Monday, 31 March 2014

Ronde Van Vlandaaren…

Cobbled climbs? Belgian beer? What's not to love? It's almost a 'cross race, just a bit longer. With a few roads thrown in.

And this year I have (amazingly) managed to win a bike and a bells and whistles trip with BMC to do the full 244km sportive. All for 150 words about my love of beer, cobbles and Belgium with 5 photos of me (all on off road bikes). Credit to BMC for putting faith in a cheery cx racing female 40 something as one of their six winners.

Cue a lot of frantic pedalling - what was a 'I quite fancy doing the full Ronde' turned rapidly into 'I need to finish, and smiling, to uphold BMC's faith'. 

Luckily, the bike is amazing. It's a BMC Granfondo GF01:


Carbon light, super speedy with (green-eyed-envy-inducing) Ultegra Di2 gears and designed for the cobbles of the Spring Classics.

Alone, though, not even the bike will get me 244km.  So, in my effort to live up to the fabulous bike, I've been training. More than just 'riding a bit extra' (which is what my actual CX race training has consisted of so far). I've done intervals twice a week. Ridden to work (a hilly 40 miles carrying a back pack between Todmorden and Buxton) and even back some days (I've blogged these separately).  

Cycle commute. It's not always that sunny.

I've dragged Chipps out on my first century ride. He's started proclaiming that 'if it's not 120km it's really not worth doing'. He stuck to this on our fortuitously booked holiday, in the last week of March. We rode a few stonking Spanish loops, taking us over the hundred mile mark again and also into the realm of bonk, reminding me that half the battle will be to keep myself fed.

Setting off on my first Century - Cheshire loop devised by Si
Hopefully this will prepare me for the Ronde. I've not managed to ride 150 miles in one go yet. Flanders will be my first time. But I have cobble practice under my belt, and a reasonable time in the saddle and a lot more climbing in my legs than I'll need on the day. I'm excited and nervous. But the forecast is good, fingers are crossed and I'll report back on how I do!



Friday, 28 March 2014

Dunkeld Enduro 2014

Hi Ya'll, very long time between post for me.

Turns out there are few of us (5 Mouliners thus far) doing the Perthshire, Dunkeld Enduro in May https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/dunkeld-enduro-registration . As these are my local trails I'm hosting a training ride on most if not all of the Enduro trails that will be used for the race on Sunday morning 6th April. If you are thinking of entering or just fancy a razz around dunkelds steepest and most technical trails then come along. It should be a great laugh.
Get in touch via email info@birkwoodscotland.com for more details.

Keep it upright!
Cheers
Mark

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Start of the off-season?

With the cyclocross bike gathering dust and rust in the garage, thoughts turn to what was once considered "race season" but is now "cyclocross off season". The first round of the 2014 Scottish XC series headed to Forfar where a few tweaks to the 2013 layout saw the "arena" moved to a more central location, a few extra swoops, dips and grins added through the quarry section, and some of the muddier sections removed.

Although sunny, a group of shivering riders huddled together for shelter from the wind before the whistle tooted and we were off. Racing in Sport again for 2014, I was given a front row grid slot, with last year's top Sport rider having moved up to Expert, and a number of others not being present. With the holeshot secured from the gun, I fully expected to be caught soon. Right enough, fast charging Masters racer Sean Clark eased past (the Masters racers had been sent off at the same time as but just behind Sport). Knowing that I wasn't racing Sean and that I would be unlikely to match his pace for long, I held his wheel as long as I could, thankful for some brisk pacing. After losing Sean, another rider (Alex Dimitriou) came and went as I decided not to stick with his pace, and I eventually settled in to a good pace with a Dundee Thistle rider, Neil Scott. I assumed we were duking it out for 2nd with Alex having headed up the road, and thought my chances of a podium were slipping away as a Leslie Bikes rider joined us and tested the pace up each climb. I came within a muscle twinge of falling away from the two, just about holding on up a couple of the climbs before Neil eventually opened a small gap and I was forced to ride around the LBS rider and try to prevent the gap to Neil from opening further.



Going in to the 4th lap, Neil unfortunately punctured on the quarry section, robbing us of a chance to duke it out for one last lap. Feeling pretty good, (having necked half a gel on the 3rd), I kept the pace steady, extending the gap over the rider behind and finding enough energy left for a pointless sprint against myself over the line. 

Feeling that I had ridden a reasonable race, a brief chat with a few other riders suggested that Alex Dimitriou had actually been riding in Masters (winning the category after Sean punctured), and so much to my surprise, I was first Sport rider home. It also transpired that the testing pace from the Leslie Bikes rider was recently retired roadie Ben Greenwood, dipping a toe in the SXC scene and riding in the Masters category too. A comfortable win in the Sport category in the end then, but with some good close racing with Neil Scott before his puncture robbed him of a good finish.

Elsewhere, I see that Greig Walker opened his 2014 SXC points tally with a solid 8th in a strong Vet field.

Cracking start to the season - great to be competing in new VCM kit (I'm sure the psychological effects of new team kit is worth a few seconds a lap), on my new Kinesis 29er and on dry, fast trails again. There was a great buzz around the event - well organised, good banter with a few of the usual faces and great commentary from Morven Brown on MC duties. The committee certainly seem to be doing something right and if the rest of the series is as good as Round 1 it will be a cracker - I'd urge everyone to try a round or two this year. I'm looking forward to Cathkin Braes already - sure to be a good test of the legs with a bigger field. There's work to do before then though. Maybe it's not the off-season after all?

Thanks to Craig Beattie for the photo. He has a great gallery of photos from the afternoon race.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Border Reiver

My last race was at the John Muir Winter Festival in February and to be honest it was a race too far for me at the end of a long season.  I had been feeling pretty run down at the end of the regular cross season and as a result hadn't done anything other than 'just riding around' since Mull.  I had a fair idea what to expect but I was still disappointed by my poor performance on the day.

I had decided not to race the Crit on the Campus as I felt it was too early in the season and I wasn't ready to start training properly yet.  A few weeks later someone mentioned a new race on the calendar to me, the Reiver Road Race, which was being organised by Berwick Wheelers.  The course looked right up my street being reasonably hilly and finishing on a climb.  For several weeks I procrastinated about entering despite knowing deep down that I almost certainly would.  I knew that once I put an entry in I'd need to get on with the hard work of trying to get in shape for it.  I finally entered at 11pm on the night the entries closed.

I had managed to get a reasonable number of miles in at the start of the year and after couple of good hard Sunday runs and a few sessions on some local hills I started to feel a bit better.  At the back of my mind there was a bit of a fear that I would have another bad day and get blown out of the back early on.  This was amplified because there are no longer any cat 4 only road races and over half the field were cat 3.

The day of the race was sunny and the roads were dry but there was a strong south westerly.  The 18 mile course was dominated by a stiff climb in the first couple of miles and lots of sections exposed to crosswinds.

After a briefing where it was stressed  that crossing the white line would lead to instant disqualification a full field of 60 riders rolled out from the idyllic village of Etal.  As soon as the flag dropped half the field seemed to cross the white line and fight to get to the front.  My half decent position in the bunch suddenly disappeared and I found myself towards the rear.

The effect of having so many stronger riders in the field was immediately obvious when we hit the first hill.  The pace was furious.  Fortunately there were a few gaps in the bunch and I managed to start making my way up on the steepest lower section.  A split started to form about 10 riders ahead of me and I had just enough in the tank to bridge across to the front group.  Almost immediately 9 riders jumped off the front to form the winning group.  At points we were speeding uphill at over 30mph thanks to the strong tailwind.

A few miles later we turned left into a strong crosswind and all hell broke loose.  I was towards the back of the second group as it split and over the next few miles 4 or 5 of us tried to ride back across.  I got to within 10m of the group before I blew.

A group of around 6-7 formed and at first we worked fairly well together although it became harder after a couple of riders dropped off.  Our progress wasn't helped by the fact that every time one of our number came through it felt like an attack.  After sprinting down the line he would pull a 3m gap on the front man before rapidly slowing. 

By the time we hit the top of the climb on the second lap we were down to 4 riders.  By the time we reached the crosswind section two of us were pretty cooked.  Luckily for us Peter Ward of VC Edinburgh who was easily the strongest rider in our group was going like a train.  Unluckily for him we weren't in any position to help him.  On the few occasions I managed to come through I'm sure I just slowed him down.  I spent the last half lap clinging onto his wheel hoping not to get dropped.  If I had I'm pretty sure I would have lost a lot of time.

As we approached the line our numbers grew as we picked up stragglers from the group ahead.  Fortunately for me the finish was on a climb rather than a sprint into a headwind.  I managed to put in a half decent finish to come in 25th and 9th 4th cat home.

One thing that was obvious is that is going to be difficult to pick up BC points this year.  Only 3 4th cats scored points with top 15 finishes.  The character of this race was quite different to the 4th cat only races I did last year.  Instead of the pack getting whittled down through attrition this race was dominated by strong riders who split the race at the first opportunity.

Thanks to Berwick Wheelers for putting on a great race on a safe well marshalled course.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Demons

You know those days? The ones where you really can't be bothered to go out? The ones where any excuse will do? Weather, wrong clothes, dog ate my homework,  no recovery drink to come home to. I was having one of them. No motivation, no lead in my pencil, just nowt.
The bike on the rollers was just taunting me, laughing because it knew I was already down and the thought of a roller session was even worse than going out.
Suddenly before I knew what had really happened I was at the back door, heart rate strap on, fully togged up and out into the rain.
This was supposed to be a structured training ride but it just wasn't going to happen that way. I grabbed the single speed and set off quickly realising that I had forgotten my garmin and just as quickly realised that I was glad. This ride was about, just that, a ride. No heart rate zones, seated accelerations or distance. I just needed to get out to remember how quickly your head clears and your spirits lift when you go out. I got thoroughly soaked, driven back by the wind and had to really strain to get up the hills; but it was easily the best ride of the year.
It was a ride.
All the guff about ss was true, the simplicity was exactly what I needed at that time. I remembered what I enjoyed about cycling again. 
Don't fight yourself,  fight your demons and use the weapon of choice, a bicycle.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Feeling Durty

How to keep a bit of fitness and satisfy a thirst for racing over the winter months? A few years ago, a couple of friends talked me in to the Glentress Duathlon series - a popular series of off road run/bike races on the swoopy all weather trails. I've yet to forgive them but seem to have fallen into a winter duathlon habit.

Nowadays the series has been taken over by local Paul McGreal and his team at Durty Events and moved down the road to the Duke of Buccleuch's holiday pad at Bowhill House. After a 2012/13 series affected by ice (skating on the first round) and slushy snow (much wheel spinning up snowy climbs on the second round) the 2013/14 series this year was an altogether different affair.

The first (short) round was set up in my preferred order of run then bike. I surprised myself by finishing the 20 minute run in a reasonable position, wasting too much time in transition as usual before picking up a couple of places early in the bike. A fast charging Martin Graham kept me honest for the whole bike section only for me to sit up just short of the line, not really contesting the sprint due to tiring legs. As we caught (and Martin pipped) the 2nd place rider on the line, I rolled in just behind for 4th. I'm still kicking myself for not putting the effort in to the last 100m. I'm sure everyone else's legs felt rubbish by that stage too. Lesson learned. Rookie mistake.

The "medium" round followed - an estimated 30min bike section followed by a 30min run. Having the bike section first meant I had to hold a bit in reserve for the later run. Despite that, I found myself leading up the first climb, steadily dropping other riders at a medium tempo. Martin Graham zipped off before the top as I wheelspun my way up the last section of muddy climb, and he then pulled out a bigger gap on the fire track descent - I cautiously crept down trying in vain to pick a smoother line but unable to see much at all between the horizontal rain and the relentless spray from my front tyre. A couple of missed turns later on (the signpost had fallen flat in the wind) saw me throw away a fair lead over third, and let a group of 3 or 4 riders pass me, before I picked them off again in to transition. Triathlete Kai Jackson proceeded to breeze past me on the run as I plodded round, pleased to hold everyone else off for 3rd.

The final "long" round dawned with similarly grim conditions - horizontal rain and howling winds. A similar story to the second round - I found myself leading up the climb, letting Martin disappear off soon after the top, and riding my own race from there on. Such was the spray from the wheels that I ditched the glasses in a vain attempt to see something of the trail in front of me, but couldn't honestly tell whether it was raining or not. It's the first race I've entered which appeared to be routed down a riverbed. "Grade 2 river biking" as it was later described. A few nicely cut loamy sections through the trees towards the end kept things entertaining before heading out on the run. Although the distance doesn't suit me, the "long" run route is definitely my favourite of the three - once off the fire track sections, an involving run through the woods alongside a water channel, over some logs and up the hill takes the mind off the tiring legs and wheezing chest. The final section in to the finish could be best described as a steady plod, but there was nobody in sight behind me, and as I never had any ambitions of keeping pace with Martin, 2nd was as good a result as I could have hoped for.



Job done, another solid three rounds of off road duathlon, and despite the relative lack of running this winter, a bit of fitness maintained between CX and XC seasons. Any fitness is easily undone in the post race coffee shop though - criminally good cake followed pulled pork rolls with good banter with other racers. I'd definitely commend the series as a good family day out. Long suffering Mrs W chooses her races carefully but came to two of these rounds, knowing that the warm coffee shop right by transition and easy going nature of the series makes it a good day even for non-racers.

So how did we do? 4th, 3rd and 2nd was enough for 2nd in the series for me (all three races need to be entered to qualify for the series prize) and Fraser W put in a solid stint on the medium race (looking particularly good on the bike) for 34th (9th Vet Male). Simon F is muttering something about re-wiring his house and failed to put in an appearance. I think he might be scared of the rain. I don't blame him.

I might be back next year, but I'll be checking if the forecast is for crisp frost or crunchy snow first. I think I've had enough of mud and rain for 2014 already. Great to start 2014 in my new VCM kit though, and scoring a few podiums to boot. Boom.





Saturday, 1 February 2014

Rebel

Throughout my childhood I sustained a knack for rebelling.  Refusing point blank to go in the pool at my first swimming lesson, tick.  Refusing to join scouts after cubs.  Telling the parent coaches at our village junior football club where they could stick their team, shamefully, yes me again.  Refusing to go to the secondary school my two older brothers had gone to.  Getting brought home in a Police van..  The list could go on and on.  You could put it down to being the youngest of three brothers, but I don't know.  All I know is my mother can and quite rightly does every so often remind me of said (and other) episodes with a wry smile.

Later in life this rebellious nature has been dampened though I can still rail at authority figures on occasion and hate being told rather than asked to do something..

So when the video of the false start of the recent U23 Belgian National Cyclocross Champs popped up I watched in awe as Wout Van Aert, the race favorite, disqualified for a false start and standing (fuming) next to the race officials at the side of the course as the gun fires, gives them the slip and takes off after the field down the start straight!

What an amazing act of defiance!  What spirit!  Van Aert then proceeds to ride back to and scythe through the field to 4th place in just 1 lap.  A masterful display of determination, power, talent and skill.  Incredible.

The next day Van Aert channels the DQ frustration into his pedals to win the Elite race at Otegem.   To back up his current form he then wins the Nommay World Cup round last Sunday beating arch U23 rival Mathieu Van Der Poel.

Although i'll be glued to my laptop for the Elite mens World Champs race on Sunday (3pm CET), the race i'm most looking forward to is the U23s (11am CET) .  Can Van Aert beat the Dutch wunderkind again to win the World Champs?  I bloody hope so!

Monday, 16 December 2013

What the Fox?

Scottish Cross Championships can be a bit of a let down, numbers are generally down, everyone seems a little more focused, the enforcing agents want some attention and the race is more often than not a bit of an anti climax.   Now the champs is a bit of a weird one as it is technically a regional championship but up here we have always viewed it as a national championship even though it is not recognized as such (ie. there is no Scottish Cyclocross Champions jersey) but treat it as such we do. It is a fiercely fought race and always has been.
This year the champs were hosted by The Tri Centre at the Foxlake wakeboard centre near Dunbar. I had never ridden here though had heard good reports form last years series race. The days leading up to the event had delivered some monumental rain and the drive there was a low visibility horizontal rain affair. But by the time I had passed Edinburgh the roads were drying up, maybe just maybe.
Arriving to an already filling up car park I met up with Mr Steele and Mr Graham and we decided to head down to see if sign on was possible and have a wee gander around the course, this was all achieved as smooth as butter, all praise the pre-entry system. The walk around the course coincided with the U16 race so it gave us a good idea on lines and what was ride-able as those kids don’t hang around. The course looked good, a mixture of loamy forest trails with hard packed forest road and some wet but firm grassy hillocks to negotiate. Nothing too challenging it appeared although the U16s seemed to be suffering mechanicals and punctures in particular. Maybe there was something in the ground that we couldn’t  see?
Time ticked on and after the obligatory banter and catching up it was time to suit up and attempt to warm up. Nice feature was the course skirting the car park which meant from the ‘comfort’ of my turbo trainer I could see the V50/W/J race as it progressed. And of course give shouts for Maddy and Ainsley as well as torrents of abuse to those deserving it (mostly Ali Dow, who it was good to see back on Scottish soil) Unfortunately I was just too far away to really see what was happening in the race but this is what was, Maddy was having a battle royale with Kerry McPhee (Rock and Road) again but what I wasn't aware of was that Isla Short (Thomson Cycles) was already in front of them and holding a good gap. Kerry unluckily crashed somewhere mid race which is a shame as it has been good watching her progress this season, a great new addition to the womens field and Maddy was left stranded trying to chase down Isla and here is where the confusion starts.

top of the vixens
The women’s race contained 3 categories, J/S/V as it has all season. But the champs is a different beast, the winner does indeed take it all, its an interesting scenario. The senior women are racing against three categories for the title but the V and J are racing against only one for their title. It is possible for a V or J to win their own race and the overall, somewhat loaded against the seniors but thems the rules. And that is indeed what happened, awkwardly for Maddy this wasn’t relayed to Jammie who announced Maddy as the senior champion as she crossed the line obviously to much elation, short lived however. The rules were laid down and Maddy was denied her medal by the very talented Isla who picked up both Junior and Senior titles with a convincing ride. Rough, but its not the first time its happened. See here
All of that was unfolding as we lined up for our race, a quick but thorough talking to by commissaire, Guto Williams and we were off, well not quite, Tom Forbes (heid commissaire) stepped in and removed a rider from the pack, some kind of license issue we deduced, the pack were restless, I felt sorry for the guys on the front row who must have been just about to pull that hair trigger. Eventually the rider was allowed back in and we got started, all a bit of a drama as we have come to expect from Tom. But finally we were off.

sly old fox
As you may well expect the pace was pretty frisky, I struggled to find the right gear, hit the big puddle and panicked as we entered the woods, went for a rash line that saw me ride straight over a sizable tree stump, airborn and landed minus chain which was pissing itself with laughter wrapped around the BB. Fuck it’s such a frustrating sport, so there I was trailing the whole field towards the first climb. I wont lie, my head went down, right there. I stuck at it for a couple of laps and got through some of the back end of the field but then the fizz started to run out, my only consolation was I could still see McComisky so if I could at least catch him some banter would be guaranteed, every lap when I tried to catch his eye, he wouldn’t make contact, shit, the blinkers were on, I better get my finger out, the gap was dropping but not fast enough and then there he was walking the first climb on the last lap, I caught him and discovered he had punctured, lady luck was full of tricks today. And before long it was a flurry over the hurdles and over the line. Not exactly the dream race but I had got into it and really enjoyed the course, especially the hideously hard hillock into the arena, I swear it was getting bigger every lap.

out foxed
Not much time for blethering it was back to the car for a quick change and down to the woods to unleash the VCM sonic arsenal on the seniors. The seniors looked like it was going to be a fairly staid affair as a group of 4 riders went through with a smallish gap on the rest of the field but then on lap 3 or maybe 4 it just blew apart, the instigator, Iain Paton (Ben Wyvis Cycle Club) a gap had opened which had forced the chase by Davie Lines (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) the pace was fairly rapid. Over the next few laps Paton stuck more and more time between himself and Lines who didn’t seem to have response to the youngster and that was that. Our guys were being treated to a sonic assault every lap and it seemed to boost them on, Stevie, Addy, Ian and Simon F, all stuck at the job till the bitter end (it felt like a long hour)

fantastic mr fox
And with that my 2013 season was over. Scottish Cyclocross and its associated organizing clubs can all give themselves a pat on the back, this has been an exceptional season, varied, fast, orderly and fun, yes fun. I have thoroughly enjoyed every race (it took a really bad one for me to realize that Strathclyde Park is actually ok, though I would love to see a more varied course there) Hopefully you will have read all about the fun and games at Mull in the previous posts from Simon Fairful (thanks Simon for being so punctual with these) when I have the energy an end of year report will follow, until then, then.

How we do.
Womens
Maddy 2nd (1st senior)
Ainsley dnf

V40
Simon M 10th
Russell 30th
Davie G 31st
Fraser 33rd
Marty 34th
Me 37th

Seniors
Steve 9th
Iain 15th
Addy 17th
Simon F 18th

All photos by the Press Room


Peace be with you all.











I'm So Tired

Cross at the Castle 2 - 15th December

On Saturday night 50 or so cyclocrossers gathered in the Tobermory's Aros Halls for the now traditional end of season dinner and celeidh.   For those that were there I'm sure that the evening's events did more to shape their races than anything that happened on the course on Sunday.

I normally have a pretty healthy appetite after a race so the enormous buffet looked like it would fit the bill.  We were the last table to be called up for food.  It may just have been because we were furthest away but I suspect the organisers remembered us from previous years.  Witnessing the incredible amount that some of our number managed to tuck away confirmed my suspicions (sorry, no names).

The evening's entertainment juxstaposed traditional Scottish country music with the contents of someone's iPod.  At one point the DJ moved, not quite seamlessly, from Gangnam Style to a Gay Gordons.  An Orcadian Strip The Willow was pretty much the last straw for my already ebbing energy levels.

As the celeidh moved back to disco it became clear that Velo Club Moulin's Simon Muir was intent on taking the top step of the podium on the dance floor.  Several songs, and an eceltic range of moves, later it was obvious that he was well clear of the field.  I'm sorry to report that my alreay poor style was rendered completely wooden by the presence of Martin Steele's GoPro camera.

Exactly as forecast Sunday morning dawned even windier than Saturday but considerably drier.  I continued with an alternative nutritional approach to this weekend by enjoying a slap-up cooked breakfast.  A leisurely start saw us arrive in plenty of time and safely parked on the flatest spot for miles, outside Glengorm Castle.

Four VCM riders (Ian, Martin, Simon F, Simon M) were down to ride the newly minted Scottish Singlespeed Cyclocross Championships which formed part of the senior race.  After watching the first few laps of the Vets race I headed back to the car for a warmup.  Just as I started to set up my rollers the heavens opened.  I abandoned the warmup and sat out the rain in the car.  There is no doubt that the Vets faced the worst conditions of the day.

The lead up to the race saw most of the field huddled in the cafe until the last possible minute.  I wasn't aware of anyone brave, or daft, enough to pre-ride the course.  The first two laps felt really hard but once I found a rhythm I started to move up through the field.  The course was slightly less exposed and more ridable than Saturday.  The hill felt OK on the singlespeed but the field section was pretty brutal thanks to the conditions.  As at Lochore Meadows a Challenge Limus clincher on the front worked well in the conditions, a Michelin Mud 2 on the back wasn't nearly as good in the deep mud.

To give an indication how bad the conditions were my unused pit bike which was pushed to and from the pits ended up dirtier than my race bike was at Auchentoshan.

Luckily the wind dropped dramatically and the Oban ferry started running just as a huge number of cyclocrossers were due to leave.  Once again we had a great weekend on Mull.  Both times the trip has been far more tiring than I imagined.  A combination of short days, bad weather and broken bikes has meant that both weekends have flown by.  I discovered this year that if you are already tired when you arrive you will be broken by the time you leave.

On that note I'm looking forward to a rest.  I've raced 16 cross races this year, 10 since the start of October.  I've noticed in the last few that I've been getting slower so I'm planning to take it easy for a while.

Thanks to everyone involved in putting on this event in trying conditions.  You all did a great job.  A special mention to Davie, Jac, Chris, Steven, Ainsley and everyone's favourite commissaire Guto.

See you all at Dig In.

If anyone has any pictures I can use please get in touch.

How did we do?

Saturday

Simon M (3rd Vet)
Ian (8th Senior)
Simon F (10th Senior)
Davie (DNF Senior, following a strong start)

Sunday

Ian (5th Senior, 2nd Singlespeed)
Simon F (7th Senior, 3rd Singlespeed)
Simon M (10th Senior)
Matin (DNF, following a crash)




Saturday, 14 December 2013

Wild Thing

This probably isn't going to be the most informative blog post you've ever read. As I'll explain I barely know what happened in my race, far less any of the others.  I'm trying to write this on a tablet so hopefully the predictive text won't take over.

We woke this morning to the predicted strong winds and pouring rain.  Unfortunately the weather conditions meant that anyone who was trying to catch the ferry today was stuck on the mainland.  The biggest loser was undoubtedly David Lines who just needed to make the finish line to take the series title.  I'm sure all of us who witnessed Davie's fantastic run of form as he won four races on the bounce will agree that this is a sad end to a fantastic season.

A trip to the Co-op left us soaked and needing our first change of wet clothes off the day.  Our B&B is at the top of Tobermory looking out over the bay.  The exposed location made the weather feel even wilder. So much so I was slightly surprised to hear we were still racing.  For the first time I seriously considered knocking it on the head.

We decided to head up to Glengorm much later than normal and I figured that an hour before the race would leave me plenty of time to get ready. I certainly wasn't planning to ride the course and there was no way the rollers were leaving the car.

Things started to go downhill (quite literally) from there.  I managed to get the car stuck in some soft ground.  Attempting to get out I only succeeded in making it worse and ended up totally stuck. Realising that I needed to sort it out while it was still light my preparation was abandoned as I set about trying to find someone to help.

My saviour was a guy from Cycle SOS who managed to pull me free using the winch on his Land Rover Defender.  His clever use of some paving slabs meant that the car came out without any damage.  Unfortunately I had to unpack everything, including the rollers, to get to the towing hook and jack.

Now I only had ten minutes to get to the start line and I was soaked through and frozen.  Fortunately in the midst of the chaos Graeme Warren had taken my single speed to the pits.  Luckily I didn't need it as I remembered later that it had 50psi in the tyres.  A speedy change later and my Garmin was showing 13:43 as I raced to the start line. I was relieved to see that the race hadn't started but a bit concerned to see everyone lined up. I tore off my extra layers as fast as possible while everyone else probably cursed me as they stood in the freezing rain.  I hadn't even clipped in when the gun went off but somehow I got a pretty decent start.

The race was a blur to be honest.  My head wasn't exactly ready for a race to be honest.  On the plus side I didn't feel under any pressure.  Twenty minutes earlier I had been convinced I would miss the race, anything that happened now would be va bonus.

I remember lots of running, even more mud and feeling like I was in a washing machine on a cold spin cycle.  I also remember more encouragement than we deserved. I can't believe so many people stayed out in those conditions to keep us going. Special thanks to Simon Muir who was stood at the wettest, wildest part of the course and was every bit as enthusiastic as ever.

I was so cold at the end I was a bit concerned about how to dry off and warm up. I could barely control my shivering to open the car.  The Hardie's Bikes guys came to my rescue and I was able to get changed in the back of their van.  Thanks, my day would have been a lot more miserable without you.

Well done to everyone who braved the conditions to put the race on. Well done to all of those who pinned a number on.  As Euan Lindsay said at the end if anyone says 'Easy points on Mull'...

Same time tomorrow?

Monday, 9 December 2013

Bring The Noise


Scottish Cyclocross Championships - Foxlake - 8th December

 

I had the benefit of a sneak preview of this course as I managed to ride a couple of laps on it after helping with setup on Saturday.  Like last year I wasn't sure that I would enjoy it.  Like last year I thought it was a great course once I raced it on the Sunday .  Unlike a lot of courses big sections of this one actually improved before the seniors race as riders in the earlier races packed it down and flattened the long grass. 

A short journey from home and I was at the course nice and early.  I had a quick ride of the course before settling down to watch the Juniors, Womens and V50 race.


Maddy Robinson

After watching Maddy race hard for 40 minutes I was delighted to think that she had won the Senior Womens' title.  At the time the shine was slightly taken off it by the fact that Kerry MacPhee had crashed heavily whilst battling with Maddy.  However it turned out that I had misunderstood the situation and the winner of both the Junior and Senior titles was Isla Short following her fantastic ride.  In isolation I think Isla was a great and deserved winner of the title.  It's just a shame for everyone involved that there appears to have been confusion over how the title was to be awarded.  I'd like to stress that I don't have all the facts on this one, this is just my view of how I saw it unfold on the day.

To end on a more positive note congratulations to both Maddy and Isla on two strong performances.


Martin Steele  moving in the right direction

As the start of the Senior race approached I felt more nervous than I normally would before a race.  I'm not sure why as it's not really any different to a regular series round.  I had a good gridding in a fairly small field and managed to get a reasonable start.

There may have been lots of nerves in the bunch as the opening laps seemed more chaotic than normal with some slightly suspect race-craft on display.  On a course like Foxlake there are a couple of tight spots but there are lots of wide sections where it is easy to pass.  In general if you can't get past without making contact, physically pushing someone or taking another rider's line then you are probably doing something wrong.  Just from a racing point of view it increases the risk of a mechanical or puncture ruining your own race.  Over the course of an hour riding aggresively against other riders in the opening laps is unlikely to make any difference, every race ultimately comes down to who has the best legs. 

I didn't have the best legs.  After the first couple of laps I was going well and wasn't too far behind Dougie Shearer.  Just as he started to move up through the field I started to move in the other direction.  After managing to limit the damage in those laps I moved back up a few places.  For most of the second half of the race I managed to maintain a constant gap to those a few places ahead but never really managed to close in.


Dougie Shearer and Addy Pope

Throughout the race the best atmosphere on the course was at the bottom of the singletrack descent.  Most of the VCM members who had already raced had congregated with various noise-making devices including a loudhailer, an air horn and an air raid siren.  The noise that everyone was making in this area certainly helped to speed the ascent of the following climb.  On at least one lap I went too hard on the steep section and struggled to recover over the top.


I felt like I didn't have great legs on the day but looking at who was ahead of me it was probably just a hard race.  The pace at the front was obviously pretty furious.  Before this race I had only been lapped three times this season, I was lapped by the top six at Foxlake.
 
Congratulations to all of the champions and medalists on the day.  Thanks to The Tri Centre and all their helpers for putting on such a great event. 

Thanks once again to Martin Young for the photos.

Keep VCM Weird


Keep VCM Weird from martin steele on Vimeo.

(with a wee tip of the bunnet to Surly Bikes)

Friday, 6 December 2013

bandwagonesque


Ideas it could be said are the building block of progress, we all have them, good ones, weird ones, logical ones and expensive ones. Knowing which ones should blossom and which should be laid to rest on the back of a beermat is a skill. Most of the time we get it right, we never made that house from Play-Doh though we may have chose to eat less junk food. Bad ideas and good ideas, but we should never stop having them.

Cyclocross is enjoying something of a boom-time, finally the penny has dropped about its accessibility and dare I say it fun. You don’t need to be super fit to race for an hour in crappy conditions on a flattish course with some minor obstacles to spice it up and therein lies its charm. The popularity hasn’t happened by chance, over the last 6-8 years, racers and race organisers have been fine-tuning the formula, to maximize the appeal.

It’s hardly surprising then that event organisers are taking note and wanting to cut themselves a slice of CX pie and who can blame them? Event organising is one of those ‘occupations’ that seems quite ‘cool’ or even ‘glamorous’ but in reality is a pain in the arse. A lot of mindlessly boring work for possibly a little return that seldom justifies the effort in the first place. But always think of those happy smiling faces at the end of the day, how can you put a price on that? So when a seemingly simple format comes along, then you would want to throw your expertise at it, right?

Cyclocross is a bit of a sporting oddity, born out of necessity and now a discipline in itself. From its inception it was designed to keep racers racing through the winter. Whilst it was possible to keep training through the winter, keeping the legs fast wasn’t so easy. Cyclocross came along as a way to retain that speed in racers legs over a course that encouraged acceleration and deceleration over varied terrain, kinda like a criterium with mixed terrain, ultimately a device to keep legs frisky. Now we all know that Cyclocross has changed since its inception but the fundamentals remain, fast and furious, it’s that relentless speeding and slowing that makes the sport the success that is it. And so to the root of this rant. . . .

Cross the Bridge
This event happened last weekend and was a first for Inverness, which is great. The northern outpost has long had a very healthy cycle scene but alarmingly this is its first ever CX race. The course was built around a steep piece of scrubland split by a road but connected by a footbridge, hence Cross The Bridge. I can imagine if this was on my doorstep that one day the notion, an idea you might say would cross my mind that it might be cool to have a race that crossed this bridge and then I would get back to dreaming of that Play-Doh house.

two way bridge anyone?


The hourglass shaped course, climbed from the foot of the hill crossed the bridge climbed to the top of the hill and then descended back to the bottom, once more crossing the bridge. Mostly on singletrack with a nice layer of freshly cut grass on top, it was fairly obvious it was going to get slippy once a few riders got going on it. The vets and womens race was the first to use the whole course, the first couple of laps were ok but then it quickly became apparent that the combination of weak legs, skinny cross tyres and too tall a gearing wasn’t going to get me up that first half of the climb. As I suffered lap after lap watching mountainbikes spin effortlessly up the climb, I became a bit despondent. Why had I wasted my time coming up here? Why had they thought this would make a good cross course, when there was clearly no real advantage to riding a cross bike. I started to think about how much easier it would be on my mountainbike, both up and down. Then without any warning as I passed the finish I was told, “that’s it” Oh! Thanks a fucking bundle for the last lap heads up.

course profile

Gordy fared much better in the seniors race (which apparently was won by someone on a full suspension 29er) but I have to admit I didn’t hang around to watch it as all I could think about was getting home and salvaging something of my Sunday.


broken gate at the side of the track

So as I drove home, I pondered the experience, it was good that someone had taken the initiative to organise a race, very good. It was bad that they had allowed themselves to be seduced by an idea. It was good they had devised a cool course for the really young kids (in fact a bigger version of this would have been spot on for the grown-ups). It was bad that our course essentially was an uphill and a downhill and not a lot else. It was good so many people turned up to support the event. It was bad that someone with a semblance of cross course knowledge didn’t assess the circuit for suitability.

Enough whining, so lets end on a high.








Sunday, 1 December 2013

This is How It Feels

Lochore Meadows Cyclocross - 1st December


VCM at the head of the race with Gareth Jones
I wasn't planning to ride this event but after seeing the weather forecast on Wednesday I decided it would be more fun than than the planned training session.  Greig Baird offered to drive which made for an easy day.  Leaving my car at home meant I didn't have to put my bike on the roof, saving me from any flashbacks of last weekend's incident with a low barrier.

By all accounts the last visit to Lochore Meadows in 2010 was a mud-fest of epic proportions.  With this in mind I decided to race my singlespeed.  I spent most of the week rebuilding this bike after 'the incident' so it would be a good chance to ride it.

I arrived in time to see Niamh Waters, daughter of fellow VCMer Fraser, take the top step of the podium following her win in the Under-8 Girls race.  Well done, Niamh.  From the results it looks like Murray had a good race too.  Two good rides in the Waters household hopefully made up for Fraser missing his race through illness.

I was slightly concerned when I saw the layout.  The ground was hard in places and there seemed to be a fair amount of tarmac and hard path on the course.  Not ideal terrain for a singlespeed.  The main arena had a huge spiral of doom which didn't look terribly inspiring to ride.

After a low key line up I got off to a pretty good start somewhere in the top 10.  The pace on the first section felt pretty fierce and I was spinning like a mad man trying to hold a reasonable position without cooking myself.  I dropped back a few places and the pace settled down slightly.  The first run through the arena revealed that I had significantly underestimated how long it took to ride the spiral.  This meant that much more of the lap than I thought was on slower ground.  The new Challenge Limus I was running on the front hooked up really well in this section with its multitude of corners.

This section actually rode pretty well.  I think the reason it worked was because it wasn't circular.  As a result every corner was different although it did get slightly dull turning the same direction each time.  The main problem was trying to remember where the barriers were, especially when riding into the low sun.

I was embroiled in a race long battle with Allan Love and for the first half hour Barry Wilson was heavily involved.  The three of us swapped attempts at trying to get away but nothing seemed to stick.  My singlespeed was working well.  There was only one fast section of the course where I was under-geared and another longish section where I had to fight hard to stay on top of the gear.

At the half way stage I tried to put in a big effort to get away and got a gap but Allan came back accross to me.  We were catching Alan Lamont which spurred us on.  With a lap to go I gave it everything in the arena section and opened a decent gap which I managed to cling on to until the line.

Two great rides by VCM saw Gareth Jones battle it out with David Lines for the win and Brendan Milliken well inside the top 10.

Brendan Milliken

Thanks to everyone involved in organising the race.  This was the second Kinross CC race I've ridden in the last three months and I've really enjoyed both of them.  I hear they run a great sportive as well but I keep forgetting to enter it before it sells out! Thanks to all the usual suspects in Scottish Cyclocross and thanks to Big Bobble Hats for keeping my head toasty warm post race. 

Thanks once again to Martin Young for the photos.

Bonus points for anyone who can spot the (very) tenuous title.

How did we do:

Gareth Jones 2nd (Senior)
Brendan Milliken 8th (Senior)
Simon Fairfull 11th (Senior)

Martin Steele 22nd (Veteran)

Martin Steele




Everyday is Like Sunday

Irvine Beachpark - 24th November

 

Thanks to Martin Young for the photo.
I meant to write a few words about Irvine but I never got round to it so here they are:

It was brilliant.

Thanks to Neil Walker and his team.  See you next year.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Beach Bums


Round 5 has been and gone, indeed like the grains of sand falling through the hourglass this years Ridley SCX series is drawing to a close. With only Cross at the Castle and all its seasonal joviality to come, its been emotional.

Irvine Beach is of course a well established feature on the Scottish cross scene and under the careful management of Neil Walker and the Walkers Cycling team it has matured with age into the classic it was last Sunday. There are few weekends that I have heard folks say, “yep I could race that course every week” maybe next year Neil should look to a weekend of racing with double points up for grabs, I for one would certainly be up for that.

“The cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears or the sea”
Isak Dinesan

Irvine if you are unfamiliar, lies on the west coast of central Scotland, in the heart of Ayrshire, where it is gently caressed by the Firth of Clyde and the occasionally brisk westerly winds. The beach offers a classic links terrain which drains exceptionally well and for the benefit of us makes for a great race venue whatever the weather.

The day started with one of those fairly brisk winds and some near zero temperatures but it picked up as the sun opened its sleepy eyes briefly around midday.

Of course the racing can't wait on the weather so first up were the women and V50. Maddy Robinson has been on some pretty formidable form of recent and it was expected that today would see here clinch the series title. No one told Isla Short (Thomsons Cycles) and  Kerry MacPhee (Rock and Road) about this however. Isla went on to win proving how capable she is and still a junior, ouch, and a great ride too by Kerry who has been showing promise all season and finally reaped the rewards. Congrats all round.

“Are you tired of sand being kicked in your face? I promise you new muscles in days!!”
Charles Atlas

Old Dudes on Dunes
V40s up next and numbers slightly down for this round which was a surprise. Still it didn’t stop the red mist descending into one of the most terrifying starts of the season. The sound of mature men, carbon fibre, expensive wheels and hard sand dunes colliding is not one I particularly like and fortunately I avoided both of the pile ups within the first 100 metres. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, most of us in this category are racing to perchance sneak into the top half, it sorts itself out, very quickly, be careful young old men! Anyway off we went, with myself, Russell, Simon, Davie and Gavin flying the VCM flag. I got a reasonable start and then got passed by what felt like hundreds of people on the second lap, nuff said, Russell and Davie worked their way strongly up to within a baw hair of the top 30 while Gavin and Simon once more chasing the top ten and finished 14th and 15th respectfully. Good riding giving the conditions and the speed of this race.

the candy coloured clowns, they call the sandmen

The course wound its way around the hard sand dunes above the beach, it makes for super fast racing with good traction and no real let up. Added into the mix is the long straight of soft sand which throws up different lines every lap, a new climb had been added which really worked well and was a welcome tweak to the course. Fast and furious.

Seniors last and the big guns are starting to flex their muscle. Rab Wardell took the early lead and seemed to have it in his pocket but behind him there was some super aggressive racing going on that ultimately led to Davie Lines getting a sniff of Rabs wheel, the rest as they say is history, well done Davie, that was some strong riding. For VCM we had Steve, Ian and Simon here today. Steve never quite made the jump with the Colin May group but eventually overcame James Fraser Moodie for 6th place. Behind that, Ian was on another flyer and looked to be claiming some scalps for his collection but inexperience got the better of him and he was Rogered on the line eventually coming in 16th and Simon a couple of places behind in 18th. Great racing once more.


Ian on a mission

As usual, lots of praise for the organisers, it is a fairly thankless (and insanely time consuming) task but we all do really appreciate the work that goes into putting on a race. And there we have it, one round left for another year, bah humbug. Scottish Championships up next and looking at the pre-entries its going to be a humdinger.

pics by the sidelined Fraser Waters


“To see a world in a grain of sand
and heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
and eternity in an hour”
William Blake




how we all did
Maddy. 2nd
Simon M. 14th
Gavin. 15th
Russell 32nd
Davie 33rd
Chris 43rd
Steve 6th
Ian 16th
Simon F 18th