|Picture courtesy of Joolze|
I have always been a bit disparaging towards Margam, questioning why so many love it. The annual showing of blue skies, deer herds, rhododendrons and the contrasting backdrop of the steelworks makes for a very photogenic venue. However, past experiences – the numerous crashes, the mud, botched tyre changes and thigh length bruises – have tempered my enthusiasm for my home event.
This year was to be a 'Best of' for Margam; the mud of 2010 coupled with the stifling heat of previous editions. Despite the forecasts for sun, there was no indication of what was to come. Grey skies and rain preceded the event and even the morning of the race was overcast. Yet in the 15minutes it took to drive from Mum and Dad's the sky had cleared and I had a sweat on. Whilst muddy, the rapidly drying course posed an interesting predicament for tyre choice. However, after the panic of last year's last minute indecision I stuck to my guns with the middle ground option of Maxxis Advantage up front (good grip for the claggy off camber but struggled to clear on the fireroad climbs) and Aspen out back (surprisingly grippy for the damp rooty climbs and happily ungrippy for the fireroad climbs:)
The start of the race was nuts. It's always a shock to go from resting to max heart rate inside a hundred metres but in the heat to which no one was acclimatised it felt dreadful. People were popping within the first lap and it was these retirements that were the motivation to continue. Lap 1 was rapid (for me) where I struggled against some unfamiliar mid-pack riders, laps 2 – 4 were a lonely war of attrition whilst lap 5 saw the bait of a tiring Jon Pybus (GT Racing) upfront and the fear of a fast finishing Matt Page (Wiggle) and George Budd (Salsa) coming from behind. Normally I'd have resigned myself to being passed, happy enough to settle for my first top 20. However, with a vocal Matt & Amy and JB doing a stellar job in the feedzone for myself
AND Scott Easter I tried to up my pace on the final lap. This amounted to a few fleeting moments out of the saddle and some ungraceful re-mounts following a run through the mud. With tiring arms I had to take the descents carefully, particularly the final chute where a loss of line can lead to some comedy wheel-slap in the ruts. Relieved, I pulled away to finish a happy 17th. Hardly ground breaking but a significant step forward.
I feel it slightly devalues your result when it is achieved by default, either through others retiring instead of beating them outright or when the regular international riders are absent. Nonetheless, to look at the positives, it is pleasing to overcome the indifference of my ride at Wasing by digging deep and refusing to bow to the more experienced riders. It also shows what is possible off the back of a favourable week at work, a couple of beastings on the road bike and a nice bit of rest.
Like any impressible glory supporter I can now say I'm a fan of Margam.