Velo Club Moulin

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A Month Of Cross

As it's prone to do life got in the way and as 2017 ticked over a year had elapsed since my last cross race and even longer since my last good crack at a season.  In no particular order selling our house, buying a 'project', training for the London Marathon, illness and a lack of mojo had conspired to keep me off the bike and away from racing.

When it dawned on me that this was the longest period of my adult life without riding a bike I decided it was time for some shock therapy; the Super Quaich.  I figured that if I missed the first round I would have a month to get myself into some sort of shape before the 'big comeback'.  That didn't quite go to plan and I ended up spending practically every spare hour fixing up the new place.  A couple of cross rides with friends left me in no doubt about what to expect, even my normally easy ride to work had become hard work.

Having seen photos of the mudfest at Doonbank in 2016 I decided to keep things simple and race on my singlespeed.  Handily this meant that I could ignore the fact that I didn't have a working geared bike for another week or two.  The evening before the race was spent searching frantically for my race kit which seemed to be spread across every unpacked box in the house.

Arriving at the race I had no idea how I was going to go, I knew it wasn't going to be pretty but just how ugly would it be?  It was great to be back at a cross race and catch up with friends that I hadn't seen for a while.

One advantage of not expecting anything was that I felt really calm on the start line.  I was planning to take the first lap easy but when the gun went I got the perfect start and a huge gap opened in front of me, that never happens!  Left with no choice but to take advantage I managed to get to the bottom of the first climb in a good position.  Half way up it was obvious that I needed to back off and ride a steadier race.

The course was a cracker and really suited the single speed.  Lots of off camber after the lung bursting run ups gave me a chance to recover without losing too much time and I managed to hold it together for a decent result; 42nd.  Better than I was expecting and best of all I had avoided relegation.

Photo by Christopher Hogge

A few turbo sessions and I'd be able to kick on at Foxlake, a course that I know really well and have gone well at in the past.  Well, that was the theory..., no.  That's not quite how it went.  Surprisingly the turbo sessions went to plan, once I'd found  dusty turbo lurking unloved under yet more boxes in the garage.  I even managed to find some tyres for my bike, a Limus for the front (perfect) and a Chicane for the back (I'm sure it will be fine).

The race didn't go so well.  I started near the back, had a shocking start and an even worse first lap and went backwards from there.  I felt like I was running on empty for the whole race and a disappointing 68th was the result.  Luckily I had done just enough to avoid relegation but given the stacked field for Dig In I wasn't sure if that was a blessing or a curse.

Photo by Iona Fisher

A stinking cold followed and that was the end of the training plan.  Suddenly the weekend of Dig In arrived and I was feeling nervous.  A great day of coaching with Helen and Stef Wyman on the Saturday left me feeling more confident in my skills and with plenty to work on.  At least now I only had to worry about the pedalling in between the skills.

Another shocking start and I was at the back of the race.  Man, please don't let me get dropped by the whole race in the first lap.  I knew this was a possibility but now it seemed to be coming true.  Fortunately Bo'ness is a lot more forgiving of a lack of top end fitness than the punchy climbs of Foxlake and I managed to get my head down and grind myself away from the tail of the race.  71st.  Not exactly setting the world on fire but I'll take that.

So goals for next season:
1.  Try and re-discover some mojo and the fitness that follows.
2.  Fit an outside tap.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Keeping VCM Weird - Always Exploring

This was never supposed to be some sort of New Year resolution post, or a pat on the back for rides in 2016, but the reality is that I only ever manage to sit down and type these things in the Christmas holidays.

I'll not claim to be the most adventurous rider (exploits of VCMers around Europe and further afield are far more glamorous) so this is more a call to arms to the local adventurers. A show of solidarity to those who, like me, currently lack the time, the money or the "family passes" to get further afield for their riding.

I've been lucky in having a new backyard since May, so having spent years getting to know the Pentlands like the back of my hand, I now have a vast new playground in Highland Perthshire. Every ride offers the opportunity for a new bit of trail, a new way to link things up, or a bit of "I wonder where that goes...". Evenings are spent hunched over OS maps (or their digital equivalent). Weekends are spent riding my trusty Kinesis hardtail or CX bike (now a combined 10 years old) from the back door with a new horizon over every hill.

Sure, you might get some weird looks in the office on a Monday morning (or from the hill runner who laughed in my face as I slid my CX bike down a section of muddy hillside that it was completely inappropriate for), but I've (almost) never come back from a ride in a worse mood than I left in, and there is beauty to be found in those hills.

Today, despite the 0 degree temperatures and the northerly headwind, I shouldered my bike over a heathery hike-a-bike section to be greeted with one of those "this is why we ride" moments: a genuinely stunning view of the Lawers hills covered in snow set against a blue sky. 5 minutes later I was metres from the herd of deer that had generously formed the "path" I was riding. An hour later, rays of sun between sleety squalls were illuminating stripes of snow covered glen, made all the more striking by the contrast with the surrounding greyness. Even in the gloom of midwinter, there is natural beauty to be found. There is nothing that a few extra layers of Endura kit and a positive attitude can't overcome.

As the ever wise(?!) Chris Duncan often says after his usual Pitlochry based forest loops, outside is free folks. Get out there and ride.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Cross is Here

After the Social event on Mull in July, the Scottish season kicked off yesterday with a warm up at Balloch. It was a TLI event which meant you could choose your race, a "B" race lasting 40 mins or the "A" race for the full hour.

Most of the VCM squad plumped for the A race with Erika and Colin on the front row, Marty and I hung a bit further back. The excuses had been flying beforehand, colds and various infections had interrupted training plans.

The course was a fast flowing pretty flat affair with one dismount section and little mud. On the start line I noticed that my front brake cable hadn't been attached properly, oops. A quick bodge and we were off when Jammy shouted bang........
Marty, Erika and I found ourselves in the same position at the first corner so worked together along  to the first twisty grassy section and then down to the muddy slight downhill section.There were a few mechanicals and fallers in the melee of the first couple of laps before things settled down properly.
At the pointy end of the race the young guns were setting a ferocious pace which bodes well for the future of the Scottish scene.

Erika won her race, a great result since she has been ill, Colin was well up there and Marty and I weren't.

A good fast course, with good weather and will set us up in good stead for the first series race at Falkirk. All in all a grand day out and good to see the familiar faces not seen since Mull last December.

The new Endura kit really stood out and was as usual faultless. The Challenge tyres (tires) did a great job, I only wish I had used the chicanes as there was very little mud even at the end of the hour.

Big thanks to Michael Martin for the photos.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Old man strength ~ Wilderness 101, 2016

Before this years Wilderness 101 - a  ~101 mile back country mountain bike race which highlights some of central Pennsylvania's best singletrack - I stocked up on spare tubes and energy goop in Freeze Thaw cycles. With old friend Harry, Justin and the guys who work there we shared a laugh about my lack of preparedness and the fact that, at the end of the day, 'old man strength' would get me through.

I think 'old man strength' is another way of saying pertinaciousness. In other words, the lack of fitness, small number of miles in the legs and poor acclimatisation to the heat and humidity could be overcome by resolve and experience.

I was to put this theory to a harsh test.

It had been many years since my first flirtation with the rocky and demanding trails in Bald Eagle and Rothrock State Forests which form the core of the W101. Years that have not treaded lightly. At the time, I never rode anything other than a singlespeed. I rode tall gears on improbable grades and trails as often as I could. Fitness was not the result of training, just a by product of riding far and often.

Nevertheless, at the time I had never ridden 100 miles off road in one go. I was also nervous of how my rigid bike (with new fangled 29er wheels consisting of crap tyres and Open Pro Mavic road rims and tyre-roll preventing über high pressure) would treat me.

It was tough, but I finished in a respectable time.

In 2016, I had decided to ride a geared, but still rigid bike (albeit with a 29+ front wheel) and although my preparation was relatively poor, I retained confidence in my ability to finish having done several 100 mile races in the USA and UK in the intervening years. This was the experience bit.

The weather in Pennsylvania was hot and humid (95°f and 90% plus humidity). I had ridden early in the a.m with my friends Frank and Sean, but we were generally done by 10.30 a.m, missing the heat of the day. Come race day, I knew that I needed to get as many miles under my belt as possible early on, otherwise I would suffer. I had all I needed to stay hydrated - 2 bottles and a 1 litre bladder (minimising weight on my back) and my bike was sorted. I had minimal stuff stashed in the 2 drop bags allowed for aid station 2 (which then went to aid 4) and aid 3.

A 5 a.m wake up was less harsh than it could have been due to jet lag and we headed to Coburn park with little time to spare before the start at 7 a.m. Daisy, Trina and good friend Buck waved me off and I tried to just remain calm and in the moment as we pedaled through Coburn and then onto the first forest road of the day.

[The following is my memory of trail name and events and I admit it may have some inaccuracies. The course had changed since I first completed the race and due to it being one big loop, you ride a *lot* of different trails. If there are any glaring errors and you happen to spot them - please let me know!]

The first ~20 miles are on rolling forest road. No difficulties or hard gradients. The weather was warm but as it was so early the humidity hadn't built yet and despite having to stop twice for a loosening bottle cage, I kept the pace up but well within my abilities. Aid 1 was a simple bottle fill and after this I made sure I started to eat some food.

Longberger, Spruce Gap and the Three Bridges Trail brought back memories and I enjoyed the technical riding. A photographer - Derek Bissett - snapped a picture of me still looking pretty lively as I cleared Three Bridges.

Then it was time to climb Laurel Run road and turn onto the Little Shingletown double track descent. Fast as.

The last couple of miles into Aid 2 were on firm road - I cannot remember if it was forest road or even sealed road: I was just glad to have completed the first ~40 miles in 3 hours.

I knew from reading others' reports that there was a monster of a climb out of Aid 2. Seeger road delivered on this threat, no doubt! Up and up it went. the heat and humidity were stifling and the harsh gradient sapped energy from my legs. Keep calm, spin, eat and take in fluids.

At the top of the climb, we turned onto Croyle Run Trail - the first of the really rocky descents. It was clear that I was handling my bike like a sack of potatoes. I struggled to focus on one thing - my eyes were darting to and fro and I was breathing fast and shallow. Noticing my arms were completely dry - no sweat whatsoever - I stopped riding and pulled to the side of the trail in some slight shade and sat for a minute on a rock.

Sometimes my day job can be pretty useful for bike riding and my diagnosis? early heat stroke. I knew I was well hydrated, with electrolyte and I knew I had been riding (just!) within myself. In that sort of humidity, being bone dry while exercising is a clear sign my body's thermometer wasn't registering correctly. Much more of that and things would go south, quickly.

I was just over 50 miles in and the bulk of the hard riding was still to come.

I mulled over the options and in truth there were precious few: call it and give in or find a way to keep moving round the course. The latter was clearly more attractive and a streak of obstinacy (old man strength, remember) acted as an emotional and mental anchor.

Beidlehmeimer, then Bear Meadows roads, before more climbing on Stone Creek and Seeger road led into Aid 3 and a welcome refreshment of fluids. I was still able to take in calories at this point, but most climbs and some of the narrow gauge trails that required a lot of effort meant I had to stop for up to 5 minutes at a time and allow my breathing to slow and the heat to dissipate a bit. It was disappointing as  basically this was not a race for me any more - it was akin to survival.

Climbing Pigpile and then Sasspig and Sassafras trail were next and we were soon in Coopers Gap. I climbed Beautiful trail (it was) and then No Name trail before Lingle Road and Aid 4.

By this stage I could not tolerate electrolyte or food - a worrying sign. My energy levels were dreadful - any effort was draining me. I could feel hot, hot air in my mouth with every breath: I just wanted to cool down.

After Aid 4 I walked up Sand Mountain road as the gradient required too much physical output even in a 32x42 gear and it was only when we continued onto Lingle Valley and Siglerville Pike that I could start pedaling again.

My original aim had been finishing in 9 hours and some. At this rate I would be lucky to come in under 12 hours.

All around me there were racers suffering in the heat. One racer noted the temp on his gps as 100°f (40°c) and I can well believe that.

With a race this long, there are always going to be multiple stings in the tail and although the next trail, Panther Run, wasn't the last it was the most painful. A slight downwards gradient but an absolute mess of sharp mobile and immobile rock. I can't quite describe the intensity of this trail. It got to the stage that I could not control my bike in any meaningful way - fast or slow. I simply let off the brakes and pedaled up to speed and sucked up the impacts, relying on my bike to not break under the onslaught. This went on and on. I stopped and rubbed feeling back into my hands then went again. And again.

I was bellowing without meaning as we finally dropped on to Poe Valley road.

Aid 5 signified 12-13 miles still to go. The old Mingle road climb with it's multiple false summits took  an emotional toll and the Fisherman's trail by the river was barely walkable let alone rideable in my state.

The railroad grade back to Coburn saw me sitting, somewhat petulantly, with my back to my bike, muttering to myself 'I can't do this anymore. I can't do this anymore'. Of course, I knew that I could, I just needed one last chance to slow down, calm my mind and breathing and cool myself as much as possible in the shade. I got going after a brief fit of dry retching.

Why I didn't jump in the river is anyone's guess and probably another sign of my poor physiological functioning.

On returning to Coburn I heard Daisy and Trina and friends Frank, Gareth and Teri urging me into the finish. A welcome home from the race organiser Chris Scott finally penetrated my consciousness that the day was done. 11 hours and 37 minutes. A terrible time compared to what I had hoped, but the number of DNF's and the shell shocked bodies all around told the tale of the day - the heat had made everybodies efforts a real test of metal. Expectations had gone out the window and survival was the goal for all but the hardest of racers.

For me, old man strength got me through. Just.

(With thanks to Derek Bissett and Trina for their photos. )

Friday, 5 August 2016

Out of gas on the Galibier

Two days into our summer holiday in Bourg d'Oisans and I've got a hire bike sorted and a full day to enjoy it.  There's surely only one route for today; Col du Glandon, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galiber. Most of the route of the Marmotte although I'll save the final ascent of L'Alpe d'Huez for another day.  160 kilometres and over 4000 metres of climbing.

By 6:30 I'm heading out into a chilly but fine morning.  My plan is to try and climb the Glandon before the heat starts to build.  The first few miles up the valley to Allemond are cold and my rain jacket and fingerless gloves aren't quite enough.  Once I get onto the climb my shivering soon subsides and I can enjoy having one of cycling's most famous cols more or less to myself.  At this time in the morning there aren't many people around and the few vehicles that pass give me plenty of space.

I'm slightly unsure about how my legs will cope with a big ride.  I've only managed three substantial rides this year and two of those were off road.  With a lot less miles than normal in my legs I take it steady on the first climb.  The majority of the climbing comes in the second half of the ride so it's easy to forget that the Col du Glandon is a 24km climb which tops out at almost 2000m.  It's such a long climb that I welcome the unexpected descent half way up, a good way to tick off a couple of easy kilometres.

Looking back down the valley towards Allemond from the Lac du Grand Maision

As I break into the sun towards the top the scenery changes.  I've left the confines of the valley to emerge into a alpine meadow straight out of a film.  I'm lucky enough to see a golden eagle circling high above and a marmotte in the meadow alongside me.  What a wonderful place to ride.

Looking downhill at the start of the alpine meadow on the Col du Glandon

After a quick stop at the top to put my jacket back on I set off down the descent to Saint Etienne de Cuines.  It starts off very technical with tight hairpins and lots of gravel on the road.  Aware of my relative isolation I take it easy at first but the further I descend the faster and more flowing the road becomes.  This side of the Glandon is frequently climbed in the Tour and was the scene of Armstrong's famous bluff which was followed by 'that look' on the slopes of L'Alpe d'Huez.

The Maurienne valley is initially scenic but I'm soon in amongst the industry it is known for.  The surrounding hydro-electic schemes provide the power required for the multitude of aluminium smelters and chemical plants.  I'm struggling to follow the route, the GPX file I downloaded seems to just be a straight line down the valley and constantly tries to take me onto the autoroute.  After an unplanned detour through the center of Saint Jean de Maurienne I decide it's time for the first cafe stop of the day.

The roadside bar I stop in has wifi so I'm able to sort out my route to Saint Michel de Maurienne.  I enjoy a coffee and read the paper to catch up on the previous day's Tour stage.  While I'm inside someone flicks a switch on the weather, I step outside into a wall of heat.  It's almost 10 degrees warmer than it was half an hour ago.

The next section is straightforward.  A friendly local falls in with me and we talk for a while but he's a bit too strong for me today and I let him ride on.  From Saint Michel de Maurienne almost 2000m of climbing awaits in the space of 35 kilometers, quite a thought.  I spin up easily, taking advantage of the low gearing fitted to my hire bike.  There is barely a cloud in the sky and the sun beats down ferociously, almost directly overhead.  There isn't much shade but I greedily ride through every patch I can find feeling grateful for the respite it offers.

Close the top the view opens up and I stop to take a photo, the first time I've stopped climbing in over an hour.  I felt fine when I was riding but I get a shock when I stop, my legs are fine but I feel light headed and a bit dizzy.  Luckily I'm soon at the top of the Télégraphe where I had planned to stop for lunch.

Not too shaky!

I pick a table in the shade and enjoy a massive baguette followed by apple tart and a coffee.  I'm probably at the furthest point from home and I still have well over 1000m of climbing to get over the Col du Galibier.  I need a plan to make sure I keep this ride enjoyable.  Right now it consists of eating lots and trying to cool down.  I accept that I'll need to ignore my ego and ride as easily as I can over the Galibier and take regular stops to cool down.  The temperature is well into the 30s and I'm struggling with it more than usual today.

Refuelled and rejuvenated it's time for the fun descent to Valloire.  After only a few minutes I've reached the ramp at the start of the Galibier.  For the next 18 kilometers the road climbs with absolutely no shade.  The scenery is spectacular and the traffic is very light.  I'm riding well within myself but the heat is overwhelming.  I stop at an abandoned building and drink in the spectacular view hidden for a few minutes from the sun.  A group of cyclists see me and do the same.  From here to the top I'm continually yo-yo'ing riders as we stop in what little shade we can find.

Spectacular views on the Col du Galibier

The only shade for miles but what a view, spot the parked cars for a sense of scale.

A coke with a view

I'm happy to reach the cafe at Plan Lachet and stop for a well deserved coke, my third cafe stop of the ride.  The final 8 kilometers from Plan Lachet to the top are considerably steeper but suit me better.  I'm gaining height more quickly and the steep ramps and constant changes of direction are easier mentally than the unrelenting straight ramp on the first part of the climb.  The scenery just gets better and better as I climb into the high mountains.  I have to stop a couple of times to cool down, once in a culvert where a stream runs under the road and then in the tiny slither of shade offered by a parked car.  A final steep section and I reach the top at 2642m.

Hiding in a culvert above Plan Lachet

Almost there

I can't really say I climbed the Galibier, I simply made it to the top.  I try my best to appreciate the view before tackling the descent.  It's incredible.  8 kilometres of sweeping bends take me to the Col du Latauret, passing motorbikes and cars along the way.  A cafe stop for a quick esspresso and I'm back on the road.  50 kilometers seperate me from Bourg d'Oisans but I've got almost 1300m of elevation to lose, hopefully the engineers who built the road used it well.

The descent from the Col du Galbier is pretty special

Who knew the B in BMC stood for banana.

The first 20km are unbelievable, the descent is super-fast and so much fun that I've already forgotten the suffering on the last climb.  The main road past the Lac du Chambon has been closed for over a year because of a massive landslide and I'm re-directed onto a bizarre temporary road that has been bulldozed along the other side of the lake.  The next part of the descent is brilliant but it's obvious that I'm losing height too fast.  A short climb followed a draining headwind section provide an appropriate sting in the tail.

I arrive in Bourg d'Oisan and find my waiting family just about to go for an ice cream, perfect timing.  I haven't returned my bike yet so I'm claiming it, a 5 cafe stop ride!

Friday, 29 July 2016

Roads to Ride: Col du Sabot

The title of this article has been shamelessly pinched from the Roads to Ride section of the Inner Ring blog.

I recently had the opportunity to climb Alpe d’Huez and it left me feeling underwhelmed.  Don’t get me wrong, if this climb was in the Lammermuirs you wouldn’t be able to tear me away from it.  In the heart of the Alps though the bar is a lot higher.

It may have a lot of racing history but even it’s history is flawed to my eye.  It represents the ugly side of the Tour.  The wrong sort of spectacle where the focus is the spectators rather than the racing.  When the Tour visits it feels like the racing is suffocated by the over-exuberance of those standing in the road.  

Climbing the Alpe reveals a major flaw that means it can never be a great.  There is no clear finish.  Great climbs have a denouement. That moment when there is no question that you’ve reached the summit.  The view is suddenly dramatically different, the road starts to plunge downward, there is nowhere left to go.  That moment never arrives on Alpe d’Huez.  You reach the start of the village.  The tourist finish is marked but you know that the Tour stages finish higher up, but where?  Somewhere near the ski lifts isn’t it?  But once you get there you can’t see a sign and there is a tarmac road which continues on to Lac Besson.

Luckily only a few kilometres away there is a climb that meets this criteria in the most blunt way.  The Col du Sabot used to be the main route from the Romanche valley to neighbouring Savoie.  When motor vehicles started to take over it was too steep for the new technology and a new route took precedence, the road to the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Croix de Fer.  The Col du Sabot has been left as a dead end which stops abruptly at 2100m.

It’s higher, harder, steeper and a lot wilder than the Alpe.  The first half climbs a well surfaced road through several villages to Vaujany.  It’s a steady gradient which is never too hard with regular hairpins to break up the climbing.  A kilometre after Vaujany the nature of the climb changes as the road narrows dramatically and the gradient becomes steeper.  The previously fast rolling surface becomes broken and lumpy and like most minor roads in Scotland momentum is hard won.

As you climb higher it feels more remote, this road doesn’t go anywhere.  On the day I climbed it I was passed by one car above Vaujany and I only saw a handful of other cyclists who were climbing as I descended.  The road simply stops at the top.  This is the col.

The end of the road.

I enjoyed every part of climbing the Col du Sabot.  It’s harder, quieter and better than it’s brash young sibling.  The Alpe symbolises carbon wheels, aero bikes and overpriced jerseys with a stripe on the sleeve.  This climb reminds you of a simpler way; just you and the road and that’s what makes it great.

So much for the climbing, what about the descent?  It’s rubbish!  Everything that makes the ascent special; the narrow bumpy road, the gravel, the mud on the corners, the cows standing in the road conspires against you on the way down.  I’ve never taken so many photos on a descent, mostly because I was going so slowly that I had plenty of time to take in the amazing view.  Once you get below Vaujany and the road improves it becomes a lot more fun.  

If you want a great descent there’s always Alpe d’Huez just down the road.

The view from the top, the new road to the Col du Glandon is just above the lake

Descending hazards, part 1

Descending hazards, part 2

On the fun part of the descent, below Vaujany

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Cycling the Southern Upland Way - Melrose to Cockburnspath

Scotland's Best Signposted Field

It's been a while since I've written anything for this blog.  I missed most of the 2015 cyclocross season through illness and I spend the first 4 months of 2016 training for the London Marathon.  I haven't got any racing planned in the immediate future so I thought I should come up with something else to blog about.

Over the last month I've managed to fit quite a few long rides in and have started to feel a bit like a cyclist again.  Inspired by the dusty trails and perfect conditions that Graeme Warren and I enjoyed riding Glen Tilt and Glenfeshie I was keen to get out for more of the same the following weekend.

My plan was to take advantage of the dry trails to ride the final quarter of the Southern Upland Way from Melrose to Cockburnspath.  I really struggled to find any information online about riding this section so I thought it would be worth making some notes on what I found.  This might be a bit dry but hopefully it'll be useful to someone planning a similar ride.

Unfortunately the long dry spell had broken in the last few days.  After looking through lots of forecasts I finally found one that looked good enough and decided to go with it.

Newcraighall to Tweedbank

This ride was made much simpler thanks to the newly opened Borders Railway.  50 minutes after getting on the train at Newcraighall I was underway.  Until the line was re-instated the Southern Upland Way followed a path along the old line so the route starts from the end of the platform.

Space for 8 bikes according to Scotrail.
Dusty trails looking less than likely.

Melrose to Lauder

Almost straight from the train station the route dropped into a nice little singletrack section down to the bank of the River Tweed.  After crossing the river the route turned back west along a fun rooty path.

Unfortunately the good riding didn't last too long and the route swung north to follow what was shown on the map as doubletrack.  The Southern Upland Way is obviously not a heavily used trail.  Most of this section was heavily overgrown and it was hard to see an obvious path in a lot of places.  It didn't take long riding in this terrain before I was completely soaked.

As the route headed north it was dominated by the sheer number of gates.  Some fairly uninspiring riding on tracks, over fields and through muddy farmyards punctuated by dozens of ropey old gates.  Everyone seemed to have a different style of latch and be broken in a slightly different way.  In the end it was easier just to lift my bike over and climb over.

As I approached Lauder the route turned into a field of knee high grass with no sign of any path.  Fortunately there was a route-post randomly sited in the middle of the field.  It was a actually quite a fun descent but by the end of it I was thoroughly soaked.  This sums up the Southern Upland Way pretty well, it's essentially Scotland's best signposted field.

A quick blast off Staunchly Hill in the pouring raining and I was in Lauder.

In need of a bit of respite from the weather I headed straight for the Flat Cat Gallery.  Despite the fact I was plastered in mud the staff couldn't have been more friendly.  After attempting (and failing) to make make myself look vaguely presentable I realised that the only person who was worried about the mess was me.  Two slices of cake and a coffee later and I was feeling far more positive about the rest of the day.

Chain Bridge over the Tweed in Melrose.
There's a path under there somewhere.

Lauder to Longformacus

From Lauder an odd mix of great paths and sheep tracks took me through the grounds of Thirlestane Castle to the A697.

A tarmac farm road turned into nice doubletrack as I quickly gained height.  Just as I was starting to think this section might be better the route promptly turned left into a field.  The next hour was back to fields and gates.  An unexpected descent down a fast bumpy section helped to break the tedium of the gates.

As I climbed into the mist the character of the ride had begun to change.  I was onto fast flowing tracks uninterrupted by gates and able to make some progress, albeit hindered slightly by a stiff easterly wind.

The last part of the climb up to Twin Law was on a great path although a look at my Garmin left me alarmed at my relative lack of progress over the first part of the ride.

The descent from Twin Law was the highlight of the day.  3 minutes of bumps and natural doubles.  Maybe not the best return for all the climbing but as fun as it was unexpected.

From there a mix of doubletrack and minor roads allowed some fast progress to Longformacus.

Crossing Blythe Water.
Twin Law.

Longformacus to Cockburnspath

Riding on the minor road towards Ellemford Bridge brought back painfully memories of suffering on my road bike.  Today's pace was more sedate and as you can see a 29er is probably more suited to this road than a road bike.

Painful memories of the Tour of the Lammermuirs.
The route turned off this road and struck up the hill on the right.  From the road it didn't look like the path would go as it was so overgrown.  It turned out to be ok, albeit a slog up a steep field of sheep.  A nice path over the top of the hill was short lived and I soon found myself slogging up a churned up muddy sheep track.  This was probably the least enjoyable section of the day but it was all ridable.

Crossing the Whiteadder at Abbey St Bathans.

A blast down some fast doubletrack brought me out on Duns road just south of Ellemford Bridge.     Over the road a steep gravel climb was waiting followed by a more gentle climb.  A lovely looking singletrack descent was ruined by 3 or 4 gates in the space of a few hundred meters.

Some muddy miles brought me fairly quickly to Abbey St Bathans where it was time to sit down for 10 minutes to have something to eat.  One problem with this route is a lack of water.  By this point I was even looking for an outside tap on a house but I didn't see anything.  In the end I didn't find any decent water source after Lauder.

A nice riverside path got the final stretch underway.  It wasn't long until the route descended back into fields and gates, pretty wearing by this stage of a ride.  An hour of easy, if uninspiring, riding brought me to a fast tarmac descent to the A1.

A really nice track through Penmanshiel Wood would have made a good finish to the ride but there was a sting in the tail.  The Southern Upland Way goes through Pease Dean Nature Reserve.  It would be a good place to walk but not when you are carrying a bike.  20 minute of temptingly good singletrack constantly interrupted by steep slippy steps and treacherously wet duckboards was immensely frustrating.  It would probably be more fun in the dry but in the wet it was by far the least ridable section of the day.  A quick spin round the coastal path at Cove brought me to the finish at Cockburnspath.

A tricky ride to sum up.  Only a few genuinely good sections but I don't think that is what this sort of ride is about.  It's much more a big day out and a bit of an adventure.  But even on that measure it's hard to reach a judgement.  It's a remote route with only one town on route and it barely crosses any roads but it doesn't feel that remote.  The landscape is agricultural and heavily shaped by farming and feels far less wild than other areas of the Lammermuirs.  It would be a good route but for me there are just too many gates to let it flow.

By far the best section of the route is through the Lammermuirs from above Lauder to Longformacus and it's the only bit I'm likely to repeat.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Back in the Game

Almost a year since the last race, and barely a pedal turned in anger in the preceding year, and I was in danger of becoming an absentee VCM rider. Work, commuting and two mini-mes will do that to a man.

Good to get back in the saddle then at Glentress 7. As good a course as you will get at any lapped endurance event, and always a good chance to catch up with the regulars, including super supporter Wardman - the only man who heckles you in the woods on both the first and the last lap. Commitment to the cause.

Top marks to Colin Shearer for triumphing in the old boys category, Maddy for a good battle to second in Female Pairs (with Cat) and for the Marquis pairing for commitment to the singlespeed Tweedlove cause. Personally, my legs seem to be in the same shape as the last time I raced, if anything a couple of minutes faster overall, which isn't a bad base for getting into shape. Good enough for 7th <40 solo and 9th of all of the solos, but not quite good enough to catch the two guys only 2 minutes up the road.

Dates in the diary, mountains beckoning, new kit in the post and shenanigans afoot at SocialCross. Let's do this shit. #backinthegame

Thanks to Trevor Worsey at enduro for the photo

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Cyclocross Madness: Season 1

Three days after the final race of the Scottish CX series I’m still feeling dazed. I have bruises on my shins and my shoulder, my throat is scratchy and my head is fuzzy. It’s like I’ve been stuck in a cyclone for the past few months and have just been ejected into the eye of the storm, waiting for it to suck me back in after the New Year!

It seems that Foxlake has a lot to answer for in terms of attracting folk into cx racing. It was at that race in 2013 that my husband Matt decided it shouldn’t just be our daughter Ruby representing the family, and he went on to do his first cx series last year. And so it was while I was cheering them both on at the 2014 race that I had my epiphany… screw standing on the sidelines with the coats…I want to race cross too!

I was already a member of Peebles Cycling Club and there are quite a few folk who now race cx, but no-one in the vet women category. I’d also had my eye on what I regard as one of the best kits in country – Velo Club Moulin, so when I saw the Facebook post asking for women to join the club to race it seemed like fate! By February I was a member of the club, had my first top and was well and truly committed! A new Ridley XBow soon followed, and so did my cross obsession.

Although the cross season doesn’t officially kick off until the winter Matt decided it would be a good plan to start some training sessions in Haylodge Park in Peebles on a Tuesday night, so we invited some friends along. Ali Dow is a seasoned cross racer that you’ll all know, and his fiancée Caroline Harvey is a newbie like me. I spent the first evening learning to jump on and off my bike! It took a while to get the hang of it, but once I had it dialled I knew that I could now enter my first race! I had the skills from mountain biking and the fitness would improve with training so there was no excuses!

I’m very grateful to Jimmy Mac for putting Haughcross on this year. It’s a tough race, but because it’s a summer event I didn’t have to pop my cx cherry in the usually muddy conditions. It was one less thing to worry about and I went there on the day thinking if I could just finish the first race I would be happy to forget about the second race in the afternoon. Turns out I did finish the race (in last place - woohoo), and despite saying I was too tired to race again it didn’t take much to persuade me and before I knew it I was getting changed, guzzling an energy gel and on the start line for my 2nd ever cx race! I finished the B race in 10th place (out of 12)! I was buzzing!!

I had a couple of months to get ready for the first of the Raleigh series races at Callendar Park. It was a lovely day and I’d been at the race the year before supporting the family so I knew what to expect. It’s a hilly course, but thankfully the ground was dry. I was pretty nervous on the start line but when the whistle blew I was off like a rocket! I’m really glad I’ve got a few years of track racing under my belt, albeit it from about 20 years ago! It certainly helps at the start of cx races with all the jaggy elbows and close wheels. Unfortunately my chain came off just before the first hill in front of the house. It meant I had to run up the hill on lap one and got caught up in riders who’d attempted to ride up but had fallen foul of the gradient! It didn’t put me off though and I kept my head down and just went for it. I really loved the course. Lots of good technical and rooty bits and I loved the off camber zigzags. I ended that race 13th vet woman so I was really pleased. I couldn’t stop talking about the race for days!

Next up was Knockburn Loch. It’s a long way but folk had told me it was worth the journey. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the sandy banking. During warm up it was evident that I wasn’t going to make it up the banking on my bike so I decided that I’d just run it. This was hellish for someone who’s got wee short legs! It also meant my cleats were full of sand and it took me a few knocks of my feet on the chain stays to clear them and get clipped back in for the single track through the woods. It’s the type of course I really should enjoy but I found it a struggle and was disappointed on the last lap to be passed by 2 vet women who I’d been ahead of for the majority of the race (VCM team mate Ainsley Wood and Nienke Oostra). I finished 10th and left feeling disappointed and wondering if my cx honeymoon was over already.

Luckily I got the love back at the next race – Strathclyde Park. Apart from the section in the car park it’s a great course. The muddy off camber bits at the start and then the fast bits of singletrack in the woods. Mountain bike skills are definitely a bonus on a course like this. The red gravel hill section was hellish and on the last lap I did contemplate taking my bike for a walk, but opted for a very slow ride up instead! We were lucky to miss the rain and the vet men and seniors were not quite as fortunate! I ended up in a sprint finish against club mate Katie Newlands as we entered the ‘arena’. My mind went back to my disappointment at Knockburn and I decided not to let Katie get past me! Matt said he saw me sprint in to the finish area and thought I was possessed! Sorry Katie! I guess I am competitive after all! Another ok result finishing 13th.

Next up was Lochore Meadow. I’d been told to expect something very different from the past few races and had heard all about the ‘spiral of doom’! Turns out this was my least favourite race, despite the spiral being toned down. It was great practise for riding in mud but I was longing to ride over the bits of boardwalk that were taped off in the woods! The 2 sets of hurdles were the work of the devil, pretty much coming up to my knees. It was the first and only race where I checked my watch, so definitely not top of my list! I managed to finish 11th with my bike intact, which I guess is an achievement in itself!

Scottish Champs at Irvine Beach next. I wasn’t entered in the champs as I don’t currently have a license and didn’t think it was worth it as I wasn’t going to podium! I’d been hearing all about the ‘Big Dipper’ in this race and how it’s like falling off the end of the earth! It didn’t disappoint! Despite trying to build up more speed on each lap at the dipper I still didn’t managed to ride all the way up the other side. Something to aim for next year I guess. The sand proved a bit easier than at Knockburn and despite the headwinds, sea turtle, big dipper and other mad obstacles I loved the course. I got to ride around most of the way with team mate Jac Marquis, but unfortunately she got stopped at the finish as the lead women passed her. This meant I did the last lap pretty much on my own and was the last rider in. Entering the finish race to Motorhead’s Ace of Spades, having done an extra lap which I didn’t think I had in me was awesome! I finished 10th.

I thought Irvine would be hard to beat, but the weekend at Mull has been the icing of the cake as far as my series is concerned. Davie Graham and his band of merry men (and women) put on a show like no other! With Glengorm castle and the Ardnamurchan coastline as the backdrop I felt like I’d been transported to another planet! In previous years the weather had been ‘challenging’ but this year we were unbelievable lucky to have dry, still weather on both days. Saturday was the last of the series races and I went off like a shot at the start again and managed to do most of the first lap in amongst the lead women! I remember mumbling to myself something about how the hell will I finish the race if I keep going at this speed! I didn’t have to worry though as folk started passing me and I settled into a more manageable pace. I finally finished 10th and so my first Scottish CX series was done. I was one of only two vet women who did all 6 races and I finished a respectable 10th in the overall series results. I’ll buy that for a pound note! Which takes me on nicely to the weekend highlight – Santa Cross World champs! I had swithered about not riding as I was pretty tired from the day before but when I got to the castle on Sunday morning and saw the other lunatics dressed in their costumes there was no way I was missing out! It was freezing and there was a smell of stale beer and whiskey in the air. Some folk looked focused, some were bleary eyed and others were missing altogether! When the whistle blew it was evident that despite the crazy costumes and the hangovers this was still a race. Again I managed a good start and was delighted when we were diverted off the road into a muddy, rocky single track chute in amongst the rhododendrons. This was going to be fun! I spent a lot of the race chuckling to myself at the insanity of it all. Following a trail of Christmas destruction with tinsel, bows and santa hats all being trampled into the mud on the course. I managed to get a few pound notes in the hand ups, and did my best to give the spectators a jolly “ho-ho-ho” as I passed. It was a brilliant race, and a great end to an awesome weekend.

So now we’re in the rest period until the 2016 races start up, and I’ve not really been out on my bike much. There are a few too many mince pies and bottles of Leffe in the house and I suspect it’s going to be tricky getting back into the racing groove in a few weeks.

But it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned in my first season: CX is the most fun you can have on a bike…I need to get fitter and faster for next year…My club mates are amazing and I’ve made loads of new friends…Challenge Limus tyres are a must have for the mud…People who do CX are bonkers!! And my advice to anyone thinking of trying a cx race….just dae it! You’ve nothing to lose and a lot to gain!

Picture by Addy Pope

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fingers crossed

As the 2015 Scottish cyclocross series comes to an end, Christmas is only a few sleeps away and my hangover from #Mullorca seems to have finally dissipated (note to self, do not end up in the Mishnish surrounded by Unicorns). After clearing up the tinsel remains and removing the mud from the washing machine for the last time (at least for a few weeks), I have a lot of fond memories of my second cross season to date.
As a newbie to cross, the first series went by in somewhat of a frenetic blur, so this season is definitely more memorable. Last year I was in awe of the riders, the courses (most of which I found really daunting – the big dipper!), the skinsuits and the weather. I did however find myself addicted to it pretty quickly – despite it being the most challenging and sometimes, painful thing, I’d ever done, I kept coming back. 

This season I’d somehow got myself into VCM (begging goes a long way) and found myself in a shiny new rasta skinsuit (thanks Endura). I was hoping enthusiasm (and spin classes) would get me through another season with a few more points to add to my name.
After the shock to the system that was Callendar Park, I managed to get myself a new bike (thanks for the tip Fraser Waters), get through the next few races and start to enjoy myself. Although Lochore was a spiralling mud fest, I got my best result so far. Feeling chuffed with myself, I rented some awesome deep-section Reynolds Assault wheels from Happy Cog (contact Fraser Waters) with Challenge Baby Limus tubs for the Champs. 

Finally, it was the last race of the series at Glengorm Castle, the prettiest backdrop for a course in Scotland and for once, the weather was holding up. The mix of off-camber switchbacks made for great fun and my new bike and new found skills (Dirt School classes are worth it) started to come into play. I had some great battles with fellow VCM bad girls, Elisa, Ainsley and Erika, and it was great to have so many rasta girls on the course. My favourite race and season so far with a top ten finish to boot.
Now bring on Super Quaich and more skills. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 17 December 2015


Mull - 11th-13th December 2015

Thanks to Gordon Watt for the photo

Let's start by getting the awkward bit out of the way first.  Davie Graham and Jim Cameron should maybe stop here.  Mull isn't exactly my favourite place.  There goes my chance of ever getting gridded again at RGCX.  In previous visits, summer and winter, I've experienced torrential rain, wind so strong that I was blown off my bike.  I've punctured twice in the same race, ripped a mech off, broken a wheel and managed to get my car stuck at Glengorm Castle.

Backstory aside this year's trip looked promising from the start.  Maddy arranged a great house for a group of us to stay in and it was to be a proper roadtrip sharing transport with Fraser Waters and family.  The plan was to travel over on Friday, race Saturday and travel home on Sunday morning.  It even looked like the weather might co-operate with the forecast predicting a spell of dry and calm weather over the weekend.  Expectations of good weather were tempered slightly by Davie's suggestion to "bring toe spikes and a sense of humour".

A couple of days before we left Addy got in touch to say that I could get a lift home with them if I wanted to race Sunday.  This should have given me ample time to sort an outfit but unable to overcome my inner 'humbug' I never quite got round to it.  The effort that so many people had made certainly put me to shame.

The weather on the west coast was unpleasant and we were greeted in Oban by an unexpected squall and rough seas.  After some confusion about whether the ferry would sail we were suddenly off.  The wind departed as quickly as it had arrived and the crossing was calm.  Fraser was feeling in holiday mood as we set off towards Tobermory on the wrong side of the road.  A deep seated link between ferry journeys and foreign holidays strong enough to overcome the reality of a dark and wet night on a Scottish island.  A relaxing evening in the house and we were ready for whatever the weekend could throw at us.


Saturday dawned (well I assume it did, I was last up) bright and calm.  We were up at Glengorm fairly early to take in the kids races and have a walk around.  Given the heavy rain in the preceding weeks it was surprising to see that the course wasn't as wet as previous years.  I didn't ride the course until later in the day as it was obviously going to change dramatically before the senior race.  

The course looked like it was riding well in the early races and it was great to see 6 VCM riders racing in the women's race, a new record?

Photo by Addy Pope

It doesn't seem to matter how early I arrive at a race I always seem to end up with slightly too much to do in the last 40 minutes.  A quick spin on the rollers in the sunshine and I was quite literally warmed up.  Ditching my leg warmers and jacket I headed for the start line.  A quick roll down the hill into the shade and I was cold again.  There were lots of good riders in the small senior field so I was grateful to get a reasonable call up.

I made a good start and managed to stay in position in the race up the starting hill.  At some point I passed Addy who had punctured, fortunately only a short distance from the pits.  The field stayed fairly compact over the first few laps so there was lots of close racing in the slippy and technically challenging main arena that made up most of the lap.  The intensity of this section was broken up by the fast run down to the greasy tarmac surrounding the cafe and then it was onto the brutal run up through the rodedendron trees.  A fast tarmac descent took you back to the main arena.

The middle laps were a bit of a blur but time wasn't passing quickly enough for me and I started to slip back through the field.  Each time up the run up I managed to claw a little ground back but the damage was happening slowly as I failed to maintain the intensity required through the arena.  Addy came past strongly as he moved back up through the field.  Dropping my chain in the deep mud pushed me back a little further and a front brake failure made the descent to the cafe a little more interesting.  On the penultimate lap I moved too far off line on an off-camber section as I was being lapped and hit the ground.  A decent final lap saw me pick a place or two back.  A steady ride but letting the side down a little as all of my VCM team mates rode to good results.

A quick trip back to Tobermory and there was just enough daylight left to wash bikes and kit in preparation for Sunday.  After a great meal and a few drinks we never made the planned trip to the ceilidh but from the tales that were recounted on Sunday morning it sounded like a good night.  No gossip on this blog I'm afraid.  If you want to know what happens at the ceilidh I'm sure Davie will point you in the direction of a ticket for next year.


Sunday's race is a bit different.  A chance for those who smashed it on Saturday, whether in the race or later on, to relax a little.  If your Saturday didn't go so well it's an early chance of redemption.  It's a friendly atmosphere but despite appearances when the gun goes there are still plenty of people there to race.

Photo by Sue Steele

VCM enjoyed a strong showing in the first race with Maddy taking 2nd and Colin Shearer completing a weekend double of race wins in the Vet 50+ category.

A combined field of vets and seniors meant that the start line was quite a bit busier that it had been the day before.  And quite a bit brighter thanks to some excellent costumes.  There was a bit of last minute excitement for Crawford Carrick-Anderson as he punctured on the way to the start line. His wheel was quickly replaced but he found himself at the end of a motley crew of Santas, Rudoplhs, christmas puddings, elves and Glasgow United riders (pot, kettle, black).

Fraser had kindly taken one of my bikes home with him so I had decided to race singlespeed.  My thinking was two-fold; no mech to rip off and a vague hope that I'd be forced into riding harder on the singlespeed.  The whistle went and I got a great start, the line was on the perfect incline to get the gear turning.  A surprising easy blast up the climb and I turned into the singletrack inside the top 10.  I was surprised that Addy who had started on my wheel hadn't passed me and it later turned out he had punctured on the first climb.  Unfortunately he had a much longer run to the pits today.

I managed to hold steady in about 11th or 12th position over the first few laps and getting to grips with the course.  It had everything: a hard climb, muddy rutted singletrack, a road descent, another climb and a reverse of the previous day's arena section.  OK, so I wasn't loving the road descent but at least I had a good excuse for not pedalling.  A hard frost overnight had made the arena section much easier to ride with minimal mud, easily the best course I've raced on in Mull.

I was loving this course and loving racing singlespeed again but the race was a lap too long for me.  My legs fell off on the penultimate climb, where I had been getting on top of the gear I was struggling.  Riding the arena for the last time I got swamped by riders I was no longer able to hold off.  Addy passed me on the last climb as he worked his way back from his first lap puncture, it seemed like a fitting way to end the year in a familiar spot trying to chase him.

I'd like to pay tribute to the effort that Davie Graham has put in to this event over the last 10 years.  Each time I've raced here he has improved the course and the event and with the help of the weather this year was the best by far.

Mull, another addition to the ever-growing list of things I was wrong about.

A big thank you to Maddy for organising the accommodation, Fraser and family for the lift to Mull, Maddy and Addy for the lift home and especially to Davie Graham.

How did we do?


Maddy Robinson 4th (Senior Female)
Erika Allen 7th (Senior Female)
Katie Newlands 8th (Senior Female)

Ainsley Wood 6th (Vet Female)
Elisa Smith 7th (Vet Female)
Jac Marquis 8th (Vet Female)

Colin Shearer 1st (Vet 50+)

Simon Muir 16th (Vet Male)
Chris Marquis 18th (Vet Male)
Fraser Waters 21st (Vet Male)
Davie Graham 22nd (Vet Male)
Martin Steele 26th (Vet Male)

Ian Dunlop 10th (Senior Male)
Steven Turbitt 11th (Senior Male)
Addy Pope 14th (Senior Male)
Simon Fairfull 24th (Senior Male)


Maddy Robinson 2nd (Senior Female)
Erika Allen 5th (Senior Female)
Katie Newlands 13th (Senior Female)

Ainsley Wood 5th (Vet Female)
Elisa Smith 6th (Vet Female)
Jac Marquis 7th (Vet Female)

Colin Shearer 1st (Vet 50+)

Ian Dunlop 6th Overall / 4th Senior Male
Addy Pope 16th Overall / 7th Senior Male
Simon Fairfull 17th Overall / 8th Senior Male
Chris Marquis 19th Overall / 11th Vet Male
Martin Steele 30th Overall / 18th Vet Male
Steven Turbitt 38th Overall / 16th Senior Male
Simon Muir 44th Overall / 27th Vet Male