It’s nine years since a round of the World Enduro Championship has been held in the UK (when the Welsh Trail Riders Association held the 1999 event at Llandovery), so it seemed appropriate to get down to Wales again last Sunday for the Hafren Club’s offering.
You have probably figured by now that these days, instead of riding a trial at every available moment, I’m trying to get in as many other class events as possible as it’s rare to see the very best guys in other disciplines do their stuff.
The Hafren Forest area, and the Geraint Jones farmstead are long time playgrounds for me, for though it’s now ten years since I gave up enduros and returned to trials, the sport still holds much affection for me.
However, with ten years having passed, and five years having gone by since I actually last went to an enduro, I rather expected it would be all a bit foreign. Well, the only thing that was foreign were many of the riders. The names change, but at the end of the day it’s still 120 or so blokes thrashing around fields and forest trying to stay on time and set their fastest pace on the tests.
However, things have changed and whether it’s for the better is open to question. Back in “my” days, the late arrival allowance was always an hour – in other words you could be a total of an hour late at time checks before being excluded from the event. Nowadays that allowance has been cut to just 15 minutes and whilst this tightening of the difference between the best guys and the not so good lads is not seen as too much of a problem in the hot sunny climes of say Italy, when Wales does its worst with the weather it becomes a different kettle of fish.
It might well be mid July, but last Saturday it poured down all day, and those who know the Hafren Forest will also know that when it’s wet it is a horrendous place in which to struggle. The course, being a World Championship event had been set out on the more difficult side, and this combined with the poor conditions last Saturday resulted in more than half the entry retiring for various reasons, many of which were simply because they were not fast enough compared to the top men to stay within 15 minutes of the times required.
I remarked upon this to several folks last Sunday and the response varied from it being a much better idea (because it reduces the length of the day etc), to the traditionalists who bemoaned the fact that the promoters (there’s that word again!) were changing the face of the sport for their own ends. The man behind the current WEC series is Frenchman Alain Blanchard and there’s no doubt he has raised the profile of the series. However, even me, as an enthusiast, can recognise that it’s not the most spectator friendly sport though to be fair, Hafren had some impressive attendance figures last weekend.
The fact of the matter is that it was wet, muddy rough terrain to walk and you have to be a real enthusiast to stick it out in such conditions for long. I don’t know how many folks there were there each day, but certainly a couple of thousand each day so the argument goes that Blanchard has done a good job.
And it has to be said that the Hafren Dirt Bike Club did a fantastic job in organising the event – but at a horrendous cost. The club has existed for many years now but it consists primarily of the local enduro boys putting on events because they want to. However, I was told that at a conservative estimate it will have cost Hafren £70,000 to run and that figure could possibly go as high as £90,000 once all costs have been totalled. Sponsorship and gate income will help to reduce that figure, but not by much so Hafren have had to dig deep into their coffers to fund the event. And for what?
On Monday morning when the crowds have gone and the riders and their transport have departed, what’s left is a decimated forest, destroyed fields, loads of rubbish and a vast amount of equipment to clear up. The fields can be graded and reseeded, the equipment can be serviced and stored and over time the forest rides can be filled and levelled. But for the organisers there is only satisfaction and kudos for a job well done. No financial income, no credit for the days and weeks of time spent in getting to the start point last Saturday and probably not much enthusiasm for another go.
Yet that is what has been asked of them. Already the club have been asked if they will run again in the foreseeable future, and whilst I can’t say what the decision would be, you do have to question the sense of it all. Run a motocross GP or a World Trial and there is a chance there will be profit and a relatively small area to restore. Run a WEC over a 35 mile forest loop, using three large test areas and with no significant income and it’s like pouring wads of cash down the drain.
So if you were down Llanidloes way last weekend, savour the event as best you can for there’s no certainty it will be back that way for many a long year. But if it is, then be sure, it will be held to the same high level that prevailed last Saturday and Sunday.