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?