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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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One Century, One Gear

Ride To The Sun.

17th June 2017, Carlisle.

Ride to the Sun had interested me for a while, so when Clare messaged me about going to this year’s I jumped at it. With a chance to ride a Virgin (train) for £8.50, I was even more eager.

Meet up with Clare at Central Station, she is using her powers of persuasion and negotiating to get our bikes loaded onto the train (apparently have to book your bikes on board).  We get offered the next train with the bikes being stored in the cargo hold, so at least we will get down to the event.  We are told to wait and see if the two passengers who are booked on to our original train turn up, if not, then we get their spots.  Kill a bit of time chatting to the staff, telling them why there are so many bikes going to Carlisle.  They think were mental and wish us well in the final minutes of the cut-off time for bike passengers, soon we are told to get ready to board as we are getting the spots as the other bikes don’t turn up on time.  It’s great to be getting out of Glasgow on time.

Time to sit back and enjoy the train ride down to Carlisle.  Just little over an hour later we pull into a sunny Carlisle.  Grab the bikes, and get our bearings, time to navigate to the shadow of Carlisle Castle at Bitts Park.

 

Clare has arranged to meet a few people from a meetup group she is a member of, one girl turns up.  Before we set off, I have to change her front inner tube, that turned into an hour of changing tubes and trying to locate the monster that is eating holes in them.  Find a huge crack/hole in her rim and think her ride is over before it has even begun.  One of the organisers comes to the rescue with a track pump and also hands over another inner tube (3rd now).  He also donates a five-pound note to her rim to block the hole and hey presto it works.

An hour later than intended, the clock passes 8 pm.  Clare is armed with the directions, and we point our front tyres north and set off to ride to the Sun, Edinburgh here we come.

We had planned to head off with a group, to cut down on the chance of us getting lost but due to leaving later we were in a bit of a rush just to get moving.  The new plan was just to get out on the road and hopefully, we pick people up, or when people pass we can tag onto the back of them.  We manage to get onto the right road, a few fast riders ride past wishing us luck, especially me on the single speed.  We look around, and the Irish girl has been dropped, just Clare and me now.  Soon we roll into and through Longtown, This is where things fuck up!

We intended to stop and look at the directions,  if we did then we would have noticed the mistake we were about to make!  In our excitement of being out riding, we have a brain fart, we follow the road right and continue on the A7 heading to Edinburgh thinking this is the right way.  Wrong!

We are riding at a decent pace and the miles to the border are tumbling down.  Stop off for a quick selfie at the Welcome to Scotland sign.  The mood is high as we as we cross the border into Scotland.  Deep down I am feeling something is not right, in my mind, I am thinking this road is far too quiet of cyclists.  There is meant to be over 1000 people riding to the sun, but on this road, there seems to be only two!  We ride into the village of Langholm, and this is where I ask the question.  “Do you think we have fucked up and went the wrong way?” A look at the directions and it’s a huge YES ya pair of tits!

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We have two options now! Ride all the way back to Longtown, then take the road for Gretna Green, like we were meant to.  Or shall we ride the B7068 road, taking us across into Lockerbie and from there we can get back onto the correct roads.  B7068 wins, Lockerbie here we come!

Thankfully the road doesn’t have too many steep inclines, but there are enough rolling hills to get pissed off with.  Darkness is also coming, and with this, it brings sleepy yawns and heavy eyelids.  After a few hours, we manage to crest the last hill and see one of the greatest sights so far.  Street lights of Lockerbie!  We let out a few yelps of delight as we feel part of the event now, but it’s also good to be into some sort of civilisation again.  A huge boost to the moral as we ride through the town and get on the B7076  and head north to Moffat and keep our date with the chippy.

A long and slow 17 miles later we hit Moffat.  Get to the chippy, it’s good to see some other folks on bikes outside, think we are the last ones to arrive.   The other riders pull away as we sit down to the last of the fish and chips, we are lone cyclists once again.  I am suffering big time, my head is pounding, obviously not drinking enough.  Also, I feel like shit, the consumption of a gel a while back doesn’t sit well in my empty stomach (might have been out of date?)  With the feeling that I was going to puke at any minute, I don’t eat any of the last supper.  By not eating it didn’t help me refuel for the remaining 55 miles to go.

Moffat from Carlisle is looked at the halfway point of the event, roughly 45 miles.  It’s also one of the last places for refuelling this late at night.  My Garmin was showing 60 miles covered, so we had ridden a massive detour to this chippy date.  Water bottles get refilled, and now it’s time to roll out and tackle the seven-mile climb up the Devils Beef Tub. (best road name ever)

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As we ride up, up and up, our moral goes down, down and down.  I pull over and stop for Clare to catch up, her lights blinding me as she creeps ever closer. One look at each other and we can tell we are both finished with this cycle!

This is not enjoyable anymore, it never was going to be super fun, but this is a struggle. We are alone on the high pass, in the middle of the night and the temperature is dropping as the minute’s tick by.  We have over nine miles to get to the Cyclorave at the Crook Inn, Tweedsmuir.  This is our next chance to eat if banana man is still hanging around dishing out the yellow fruit.  Can we make it?  We discuss what to do, the topic that Clare could get our emergency driver Jas to come and rescue us from our looming nightmare.  At one in the morning halfway up a hill, this is the best idea of 2017.  The SOS call is placed and we decide that a two mile ride back down the hill to Moffat is the best option as A. It’s downhill and B. it’s not that far off the motorway for Jas to come and get us.

We find a bus shelter to get us out cold, some locals head home from the pub and ask why the funk are cyclist waiting for a bus at this time in the morning  “you’re in for a long wait” they shout and laugh as the stagger up the main street.  Youtube and Facebook keep us entertained for a while as we have used up all our chat in our 65 miles cycle.  Jas pulls up after an hour, we load the bikes onto the car and seek the warmth and comfort of the car. (first time I have ever looked forward to seeing a BMW driver)

Was it the right decision to quit, YIP it sure was.  I had the onset of the Bonk and to think I would make the ride to Edinburgh on a few gels that I had left in my pocket was a joke.  Also, I was freezing.  I only had a lightweight jacket and an even lighter gilet to keep me warm.  This set up wasn’t even enough to keep me warm going up half the Beef Tub never mind descending from it.

A huge learning curve for next year.  Learn to follow directions correctly and not just blast up the road.  Ride with a bunch as you can share the riding on the front but more importantly enjoy chatting with folk, this should take the mind of the grind.  Take my saddle bag with a better jacket packed and pack a lot better food options, rather than out of date gels.  Last of all is to book the bike onto the train and don’t gamble on getting it at aboard the train at the platform.

Carlisle we shall see you in 2018.

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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.