£29.40. That's what it cost to pre enter the last round of the SXC series at Kinnoull Hill, sixty pence shy of thirty bangers. That's a lot of money and it was with some trepidation I set off for my first Cross Country race since I can't remember when? Now there was a time that come the end of March I would be travelling every second weekend to some far flung corner of the UK to race XC, they were simple times turn up for the weekend pitch the tent have a beer and some camp stove food, get up the next day race for around 2.5 hours and drive home. That was my way of life for the summer. As one series failed after another and the rise of team participation and endurance events took hold, XC stopped being a way of life and was reduced to racing in Scotland only but it was a friendly local scene where everybody knew each other and the courses were diverse and on the whole it made for a good day of racing. Somewhere in the late 90's that started to change though, as races got shorter and I got older. I drifted away from the sport dabbled in endurance and generally stopped racing.
This race was always going to be a shock to my system, I was under no illusions of that, XC is a hard sport and I knew it was going to be a slog especially as my bike isn't exactly suited to racing but in my mind I still visualised that turn up and have a go mindset of years gone by. So the day before I fitted some fast tyres gave the bike a fairly good looking over and packed my bag, I was looking forward to it.
On arriving, running a bit late I hastily signed on and had a few blethers with folks I hadn't seen in some time and others I had. Set off to explore the start of the course in a vague hope of shaking some weekend out of my legs before lining up to start. The start line was the usual nervous banter and familiar faces, bizarrely 5 categories were racing together and starting separately and before long we were off.
Downhill starts are always nervous affairs and having been warned by the commissaire as a crash in the mornings race had occurred, the wise old men of Vets set off. Riding SS into a downhill fire road only works for a short period of time, quickly I was running out of pedal and watching the field spread out in front of me, then boom, straight into a singletrack climb that bottle necked immediately and left me dismounted and running at the tail of the race to try and hold onto the remnants of the field. From here on the course went on a series of climbs and descents of varying steepness, narrowness and fun. I accepted I wasn't going to win and focussed on a least not being last, which was hard enough.
The laps ticked by and thankfully I was lapped close to the end of the third lap meaning i didn't have to put myself through another lap of degradation. Back to the car and a quick wash down and tidy up and I was off feeling a bit miffed a little achy and in need of some savoury food.
Post race, showered fed and watered i reflected on the day. Had I got what I wanted out of the experience? Trying to stack up the pro's and cons I reached some mixed conclusions. The course was good, hard and fast, it would have been a different deal n the wet but fortunately it was mostly dry. However it was shabbily marked out, no direction arrows, no warning signs for both rider and public that I saw, which is in my opinion the bare minimum, I'm surprised these things weren't picked up on by the race official during pre ride. The venue itself despite being great for laying out a course has shortcoming in parking, most of us were parked up a fireroad which dissolved any sense of 'village' as folks mostly hung around their cars before the race.
So will I be back? Well one thing for sure I need a more appropriate bike but bike aside laying down £29.40 for 90 minutes of racing is a bitter pill to swallow and for me certainly I would have to think long and hard before doing so. Is XC dead? No, but SS most certainly is for this old man.