Dubbed the world’s toughest mountain bike race, a Llandovery man took on – and conquered – Iron Bike 2014, in aid of his chosen charity Wales Air Ambulance.
Huw Thomas endured 620km over the course of a week in Italy’s Alpine region, covering a 25,000m ascent – the equivalent of cycling up Snowdon from sea level four times, every day.
“I was looking for a new challenge to push the boundaries, so when Iron Bike was suggested I thought, ‘Why not?!’ It turned out to be the most physically, mentally and emotionally challenging race I have ever done and finished, but also one of the most memorable and enjoyable,” said Huw.
The route took the cyclists from Limone Piemonte to Sauze d'Oulx, close to the French border.
He added: “Day after day, we rode up and down mountain passes, reaching altitudes of well over 3,000m at times, cycling or carrying our bikes through some of the most rugged and technically demanding trails I've ridden.”
By day, Huw is a project manager at Forest Research in Wales, specialising in floodplain forestry. While on home turf, he trains on the hills north of Llandovery, through the Tywi forest and around Llyn Brianne reservoir.
No stranger to endurance mountain bike racing, Huw was European 24 Hour Solo Champion in 2012, but this new challenge took him to his limits. Despite this, he was still a top-20 finisher.
“There were many high points, but also very low points where I thought I could never finish. I managed to find something, somewhere, to keep me going.
“One of the highlights for me was reaching the peak of Mount Chabberton at a little over 3,100m altitude. We had to cycle and hike-a-bike over 2,100 vertical metres for about eight miles to get there, on trails that were so eroded there was barely enough room to pass with our bikes. This climb was brutal but standing at the peak with my bike and having a clear 360 degree view of the valleys below will be an experience that I will never forget.”
Huw is hoping to raise £1000 for helicopter charity Wales Air Ambulance.
“As a mountain biker, I could – but hopefully won’t – one day have to rely on the vital services that Wales Air Ambulance provides. I have known friends who have been less lucky than I have,” said Huw. “They’re an excellent and relevant charity to the sport.”
Each year, around 20% of Wales Air Ambulance’s missions are to sporting incidents. The charity’s three helicopters, which rely entirely on donations to operate, can reach anywhere in the country within 20 minutes.
Wales Air Ambulance needs to raise more than £6 million each year. To support Huw, visit his JustGiving page at www.justgiving.com/MTBHuw-IronBike. To read his daily account of the Iron Bike race, visit Huw’s blog at www.ukxcnews.com.
Follow Wales Air Ambulance on facebook.com/walesairambulance and twitter @air_ambulance.