There may come a day in the future when we look back on October 4th 2020 as the day St Helens Tri firmly reasserted itself as a major force in the wake of the lockdown which wiped out most of the summer racing season. Oulton Park has long been a favourite venue for either an early season sharpener or an end of season blowout at one of the fastest race tracks in the country. This year’s sole event was effectively two races worth of entries rolled into one, and as such the organisers put on a middle distance to go with the usual sprint and standard races. No St Helens Tri members were in the 8:30am race so it was all hands to the pump on the standard and sprint distances. In the longer race Rob Preston and Kevin Dunbar had a cracking duel, as they were closely matched early doors but Rob pulled away on the bike, his TT position paying dividends. Kevin put in a last ditch effort to catch his teammate but Rob stayed ahead to the tune of just 68 seconds, the pair both cracking the top 50. Azzam Taktak’a regular attendance on the Pimbo oval at the Tuesday night bike sessions proved invaluable as his time of 2:33:52, powered by some particularly impressive laps on the bike, propelled him to third in his age group.
The sprint distance was a similarly thrilling race with over 80 people facing the timekeepers at 20 second intervals. Robert Chesters was off to the races as he reached the end of the first run in under 15 minutes. His new St Helens Tri liveried Merida Warp proved a handy weapon on the bike course as he averaged laps well under seven minutes, and a final time of 1:08:16 gave him an age group title for the first time since June 2018. David Mellor has long been a bolt of lightning over short distances as one might expect from an ex rugby player, but here he proved that previous sporting experience is no obstacle to strength and speed in more endurance related activities, as he powered around on his Giant TCR and not only finished in well under 80 minutes, but also in the top six in his age group, while it was a welcome return for Robert Saile whose power and strength on the bike proved pivotal in allowing him to make up places en route to 83rd position. However, the best story of the day was that of Christine and Bethany Forber. Christine has been working throughout the lockdown as an essential teacher for those children who were unable to miss school, and she has long been a key source of inspiration for other club members as well as raising money for local charities. Here, she was closely matched with Bethany on the first run before pulling out a gap on the bike and eventually recording a time of 1:35:08, good enough for third in her age group just 36 seconds ahead of recent new club member David Wright. Meanwhile Bethany, who like Robert has been a long term contributor to the club coaching team, showed the sort of strength normally reserved for much older athletes especially on the tough climb after Knickerbrook Corner, not only finishing within three minutes of her mum but joining Robert in the champions’ circle as she won the F20-24 age group!
A terrific way to end the best reunion race of the autumn (post lockdown?) season, which no-one could possibly have predicted a few short months ago. Further duathlons are on the horizon at Milton Keynes and Clumber Park before the end of the month, and the trail running season is well underway giving race-starved athletes plenty to look forward to over the coming weeks.