t quite there. I think I’ll be better after this road season,” he says.
He also thinks he’ll get inspiration from his new team: “I was working for Evans as its bike buyer and racing for its team, but when it changed its marketing budget I decided to move on. I was getting a bit stale. Now I’ve got a new job as well as a new team.”
Crawforth fits in his training, “Going to and from work, about 20 miles each way, which I do two or three times a week. I try to make it specific to the races I’m doing. Lots of sprints. I also do some special training for cross, like running sprints on a football pitch or I use a treadmill to simulate run-ups in cross races. I don’t do steady running because the running in cross is all sprinting.”
Fit all over
“I do press-ups and sit-ups too. You need to have good all-round strength as an off-road rider. For example, if your wrists and hands aren’t strong they will get tired towards the end of a race, and it’s no good being fit or skilful if you can’t pull on your brakes and you crash,” Crawforth says.
“I don’t get dropped on an uphill run in a race if I don’t do any of that kind of training, but I suffer more. I feel the effects of the run-up for the rest of the lap, which causes difficulties as the race goes on.”
The riders get going again through the attractive market town of Crickhowell and into the back lanes. They head towards the witchy heights of the Black Mountains by following the Grwyne Fechan stream’s right bank, before doubling back along its left. Next is a bit for the fit and determined up the Grwyne Fawr, which is a lovely peaceful road up into the Mynydd Du Forest.
With the Black Mountains well and truly done, Crawforth and the team return to Pantygelli for some ‘R and R’, a bit of refuelling and sleep before an even longer ride tomorrow. The season isn’t far away, and like all cyclists at this time of year they are full of optimism. New bikes have to be tinkered with, their nicely designed Kalas kit has to be swapped around for the best fit, but other than that, Arctic are ready to bring it on.
YOUR GUIDE: JODY CRAWFORTH
* Age 27, single, lives in Leatherhead
* Works in plastics as a buyer, races for Arctic RT
* Started racing at 14, holds a degree in business studies
* National mountain bike champion in 2004
* Other interests include motorbikes and cars
From Pantygelli take the unclassified road north. Turn left (TL) and take 1st L onto unclassified heading for the Gospel Pass. TL after starting descent on unclassified and TL on A4078 to Talgarth. TL on A479 and 1st TR on B4560. TL on A40 at Bwlch. TR on B4560 and TL on B4558.
TL on A4077 and cross the A40 in Crickhowell and take the unclassified north-east. TL on unclassified then R over the bridge that spans the Fechan river. TR back down the valley and TL. The optional leg is to the left and turns off this road. Otherwise follow this unclassified road through Forest Coal Pit and back to Pantygelli.