Buried south of the River Clyde is a park defined by fine, tall trees, rhododendron, the waterfalls on the Auldhouse Burn and old, Edwardian buildings. A gem in the heart of this gritty city, Glasgow.
Once owned by the Crown, the park was given to the people in 1904, and the RGCX team took the natural contours and beauty of the park, applied considerable skill, and created a hard fought, icy cyclocross race of the highest caliber.
Split into an A and B race the vibe was relaxed, but no less competitive. With sub-zero temperatures for a week before the race, the ground was hard and snow lay several inches deep in places.
VC Moulin was represented well in all classes: it was good to stretch out the gammons with my homies for only my second 'cross race this year.
I was slotted into the B race, along with Fraser, Ainsley and Maddy. There was some of the usual, nervous banter before the start, at the bottom of an access track. A quick warm up was not enough to keep the cold from our bones but then the hooter signaled the off - 55 minutes plus a lap to go.
I was fortunate enough to have some appreciation of music from 'the man' for this round and Gibby Haynes laconically worked his way through 'Dancing Queen' as we climbed back up to the course, getting the sluggish blood moving through cold limbs. It seemed appropriate, as the legs wound up the climb: "you can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life".
Joining the course, it was clear it would take no prisoners. Off camber into the soft mud under a canopy of trees, then a sharp drop and climb to skirt the top of the course and the race MC. (Iron Maiden, 'Hallowed be thy name').
After the lap finish line, a grassy bank acted as a kicker to jump if you wanted, before another off camber traverse into a run up and then a rolling section before a series of chicanes and a steep climb - rideable with the application of some sausage - into a section routed around copses of trees, a double barrier hop then back to the top of the course. AC/DC, 'Sink the Pink' - the beat helped with the pedal stroke. With welcomed recovery sections allowing me to come down from red line after pumping the big meat up the climbs, the course and me were making friends, fast.
A few laps in, I was lying in third place to Fraser. I knew Maddy was close behind and a charging Matthew Smith was sitting just ahead - so close that I could hear his breath at every turn. The pace for the first 30 minutes was blistering - The Bronx, 'Young Bloods' suited the high heart rate and physical exertion. There came a point where the traffic thinned enough that I could clear the longer, steep climb by going hard right and I knew I could use this to pass Matthew, who was shouldering the bike.
True enough, I forced the pass with a hernia popping effort. Faith No More's classic 'Epic' and a smattering of Clutch fed the fire and my legs felt strong and willing. My new tubeless set up allowed me to get ragged around the corners, adding to my traction and I was truly enjoying myself. Idly, I began to wonder if I had it in me to challenge Fraser, who was still out in front, but serious consideration gave me clarity. Barring a mechanical issue or implosion from him, our positions were set.
Matthew kept battling, coming back at every opportunity. There was no way to stretch and break our elastic bond: several laps from the end, just as I began to feel a little comfortable, I nearly opened the door for him to drop me for good. A poorly judged jump into the off camber corner before the run up, led to a squirrelly landing and I dropped my chain. AC/DC - "Thunderstruck". No doubt!
I had to pull the rear wheel out of the frame to get the chain back on. As I began to tighten the qr again, Matthew came flying past and I could see him exert his will on the cranks. This was going to be tight.
He tore off into the distance, aiming for the chicanes. I gave chase but tried to stay calm. No need to red line straight away - assess the moves and situation. Still feeling good, I tackled the steep climb on the pedals after the chicane and gained some ground. Memory fails me but I think I may have even slipped past here. We were so close - it was no suprise as he took me again just on the top section of the course before the finish. I hung on and gasped for air. With one or two laps to go this was going to go to the wire. Another hard effort on the steep climb while Matthew dismounted and ran gave me just enough to stay away - ragged breathing, the taste of blood with every respiration. I dug deep to make the pass and could only hope it was the definitive move of my race. Rob Zombie, 'Superbeast' - it couldn't have been a better tune.
So it was. I rolled home extremely happy with my second place, a firm hand shake and mutual respect with Matthew and happy for both Fraser with the win and Maddy in 5th overall, first women home.
I'll let someone else tell the story of the A race, but congratulations must go to the organisers for a fantastic race. Strongly competitive but with a relaxed and welcoming vibe. Sweet as! Looking forward to next year already.