Margam Park hosted the UK’s National Marathon Championships, this year sponsored by Trek, bringing together a hundred or so true committed individuals keen to work through pain thresholds, all in eager anticipation of landing a coveted National title.
Just 100 competitors lined up to do battle for the Marathon titles on offer and ahead lay four gruelling laps of a mountainous circuit. Each category contained at least one ‘hot favourite’, but this being mountain biking where anything can happen and usually does, each race was wide open, with no one becoming complacent and all aware of the pitfalls of mechanicals or just plain running out of steam.
Oli Beckingsale had his eyes on this jersey to add to his groaning wardrobe of National victories, and despite riding the previous day, looked confident in the hills relishing in the brutal conditions. Course designer Paul Davis had worked his magic creating a myriad of testing sections, woven into a flowing 22km lap that was designed to test the best and provided a mixture of grin inducing and grimacing butt clenching moments.
Beckingsale was joined on his rumble round the park by Hope rider Paul Oldham who, after a nasty tumble on Friday, wanted to salvage something from a near disaster of a weekend. Also keeping the party alive were Dave Collins, Ross Creber and Ian Bibby.
Beckingsale stepped on the gas on lap 3 and suddenly the race was on. Using his climbing prowess Beckingsale moved into another gear and started moving swiftly away, only Oldham and Bibby could hold. Then, one by one, they fell by the wayside until Beckingsale was alone and riding for home and with it the win. Bibby was looking confident for the silver till a puncture saw Oldham surge past, grabbing second spot while Bibby limped home for third.
“This is the first time I’ve had a go at the marathon so great to come back with the jersey. It’s never really fitted in before with my busy schedule, but this year I could make a bit of time for it, so I decided to give it a go,” says Beckingsale.
“The course was very old school, a great 25min climb, I’m not going to moan about that! I really enjoy marathons, I don’t enjoy riding for a long time round small laps, but here they got a 4 lap course, which makes it all bearable, you don’t get bored.”
Defending champion and marathon specialist Sally Bigham had a less than perfect race. With some tough competition she was keen to put as much space between herself and her rivals. On lap 1 she had company going up the climbs in the shape of Swiss based UK rider Jane Nuessli. In an effort to lose her strong competitor Bigham took the riskier lines on the descents, which paid off for a while until a massive high speed crash nearly stopped the Ergon/Topeak rider in her tracks.
Undeterred she carried on, fighting a battle of mind over pain as well as over other riders, with thoughts of her competitors surging past her pushing her on. Amazingly she completed the full race to hang onto her National jersey for a second year. On finishing she headed straight for the medics where she fainted and was whisked off to hospital missing her moment of glory on the podium.
“Well my race didn’t exactly go to plan,” said Bigham. “I had a high-speed crash, which flung me from my bike, and I landed on my leg and then my head. I jumped back up telling the startled guys behind that I was fine and got back on my bike. My leg was hurting and when I looked down at it I panicked – it had swelled instantly and looked like someone had inserted a couple of tennis balls under my skin.
“I figured that the other girls would soon catch me as I completed the lap and I focused all of my effort on not fainting and just getting back to the pits. To my surprise however nobody caught me by the time I made it back to the start/finish area. I then reasoned with myself that since I had completed the lap it couldn’t be that bad and it must just look worse than it was. I decided to go out and see if I could complete another lap without being caught, so I gingerly set off. I was really tentative on the descents and it was hard to ride at full power because of the pain.“
Meanwhile, the race behind for the minor places was constantly changing. Gemma Collins holding on hard for bronze while Nuessli maintained second, but by the end of the race, it was current XC National champ Jenny Copnall who charged for the line to claim silver leaving Nuessli the bronze, while Collins had to be content with fourth.
The women’s vet’s championships were fought over three laps and it was seasoned contender Lydia Gould who rode to victory leaving Debbie Burton claiming silver and Abi Armstrong, bronze.
Michael Powell wasn’t as lucky as Bigham and failed to hang onto his National title succumbing to the strong challenge posed by David Hayward who delighted whisked the title away.