Velo Club Moulin

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Scottish XC series roundup (aka what we do between CX seasons)

With cyclocross season now well and truly arrived (see Steven Halsall's write up from an excellent 3 Peaks CX, which always neatly precedes the Scottish CX season), this is as good a time as any to reflect on the summertime exploits of Scottish Cross Country.

After a fun first round at Forfar back in March, the season has continued in a similar way - great courses, top notch organisation and a really good bunch of friendly riders. Round 2 moved on to Cathkin Braes, and the final test race there ahead of the Commonwealth Games. After the March sunshine of Forfar, Glasgow treated us to the stereotypical horizontal rain. The course here is one that has never really quite suited me - it nevers seems to flow for me quite as well as I would like. A few young whipper snappers in the Sport field set a high pace at the start, and I probably stretched myself a bit keeping up with them. A lingering stomach bug earlier in the week also put in a re-appearance, probably not helped by being soaked through and shivering for 20 minutes in the car post-race. I was therefore delighted to grind out a 3rd place and some solid points. It says a lot about the organisers that they (and particuarly Morven Brown on the mic) managed to still create a good atmosphere in the race village.

Young support team at Abriachan
Round 3 marked a return to Abriachan above Loch Ness. Some tweaks to the course layout since 2013 worked well, and with the weather being drier, the course was faster and more enjoyable too. I had initially intended to skip this round, but after good showings in rounds 1 and 2, was tempted back up the road (justifying the long trip by an overnight in Aviemore with wife and son, and some quality time with them on the Monday). Ben Wyvis Cycle Club put on a great singletrack course again - some rooty climbs and descents, mixed up with just enough firetrack to allow overtaking if necessary. I felt pretty good coming into the race, and was slightly disappointed by the small field - after setting a steady tempo with another rider up the first climb, I dispatched him into the second, and rode on my own for the rest of the race. It would have been good to test my legs in a close battle, but as it was, I was sprinting out of corners, racing myself for the fun of it.

Round 5 became Round 4 (the June Champs round at Gleniffer Braes being cancelled due to organisational issues with the local authority). After a huge break from racing and a 2 and a half week lay off during my summer holiday (enforced by breaking my road bike shortly before I set off to France), I wasn't feeling particularly sharp heading up to Lochore Meadows. The wet and windy battering that certain teammates were getting at the Stirling Crits was softened slightly at Lochore (at least the trees gave some shelter), and the organisers had managed a nice little event village. The local club put on a good new course, making use of some purpose built trails, and also some more natural stuff through the woods and fields. The latter was a bit of a grassy slog for low power, low(ish) weight riders like me, but the course was enjoyable on the whole. I spent a good 3.5 laps of the race locked in a battle with Michael Blossard of Nevis Cycles (impressively racing on a new 29er he had only picked up that weekend). The lack of summer riding told on the last half lap though, and when the pace was inevitably lifted for the finish, I dropped off to roll home on my own in a solid second - good enough to wrap up the Sport category series win with a round to go.

The final round marked a return (after an absence of a good number of years) to Dalbeattie. This round would double as the Champs (after that June cancellation) and was run in glorious sunshine. Local club Stewartry Wheelers put on a cracking course with some relatively technical singletrack climbs and descents, and a fast trail centre finish. If being pernickety, it was slightly longer than ideal, with a reasonable amount of firetrack, but it was a blast to race on. This was no doubt helped by being pushed closely by Stuart Dun on his singlespeed (I felt cruel dropping him on a fast fireroad section on the second lap) who kept the race interesting. I mixed it up with a few Vet and Masters riders on the run in too, and came home in a delighted first place again.

Overall, this season has been brilliant - 5 courses that I suspect most riders at English and British rounds would kill for, and great organisation by a small team. The only niggle is the relatively low numbers at some rounds - it is clearly difficult to attract riders who are lured to road racing or enduro too. The price seems fairer now though (still not cheap, but price rises in other events has meant that SXC rounds are now more in line) and the format will no doubt lure me back again next year (the two day commitment required for enduro is too much for many riders with families like myself). As well as plugging the series, this is a handy opportunity to namecheck my supportive family and friends who have variously allowed me to race, heckled, cheered, rung cowbells, and given me a lift to race when I didn't have a car. Top marks to Endura too for this year's kit - it does feel rather special!

At the start of 2014, one of my silly aims had been to amass enough points to move out of the Sport category (which is open to anyone of any age) and into "Expert". British Cycling runs a system where the top 15 sport riders in the country at the end of the year move up to Expert, and this is inevitably dominated by southern riders with access to a plethora of races, including the "British" (read English and Welsh) National Series. The cancellation of Round 4 in Scotland meant that I was always going to struggle to get enough points, and so I decided against a long haul South to a British round to go point hunting. In hindsight, a mid pack result at one British round might have been enough to tip me into the top 15, but in the end, I am actually looking forward to the alternative challenge of racing in Masters (30+) next year instead. The racing there has been close and hard fought this year, and I'm sure I'll get a better race in Masters in 2015 that I would slogging around on my own in Expert.

A few VCM riders have promised and failed to materialise on the SXC start line this year (Greig Walker being the exception, with some great podiums in the fast Vets category), so I'll be haranguing a few of you to put in an appearance next year. It really is a great series now, with a lot of similarities to Scottish Cyclocross in terms of friendliness and great courses. I'll see you on a start line in 2015.