LoveCross

Riding The Dream At Plean.

Plean Country Park. 26.11.17

I have wanted to write this blog for a while. A blog about a race where I turn up, finish without any incident or mechanicals then I end the hour within the top 30 riders. Well, I finally get to tell you about it.

Plean is a new course for me, I have seen the footage on YouTube, and every one of them has snow and mud involved. Today is no different. A small covering of snow has dusted the car park, and it’s a little thicker as I wander through the woods on the way to pick up my race numbers.

The course from what I have been told has been shortened due to heavy ice on one part deeming it a bit of a hazard. From the practice lap and dropping the pit bike off, I get a feel for the course and that feeling is slippy. I am confident that the soft grass and fast decents combo will be taking a few people down if it’s ridden too fast. So leaving out another hazard for us to contend with was the right call by the organisers, (Stirling Bike Club)

Head to the start line and strip off the manky waterproofs and prepare to race. Look around, there is a small number of riders at the line in today’s race. I think, even if I come dead last I will still have one of my best placings in the senior open race. I just hope the bikes hold together and no DNFs today.

Some good news for the skinny guys, we aren’t being held for too long at the start line, meaning they won’t be shivering in the cold for too long. That’s the bonus of my bigger belly, extra winter heat! The whistle blasts as soon as the griding has been sorted and the fast boys power away.

It seems I am going backwards, I run out of gear on the start and lose distance on the bunch as we descend down to the first turn. A right corner takes us up through a thick carpet of leaf litter with the bare skeletal branches keeping us in the shade overhead.

On the climb is where I claw back a few seconds, manage to get back onto the wheels of the guys in front making me feel I am back into the race. Speed along the snow, past the pits and now it’s time to pick a good line through the spacious but very soft ground taking you to the first of two fast grass downhills.

I keep right as we shoot down the hill, bang on the brakes to take the inside of the corner and away from the soft ground on the right. Rise out the seat and climb up the hill to repeat the same move over again. Keep to the right of the grass, to try and bang off the mud build up on the bumps. Brakes on and ride the tight inside line. This time two barriers have to be negotiated before I ride uphill once more. None of this bunny hopping malarkey from me. So off the bike and run over the two small barriers, then back on to a grind up the hill.

The next descent was a bit sketchy, multiple lines to choose from but they all seemed to try and spit you out of the course, or worse down into the small burn as it narrowed taking you around a fast right-hand berm. Blast through a muddy sinkhole, then time to shoot down through the woods on a loose gravel path. At the end of the gravel, I dismount and slog up the muddy run-up. The encouragement never faltered from this marshalling point and spurs you on to the top of the deepening mud.

Get back on the peddles and swing around the condemned building in the park, and past the timing van. Time to suck in some much-needed air and not let the Stirling rider get too far ahead, as we ride down to the foot of the first climb up to the pit area.

Managed to keep on the guy’s wheel, then overtake as I passed my pit bike. A lousy line and some colourful language escaped from my mouth that shocks the English HTCC spectators as we battle through the mud. My wallowing in the mire allows him to sneak past once again. I am on his wheel for the remainder of the lap, Stirling rider receives great encouragement from his bike club as we both run the mud up to the tarmac.

I take the chance and overtake as we ride the first climb, I push on a bit harder and manage to gap him as we journey through the mud, I control my race line this time, which in turn controls my corrupt language. On the drop down I stick to the lumps to try to clear the mud on the grass decent.

I hike through the mucky runup, and as I pass the marshall and sporting a smug smile, I ask where his rider is now after gaining a bit of distance on the chasing Stirling rider. Just go to hope it doesn’t come back and bit me later on in the race. Go past the finish line for another lap and get shown the 9 laps to go. Whit!! Nine laps. I am not feeling so smug now.

I feel I can’t manage another 9 laps at the moment but settle in and time to take each lap as it comes. It’s a short course today, so it’s not long before the leaders come past. Then they do so another twice, so my nine-lap fear turned into seven laps slog. All in I complete ten laps within the hour.

I rolled over the line covered in mud and boogies in 24th position, which sounds good and gives my Statage ranking a tremendous boost, but it was only out 30 riders so when you say it like that it doesn’t seem that impressive.

Gary lapped me on the second last lap, he completed 11 laps while the winners have done 13. He rolls over the line in another impressive 17th place.

Plean you were a dream. Let’s see if I can make it the same for next week at Knockburn Loch and the Scottish Cyclocross Championships.

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Thanks to Karly Millar, Falk Meier for the use of the images in the blog post.

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Goldie Lookin Chain.

Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series. Round 4

Lochore Meadows. 19th November 2017.

The direction of travel is Eastward today, taking in my first trip over the new Queensferry Crossing as Gary and I head for Lochore Meadows. The course usually is muddy in sections and has a hunger for rear mechs hangers. It has also grown a split opinion on its main feature, The Spiral Of Doom. I like the feature, and it makes this course a bit different to others and uses the limited space well.

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Arrive at a very full carpark, but plenty of space in the overflow area where I manage to track down Scott McKendrick and get my new kit hot from the printer. Advertising Direct knocked it out the Country Park once again with the logo for CycleForm, and TwoWheelArmy added to the new Endura kit. Time to fill it with little holes and blood as I try to pin the numbers on the sleeve and back.

Hydrate with a hot cup of tea and take in the start of the V40 race while the pit bike gets dropped off. With the cold night and frosty morning, it has helped keep the course running quite firm, so it’s not too badly cut up with all the racing of the morning and early afternoon. The regularly sloppy parts seem rideable from watching the lead riders of the V40s pass by. One new feature added this year is the stairs to run at the old ruin. With the firm course, it looks like we will be in for a fast race and maybe I will add a few pumps of air into my tyres.

The senior open riders assemble at the start area, I finish off riding a loop of the dizzying spiral and head to the start. I hang my jacket along with plenty of others amongst the branches of the trees, from a distance it looks like a poorly arranged Christmas tree. Gary squeezes up a few rows in front giving me my first target of the day. The front riders get gridded, and with the shuffle of the pack, I manage to move forward one or two spaces and find myself to too far off Gary’s wheel.

The race briefing goes down, we are told all to behave, no hitting or spitting and the pain will last for just over an hour. Then the whistle goes, and we are off. Well, to be honest, I didn’t hear the whistle blast! I just hear the sound of pedals meeting cleats, then I see that the riders out at the front are on the move. Get myself going and charge down the lefthand side of the course, fighting for space as we hit the first corner. The first turn is a bottleneck into woods, we come to slow roll, I manage to stay on the bike and ride out of trouble. We are still all in a fight for space as we drift into the small but tight S bends just after the double-sided pits.

Jump off the bike as it bunches up again and run the S bends still elbow to elbow with the mid-pack crush. After the bends, you usually have a 50-yard slog through ever deepening mud. Not this year, it was still soft underfoot, but you could ride it if you had space, I didn’t, have to stick with the running for now! Ride past the other side of the pits with the next obstacle to come will be the barriers. Just as I fight to take some space, my bike chucks off its chain. Disaster! Pull over and get the chain back on to the cogs. Can’t believe I am dead last in another race with a shipped chain. Ride to the hurdles, and with two turns of the cranks, the chain is off again. Refix it, hop the massive barriers and try the riding thing again.

The same thing happens again! Two turns of the cranks, and it pushes the chain off. Apparently, the chain tensioner isn’t happy at being in a race today and doesn’t want to put through the torture of a cross race. I have two options bouncing about in my skull. Number one is just to call it a day and get a DNF. Option two is to run the remainder of the lap and get to the pits for the spare bike. Shoulder the bike and get on with running as I am not here to give up.

I have a bit of a jog now, over three-quarters of the lap I have to run, just as well I have been putting extra miles by running with the dog in the mornings. As I hit the spiral for the first time, I get to see the backmarkers finish the last few bends which leaves me all alone at the edge of the impending doom. It was a slog running at the of the tape for about five minutes on a constant left curve. Get to the eye of the spiral and turn and run the continuous curve on the right for another five minutes to get to the exit. Just as I am finished the spiral, I get lapped by the top three while still being on my first lap. This is was a strange one! All I can do now is target the pits and get my bike changed and aim for a finish.

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Finally, I get a break, I have forgotten the pits are double-sided. That means I have run my last on the first lap, change bikes and I am glad for a seat. I am still being lapped as I cross the line for my opening lap. Head down and push on hoping I might get fortunate and by the end of the race I could even take a position if I try hard enough.

Lap two, all is going well, my tyres feel a little too inflated, making riding the mud a bit sketchy at times. Ride the spiral of doom well, manage to hang on to some wheels as the top guys go past. On lap three I tackle the mud better and running the new stairs are my strong point taking two at a time. The blue gravel sprays overhead as my speed increases along the newly laid path, take the left turn and try to power down the tarmac.

Ping! My goldie looking chain snaps! Well, that’s just GREAT! My race is now over!

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Walking up to get my jacket from the tree, Gary scoots past in a small group. He feels sorry for me for a fraction of a second just as I did when he had his DNF.

Gather my bikes and broken bits, walk over to timing van and hand in my chip. My first DNF of the season and hopefully my last. Another two bikes to fix, but at least they are minor fixes, annoying all the same though. Last year the bike ran well, and the only mechanicals were two punctures. Hopefully, that’s the bad luck out the way for the remainder of the season.

Hang about the start line to shout, jeer and laugh with the Happy Trail crew. Gary rolls over the line in an impressive 35th position and in an exhausted state. The boy is not bad at this racing thing, and he can only get better with more practice and course knowledge.

Pack up the car and head home with Gary chewing my ear about my singlespeed and how shit my backyard bike mechanics are. (Bike mechanics in a car for over an hour talking about broken bikes must be some sort of cyclocross extra time torture. Next time he’s on the roof, and the bikes are in the car)

Plean is up next. A new venue for Two Wheel Army.

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Dig In.

4th Quarter of Quaich.

19.2.17 Dig In At The Dock, Bo’ness Harbour.

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The conclusion of Cross ends at Bo’ness Harbour.  Super Quaich is being held by none other than David Hamill and Pete Ward with help from Peddle Power.  Dig In was one of the main reasons I got into Cyclocross, watching the Youtube videos of John and Davy drive about the country racing through mud and shit weather. (like a Scottish version of Max & Paddy’s Road trips with bikes involved) I thought, that looks good, I’m giving that a bash.

Last year I didn’t have the best time at the Docks, so with this being the last ever Dig In I have unfinished business with this course and was glad to get one of the golden tickets.

Head through today team handed, my three boys and my pit chief Victoria want to come through and lend their support.  Sign on and collect my number, timing chip and also receive a great wee goody bag.  The boys see some free tasting at the Cliff bar stand and head over.  I just have to keep them away from the caffeine blocks as hyper kids are murder at times.   They get a free oat bar off the vendor and happily wander back over to the car munching away on that.

Get my number pinned on and bikes off the car.  Drop off the pit bike, time to get a warm up lap of the course done with Kevin Pugh, Ayr Burners.  We role up with the assembling riders at the start area, we settle in around the middle of the bunch and this is still with fifteen minutes to go.  Get the last gulp of water, and the boys tell me to “ride fast and don’t fall off”.

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Outer layers are stripped off, jackets are being dispersed to the crowd, now we are ready for the starter to let us go.  He seems not to be as ready as us, the gun doesn’t want to pop, so the backup plan is used, we are off and racing on the blow of his whistle.

We race straight into a headwind, a battle that will be with every rider today!  The good thing about today’s course is that it’s pretty broad, so loads of room to pick my way past people as we ride along the path heading for the first corners.  The middle of the race is still quite packed together as we come to the first set of barriers.  Off the bike, hop run jump and remount the bike taking some positions as I go.  A quick ride and you are soon eyeing up the second set of barriers.  Go over these without a hitch and now its ride past the Mylaps timing van and here the voice of Scottish Cyclocross “Jammy” calling out the lead riders names.  Now it’s on to the cobbles.

This is the point of the race last year that I went and surfed the fence, ripping my shoulder open, and my bike nearly ended up in the skip.  It was also the topic of conversation with a few people before the race, don’t think I will be let off from crashing out on the first lap. Get to the other side without incident and try to pick up my pace working my way up the field.  Same plan today as previous races, go out steady and keep an even pace for as long as I can.

We race out to the furthest point of the course, along some grass and stone covered paths looping back around in the direction of the harbour.  An excellent series of off cambers and some punchy little ramps gets you out of the saddle.  Ride over the bridge and on to “Unicorner”.  Roll down the ramp and line the bike up on the outside of the corner.  There are a few steps taking you up to the tarmac above, but if you stayed right and took the outside line, there was the chance to ride up.  I took the chance and failed!  Managed all but one step, awkwardly push/ride over the lip and onto the tarmac.  Now to recover my lost place to the rider who ran the steps.  Down and along the Harbour wall we then 180 degrees turn, putting you eyeball to eyeball with the chasing riders as you head back up and turn into the headwind.

Trying all the tricks to stay out of the strong headwind coming off the Firth of Forth as it flows out to the North Sea.  Sitting in behind riders, riding beside riders, then trying to make myself as small as possible by riding on the drops.  All seem to fail, so now it is time to get the head down and grind it out in the wind.  Turn out of the wind and ride around to the sets of barriers and over the line.  I get cheered on by my fan club and discard my glasses while I have someone to pick them up.  The crowd is massive along the start straight, and horns are blasting giving this race an epic atmosphere.  Back over the cobbles and try to catch the rider in front.

I seem to be racing well today, think with three laps to go I am around 24th.  Just as I come over the bridge into the noise of Unicorner, I drop down the ramp and feel my back tyre puncture.  Shite!  Run the steps and get to the top, feel the tyre and yip its race over for that wheel.  Lucky for me the pits are only a short run from here.  Get to my pit bike and change my Garmin over and its back in the race.  I lose a few positions while I run to the pits and mess about with the Garmin, need to upgrade to a watch for next season.

As I head into the last few laps I just have to protect my position and try and reel in the riders in front of me.  By this point in the race I am not sure who I am catching and who I might be lapping.  Brian McCutcheon, Walkers CC overtakes me, so I keep my eyes locked on him and try and pull him back.  Into the last lap and Brian is just edging too far ahead of me to catch, now my concern is on who is chasing me.  Darren Lindsay, Haddington CC is on my tail, I have a decent gap after the long headwind section, now I just need to relax and not mess anything up as I come to the last third of the course.

Easier said than done!  I come to the first set of barriers.  I dismount the bike, hop the first barrier, I don’t lift the bike high enough the rear wheel clatters the barrier, and the bike drops out my hands.  I stumble all over the place and somehow stay on my feet as I jump the second barrier minus a bike.  Back over the barrier and retrieve the bike, get over the barrier again, finding the handle bars are squint.  A quick straighten then I am back on the bike and sprinting to the next set of barriers.  Hit the barriers and now determined to lift the bloody bike higher this time, over them with the bike and around to the finish line still in front of Darren (even though mylaps doesn’t agree) in 36th place.

Dig In At The Dock, I won this time.

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What a race, It’s pretty much pan flat, no mud, no sand traps and no zigzags.  How is it a great race then?  I don’t know, it just has some magic about it.  A well thought out course that gives novice riders and expert riders just as much joy to race on.  I know a lot of riders are going to miss this race not being on next year.

A quick change into the Sombrero and Poncho I join the Happy Trails Cross Collective and Mr Trumpit to cheer on the star-studded and full gas A race.

 Arriba Arriba!

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The High Noon Show Doon.

3rd Quarter of Quaich.

5.2.17 Thistly Cross, Dunbar.

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Super Quaich Series moves onto round Trois, with Haddington CC being the party planners at Foxlake adventure.

Set off early and drive from the West coast over to the East coast.  To keep myself entertained, I try to match the bike to the rider as I pass cars with bikes on the roof and bike racks heading the same direction as me.  Directions are well laid out and I am guided to my parking bay by the yellow jackets.  Time to get the blood back to my lower limbs and go and sign on.

Riding the pit bike down I notice that the access road is very rocky, potentially a puncture before I even get to the start line.  Dispose of the bike and now it’s time for my warm up, a jog back to the car in my heavy hiking boots.  A quick bite to eat while I’m changing and I’m ready for Thistly Cross.

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Gather with the rest of the riders and wait to be set loose around the lake.  I didn’t manage a warm up lap so shall be riding this one carefully on the first lap.  Can’t believe I have a race plan.  My last race went well by riding on more of an even pace, rather than having two hot laps then dying on my arse and hanging on for the last 30 minutes.  Clipped in and sitting around mid-pack for the start.  The whistle is blasted, and we are under way!

A little drag up hill spreads us out a bit, rise to the top and then we shoot down and behind the café and pits.  Off the stone path and onto soft grass along the side of the lake.  Once at the end of Lake it’s time to navigate the wide mushy zigzags then it’s into the lower woods where the going goes up.  Ride the incline well, taking over a few riders as I go.  Once at the top, we get into a bottleneck as there is a tight turn to the left over a log.  Jump off the bike and squeeze through the pack, point the bike downhill and back in the saddle.  Still in the woods, we ride a great narrow single track path that takes you out onto another quick climb past the sign on Barn.

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Climb complete, we are into the woods and more single track.  I am following wheels at this point, still not sure what’s coming next on the course.  A brace of hurdles/barriers come next.  Off the bike run, hop, run, hop and back on the bike.  I don’t have the confidence to bunny hop the barriers so I just stick to running every lap.  A great flowing section around the trees kicks you back up and over the access road,  aim your wheel downhill and gather speed before a left turn and more squiggles at the edge of the tree line that tee’s you up for a steep banking and out into the main arena.  I dismount and run the wee bugger as I don’t want to look a fool in front of the cameras when I deck it if I tried to ride it.

Remount, still following wheels as we come around to where it all began.  This time we take a turn at the top of the small stone slope.  Off the bike, jump the barrier and we are running diagonally uphill and onto the switchbacks.  Ride all but one, the first one is just a bit steep for me and my gearing so running is the more efficient way to go.  Back in the saddle and few more bends takes me over the line and past Mylaps timing van and onto lap two.

Now I have had one lap under my belt, feeling more relaxed I start to move up and take places on all the features of the course.  Hills are my strong point today, as most people stick it in their granny gear when the course goes up.  Only having one gear with 18 teeth, I have to get the power down and keep the pace high, giving me more momentum to catch riders in front.  I’m enjoying this race, so much so next time I ride past the timing van I see two laps to go (where did the time go).  Squeeze a gel to death trying to get some taste back in my mouth.  Head down, pedal hard and time to catch some riders.  Have another good lap and gain places, I ride over the line and take the lap bell.

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By the time I hit the hurdles for the last time I have just caught Katie Carmichael and Tony Jones.  I take the lead as we descend into the woods.  I try and push the pace weaving through the trees back up to the gravel path.  Down the fast slope to the bomb hole and steep banking.  I jump off the bike, I can hear someone very close behind me.  Quickly back on the bike, I’ve got to try and make a gap on the small hill up to the barrier.  Hop the barrier and run the hill, back on the bike, down the grassy slope, taking a quick turn. (At this point the pressure of a chasing rider takes its toll).  I make a mess of the dismount and end up on the wrong side of the bike.  Running while juggling the bike trying to correct my position isn’t the best combination and I nearly fall.

I peek around and Tony is still on my tail.  Get to the right side of the bike for my remount, we are neck and neck.  I take a bad line and now riding the soft grass/mud.  Tony is powering through on a better line.  I have to jump off and run as I am grinding to a halt.  He gets to the corner ahead of me and powers on and over the line.  I remount and ride in just behind him.  That’s two races in a row I have had a battle to the line!  This time it was for 20th which I lost, rolling over the line to take 21st from 114 riders.  Super Quaich you have done it again.  A and race layout has given so much competition right through the field and I am sure the racers are all enjoying it.

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Huge thanks to Eric Easton, Colin Sergeant and the band of course builders from Haddington CC for putting on the race at Foxlake.  This course was amazing, I think it has become my favourite course on the calendar.

Last Quarter of Quaich is at Dig In At The Dock, Bo’ness.  The B race is going to be the toughest one yet with a few A riders dropping down, as the A race is being packed with stars from the CX world.  The A race will be a spectacle to watch.  The flying Gary McDonald taking on international cyclocross racers like Helen Wyman, Amira Mellor, Jeremy Durrin and Thomas Mein and will be interesting to see if the young pups Sean Flynn, Harry Johnston and Cameron Mason will catch the G machine.

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Last race of the 2016/17 calendar should be a cracker so get along and ring a cowbell or two.

Double Army Down to Doonbank. 

2nd Quarter Of Quaich. 

22.1.17 Rozelle Park, Ayr.

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A trip to Rabbie Burns neck of the woods today, Ayr Burners are hosting the second round of the Super Quaich Series.

Today I am joined by Clare Campbell racing in the B race.  I missed this race last year with being away topping up on Vitamin D in the sun, so I’m looking forward to getting to grips with the course and see what’s on offer fo an hour of pain in the park.  We go get our timing chips and numbers, while on the way we suck in the smell of freshly cooked pizza.  Pretty sure I will return after the race to sample what’s on offer.  Back to the car and we get on with getting set up for race day and Clare’s second Cyclocross race.

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A slow wander up makes us a late to get to the start line, have to head to the rear of the already assembled group.  There are 91 riders today, we exchange some banter while the other riders fall in behind us.  My nerves build with each second ticking on the clock, as we wait for the start of the race.  The nervous chatter dies down as we are told we will be let loose in 30 seconds.  Quickly tell Clare to get foot clipped in, while I battle with my cleat and pedal combo (some mentor me, can’t even clip in).

Before we know it the front is off and moving, it trickles down to us and it’s our turn to push off and get racing.  Today I shall try something a bit different from other races.  I am going to take it steady from the gun and try not to be blowing out my hoop after the first 100 meters.  It’s hard not to go and attack every bit of space I see and by following wheels it does mean I catch a lot of mud to the eyes (glasses would have been good).  We have a nice big bit of solid tarmac to start us off, this gets us up to speed before we hit the grass and off cambers to come.

Ride down to the first obstacle, a bottleneck happens as we are squeezed through a small gap in the hedgerow.  Off the bike and scurry through.  Hoist the bike up onto the shoulder and set off running uphill.  After making it to the top I am glad to see some downhill taking me around to another run-up.  This one being slightly steeper, I will definitely have to run this one every lap.  Doing well for positions as I still take it easy, feel good as I crest the climb.

Swing past the pits with a group of riders, a nice looping bend means I get to suck in some much-needed oxygen.  Next up is the triple steps, dismount the bike and with some big strides, you are at the top.  Do your best flying remount in front of the ever growing crowd and back to the business of peddling.  A small decent, 180 degrees turn to the right, you are out the saddle riding back up the gradient.  Hang a left and recover while you take the long bend and lines you up for the small wooded section.  Nice quick downhill through the avenue of trees is next. It gives your legs a quick rest before you hit a short mound to ride up, taking you out the canopy of trees onto the ever softening grass.

I am starting to find a good rhythm to my racing.  I peddle past Gordan Dalglish of HTCC (hope I make it on to HTCC TV ).  Next to tick off the list of must-haves on a cross course are the barriers.  Dismount and hop, run, hop and keep on running to find some firm ground for me and my one gear to get going again.  Back on the bike and we are into the woods again.  Ride up the start area and past MYlaps timing van engulfing the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and pizza.  A sharp turn and your weaving your way through the trees (like riding a speeder bike in Return of the Jedi, awesome part of the course).

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Out from the trees and around the off camber, trying not to get sucked into the black scrim that seemed to act as magnet for my bike.  Fast ride through soft mushy grass and now the hedgerow was congestion free.  Ride through the gap, now to try and ride as much of the incline as possible.  Halfway up it became apparent I would be quicker to get off and run.  I seemed to be riding this course well and singlespeed appeared to be well suited to this course.  Still keeping it calm and not feeling like death fifteen minutes in seems to be a good way to race.

After the third lap, the bike was clogging up with mud.  So with a shout to Victoria (my new pit crew) “You need to clean my bike” with a reply “Aye fuck off, you can clean it at home”.  I suddenly shout “No I need you to clean the shit off the wheels and cranks” as I dump my bike, strip off arm warmers, then take my spare bike.

At the bottom of the woods, I see Clare.  I am about to shout and give her some encouragement as I go by but she pulls off just as I get to her.  She looks fine and it’s not until the next lap she tells me her rear mech hanger has snapped. (well it was more like, “bikes fucked” as I go past)  Get to pits and Victoria is waiting with my bike, a quick change and I’m back racing again.  A great job was done for not knowing or having anything to clean it with apart from my gloves and arm warmers.  Though I did notice on the next few laps and one more bike change she was nowhere to be seen.

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Take the last lap bell and now I have to get a shifty on.  Got to try and make up some lost ground with my slow pit changes.  In am in a little battle with a Glasgow Green rider and just ahead is Russell Mowat from Walkers Cycling.  We hit the barriers neck and neck.  Russell gets back on the bike while I have to run a few meters as can’t ride the soft bit straight after the barriers.  He stretches the gap as we enter into the trees.  I give it my all as we both sprint along the tarmac with the finishing line rapidly closing in.  Russell gets over in 16th place and I take 17th.  Not too shabby from where I started.  Maybe just maybe there is something in this new structured approach to racing.  A little part of me does wonder if I could have finished slightly higher up if we got to the start line slightly earlier and we got a space at the front.

Feel a bit gutted for Clare, having been there and had this happen, it sucks big time!  She was not alone in the broken bike finishers as it seemed Rozelle Park had a taste for rear mech hangers that day.  The main thing is she rolled up to the line to race and gave it her all.  It’s all experience in the bag and will just make her want to come back and avenge the park that killed her bike.

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Huge thanks to JP Baxter and the Burners team for hosting this race, from what I heard the changes to this course were well received and made the course more flowing.

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3rd Quarter is at Foxlake on the 5th of February.

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Sunday Going Down The Spiral.

4th December 2016.
Lochore Meadows, Scottish Cyclocross Championships.

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My second year racing at Scottish Champs. Pretty sure I will not surpass last year’s position, but I shall give it my all.

It’s a nice crisp winters morning drive through to Fife.  Last year’s course was eating a lot of rear mechs for lunch.  I escaped incident free last year so hopefully by the time my race comes around the course won’t be too badly churned up and I’ll escape with my bike intact.

A quick warm up along the road reveals my front break is super loose.  Head back to the car and fix it as I’m pretty sure it will be needed at some point today.  Drop the pit bike off and head off to get to grips with the “Spiral of Doom“.  This part of the course wasn’t here last year but it’s made its return for the Champs.  Basically a lot of riding to your left for two minutes then ride to your right for another two minutes.  If I was to stake that out I would have been there for a week.  Well played Paul Zarb. 

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After a few dizzy laps of the Spiral its time to hit the start line.  I manage to squeeze quite far up in the grid.  My highest place of the year so far!  A quick brief was shouted out, now it’s time to wait for the bang of the gun.

BANG!  We are let loose, I get a solid start on the inside.  Keep up with the guys who were in front of me on the line.  It’s a mad dash down to the first corner, a tight left taking you into a small wooded section.  A bottleneck happens and we all slow to a stop, find a space on the outside and I’m off racing again.  Once out of the woods the low sun makes spotting the best line for the next turn a bit hard.  Ride over some soft grass and back into the woods and out into a small clearing.  Dismount off the bike, run around the sharp left and right chicane.  Stay off the bike and continue running through the mud out to the main arena where the low sun makes for difficult viewing.

The flat grass in the main arena gets you back up to speed, hang a sharp right and you’re now eyeing up the ever growing double hurdles.  A quick run with some big leaps over the hurdles, hop back onto the bike and get the gear turning again.  Ride past the timing van and over the finishing line with the sun burning your retinas.  I am with a group of riders as we hit the solid tarmac and race up to a sharp left keeping you on the tarmac heading back to the woods.  I lose some distance here, one gear can only get you so fast!  Drift to the back of the group as we ride under the canopy of the trees once again.

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Ride out from under the tree cover and past the pits and into the Spiral for the first time. Halfway through the spiral, I am closing in on the leader of the pack Ross Johnston from HTCC, taking some positions as I go.  Then disaster strikes!  I’m down on the deck!  I over cooked it on one of the turns and front wheel slipped out, back to the end of the bunch I go.  The group have a small gap on me by the time we go past the start line and into the woods again.  At least there is no bottleneck at this point again.  Manage to catch back onto the group as we come back into main areas and eye up the hurdles for the second time.

Take another lap and we are starting to split.  By the time the tight corners and woods are dispatched, we are back onto the tarmac path.  The front riders have pulled away again and now I am being caught by riders behind.  I know losing too much speed and time in the corners but I don’t want to push it and take a tumble.  Into the Spiral again and this is where I am making ground on riders (if you took the wide line there was more grip).  An Ayr Road rider is my target. I pull him back, but over the next few corners, he’s away again. This happens each lap (really need to work on keeping the speed up on corners or applying the power out of them).

Onto the last lap, I brave it more in the corners and keep some speed up (smooth is fast). Franco Porco shouting to me to keep the wheel of riders in front. It spurs me out the saddle, and I catch on to Darren Lindsay’s wheel (and his shrinking seat post) as we tackle the spiral, we catch the Ayr Road rider again.  Now it’s time to work my socks off and try and gain two places before we finish.  We hit the last wooded section, off the bike and run the bends, sling the bike on the shoulder and run the ever-thickening mud back out to the main arena.

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Only a few corners left and the double hurdles.  Head down and pedal like mad!  A clean dismount off the bike and attack the barriers.  I can see that I have gapped the two riders chasing me, now I know that I can’t lose any positions and could ease off.  I don’t!  I keep my head down and speed up, going for a fast lap.  Roll over the line absolutely spent to take 54th place in the Senior male race.  I think I qualify for V40 races with me turning 39 in a few days time so could be my last race as a Senior, could be wrong though.  The sound of a 40-minute race looks much appealing.

That’s my racing done for 2016, but have the Super Quaich Series starting in January at Rouken Glen Park to keep training for and also keep me off the Christmas cakes.

2016 it’s been eventful, started shite, broken bikes but finished last few races in one piece, which was my primary objective. 

Education in Cyclocross 

13.11.16 Fife College, Dunfermline.

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It is the turn of Dunfermline Cycling Club to host round 4 of Scottish Cyclocross Series. A new course for me this time around as I didn’t ride their last race they held here.

On the drive through from Glasgow, it was a constant wall of fine rain. Today’s ground conditions will be soft and slippy think I need to let the air out the tyres for this one. (I aways have them too hard).

After signing on and sorting out my gear, I head up and catch the start of the V40 men’s race. It is a frantic start, Franco Porco getting to the first corner out in front. After the last rider rides passed I start to wander around the course to see what’s in store today.

Mud, mud, glorious mud!  Though I don’t see any glorious mud in Dunfermline. It all looks rather sticky and very deep. Everyone keeps telling me singlespeed will be good for this course. Me, not so sure?

Gary McCrae takes the win in the Vet 40 race followed by Stevie Jackson and then a great comeback race from Craig Hardie taking the third spot. The V40 race is now over, time to make my way to start line.

Just as we are getting gridded the rain starts. Great! Just what we needed! Get settled in amongst the rear of the pack again.

Whistle blasts and we’re off.

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It’s bloody chaos!  I try to remember green is good, brown is bad. I hug the left-hand side of the course as close to the tape as possible.  The brown stuff becomes even thicker now it’s time to get off and run.

Running through ankle deep mud along an off camber section while one arm is flailing about, trying to not let the mud suck your shoes off is a pretty hard task. I managed to drag my feet through it and get back on the bike for a slight downhill chicane. I noticed this became a huge bottleneck when watching the V40 race. I decide to jump off and leg it down the outside of everyone and make up around ten places.  Result!

I don’t bother remounting the bike as just around the corner are two massive hurdles. Jump over these then it’s back onto the bike for a good downhill section, sucking in some much-needed oxygen.

Next part of the course was single-track through the trees. One nice little bomb hole to deal with, then you came to “Jump for Trump”.  Great efforts by the Marshalls encouraging people to catch some air. I bottled it every time!  I would end up in the bushes with a broken bike if I attempted it, so wheels stayed firmly on the ground every lap.

A few more soft zig-zag areas came next. I could ride these well if I got the power down, but once the mud got too deep, I would grind to a halt. Back off and running again.

Swing off the grass and onto some welcome tarmac. Blast up the home straight and over the line, my first lap complete. After the tarmac had run out, it was off the bike and assault the run-up.

Swing the leg off, dismount the bike. Attack the hill with small steps, so I don’t slip on my arse and have the bike land on me or bounce down the hill in a heap. After cresting the hill, I run the next long grass section. I don’t think I would have the power or momentum to keep me driving through the mud if I tried to ride this part.

All my hill running should be paying off today, I am keeping pace with folks with fancy gears (probably their biggest gear) that are still riding through the sludge. Get to the hard stone start area and its back on the bike and power down to ride as much distance to the off camber as I can.

This top grass section is my hardest part of the race, I was glad to get back on the bike and ride the rest of the course. After each lap I dreaded the run-up, I knew I was in for a long slog pushing the bike. After 5 laps and the bike being caked in mud, I nipped into the pits and brought out my clean bike.

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Big mistake, this bike weighs considerably more it also has a smaller gear on it. My next two laps just became even harder. This shows in my results by an extra minute added to each lap.

With me slowing in the last few laps it means I got caught by a group of riders, some are lapping me, some are taking my position. I have nothing in the tank to chase down, so last few corners suck! I felt I had flung away some good positions.

All in all, I finished in 69th place from 96 riders. Harry Johnston made it 100% win rate so far taking the win. Gary Mcdonald stepping up to his usual step on second spot and last podium place goes to David Duggan with third place.

Bikes were manky, I was manky but I loved that course, and it did suit a single speed.

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 Next up is Irvine and it’s Sand Dunes of Doom!

Huge thanks to all the Organisers and the Marshalls for putting on this round of the series.

Also thanks to Anthony and Michael and the rest of the photography crew for helping bring the memories of pain and tears through the medium of images.

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Happy HalloX

Cross has been a struggle.

With me having a slow start to the training regime, my results have been terrible in the few early cross races. I feel that It’s a game of catch up with everyone now, but my main goal is just to be able to last the hour of racing.

When I saw HalloX on the calendar it was something I really wanted to be part of. Main reason was it would be taking part at night. A totally new experience for me to race in the dark. Then fancy dress costumes were to be the attire for the night. I thought of aero gains and went for a Morph Suit.

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Get signed on, get my bike and I sorted out my lights. I have a head torch for lighting up my line of sight and main flood light on bars to guide me through the course. Leaving the car park you get glimpses of riders on the course, lines of little lights in the distance. Music is pumping and flood lights are showing off some remarkable costumes.

Meet up with Kevin Pugh and we take ET for a spin around the course, wonder if they two will fly over the barriers later. It’s a bit mental trying to figure out who you are talking to.

A. Due to the dark and being blinded by their head torch.

B. Can’t recognise them due to their costume.

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We are all like moths, follow the light in front of us along to the start line. All the miserable bastards that didn’t dress up are weeded out and moved to the back. Everyone is eyeing the person in front to see if the made the effort or if they could be part of the cull going on. I’m next to a BMX rider with ET in his basket and behind a Bee and a Sheep. We’re good.

Lights are on full, Garmen is set, Just waiting on the siren to mark the start of the evening’s race. RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaahhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRR (something like that) We are off, and what a sight it must be to the spectators. It’s mental!  I keep up with the Bee and Sheep, lose ET at first bend then get passed by some zombies and other creatures. I struggle to get past some inflatable wings at the single track on the first wood section. The woods had a hidden surprise, the kids were here hiding and jumping up screaming scaring the riders that got too close.

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 There was a last minute change to the course layout with the discovery of a badger sett in the woods. Well done to the organisers for rerouting the course and keeping a good flow to the course.

There would be three main talking points on the course. First is the first set of barriers, they were pretty high. Glad I have long limbs and could still take them at a decent speed. Next was the zig zags just after the finishing lap, some uphill and downhill ramps then the double barriers onto a small run up.

This took you along to another super technical area. Tight bend taking you onto a short off camber section, cut back on yourself at the bottom then came Carnage corner. Uphill left-hand bend that then spat you out onto a long off camber section. This was the hardest part of the course due to the morning and afternoon rain making it soft and slippy. This part of the course was taking riders out for fun. The pressure was on to ride it as the crowd had gathered here and  the atmosphere was great if you made it a cheer went up, but if you took a tumble the crowd went OOOOOH!

I managed to ride it a couple of time before the hill eventually fought back and took me out the race. I rode the corner and was on the high line, then front wheel slipped out and I went down like a sack of potatoes. My right-hand shifter took the brunt of the hit along with a good impact on my lid. I didn’t realise my race was over until I got up and ran to the next section and noticed shifter was in two parts and totally destroyed.

Ah baws, another repair bill. I now become a spectator at Carnage corner.

My first night ride and I loved it. The course at Nether Pollok was a belter, no super big hills to kill you, but the open grass areas were soft and sucked the wheels down and you had to use a fair amount of energy to power through. I loved the barriers and Carnage corner was always a good challenge on every lap.

Look forward to HalloX 2017 now.

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Thanks to Jay Golian for letting his images be stolen and used in this post.

Eilean Bhòid *

 The Isle Of Bute    17.9.16

The time of today’s race is at 5:30pm, no mad panic to get up and ready and in the car for silly O’Clock.  I head for Wymess Bay and get the 2pm Ferry over to Rothesay, the main town on Bute.  Disembark the Ferry with a few more Cross racers and we make our way up to the sign on area.

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This weekend there will be a high number of cyclists on the Isle due to the Rothesay Weekend Of Cycling.  Saturday will see a Hill Climb up the Serpentine, a Two Up TT race then our Cyclocross Race in the evening.  Then on Sunday there shall be the Road Race.

Once the sign on is open, Kevin Pugh and I go for a little bash up the Serpentine Climb, think there is around 15 bends in total.  We get to number 10 to stop for some pictures and also a good excuse not to tackle the last few bends.  Think I shall bring the road bike over one day and explore the last 5 bends then more of the Isle.

After a few warm-up laps of the Cross course, we are told to make our way down to the Castle near the harbour.  In the car park, we are told the race rules and duration of the race. The field is then gridded on the High Street, the rest of us slow folk file into the back. The race will not start until we get into King Georges Playing Fields.

During my last race, I heard my bike making some terrible crunching noises.  During the warm up laps, the noise returned, along with the gears not engaging properly.

To my horror, the gears do not engage when we are counted down and we are off following the Police and Lead car.  I can’t even get a good start under a neutralised start!  I push off and bingo the gears click in and I managed to get some drive to my rear wheel.

We’re riding up the High Street and receiving lots of support from the locals and riders from earlier in the day.  We get to the gates of the park and cars pull left and he hit the gravel and swing right.  THE RACE IS ON!

The first obstacle was the deep gravel, I thought this would take a few people out, but we all managed to ride it without incident. I make a few places up before we are snaking in a long line through the tree slaloms, out in the open I try and improve positions along the red blaze of an old football pitch.  On to the grass again and major obstacle coming up.  The run-up!

I made up a load of places slipping and sliding up the mud hill, back on the bike along a narrow nature trail path, then there was a line of riders slowing to do the little drop down into the woods, I decide to jump off the bike and squeeze past Anthony Aka Tony The Tiger. Take a few more places running to woods and hopping the two fallen logs then run the final incline back onto the path.

The next part of the course will be mostly on flattened grass and a few more leg sapping thick gravel patches. Then it’s out along the side the football pitch, quite a narrow path so no chance to move up, have to wait to dismount the bike and run the few steps up onto the flat grass.  Down to the noisy crowd on the wall (Stirling Bike Club) then turn 180 and its a long drag up to the line.  Cross for one lap.

I can feel the gears grinding every time I put the power down. Also some non-engagement at times too.  I still head in the right direction of the leaderboard, improving once again on the run-up and also running most of the wooded section again.

Once I get back to the football pitch and run the steps, my bike has had enough and gives up on the race. I am spinning the cranks and there is just nothing going to the rear wheel. Freehub has failed. The crowd on the wall shout for me to run, it’s a pointless task as I have no spare bike or wheel to get me back into the race.  They’re happy to shout I am welcome to join in a beer and watch the remainder of the race.  Great Offer!

I do the walk of shame for the last 100m then I cross the line to complete lap 2.  Hand in my chip and its game over for me!

A mechanical so early on was a gutter, I was feeling better than Balloch and liked the course. Think I would have had the legs to keep picking folk off all race. Not to be!

I watch the race unfold amongst the large crowd and great atmosphere,  Gary MacDonald comes home as the first rider.  Well done Sir. A few sprint finishes are on the cards due to the long finishing straight and its good to see people fight all the way to the line.

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After the race, have a good chat with riders, everyone I spoke with hated but loved the course.  Cross does that to you.  Well done to the course designers and riders who asked for a change in the course due to one part being slightly dodgy, it got handled and rerouted without a problem.

Now gather the gear and a freewheel on the bike along to the Harbor before the Dark settles and last Ferry departs.

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Thanks to MT Photography Bute for the use of some great images.

Roll on 2017 as Bute I have unfinished business.

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* Isle of Bute (Scottish Gaelic: Eilean Bhòid or An t-Eilean Bhòdach)

LoveCross

An evening in Peebles.

Satnav destination is for Peebles High Street for a bit of early season Cyclocross racing.   Love Cross is part of Tweed Love Bike Festival that runs from 14th- 30th of May.  Two weeks of all sorts of bike shenanigans going on, my kind of festival.

This Cyclocross race is a little bit different from the usual Scottish Cyclocross races, a couple of main differences.

First of all, it is at night!  My Race kicks off at 7:30pm, racing under the warm spring sun. (sounds romantic, this is Scotland so probably wet and dull)

Secondly, it will take place through the town centre and not through any kind of mud fest park! Looking forward to this type of Urban Cyclocross, seeing what kind of obstacles will be used on the course, like the use of water gun alley in last year’s photographs.

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Also to add a slightly different twist to this is that I will be racing in the pairs category.  The way I understand it is, myself and Kevin Pugh will be playing tag team racing.  One of us will be racing a lap whilst the other sits out, then quick high five, releasing the fresh pair of legs onto the course for their lap.  Having a lap out to recover seems quite appealing to me.

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To start the night off there was a family ride.  Around 1000 children and adults get to ride a little loop of Peebles High Street and round past Tweed Green then back around the High Street.  It was great seeing all the little kids showing off their bike skills, one little guy was popping wheelies on his bike while another youngster was zooming around on a unicycle.

Peebles sure is a bike town!

Rider briefing was held while the course was being changed from the family loop into an obstacle-laden cross circuit.  We were given instructions on how to record the lap, seems a bit daunting but actually was just another obstacle to remember.  We were issued with a wristband, with this we were to stop, scan the band on the gate.  Each and every lap.  If you rode through the gates not scanning, then that lap didn’t count.  More laps = prizes.  Easy!

Solo riders are taken to start line for their 18 minutes of racing.  Bikes were laid down and then riders were taken about 120 metres away to start the “Le Mans” style run to the bike. The crowd counted down from 10, once we got to GO!  The sprint in cleats began.  Bryan Donnelly of Glasgow Nightingales had brought his sprint legs tonight, he was out the blocks faster than Usain Bolt.  Seems that his good start was short lived, his bike was blocked in and had to wait for a clear path to get out onto the course.  Something to learn from  for next year Bryan.

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18 minutes of racing turned into 18 minutes in hell.  There is no let up on the course so, 100% full gas is the only option.  Well the exception was maybe Cameron Mason, he and his mountain bike took the course apart and lapped the field.  Taking the top spot on the night.

Pairs race, here we go!

Kevin and I got split up, unlucky for Kev he registered us so he is the “A” rider meaning he shall have the sprint to his singlespeed bike.  Which he parked next to a BMX!  Mental doing a race on a BMX, only this madness was topped off by the guy in a leather jacket, jeans and riding his FAT bike in the solo race.

The crowd counts down the start, Go Go Go!  They are off and running,  Anthony Robson using his long limbs to good advantage is first to his bike.  Kevin in third, BMX guy is second. Though he soon moves up to first as he is schooling us all in how to bunny hop the bales of hay.  Bloody marvellous!

Now for the nerves to build.  Kevin is out on the back end of the course we are still in third place as they head into the “dob” station.  Kev doesn’t become a “dobber”!  He remembers to scan his wristband, sprints up the street and jump’s the last bales of hay.  Now it’s my turn to hit the course.

BMX guy got caught by Anthony , his partner is just in front of me as we head out onto the course.  I overtake, moving up into second place.  Time to get a shuffle on and catch Man Mountain on his Mountain Bike. Thomas Mitchell.

The first obstacle is on a right bend, a nice wedge of car tyres for you to run through.  I did my best long jump effort while shouldering the bike.  Man Mountain just bunny hopped right over the lot!  Next was a downhill slalom, in and out the barrier tape.  I took this as fast as I thought possible, Man Mountain brushed this aside and made it look like he was on rails.

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Image by Anthony Robson

A quick right bend and it was onto first haybale leap.  I used the good old “Handbag” technique, Man Mountain used the Bunny hop technique.  Gaining momentum and distance with every hop.  I didn’t even see what he did for the three, yes THREE flights of stairs up to the Church.  I was too busy with my head down, attacking them, two steps at a time.

Snagging the barrier tape as I came around the corner to find Man Mountain finish fiddling with his dropped chain, only for him to blast off and bunny hop the sand bags and hit the high street.  Out on the street, you had a short sprint through some gazebos with some Tweetfest barrier tape to block your view.  Tight left turn taking you down an alleyway round to a zig zag barrier system and then over two hay bale barriers.  I shouldered the bike and ran this section, I was way quicker to do that than fumble around the barriers only to dismount and hop the bales of hay.  Man Mountain probably bunny hopped the two hurdles at once for all I know as he was out of sight.

The bottom of the hill you took a right and an all out sprint to the sharp right turn up through the hotel car park , round the bend shooting you out onto the high street yet again. A bale of hay to hop, stop at gate and swipe band (not becoming a dobber).  Then it was a sprint past water pistol alley to get a drenching and a drink from the kids.  Hop the last bale of hay and Kevin was on his way.

Man Mountain had gapped me massively giving Kevin some work to do to chase down Anthony. We were still holding second place with a decent size gap to third.

This is how it played out for the next 30 minutes.  Kevin chased, I got gapped every lap.  We managed to do 10 or 11 laps, poor Kev did 6 of those.  I got the lap bell as I scanned my wristband and handed over, giving him the last lap.  We couldn’t chase down the first place as they had a really good race but we did manage to hold our lead over third place. Making the podium with SECOND place. Woohoo!

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All the winners on the night.

Well done to all the racers on the night.  Also huge thanks to all of the event team and marshalls putting on a great fun event.  A good bit of team riding with Kevin and hopefully we will return in 2017 trying to improve on our position on the steps of Tontine Hotel.

Thanks to Anthony Robson and Ian Linton for the use of their images, click the names and see more of their amazing Photography skills.

straight outta lovecross

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