traveling

Riding The Dream At Plean.

Plean Country Park. 26.11.17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

 

 

 

 

The High Noon Show Doon.

3rd Quarter of Quaich.

5.2.17 Thistly Cross, Dunbar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Army Down to Doonbank. 

2nd Quarter Of Quaich. 

22.1.17 Rozelle Park, Ayr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Going Down The Spiral.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education in Cyclocross 

13.11.16 Fife College, Dunfermline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whistle blasts and we’re off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Two Wheel Army Goes On Foot.

Life on a Bike has changed to Life on a Bike + Running.

Lately, I have ditched the bike and now have been hitting the trails with my trainers on. It all started with trying to add more ways to become fitter within a limited time scale. I do the school run, I would then take the dog for a walk around the park. The easiest thing I could do was to wear my running stuff to the park and start jogging instead of walking.

I have always enjoyed running, but problems with my Achilles made me take up cycling for the less impact on my foot. If I keep the mileage low, then I hope to avoid significant strains.

The first laps of the park were a huge shock to the system, I managed 5 (2.5 miles) laps in around 30 minutes. Terrible times compared to when I used to run to work most days (5 miles in 30 mins was my best time). At least I now have a starting point to work from.

I have been doing this little loop for a few weeks now, bringing my lap times down. I am now doing the 5 laps in 18-19 mins. With my fitness levels growing, I have now pushed my running to the next level.

Trail Running!

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Trail running could become my new fitness addiction, I always love getting out into the countryside. After dropping the kids off at school, It’s only a 5-minute drive up to the Kilpatrick Hills, Clydebank. Stick a Podcast on, and I am off and running. Super simple with minimal equipment and fuss.

This is probably the reason why I have taken to running, as I am now running the trails that I would usually use my Cyclocross bike on. When I get home, I only have to kick off my manky shoes, rather than spend the next hour or so cleaning my bike out in the freezing cold. The only thing that needs a good clean is the dog, after him finding every muddy puddle in the hills to drink out of.

I have now got a 6-mile loop, a steady climb up over 1000ft in the first part of the run warms me up nicely, then the gradient gets very undulating for the next 45 minutes. The past two days the weather has changed, bringing snow and ice making for slower times and conditions under foot a challenge. On the other hand, it makes the views of the surrounding hills a welcome distraction.

With the ground becoming softer I hope that the running will be beneficial in my cyclocross races, as there will be a bit more running on the courses due to the ever-growing mud sections. I do think I am getting fitter and my times are improving, so now it’s just a case of keeping it up and pushing harder up the hills.

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