What better way than to spend your May bank holiday camping on a football pitch in the sun, then riding mountain bikes under huge blue skies. The Cycle-tec team pulled perfect weather out the bag and despite the lack of ‘mountain’ in the biking on and around the Ridgeway, put smiles on the faces of elites and newbies alike.
Around the event village, there drifted the smell of bacon and coffee from the catering marquee, and booming music getting us all in the mood for a hot day in the saddle. Gathering around the start line at the Wantage football club was the usual mixed bag of elites in logo-ed lycra all the way through to families and really quite dinky children. The range of distances attracts all sorts of riders, and this edition particularly had a high number of women thanks to the Hopetech women’s ride and children’s session the day before. According to Rachel Walker from Hope, there were around 30 women on that ride, some demo-ing the cutting edge technology on offer in the Hope demo fleet. Asking one rider, Carla Tonks, how she was enjoying her go on the shiny new Scott Spark she was riding, she grinned and told me it was “completely lush” adding that “it’s a dangerous business riding a bike like this. I don’t think I can go back to my old one now!” I’m guessing that’s the point, Carla!
The narrow start did a good job of stringing out the 800-strong field, and by the time we hit the rolling hills the string of riders was stretching far into the distance. Within a few minutes, though, we hit the first of the rutted double track trails which kept us company for much of the next 80km. The half and mini marathoners soon peeled off, and swung in to join us again at various points. The map was a zig zag of crazy lines, but the signing was perfect and the route avoided as much road as possible.
The question I have been asked about the Wantage edition of these marathons is about the riding – is it fun? Is it ‘proper mountain biking’? Is it a good day out? The answer can be found in my beasted legs, sharp tan lines and bramble-scratched arms. At 80km, the ride is longer than the other full marathons, but there isn’t the same ascent as Builth Wells or Exmoor. Instead, you contend with tyre-wide narrow ruts, wheel-swallowing ditches hidden in the thick grass and constant all-body jolting as you pedal incessantly over the rolling downs. Tough comes in many forms. And the organisers love mountain biking as much as any one of the riders, so they squeeze in all the sneaky local singletrack they can find, so there is plenty of Whoop.
After one of the Scott marathons, Facebook teems with boasts of age category wins, QOM successes and ride time info, and for some it will always be about pace. For others, it’s a glorious excuse for a day out on the bike with family and friends with the bonus of that post-ride ice-cream basking in the glory personal achievement.
Next events in the series:
9th July, Minehead, Exmoor
2nd/3rd September, Hope Valley, Peak District