Published: 1st September, 2016
While much of the UK was basking under the warm sun, those racing the National Mountain Bike Marathon Championships, held for 2016 in Llandovery, Wales were less lucky.
With a dark, damp start to the day it did not dampen the racers enthusiasm with a quality field of riders on the start line. Held outside of Selkirk, Scotland for the first time in several years with two timed laps of a very challenging 40km course for the Championships riders in store.
Riders started on a closed central street in Llandovery, with the first few kilometres neutralised until the route headed off the busy A road and onto the race course. The womens race was started at the bottom of a long but gradual road climb, giving time for the field to spread out before hitting the singletrack. By the top, Sharon Laws was showing her intent, leading over Charlotte Davies in second place and a closely packed fight for third as the riders heading into Crychan Forest, where all the racing would take place.
The mens race was started nearer the top of the tarmac climb and riders were almost immediately into a short singletrack section in the forest, the whole pack of riders sprinting to try and get ahead and any advantage possible.
The tough course proved a challenge to all riders, with 3000 metres of climbing, with almost the entire descents taking place on singletrack sections, it was both physically and mentally challenging and even tougher with the damp weather making things more slippery and challenging.
After the first lap Sharon Laws was still ahead, but had a real race on her hands with Charlotte Davies just a minute behind and chasing hard. Melanie Alexander was holding third position with Carla Haines and Sophie Hemming both chasing hard.
In the mens race the top 5 riders couldn't have been closer with metres separating each rider, the group was fronted by XCO specialist Phillip Pearce, with reigning Champion Ben Thomas close behind along with Tom Bell, Paul Oldham and Giles Drake all lapping in an incredible 2 hours 7 minutes, well ahead of the expected lap times.
Sharon Laws managed to hold off the competition, with no incidents to take the win and her third National Championship of her career which was impressively in the third discipline. As the first Veteran category competitor, she also took that title with Melanie Alexander second Veteran and Verity Appleyard completing the podium.
The Men's race was shaping up to be one of the closest marathon event finishes there has ever been, even though Tom Bell and Phillip Pearce had dropped off the group slightly the top three were getting ready for a sprint finish.
Ben Thomas was the victorious rider, gaining a mere 2 seconds over Paul Oldham at the finish and Giles Drake within sight just seconds behind. In the Veteran competition Marc Chamberlain rode an impressive race, staying in front throughout to take the win and 8th Overall. Mark Spratt finished 2nd and Roy Davies just a few minutes further back completing the podium in third.
Sharon Laws: “My race strategy was to push hard on the gravel road sections, particularly the climbs and to take the descents cautiously. I spend most of my time on the road bike so my technical skills are not as good as the other girls so I had to focus on utilising my strengths in the climbing sections and minimising the time losses in the technical sections. I knew I would loose more time if I crashed heavily than I would by going cautiously. I managed to pull away from Charlotte in the first long gravel road section but she maintained the gap so after the first lap and muddy technical section through the forest she was once again right behind me. She kept me under pressure but I managed to pull away again in the same section and kept my head down.This was the last race of my season and pro-cycling road career and the prospect of winning my 3rd National Jersey in 3 disciplines (road, time trial and mountain bike marathon) was a huge motivation. I was thrilled to win to the event and it was a special way to end my career.”
Ben Thomas: “Early on in the race I sat mid pack watching, listening, accessing the situation and saving energy. This course was tough and I expected attrition to shred riders from the pack. I felt it was too hard a circuit to make a break, you’d just go over the limit and crash on one of the very slippery muddy descents. Summer still hasn’t arrived in Wales, the trails were like rivers. I had to wait for the others to make a mistake or I’d make a move on the last climb. Into the last descent, Paul led, then me, then Giles. I couldn’t make a mistake, just follow the wheel, don’t mess this up. To the finish arch we slow down, Paul tries to get me to lead it out but there’s no way I’m losing this, I’ve worked so hard for this."