National Marathon Championships

A couple of weeks have passed since the TORQ riders (and practically every other Mountain Biker in the UK) visited Margam Park, Wales for the National Mountain Bike Marathon Championships. As well as the championship event, there was also an ‘Open’ category for riders not in possession of a valid British Cycling racing licence. The distance – 100k, all off road, 4 times around a demanding 25k loop. There were 25 and 50k options too, for the less accomplished, so something for everyone. It was hot by the way!

In the championship event, podium places and prizes went up to 5th place and TORQ-tuned Brazilian Marcos Schier missed out by a whisker. After a strong and competitive ride, passing Giant’s Barrie Clarke midway through the final lap, Marcos punctured on the final decent to the finish. Barrie caught Marcos as they rounded the final hairpin to the finish and as Marcos tried to sprint out of the bend, his flat rear tire span his bike round 180 degrees and that was that – 6th place. A great result, but irritating after our elite team’s narrow podium miss at Mountain Mayhem. Here’s what Marcos had to say:

“As a dream I almost finished the first Marathon championships ever in the top 5. But a puncture in my back wheel took that position away from me in a thrilling end. The first lap of the race was very competitive as all the riders wanted to get a good position and have a good start. I tried to ride in a steady pace and focused myself to try to grow stronger over the race. The plan worked and on my third lap I reached Barry Clark (Giant) and we raced together until the last up hill when I decided to go for it. Unfortunately I could not hold the 5th position, but I am still very happy with the outcome, 100km in 4hours and 19minutes. Now I am looking forward for racing the Italian Ironbike, one of the biggest marathon events in Europe.”

Also in the championship event, punctures haunted TORQ-fuelled Extreme Endurance’s Richard Wood, who finished a creditable 9th – a result not truly representative of his ability however.

In the non-championship event, it was to be TORQ riders 1 and 2. Simon Burgess (Team TORQ bar) stomped away from the opposition and spent most of his time in the top 5 of the championship event – he was a clear winner. Here’s what he had to say:

“I always enjoy racing at Margam Park and this year it just got better. The course was fantastic and in top condition – fast and dry with some loose and also some demon lines if you could track to them. I was leading the Experts XC race on Saturday but then the chain snapped at the top of a descent! I walked back up to find the chain and then fixed it later on to finish in a disappointing 13th place. The Enduro was a better result (first in the Open category). The race was tactical and could not be ridden like an XC, hydration and energy expenditure balance were critical. As was going balls out on the downhills!”

TORQ-tuned Simon Turner (Elsworth/TORQ bar) had a fantastic ride, coming in 2nd to Simon Burgess and here’s his account of the race:

“100km on proper mountains. Perfect, well almost, as I don’t have a poxy licence I couldn’t race in the champs race only the Open – and the point of a licence for an mtber is….?

So I thought I’d treat it as a ride not a race (yeah right!). But mentally that meant I could be relaxed about it a few beers on the beach on Friday eve and a beery BBQ on Saturday. Carbo loading is important for enduro events after all.

I arrived in plenty of time on Sunday no mean feat given that Margam is at Afan! 5am is never a good time to get up…. It was a hot day, great I love the heat and Margam Park was lovely, proper hills in the background. The course was a 25km loop, which meant two bottles per lap – with one bottle holder… hmmm interesting. Tagged and ready to go the Champs went off 1min before the Open, which had me champing at the bit to catch some of them, especially the two other Open riders who had sneaked into the Champs start!! Cheats. So I set off at a fast pace and basically dropped the rest of the Open field except 2 guys. The front end of the lap was a great climb, pretty steep and loose, followed by a short technical downhill and then a long climb some on fireroads but a long section on a fairly steep, loose, alien babyhead strewn track, excellent the Ellsworth Truth is perfect for this, traction all the time no problem. I thought this will sort the real riders out pretty quick. I wasn’t going full-out but just below race pace, the two Open guys stayed with me up the hill. I caught Alex and thought he would stay with me, but he dropped back. The course then flattened out for a long fire road drag with a couple of speedy blasts. After ducking under a very low and solid looking tree we came to a nice singletrack decent that started woody and slightly muddy and ended up rocky and super loose. It was on this decent that I knew I ‘d lose the other two, at the bottom they were nowhere, they would have to work so much harder on the hills just to stay with me if they were going to go downhill that slow! Another fire road drag lead to a scary fast fire road decent, the kind of track where peddling was pointless, getting aero over the bars enabled speeds of over 40miles/hr, cornering was ‘interesting’.

The last hill wasn’t too steep, a bumpy singletrack section topping out via a fire road that gave great views of the arena below and the decent to come. This was the best bit on the course, a dusty, very bumpy, rutted track with a switchback in the middle and a rocky section towards the bottom. Again the Truth was perfect for this, just floating over it. The problem for others was the rocks, at that point you were going pretty fast. Pinch flat territory. The bike was working sweetly and soaking it up or letting me jump long sections at that speed. Then it was a blast through a field to the finish. I solved the bottle issue by stashing the feed bottle on the bike, taking the water only bottle and downing it before the hill and ditching it.

One of the open guys was still with me at the start of the second lap. He asked how my legs were as we rode the first hill. After a pause for thought I realised they were pretty good actually, could have been related to the massive grin I had on my face – I was really loving this!! I dropped him on the hill this time and started to pick up some more of the Champs riders. Knowing what was coming I really ripped into the descents on that lap, I was having some series fun. The same Open chap was still there or there abouts at the start of the third lap so I kept the pace high up the hill and didn’t see him again. I did pick up the women’s National Champ Caroline Jackson though – that spurred me on as let’s face it you can’t be beaten by a girl can you? It was starting to hurt tho, second to last lap is always the worst. At the beginning of the last lap I took my energy gel and tucked into the lap – it was the last one, I knew all the work was at the front end so I just put it in up the hill. I stayed ahead of Caroline, she caught me a couple of times but never got ahead. I was catching and passing Champs riders all the time and I was still feeling pretty good considering.

There is nothing like getting to the top of the last hill in a race like that, having done well so far and knowing it’s not far to go. I was pretty chuffed and was still grinning madly on the descents. I couldn’t be sure but I thought I was first of second and that felt good. Blasting down the last downhill and stomping across the field feeling pretty pleased, even when the PA failed to announce my finish (unlike just about every other rider!) it didn’t dampen my spirits. I managed to dodge the MBR trolls (or where they promo girls, oops sorry) and get to the results van to find out that I was second and only to Simon Burgess, who’s a rocket anyway. More importantly my time would have been 13th in the Champs race – now that I’m pretty bloody happy with – 13th fastest Marathon rider in the country!! I have to drink more beer before races more often…”

Matt Hart/Marcos Scier/Simon Burgess/Simon Turner