Following the Taça de Portugal in Valongo, Seb and Hamish trucked out to Belgium for the World Marathon Series in Houffalize. Known collectively as the Roc d’Ardenne, they were bidding to qualify to represent Great Britain at the World Marathon Championships later in the year. A top 20 result is what was needed to automatically make the qualification.
Houffalize is a well known MTB XCO race venue and has held many World Cups over the years. Seb had one of his best results there as an U23 in 2012. Further more, the route of the famous road Classic Liege-Bastogne-Liege goes straight through the centre and up the steep climb that formed the start of the Marathon (and the XCO World Cups of past).
Marathon racing is a different beast to XCO – the team’s normal and familiar discipline. This particular Marathon was set as one big 82.5km loop which contained over 2000m of ascent, so the Roc d’Ardenne certainly required a different approach and usage of tactics to a XCO. There was also the added fact that it was not possible to pre-ride much of the course, which meant you had to learn and adapt to what came at you during the race.
The start was clearly a lot less decisive than in XCO and the long steep start climb offered a good opportunity to move forwards, although Hamish and Seb were still gridded near the front from their XCO World Ranking.
Seb – “From the gun, I moved up towards the front on the road climb, as I wanted to be positioned well to avoid trouble. It worked well and in the first half of the race I felt really strong on the climbs. The speed and intensity of the Marathons is a lot lower than XCO, it is obviously the distance that nails you, but the way I was riding meant I felt good for a top result.”
Hamish – “I got held up a little further back than Seb, but was still sat comfortably in the lead group. Frustratingly one of the other riders braked erratically ahead of me and I crashed out behind pretty early on. As I was chasing back on, I managed to take a wrong turn and had to backtrack to find the course again. I felt good though, and knew there was still plenty of racing to go.”
Seb rode well at the front of the lead group, but the distance started to take it’s toll and he had to slow his pace around the 2.5-hour mark.
Seb – “The fatigue came on really quickly and I knew that if I was going to hold on to the Finish, that I was going to have to slow down. I would have to let the win go, but the goal was a top 20 and I was well inside the top 10, so knew if I rode sensibly I’d still finish well.”
Meanwhile Hamish was making his way forwards with Belgium cyclocross (MTB, road) legend Sven Nys.
Hamish – “I rode well with Sven. I was strong on the uphill and he was tanking it on the flat. Unfortunately at around 35km, I rear wheel flatted – a rock totally destroyed the side-wall of my tyre. The wet conditions made me opt for the Conti X-King RS (for better grip), which was the right call, but I knew there would be a greater risk of getting a puncture and I paid the price. I put in a tube, rode the 10km to the next feed zone and swapped the wheel, but by then I was out chasing on my own.”
Making headway on his own, Hamish picked up a few places to finish a frustrated 24th. “I was annoyed about flatting, but that is racing sometimes. I rode really consistently throughout the whole 82.5km and started to find my form again. It’s looking as though my form will continue to build as we go through the Season.”
Seb was still going well, but started to crack fast in the last 2km. He lost 3 places pretty much on the line but finished a fantastic 12th place, well within the qualifying target and a superb result at the World Series. “In the end the distance got me and the much flatter second half of the course didn’t do me any favours. I was pleased with the result though – this was our first marathon race and was a real unknown, so the good ride and the result gave me a lot of confidence.”