mud

Northern Soul.

Scottish Championships Knockburn Loch. 3.12.17

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Beep beep beep beep, the noise of the alarm at 6am gets me up and out from the comfort of a warm bed. Drag the poor dog out into the cold, and I wake up to the morning of the Scottish Cyclocross Championships.

The early alarm is for me to get some food made then load the bikes onto the car, double check I have packed everything before I go and pick DNF Dougan up at 8am. We have just short of a three hour drive up Aberdeenshire and another new venue for me this year of Knockburn Loch.

Break some crusts of cow shite as I roll the car over the field and into a cow pat free zone in the already busy Knockburn Loch Outdoor Sports Center and it’s just clicked past 11 am. One of the earliest times I have been at the races. The regular routine is to tumble out the car, get my numbers on and then race. With this one, the long drive I wanted to get here and get blood to my legs by having a scout of the course and see a bit of racing.

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The start of the week brought some snowfall to the course, turning it into a white wonderland. A rapid defrost midweek took it right back to a standard green and brown tone just in time for race day. Now the course I have in mind is going to be a mud fest with the quick thaw. I am wrong as its actually holding out really well as I take in the V50, Women and Junior race. The ground is still hard under the top inch of grass so the mud fest might not be on the cards after all.

The battle to be crowned Scottish V40 Champion has just kicked off and I now have just over an hour to get my numbers pinned on and sort myself out, then get to the start line with a little detour of a few laps of the grass velodrome.

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Sixty-nine riders line up for the Scottish Open Cyclocross Championships, while the top twenty riders or so get gridded the cold wind picks up, and I am eager to get going and get a bit of heat into my bones. After a long hold, the whistle finally blasts, and the race begins. We are off to a flyer as we batter along the grass and sprint down the start shoot. From walking the course I planned to keep left of the course, I manage to execute my plan, and this gives me a good line to shoot up the small incline and then hustle along the soft ground making our way to the woods.

Still riding on the left of the course as we narrow through the entry gate into the woods. Davie Hamill is just in front of me and has the same idea in mind. Both of us dismount and get running when the speed slows, and the bottleneck grows. I gain a few places while pushing the bike, but a lousy remount kills my momentum, and the positions are soon lost. The wood section has a great flow to it, your eyes have to be peeled though as there are plenty of roots waiting to knock you to the ground. (Gary found this out later on in the race)

A fast pedal past the pits after negotiating the first slippery little hill takes you over the bridge and around to the back of the Loch. This brings you to the highest and hardest part of the course. On the first part of the climb, my bike is making some spectacular crunching and grinding noises. My freehub will need a wee looking at, it’s not engaging when I put some power through the pedals, making it skip just like last year at Bute. I lose a heap load of places while I nurse the bike up to the top. The climb isn’t over as I get to the top, we hang a right, and now a slippy grass incline is on the menu.

I use a bit of advice before the start of my race, I got told to get off and run the short muddy downhill section, and then keep running when the gradient turns uphill again. The bike stays on my shoulder as I drop down between the gorse bushes, then keep on trudging to the top of the never-ending hill. As I crest the summit of Knockburn Everest, a magnificent sight comes into my eyes. A 200 meter decent, and is a joy to behold.

It is also a joy to ride, but the mud flicking into one’s eyes isn’t so helpful with where you are pointing the front wheel as you rattle down the hill. Ride around the Loch and back over the bridge passing the busy pits. Now comes the fans favourite. The sand trap! Ride up and over a red gravel hill, try to keep the speed up and power through the sand/gravel, hoping I don’t come off and make a fool of myself in the cat litter box. Manage to get to the end of the pit without incident and ride out into the finishing field.

Ride past the finishing line and with George Stewart’s advice being spot on about the hill climb, I decide to take him up on his other words of wisdom. He told me that the S bends behind the timing van are cut up and slightly slippy under the tyre. Again that the best option is to get off and run them. Roll down the first hill the swing off and get my running legs going. Back on the bike on the last turn and ride down the long grassy decent, back to the left of the course as I ride the hill up and along into the woods once again.

The woods were a joy to ride with a bit of space in front of me as the race spread out as the laps grew. The hill climb became harder and longer with each passing lap. The 200 meter decent never changed with every lap. That was always a blast to ride down, but I know a few people didn’t enjoy it as they shipped their chain as the battered down at high speed. The cat litter tray I managed to ride every lap except for the final time, where I ground to a halt and dropped down like a dead fly. (But thankfully most of the spectators and cameras had moved around to the finishing field) The S bends I enjoyed every lap, as I kept it simple and didn’t even to entertain the thought of trying to ride them, a 99% chance that I would fail and end up in a tangled mess at the bottom of a hill, with running them it gave me a chance to gain a lot of time on riders ahead of my front wheel.

I get lapped once while I am plodding through the course and as always I am in awe of how fast the top riders can get through a lap. My bike holds out for the full race, and the weird crunching noise doesn’t return in my 6 laps of Knockburn Loch which is a huge relief. I take the finishing flag after 1hr 6mins of riding and finishing 47th place. The other two-wheel-army rider Gazza came in 35th in his first champs with is an excellent result for the novice rider.

Huge, huge thanks to Gordon Watt and his merry band of Deesiders that bring a heap of Northen Soul to Cyclocross racing in Scotland.

Huge congratulations to all the Scottish Champions and to every rider who rolls over the start line week in week out. All results are here.

All the best over in Mull with round 6 of the Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series and also the Santa Cross Champions on Sunday.

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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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Educating Monsters

Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series

Round Three, Fife College 22.10.17

The Kingdom Of Fife is our destination today. Load the two bikes, new power washer and pick up a nervous but very excited Gary Dougan. He’s breaking his racing virginity today and hopes that’s all he breaks today.

We arrive into a full carpark under a welcoming blue sky. Head on down to heckle the V50 as we make our way to sign on and receive our timing chips. A brief walk of the course while the V40 get ready to race the mud, shows Gary is in store for him at half-past two. Just as we leave the car for a warm-up ride along the road, the darkness rollovers and a wall of rain moves in. You couldn’t script this any better. Blue skies all the way through from Glasgow, park the car under golden sunshine and then it starts to drizzle down half an hour before our race. Gladly it’s just a passing shower, and just as the last lap bell sounds for the V40, the blue sky’s are back again.

Once the Bryan Donnelly has just finished rolling in the mud, it’s time for me to head up and settle into the start area. I pick my usual spot at the back, look around for Gary. Can’t see him anywhere, then spot his mug up within the top twenty. Good skills in sneaking up there mate. Set Garmin, clip one foot in and get ready to race.

A blast of the whistle and we are let loose. Fife College has a broad grass start area, pan flat but somewhat soft under the wheels (A Scottish record of 689 signing up to ride through this area so it’s no surprise it doesn’t stay very grassy or flat of for long.) Just as I was hitting top speed, a rider goes down, luckily there is plenty of room and doesn’t become a new hurdle for the riders on his rear wheel. Back on the power and bang! The chain drops, manage to freewheel to the barrier tape without incident. A quick scramble and the chain is in place, but where I stopped it is mud central, I have to leg it to dry land. I get to the first corner in dead last position and up to my ankles in mud. The only way is up from here I suppose.

By the second corner, I have taken a few position back, and when I hit the hurdle, I take a few more places as me and a few riders hop over the single barrier. Flying remount back into the saddle and get back to turning the single gear. The bike isn’t happy at all. The chain is skipping with every few turns of the cranks. The inevitable happens as I apply to much pressure and the chain jumps off again as I exit the singletrack and out to Burrito Boulevard. More oily/muddy fingers as I get it back on. The plan is now to nurse the bike around the course and make it to the pits in one piece.

The chain is skipping and clicking as I ride past HTCC Encouragement Corner. Then a few more gingerly passes around the grass turns and straights. Ride out onto the tarmac home straight, most riders can get some speed up, not me, as this bike is slowly breaking under me. Cross over the timing mat for lap one. Next to come is the run-up, get to the end of the tarmac swing off the bike and run the hill. With my bike firmly placed on my shoulder, I start to run through the mud aiming for the pits. There is no hope in hell I could ride through this slop to the pits with very limited power.

Dump the Cross bike and Lift the MTB in a race daze. Just as I am about to leave Gary comes running in. He has just punctured and was hoping to lift my pit bike. Unfortunately, I beat him to it. Tell him to grab my Felt, let him know he will have to nurse it through the race, as the chain is jumping like a kangaroo and dropping off. He’s back racing again, not for long though! His race brain takes over, as he tries to overtake me on the soft grass, he whacks too much pressure through pedals and snap, crack, and some weird noise! My mech hanger is snapped! Can you guess the bike mechanic who is now fixing my bike?

A DNF for Dougan. I feel bad as I carried on and he couldn’t complete his first race. That feeling lasted for all of three seconds, as I remember I have now gained another place. Silver linings and all that.

Complete a full lap without incident, Hated the stone and rocky barrier switchback turns after the pit, just because I am crap at turning but also seemed to get caught by the lead riders here on a lot of laps, so slowed down to give the fast boys extra room. Ramp up the speed and back onto the slush of the start area, power down the left side as close to the outer fenceline as I could get. There is still some grass here that offers up some decent grip. Turn and hug the course tape riding as much of the mud as possible heading for the notorious “Clay Corner” half a foot of mud awaits to steal your shoes if you haven’t strapped them up to the max. Off the bike and plod through the sticky mud until I find the harder ground of the off camber section, back in the saddle and shoot down the road and turn into the big field and ride along and eye up the lonely barrier.

I am getting into a rhythm now, only a few laps to go. I feel can get some decent speed through the straights of Burrito Boulevard. Then comes the joy of trying to ride Encouragement corner but could never master it, so I resort to running it the last few times and save some face. Into the last lap, my energy levels are at an all time low and the last lap bell is a joy to hear. Get into the last singletrack section, I try and chase down the riders in the distance as my little lads and Victoria shout some much-needed encouragement. Ride into the last segment of the Boulevard turns and crack! Chain drop! I can’t believe this! Try to get it back into place but its jammed tight. Out of options and out of time, lift the bike and run for the line.

Cross the line with a second broken bike and finish in 71st place.

After gathering my breath I annalise my broken bikes, Cross bike has snapped mech hanger, but also a new chain tensioner might be on the fix list. The Dirty Harry MTB has lost all the inner chainring bolts, wedging the chain in between the chainrings. How that has happened, I haven’t a clue? Just as strange as a pedal being unscrewed by the course tape! Monsters are at work in Fife College.

Thanks to Paul Davies and Dunfermline CC for hosting round three.
Thanks to all photographers for their images I have used in this blog.

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.

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.

Mantra Mornings.

Dusting off my Mountain Bike.

Nine years soon to be ten, the bank of Mum and Dad paid for a half decent bike for my 30th birthday.  Ten years on I shall be withdrawing again to purchase a shed to keep all my bikes in (I know how to spend their money).  Having a bike let me escape into the woods and trails around Darnley Dams (it’s a park now, Dams to Darnley County Park).

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I eventually went further to explore offroad tracks.  First was a short cycle over to Pollok Park.  Trying out my skills on their little colour code trails.  Green was super easy, Blue pretty easy.  The Red had a couple of good bits, but after a few loops, it became easy and within half an hour you were done messing about in the woods.  I needed more!

Carren Valley became my next playground for the bike,  I loved the last section of jumps, flight path I think it was called.  Eventually found myself driving to Glentress a few times a week and riding Spooky Wood trail most of the day (the old hub in the forest with its huge slices of cake and great coffee, made it hard to get back on the bike once you descend the full trail).

Recently I have just got my bike back after foolishly rehoming it to a friend.  Glad to get it back and it shall be staying with me now.  It’s a burnt Orange Saracen Mantra 2.  It weighs more than my car, but with plenty of gears, this should help ease the pain of the heavy frame and fat tyres.

If you have read the blog, you will know I race Cyclocross.  For training rides, I head up to the Kilpatrick Hills.  My cross bikes are both singlespeed; this is brutal on my legs going up the hundreds of meters of grass and muddy hills on recent rides.  I decided to dust of the Mantra and take to the hills to see how the MTB compares to riding the same loops on a cross bike.

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I don’t know if it was my lack of bike riding recently or the extra weight and tyre width, but as I climbed the road leading to the hills I was breathing from places I shouldn’t have been breathing from!  This is me only getting to the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills, the offroad tracks up to Jaw reservoir was hard going.  Harder than the cross bike when it had gears.  There are some great trails for a cross bike around the top the hills, so with some suspension on the front, this ride should be even better.

It was, hitting rocky drops not think about, letting the bike ride the ruts and relaxing in the bike as I went was refreshing.  The wider tyres were excellent for riding over the boggy stuff.  I would normally get off and get my socks wet while carrying the bike over the boggy stuff as it normally grinds to a halt with the CX tyres.  The triple rings at the front came in very handy when things went skywards.  Rather than run/walk the hills with the cross bike on my shoulder I worked my way down the gears until spinning was not winning and I was faster walking.

The best bits came as I got to Greenside Reservoir, there is steep and rocky track dropping you from the brow of the hill down to the banks of the reservoir.  I used to have to jump off and pick my bike up and walk my way down, as a puncture on the jagged rock edges was guaranteed.  Not today though!  Arse hanging off the back of the saddle, I ride the rocks to the bottom.  Next thing to put a huge smile on your face was a great gravel road, power onto the pedals and get the speed up, I am blasting back down to the main road then down to the house.

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 Can’t wait to get back out on the heavy bike again as Mountain Bikes are GREAT!

The 10 K Runner. 

Going Hillbilly Today.

5th March 2017. Dalmellington, Ayrshire.

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I have signed up for some trail running to keep me from gaining my weight in pizzas over the offseason in cyclocross.  I think a lot of people stick to racing bikes, be it MTB enduros or slicks and race on the road.  For Clare and me we are going to the hills.  Racing in some hill runs and cross country events.  Hillbilly 10km race is to be our baptism of fire with the running folk.

During sign in, they have a slideshow of the course playing on a big tv.  There was also a large map on the wall showing the terrain.  Both these were a great help, as it meant we could see how the course would pan out today.  These two things were new for me at races, it was an excellent idea.  The slide show would be a good idea at cross races, showing the course features, if it could somehow be rigged up.

20170309_203820.jpgAfter the race briefing, we head down to the start line just outside the gatehouse.  The race begins after the hooter at 11 O’clock, and 138 runners are off at all different speeds.  I managed to get quite close to the front before the start, with a fast pace I soon move up the groups and roughly am about 20/30 position as we run along the canal side.  Think we run approximately 3km before the road turns up, with the gradient going up it also begins to turn rougher underfoot.

The first hill of the run is up and along a farm type road then makes way to a muddy path with some good amount of muddy puddles to splash through.  This is more of the terrain I have been running on and more enjoyable than the first 3km along the flat tarmac.  Splatter my way to the top of the hill, and now it’s time to not fall on my arse as I hit the descent.  I always thought this would be the easy bit of hill running, it’s not!  I am too busy concentrating on not standing on ankle breakers of rocks and dodging the mud to think about how fast to run going down.

No rest at the bottom of the hill, as soon as I get down there the next hill begins. Head back up the hill, more of a nature trail path we follow winding all the way to the top.  Great encouragement from the local army cadets marshalling the course.  What goes up must come down.  Descend down a very potholed access road past some stables (lift to the finishing line on the back of a horse could be good).

Last km now.  Cross the road and clip the kerb, sending me sliding on my knees along the grass.  The guy behind me overtakes while stifling a laugh.  I get back up from the mud and begin the chase along the nature trail.  I can hear the cheers as the front runners take the line.  I know I am close now as I see the bridge over the canal, round the bend and I am on the home straight.  Try to get my tired legs up for a sprint for the last few hundred metres to cross the line.

My 10k race is complete.  Collect my little finishers medal and down some much-needed glasses of water.  I crossed the line in 47 minutes, coming in at 33rd position out of 138 participants.  Clare crossed the line in 61 minutes and in 91st place.  A great run in 10 layers of running tops!

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Bring on some more Hills.

 

 

 

 

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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