Altitude Profile (-446 ft to 1,588 ft)
For one weekend a year, mountain bikers lose their monopoly on the forests of South Wales to a significantly faster and more powerful, wheeled, visitor. Deep in mid-winter, the World Rally Championship brings high-octane thrills to the home of such legendary trails as Whites Level, Skyline and the Wall, transforming the forest roads of Afan into the gravel equivalent of Silverstone or Monte Carlo. Yet, unlike F1, where the cars are only ever a distant blur, rallying still lets you get right up to the action: you can see every twitch of their chassis, hear every adjustment of the throttle and feel every single horsepower through the dirt. And despite tightening controls on spectators to ensure safety, rallying still boasts an enviable intimacy with its fans.
Rallying is also our closest relation of all four-wheel motor sport: we share the same surfaces, the same variable conditions and the same approach to reading terrain. To go fast in both sports you’ve got to be in tune with your machine, have lightning fast reactions and remain committed at all times. Perhaps that’s why most of the top drivers train on mountain bikes, and ten-time World Downhill Champion Nico Vouilloz has just won the 2008 Intercontinental Rally Challenge with Peugeot.
It was these parallels that dragged me out of bed at 6.00AM in order to be standing on a frozen bank in Rheola Forest, shivering in temperatures of -3°C, surrounded by crowds of people in bobble hats and Subaru jackets, waiting for the newly-crowned WRC World Champion Sebastien Loeb to explode into view. It’s the first stage of Wales Rally GB’s final day, and Loeb is currently in second place, a mere seven seconds adrift of Finn Jari Matti-Latvala.
It was coming down to the wire, not only for the rally win, but the manufacturer’s championship, with Loeb’s Citroen team just eleven points ahead of arch-rival Ford. And unbeknownst to him, we were about to add our own little forest showdown to the proceedings. In a miss-match not seen since the tortoise took on the hare, Roo and I would race Loeb from this, Special Stage 16, to the final stage, Special Stage 19, in Margam Park. But rather than four wheels we would have two. Instead of 320bhp we’d have about 0.4 and against his turbocharger we’d have a box of Cadbury’s Brunch bars.
From the February 2009 issue of MBR magazine. Check out www.mbr.co.uk
N 51°45.879' W 3°38.403'
N 51°45'52.769" W 3°38'24.228"
N +51.7646583 E -3.64006357
N 51°33.559' W 3°44.082'
N 51°33'33.549" W 3°44'04.941"
N +51.5593194 E -3.73470599
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