This year’s USA Marathon Championships will take place June 4 at Wildwood Park in Appling, Georgia, about 2 and a half hours east of Atlanta. The marathon race will be just a part of the Wildwood Park weekend, which will also include Trail Running, Disc Golf, Skateboarding and BMX racing.
Todd Wells (SRAM-TLD-Scott) will be heading up an elite field of endurance specialists and trying to defend his 2015 National Championship Jersey. Wells, now 40 years old, has backed away from World Cup racing during the past couple seasons and found a strong niche in long-distance events. Earlier this season he won the 34-mile Sea Otter Classic, finished third at the Whiskey 50, and won the 40-mile Grand Junction Off-Road Race two weeks ago.
Wells commented on the upcoming weekend: "If I had to choose only one national championship to compete in all year it would be marathon nationals. You get to ride a giant 100-km loop, you don't need to spend a month at 10,000 feet to acclimate and you can weigh more than 130 lbs and still do well.”
Wells added: “It rewards a well-rounded mountain biker, and I'm sure this weekend will provide a great race.”
It is an understatement to say that Wells is a well-rounded mountain biker. The three-time Olympian has won national championships at all distances, including short track, cross-country and the marathon. Another "over-40" rider competing this weekend with a well-rounded resume is Jeremiah Bishop (Topeak Ergon-Canyon). He too has won at all distances and was less than two minutes behind Wells at the 2015 Marathon National Championships.
Both he and Wells have enough confidence to go to the front and ride close to their cross-country pace for hours at a time in order to blow the race apart. However, Bishop cautioned, “This year I won't be the aggressor like I was last year. Having been sick for several weeks has me looking for spot on the podium, while my main priority is preparing for World Championships in France."
Bishop's rivals know this could also mean he is in the best form of his life. Other riders who could challenge Wells and Bishop include Troy Wells (Cliff Bar), winner of the Iceman Cometh Race; Keck Baker (Blue Ridge Cyclery), who finished third last year less than four minutes off the winner’s time; Ryan Woodall from Ocala, Florida; and Ridebiker’s young phenom Cole Oberman.
Defending women's champion Grant a favourite to repeat
Rose Grant (Stans NoTubes-Pivot) appears to be the odds-on favourite to repeat as the women’s national champion in a thin field. She has raised her game considerably this year. Most recently she won both the Whiskey 50 and Grand Junction Off-Road Races put on by the Epic Rides organisation. She collected $5,000 checks at each event.
Grant talked about this weekend: "Marathon Nationals is a big race on my calendar each season. Columbia County, Georgia offers a uniquely flat course, but the twisty trail with multiple 'rake and ride' sections and creek crossings keeps the riders' attention for the duration of the 60-mile race."
She added: "The race is being held a month later than last year. The (expected) temperatures appear to be in the low 90s with high humidity and chance of thunderstorms. So nutrition and hydration prior to and during the race will be very important, as always."
The 62-mile course features only 2,900 feet of climbing but taxes the riders with constant turning and short punchy climbs and descents. The entire course only has 170 feet of maximum elevation change. It consists of 30-mile "loops" with some sections of two-way gravel roads.
Wells remarked: "The course in Augusta is awesome. It's 100 km of twisty, rocky, rooty single track. It is completely forested and has everything you would expect from an East Coast course, including quite a few stream crossings that could be running pretty well this weekend with the rain forecast."
Bishop agreed: "Marathon nationals in Augusta is a really special course. High-speed narrow twisty lakeside single track makes up 95 percent of the action. Because it lacks significant climbing, the relentless acceleration thru 5,000 or so turns becomes really fatiguing. After last year a lot of racers said it was the most toasted their legs had been all year. I felt like I had raced a four-hour crit."
With the wet conditions expected, equipment selection is going to be critical. Grant told Cyclingnews that she would be using her 29er Pivot Les hardtail, Stan’s Valor Wheels, and a combination of Maxxis Pace/Aspen tires. She noted that she wants to "have some grip for the corners that are covered with loose sand and slick pine needles."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full race coverage, results, and photos from Appling, Georgia.