The penultimate Scott MTB Marathon in the series started in Wantage; not necessarily known as a MTB Mecca, but the series organisers were clearly in search of variety. And they found it in the rolling, chalky white bridleways of Oxfordshire, a world away from the steep Exmoor rockgardens or windswept moorlands of mid Wales. (Thanks to Rob Barker for the photos…)
The Ridgeway offers old English charm; miles of doubletrack carved across the green landscape, with just the occasional wiggle of narrow singletrack snaking through the scattered copses. The sunshine had baked the ground hard, and the going was fast. Where the trail was visible, the ruts and divots carved from winter mountain biking, tractors or horses were easily avoidable, but often only a tyre’s-width of white earth emerged from the long grass, and always worn a few inches deep and treacherous at speed. It was a test of mettle to push the pace and keep the flow, especially against the odds of the handlebar-grabbing brambles.
The Wantage marathon may have lacked elevation (with about 1100m climb in the longest distance), but it still posed a proper challenge. Holding steady in the ruts and handling the head wind that howled across the countryside was draining. I spent 100km undecided if it was worse to try and follow a wheel in the deep furrows or brave it the full force of the wind.
The organisers, perhaps responding to criticism that last year’s inaugural edition lacked challenge, added the 100km Monster distance to the standard 50 and 75km options. Maybe they wanted to prove that ‘challenge’ comes in many forms, and doesn’t always need big climbs. By the final of three well-stocked feed stations at 76km, my Monster was winning, but the natural camaraderie of the event stepped in and my personal end-of-level-baddie was slain by Steve from Chepstow. No monsters can compete with friendly Tour de France banter and tactical drafting.
The final marathon in the series is on the weekend of 10th/11th September and includes a night marathon on the Saturday night. The start is at Ruthin Rugby Club.
For more info, check out the site: mtb-marathon.co.uk