Two Wheel Army

The Cali Cartel

1.10.2017 Callander Park, Falkirk.

Round 1 of the Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series.

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Cyclocross is a drug that you can’t ride away from. The Cali Park Cartel know this and have taken full advantage of the cross dry up, a surge of riders needing their fix hit the admission button and numbers of 686-690-700+ were being mentioned as signing up to get the mud back into their veins.

The Godfathers of Cali Park (Davie & Franco) and the Cartel have been at work into the small hours to put on Season 6 of Cyclocross Narcos at Cali Park. They are only a small crew but they know how to deliver the product.

It’s my third Season, and there have been some changes made to the already fantastic course. The weather is going to be a major factor today. The rain machine has been on all morning and not letting up on the drive through from Glasgow. With my race last on the cards, things are going to be a bit muddy!

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Sign on, and I slip the brown envelope I received from the Cartel into my inside pocket, wander over to watch a few of the V40 slip and slide around the course. Once the V40s have finished tearing up the course, and I have deflated my tyres by an immeasurable amount it’s time to get drug hit and have a practice lap.

2:30pm and it’s race time.

Roll past the new multicoloured bike starting grid, lots of new bike bling on display, find a spot behind the multicoloured Albannchians and settle in for a long race brief. Some of the V40 boys go past with a smug smile, knowing what we are in for.

The bang of the gun goes, and we’re away. Well, the front of the bunch is away, a few seconds later I push off to start my race. Not that long down the starting tarmac, I start to spin out of gear, losing a few places with my lack of top-end speed.

Tight right turn and onto the grass, now to try and catch those bikes with gears again. The pack is still very bunched together, so space is at a premium as we line up for the first uphill gradient and into the left turn. Go through the turn with everyone still riding their bikes. Downhill and turn right onto the mud fest as we ride parallel to the MyLaps timing van up on the grass verge. It’s super hard to keep a constant line, bike slips and slides as I try to keep the pedals turning. Manage to pass a few folk as I slog through the mud and try to stay upright. This is where the singlespeed comes in handy, you just have to power through it, no option for a granny gear to sit and spin. A 180° turn at the top, ride down the grand entrance driveway to Callander House. Though today its a mix of mud soup, potholes and puddles. Pass the timing van with Jammie rocking the mic.

The first new change in the course design came next. We used to ride up big tree hill, go around the tree, then shoot down and back along the flat. This time we went around the tree hill by a very narrow and mushy back path, into some tight switchbacks under the pine trees. Shootout from the under the canopy and back onto familiar racing lines. Things were still tight in the bunch, I took to running these bends and got a face full of foliage for my troubles as the rider in front let it spring back, to be fair I think I did the same as I heard a yep as I cleared the leaves from my eyes.

Ride uphill on the soft grass to do a 180° turn around another tree, took this at speed as it helped with momentum to reach the top. I also took a few scalps as I went. They were soon lost as we dismounted and ran the steps. Back on the bike and trying to find some grip to keep me in touch with the mid-pack racers. This part of the park was probably the least saturated with the rain. I think the tree canopy and the hills helped drain the water away, giving my legs a slight break from all the heavy pedal strokes.

My first off of the day comes as I line up for muddy hill section. I did manage to ride it in practice, so being a smart arse, I try again. A rider in front of me comes to a halt halfway up, a rear wheel slip and he was off his bike, which in turn makes me reroute my line, my back wheel doesn’t grip, and I was off and into a tangled mess. Right myself and get running to the woods, a quick remount, ride the ruts and roots then get ready to point the bike downwards, into my second off of the day.

This one was my own fault, I grab my brakes and the rear locks up, sending me into a slide. The bike soon spits me off and into a beautiful 360° pirouette on my right arse cheek. Luckily my bike follows me down, its back on the steed and dodge the kerbs, later on, these will take some riders and their bikes out of the race.

Follow the thinning pack as we head over to another slight change in the course design. I see a lot of riders dismount and start to run the new feature. Being a smart arse again I keep riding, as I hit the treeline my front wheel slips, and I’m on my knees, my third off in one lap, jeezuz! Pick the bike up and tiptoe around the mud pack at the base of the tree. Back in the saddle and slog up and over the crest of the hill, taking me under the branches of the trees and into slippy hell once again. I dismount and run downhill past the growing crowd that cheered if you rode the downhill left-hander and cheered even louder if you hit the deck.

Next to tackle was the practically vertical climb, this took you to the top of the downhill switchbacks. My best option now is to run the hill as there wasn’t chance in hell I would manage to ride the whole lot. Ride the switchbacks without any incident, for the first time in ages. Ride past the pits, then onto the grass where we all kicked off about 7 minutes ago for the lead riders, probably about 10-11 minutes for my slow pace. I remember looking at my watch just after running the steps. Fifteen minutes in I shows. I am still mid-pack but slowing down considerably. My lack of bike riding is taking its toll.

Still plodding around the course, I haven’t fallen again and seem to have got to grips with the course, going well on the grassy uphill sections, some decent speed and grip are helping me to pull riders back. I’m loosing too much time on the vertical hill and the long drag up the grass verge of the driveway. Past by the timing van, I see four laps remaining. Yaaaas as that means three for me, I am sure the lead rider will go past me again which he does. I know I can finish this race now, as long as my bike holds up in the mud.

I have a spare bike in the pit area, but the thought of cleaning two bikes covered in this sticky mud is a huge put-off.

Where I can, I stop to remove the mud build up. Lose more time by doing this, but It hopefully means the bike won’t break. A small battle between me and two other riders is on. They pull away on the flatter parts, but I manage to claw them back on the hills, only for them to get in front and make me chase again.

The two other riders and I swap places all the way into the last lap, where I eventually can’t keep up on the vertical climb, they soon spin-off into the dirty distance and I’m left walking to the top. Now to ride the grass hill past the rowdy HTCC crew for the last time and slog up the drive. I look over my shoulder and see a pack of riders coming, they could be lapping me, but the race brain engages, muster some energy to head for a very dirty finishing line without any of them catching me.

I’m finished. Covered head to toe in mud, mud in my teeth and my bike has put on about 10kg in weight. I am knackered, but I still have a stupid grin spanning my entire face. The drug of the mud has taken over and I’m hooked once again.

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Huge thanks to The Godfathers of Cali Franco Porco and Davie Lines and their small band of Cartel members. You have put on another superb race course.

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Cali Cartel you certainly know how to dish out the Cyclocross drugs.

Thanks to George Stewart, Karly Millar and Pam La’Craig for use of the excellent images.
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South Park.

Tweed Cross.

27.8.17 Tweedbank Park.
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An early rise to see who had won the most talked about boxing bout in the world, but the fight hadn’t even begun yet as I got ready to head off on a drive South to help the guys from Happy Trails Cross Collective stake out the course for one of the first Cyclocross races of the year.

Arrive at Tweedbank Park at 7 o’clock (or as the border folk say ‘Seaven’). My legs need a bit of stretch after sitting in the car for the two-hour drive. Park up and wander along to find the HTCC boys. The crew are already working away getting the park into shape, final racing lines being talked and walked through before the final taping is completed. I get busy with some tree trimming and shifting bags of stabbers around the course. As the last bit of sponsorship tape is tied (Orbea) I’m itching to get on the bike and have a ride of the course.

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As the final bit of paint is coming out the can, MC Maddy Robinson shouts the riders over to the freshly painted start grid. The first race of Tweed Cross is about to kick off with the B racers clipped in waiting for the whistle to blast. Maddy gets them underway and they have a nice long left bend on the firm grass to get them all up to speed, the fight for space is on as they head to the start line. Jackie Chan is off to a flyer and should remain out in the lead for the rest of this race if he can keep this speed up and avoid incident. I head over to Tempest Hills to help dish out some encouragement, abuse and after the first lap some beer hand-ups from Tweedbanks local brewer, Tempest Brewing Co.

With six laps complete for the lead riders it doesn’t bode well for me when one of the race organisers describe the course as ‘brutal’. I am really excited about putting my self through a brutal hour of racing, Not! Jackie did manage to keep the speed up and took the win, Robbie Mitchell was second over the line with Graeme McBirnie filling the last of the male podium places. Ladies winners were Alicia Lawson taking first place, Caroline Harvey coming in second and Jamie Nicholson taking the third spot. Well done to all racers and winners.

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Get a few warm up rides in and have a feel for the course. The racing line has been dialled in with the B race. I love the Tempest hills. Also, the big grass swoops at the start area are smooth and fast. I don’t love the dirty bits as much. In the dusty brown areas, it’s hard for me to ride slow with the gear I am on. I manage it in warm up but how I fare during the race at a faster speed is yet to be seen.

We gather at the start shoot, the grided riders get pulled out to the front of the bunch. Me on the other hand, I hang at the back of the bunch, I know my place in this race. Nerves kick in, I am starting to feel out of my depth being In the A race. My thoughts are, jump in at the deep end and prepare for October 1st when the Scottish Cyclocross kicks off for 2017.

MC Maddy gets us boys sorted out, a massive blast of the whistle and the guys fly off the line. I, on the other hand, forget I am in a race and have a slow start to whistle blowing. I am lagging behind as we cross over the start line and fight to remain in touch with the boys just in front of me as we leave the grass bends and head into woods.

In amongst the trees, there was lots of fun to be had if you weren’t on a bike and breathing like an asthmatic with one lung. In here lurks two sand traps and a dusty bank to ride up. The sand was firm and compacted due to previous race and riders ahead of me so wasn’t too hard to ride. The bank, on the other hand, was tough on the legs. For me to ride it, I had to hit it hard to get to the top. After grinding to the top of the mound it was a downhill left and avoid the tree roots. I am sure that blue paint over the roots attracted my wheels every time I went past. Bump out the woods then the next challenge was the double hurdles.

Still, in the battle of the back markers, I clear the barriers without a hitch. Next on the list of Southern fun was ‘Redneck Hill’. My least favourite part of the course because I couldn’t ride it fast, and in the later laps I couldn’t ride it at all. The hill consisted of dust, roots, line options, trees and some sharp turns. I have got another weakness to my limited racing skills now. Ride away from the Rednecks, in doing so it just brings you into more pain. A soft grassy ride up into another tight wood section that slows me down, then it spits you out along some welcome tarmac.

The smoothness is short lived as you ride up onto a grass bank and along past the pits. I get some speed up, trying to claw back onto the wheel I lost by going so slow through the woods. Another small grassy lump which attempts to deposit you into the trees if you are not careful. Then came my favourite part of the course, riding in an out of the woods of Tempest Hills.

This was a great area for me, if I could just leave the brakes alone it would have been much better. I still bottle it at hitting corners at speed, so Martin Steele drifts off into the distance as I potter around the last few bends. A quick jump for Trump and it’s on the edge of the saddle and pick up some speed as I come past the back of the timing van and turn and burn for the line to take my first lap, Nick Jupp still stalking me from behind.

Five more laps, one off and I take the checkered HTCC shirt. I am knackered and in desperate need of a drink. Head over and trade a few Tempest beer mats for some cold beers. The best way to end a race in my eyes. I lasted around three laps of racing with Nick, but in the end, he broke me on the dirt climb just after the sand traps. He kept pulling away as we hit the barriers and then the gap grew bigger as I toiled at Redneck Hill. Once he was away, the lead riders came through for the first time. With each rider catching me I lost time on him as I slowed or stopped to let them through. My race became against the course and clock now.

Tweed Cross you were indeed “BRUTAL.”

Podium placing was a hard fought battle, Jeremy Durrin taking the top spot, Gary MacDonald taking the second step and David Duggan stepping up to third.

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A great use of imagination was used to put this course together, the use of all of the topography the park could offer. I am still in awe of what a pretty flat park can produce for a cross race. The HTCC organisation should be very proud of what they put on here. Their first race they have hosted had a lot of boxes to be ticked and people to please to get this race on the go. The numbers and quality of the riders that turned up for this race were outstanding.

From all the novices to the best of Scotland and International stars we can’t wait for Tweed 2018. #TWEEDBANKSY

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Rise Of The Machine. 

Could Parts of Strava die?

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With most manufacturers producing e-bikes, I must presume the popularity of them is on the rise.  With the growing market are your hard earned Strava King Of The Mountain (KOM) and segment times in jeopardy?

Lately, I just lost (KOM).  A long held gravel climb, up to the local reservoir.  The rider took it by forty-six seconds.  The loss got me thinking!

Forty-six, how did he manage forty-six? Bet he was aided by battery power! (I don’t really think he did by the way).  I have just been beaten by a faster rider. The thought didn’t leave my head though. It got me wondering, with the e-bikes out on the trails and roads will there be faster time being posted?

Don’t get me wrong, there is still a lot of blood sweat and gears in claiming a KOM or posting a fast time on Strava.

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With a little Google search, I saw that e-bikes from one company can power you for 80 miles on one charge and up to speeds of 25 kph. So with fresh legs and a little assistance, riding up the slopes might bring you bag load of KOMs after a day of riding. On the flat maybe the extra weight of the battery pack might slow you down in the sprint race, but I’m sure a top ten could be on the cards when you switch on the power of lithium

I don’t actually chase the KOM anymore, but I still use Strava as a tool for logging my rides/races and like to see my feeble annual mileage on the bike. For some King’s out there, their crowns and Kingdom’s could be overpowered by electricity very soon!

A power struggle might take grip soon. Instead of 250 watt motor, like now. Things could get juiced up in the battle to retain the top of the leaderboards 300-400 watt, higher? Then it doesn’t become a cycling app anymore, as with that power your talking mopheads.  I’m not by any means saying riding an e-bike and logging your ride shouldn’t be done, but If you did take a segment KOM, then I think it should be flagged and reported keeping Kingdom’s intact.

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I am sure some sly Strava hunters out there will be taking crowns by electronic technology, getting one up on their mate. But come on guys, give Joe Blogs a chance to claim a piece of Strava for themselves.

Any thoughts post them below.

Velodrome Nights!

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Glasgow welcomed the Commonwealth Games in 2014.  With this, it brought some new sporting facilities dotted around the city.  The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome arose out the dirt in the East End of Glasgow making it the first indoor Velodrome in Scotland.  Three years after it opened its doors I now have the itch to see what riding the board would be like.

After hearing that Clare has booked in for her first level of accreditation (four levels to gain the right to call yourself a track rider) the itch gets bigger, and I decide that I should follow suit and book my slot and the days tick down till track day.

Level 1.

After the night race along the M8 and M74, I arrive just in time to sign my life away on the forms, get kitted out with bike and shoes and make my way to the back straight to meet my fellow novice track riders.  We seem to be a diverse bunch of folk. I feel a bit weird standing in my full lycra amongst the football shorts and baggy t-shirts.

We get the brief on the track layout along with the track etiquette for entering/exiting the track correctly and safely, and also talked through how the to be safe while riding around the boards.

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Looking Pro!

Once we have been informed of what’s to be expected of us in this session, it’s time to clip in and roll off (checking over your right-hand shoulder as we go).  We’re not allowed to enter onto the track for the moment, so we are told to ride around the Apron (the flat bit).  After being assessed that we can stay upright on the bikes, we are then told to move up onto the Cote d’Azur (blue boards) and ride a few more laps.  Soon we are slowed down and brought in for a drink and a debrief.

We mount our alloy steeds once again and prepare to ride off for the next part of the lesson.  The whole group seem to be doing well, no spectaculars when tackling the bends at faster speeds.  Some people’s fitness was on the lower end of the scale, but they used their heads and rolled off to recover when it was needed.  My hour was up, and we came to a slow stop then we all came off the track.   Good news came across after a quick chat with the coach, we all made it past level one.  Happy Days!

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Two days after me gaining level one I am now back inside Sir Chris Hoy once again.  Get my Dolan bike and a pair of shoes, I then head up to the inner circle and sort out my helmet while I wait.  I came armed with baby wipes to get rid of a season of Cyclocross mud splatter on it while I wait for the session to begin (was a bit embarrassed about the state of it on the last session).

I look about and it’s the same as the first session, a group of all mixed ages and abilities (no football tops this time around).  First off we are shouted up to the track and told to leave the bikes on the glass and gather up.  Very different feel to this session than the first, more strict and I think this puts a few people on the back foot slightly rather than make us feel at ease.  With this, we were quizzed on the etiquette of the track and what we remember about what we learned on accreditation level one, for some people who sat the course over a year ago weren’t confident in speaking up.

After the brief, we were allowed to saddle up and ride out for five minutes warm up on the track keeping on the Stayer’s line (blue line).  The guy in front of me tries to freewheel on the home straight, and I see his legs bounce about, he manages to recover, I don’t think he will ever do that again.  I move up and shout (outside) to let him know that I am overtaking.  After getting up to speed and staying high, I have to stay up for a while as there are some riders ahead that I am catching.  Shout “outside” as I get to them and move past.  This must look like I am a bloody show-off and bombing around the track like a dick.  Eventual I see a big gap and drop down to the Stayers line, and I finish the five minutes at a more sustainable pace.

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We are all brought back in and grabbed a drink.  We sit at track side and talk about pursuit changes and pursuit lines.  Where to change and what to do if we’re too fast/slow.  This is what we will be doing for the remainder of the session.  Eleven of us are split into two groups, I am in group number one.  We set off, building up speed as we go.  For this first series of changes, we are to stay on the Datum line (black line).  We reach the spot on the back straight, and rider one shoots up, letting me through.  My job is now to keep the speed even all the way to the next change point.  Get round to the back straight, I signal mirror and manoeuvre and peel out and up onto the bank.

This part is where shit gets real!  As I pull out and head up the steepest part of the track, you have to dig in hard and keep your speed high, or you are slipping down the boards and taking folk out.  I watch as the riders slowly come past, we are onto the straight, and there is still no back rider for me to slot in behind.  I have to ride the next bend out of the line and slowly apply pressure scrubbing some speed on the back straight (should have gone higher to make me ride further).  This drill goes on for a few more laps.  We all get hooked off the track along with group 2.

After a quick bollocking had been dished out to group 2, they are set off underway to complete some changes as they only managed a few lucky ones the first time around.  Us, on the other hand, are talking through that the pace was a little slow for changes but all in all we did alright.  We get released back out as a group, we are now told to do the same drill but stay up at the Stayer’s line.

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This is where our group fucked up!  Lead rider takes us off, and I am the second rider again. He asks where do we join onto the track?  Fuck mate that was level one!  Guide him on.  We are soon aiming for the Sprint line (red line).  We are far too slow to hit that line on the first bend, we should be on the black line, were my thoughts.  Somehow we manage to ride the curve at a slow speed with no incidents!  Now were aiming for the Stayer’s line.  WTF!  I try and say were too slow, but he can’t hear, and as we hit the bend, he pulls up to start a change.  Fuck Fuck Fuckity!  I say that were too early, trying to get him to stay down, but he doesn’t!  I’m now the lead rider, and the only thing I am thinking of is speed!  I have got to stay upright.  I aim down for the Sprint line and try to pick up the pace for me and riders behind.

CRASH, BOOM, SQUEAK comes the sound directly behind me.  The rider has slipped off the curve and has taken out the rider just behind me.  I glance behind and see the body’s slide down the track, time to slow up.  I shout to riders behind to slow down as wee need to come off the track asap.

After a few minutes of panic, the guys get them selfs up and return along the Apron to where we all wait. We fall in for a chat!  First thing is were asked how did that happen?  It happened due to lack of speed. Also, the coach hadn’t told the lead rider to start his change as he knew we were going to slow.  Fair play to the guy he held his hands up and said he thought we were to change on the first lap.  So it came down to rider fault and partly the group’s fault, due to us not alerting the leading rider we were not up to speed.  Yeah, I could have shouted louder, but they were also another four silent voices behind me!

After a few minutes, the two guys dust off their new burn tattoos, and we are set off to redeem ourselves.  This time we do three laps before we change.  I am the second rider again, and I seem to be the voice calling out the pace and trying to keep the lead rider going at a steady, we pick up speed each lap, and this time we feel more together.  The extra speed seems to help a lot.  My first change appears to better, as the speed keeps you stuck into the corner as you ride high and let the group come through underneath, get into the back of the line just as we come into the home straight.  It’s still a scary thought that you could slip and come down in a burning slide if you ease off around the corners.  After a few changes we are brought in, and we slow down.  Though maybe one lap early for the coach as he thought it was a bit of an emergency stop from the guy bringing the group to a halt.

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Now the session has ended we are back into the inner ring of the track, we are all told that we should return and resit this level.  It’s not a pass/fail course apparently it’s just we all didn’t meet the coaches standard at this stage.  I think that’s a fail in my book!  It’s a bit gutting, to be honest.  As I didn’t come as a group, I came as an Individual and though we were getting assessed individually.  I thought I rode alright and not sure what I have done wrong for the coach to say no.

I believe it was the crash that made their decision easier for them, but we also heard that the other group of five didn’t pass as well.  So a bad night all round for the 8 pm accreditation two folks.  Good for Glasgow Life though, as they get another eleven people paying for round two again.  I think that some people will be put off from resitting and won’t return.

I will go back, as I am stubborn and hate not passing things.  It would have been nice to find out what I did wrong so I can rectify it and pass the second part enabling me to book in for step three of the accreditation.

At first, I thought the accreditation was a load of bollocks, but after the two sessions, I think to ride the boards these courses are essential and has been a bit of an eye opener for me.

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Part Two of Velodrome Nights Coming Soon.