Velo Club Moulin

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Cyclocross Madness: Season 1

Three days after the final race of the Scottish CX series I’m still feeling dazed. I have bruises on my shins and my shoulder, my throat is scratchy and my head is fuzzy. It’s like I’ve been stuck in a cyclone for the past few months and have just been ejected into the eye of the storm, waiting for it to suck me back in after the New Year!

It seems that Foxlake has a lot to answer for in terms of attracting folk into cx racing. It was at that race in 2013 that my husband Matt decided it shouldn’t just be our daughter Ruby representing the family, and he went on to do his first cx series last year. And so it was while I was cheering them both on at the 2014 race that I had my epiphany… screw standing on the sidelines with the coats…I want to race cross too!

I was already a member of Peebles Cycling Club and there are quite a few folk who now race cx, but no-one in the vet women category. I’d also had my eye on what I regard as one of the best kits in country – Velo Club Moulin, so when I saw the Facebook post asking for women to join the club to race it seemed like fate! By February I was a member of the club, had my first top and was well and truly committed! A new Ridley XBow soon followed, and so did my cross obsession.

Although the cross season doesn’t officially kick off until the winter Matt decided it would be a good plan to start some training sessions in Haylodge Park in Peebles on a Tuesday night, so we invited some friends along. Ali Dow is a seasoned cross racer that you’ll all know, and his fiancĂ©e Caroline Harvey is a newbie like me. I spent the first evening learning to jump on and off my bike! It took a while to get the hang of it, but once I had it dialled I knew that I could now enter my first race! I had the skills from mountain biking and the fitness would improve with training so there was no excuses!

I’m very grateful to Jimmy Mac for putting Haughcross on this year. It’s a tough race, but because it’s a summer event I didn’t have to pop my cx cherry in the usually muddy conditions. It was one less thing to worry about and I went there on the day thinking if I could just finish the first race I would be happy to forget about the second race in the afternoon. Turns out I did finish the race (in last place - woohoo), and despite saying I was too tired to race again it didn’t take much to persuade me and before I knew it I was getting changed, guzzling an energy gel and on the start line for my 2nd ever cx race! I finished the B race in 10th place (out of 12)! I was buzzing!!

I had a couple of months to get ready for the first of the Raleigh series races at Callendar Park. It was a lovely day and I’d been at the race the year before supporting the family so I knew what to expect. It’s a hilly course, but thankfully the ground was dry. I was pretty nervous on the start line but when the whistle blew I was off like a rocket! I’m really glad I’ve got a few years of track racing under my belt, albeit it from about 20 years ago! It certainly helps at the start of cx races with all the jaggy elbows and close wheels. Unfortunately my chain came off just before the first hill in front of the house. It meant I had to run up the hill on lap one and got caught up in riders who’d attempted to ride up but had fallen foul of the gradient! It didn’t put me off though and I kept my head down and just went for it. I really loved the course. Lots of good technical and rooty bits and I loved the off camber zigzags. I ended that race 13th vet woman so I was really pleased. I couldn’t stop talking about the race for days!

Next up was Knockburn Loch. It’s a long way but folk had told me it was worth the journey. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the sandy banking. During warm up it was evident that I wasn’t going to make it up the banking on my bike so I decided that I’d just run it. This was hellish for someone who’s got wee short legs! It also meant my cleats were full of sand and it took me a few knocks of my feet on the chain stays to clear them and get clipped back in for the single track through the woods. It’s the type of course I really should enjoy but I found it a struggle and was disappointed on the last lap to be passed by 2 vet women who I’d been ahead of for the majority of the race (VCM team mate Ainsley Wood and Nienke Oostra). I finished 10th and left feeling disappointed and wondering if my cx honeymoon was over already.

Luckily I got the love back at the next race – Strathclyde Park. Apart from the section in the car park it’s a great course. The muddy off camber bits at the start and then the fast bits of singletrack in the woods. Mountain bike skills are definitely a bonus on a course like this. The red gravel hill section was hellish and on the last lap I did contemplate taking my bike for a walk, but opted for a very slow ride up instead! We were lucky to miss the rain and the vet men and seniors were not quite as fortunate! I ended up in a sprint finish against club mate Katie Newlands as we entered the ‘arena’. My mind went back to my disappointment at Knockburn and I decided not to let Katie get past me! Matt said he saw me sprint in to the finish area and thought I was possessed! Sorry Katie! I guess I am competitive after all! Another ok result finishing 13th.

Next up was Lochore Meadow. I’d been told to expect something very different from the past few races and had heard all about the ‘spiral of doom’! Turns out this was my least favourite race, despite the spiral being toned down. It was great practise for riding in mud but I was longing to ride over the bits of boardwalk that were taped off in the woods! The 2 sets of hurdles were the work of the devil, pretty much coming up to my knees. It was the first and only race where I checked my watch, so definitely not top of my list! I managed to finish 11th with my bike intact, which I guess is an achievement in itself!

Scottish Champs at Irvine Beach next. I wasn’t entered in the champs as I don’t currently have a license and didn’t think it was worth it as I wasn’t going to podium! I’d been hearing all about the ‘Big Dipper’ in this race and how it’s like falling off the end of the earth! It didn’t disappoint! Despite trying to build up more speed on each lap at the dipper I still didn’t managed to ride all the way up the other side. Something to aim for next year I guess. The sand proved a bit easier than at Knockburn and despite the headwinds, sea turtle, big dipper and other mad obstacles I loved the course. I got to ride around most of the way with team mate Jac Marquis, but unfortunately she got stopped at the finish as the lead women passed her. This meant I did the last lap pretty much on my own and was the last rider in. Entering the finish race to Motorhead’s Ace of Spades, having done an extra lap which I didn’t think I had in me was awesome! I finished 10th.

I thought Irvine would be hard to beat, but the weekend at Mull has been the icing of the cake as far as my series is concerned. Davie Graham and his band of merry men (and women) put on a show like no other! With Glengorm castle and the Ardnamurchan coastline as the backdrop I felt like I’d been transported to another planet! In previous years the weather had been ‘challenging’ but this year we were unbelievable lucky to have dry, still weather on both days. Saturday was the last of the series races and I went off like a shot at the start again and managed to do most of the first lap in amongst the lead women! I remember mumbling to myself something about how the hell will I finish the race if I keep going at this speed! I didn’t have to worry though as folk started passing me and I settled into a more manageable pace. I finally finished 10th and so my first Scottish CX series was done. I was one of only two vet women who did all 6 races and I finished a respectable 10th in the overall series results. I’ll buy that for a pound note! Which takes me on nicely to the weekend highlight – Santa Cross World champs! I had swithered about not riding as I was pretty tired from the day before but when I got to the castle on Sunday morning and saw the other lunatics dressed in their costumes there was no way I was missing out! It was freezing and there was a smell of stale beer and whiskey in the air. Some folk looked focused, some were bleary eyed and others were missing altogether! When the whistle blew it was evident that despite the crazy costumes and the hangovers this was still a race. Again I managed a good start and was delighted when we were diverted off the road into a muddy, rocky single track chute in amongst the rhododendrons. This was going to be fun! I spent a lot of the race chuckling to myself at the insanity of it all. Following a trail of Christmas destruction with tinsel, bows and santa hats all being trampled into the mud on the course. I managed to get a few pound notes in the hand ups, and did my best to give the spectators a jolly “ho-ho-ho” as I passed. It was a brilliant race, and a great end to an awesome weekend.

So now we’re in the rest period until the 2016 races start up, and I’ve not really been out on my bike much. There are a few too many mince pies and bottles of Leffe in the house and I suspect it’s going to be tricky getting back into the racing groove in a few weeks.

But it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned in my first season: CX is the most fun you can have on a bike…I need to get fitter and faster for next year…My club mates are amazing and I’ve made loads of new friends…Challenge Limus tyres are a must have for the mud…People who do CX are bonkers!! And my advice to anyone thinking of trying a cx race….just dae it! You’ve nothing to lose and a lot to gain!

Picture by Addy Pope

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Fingers crossed

As the 2015 Scottish cyclocross series comes to an end, Christmas is only a few sleeps away and my hangover from #Mullorca seems to have finally dissipated (note to self, do not end up in the Mishnish surrounded by Unicorns). After clearing up the tinsel remains and removing the mud from the washing machine for the last time (at least for a few weeks), I have a lot of fond memories of my second cross season to date.
As a newbie to cross, the first series went by in somewhat of a frenetic blur, so this season is definitely more memorable. Last year I was in awe of the riders, the courses (most of which I found really daunting – the big dipper!), the skinsuits and the weather. I did however find myself addicted to it pretty quickly – despite it being the most challenging and sometimes, painful thing, I’d ever done, I kept coming back. 

This season I’d somehow got myself into VCM (begging goes a long way) and found myself in a shiny new rasta skinsuit (thanks Endura). I was hoping enthusiasm (and spin classes) would get me through another season with a few more points to add to my name.
After the shock to the system that was Callendar Park, I managed to get myself a new bike (thanks for the tip Fraser Waters), get through the next few races and start to enjoy myself. Although Lochore was a spiralling mud fest, I got my best result so far. Feeling chuffed with myself, I rented some awesome deep-section Reynolds Assault wheels from Happy Cog (contact Fraser Waters) with Challenge Baby Limus tubs for the Champs. 

Finally, it was the last race of the series at Glengorm Castle, the prettiest backdrop for a course in Scotland and for once, the weather was holding up. The mix of off-camber switchbacks made for great fun and my new bike and new found skills (Dirt School classes are worth it) started to come into play. I had some great battles with fellow VCM bad girls, Elisa, Ainsley and Erika, and it was great to have so many rasta girls on the course. My favourite race and season so far with a top ten finish to boot.
Now bring on Super Quaich and more skills. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 17 December 2015


Mull - 11th-13th December 2015

Thanks to Gordon Watt for the photo

Let's start by getting the awkward bit out of the way first.  Davie Graham and Jim Cameron should maybe stop here.  Mull isn't exactly my favourite place.  There goes my chance of ever getting gridded again at RGCX.  In previous visits, summer and winter, I've experienced torrential rain, wind so strong that I was blown off my bike.  I've punctured twice in the same race, ripped a mech off, broken a wheel and managed to get my car stuck at Glengorm Castle.

Backstory aside this year's trip looked promising from the start.  Maddy arranged a great house for a group of us to stay in and it was to be a proper roadtrip sharing transport with Fraser Waters and family.  The plan was to travel over on Friday, race Saturday and travel home on Sunday morning.  It even looked like the weather might co-operate with the forecast predicting a spell of dry and calm weather over the weekend.  Expectations of good weather were tempered slightly by Davie's suggestion to "bring toe spikes and a sense of humour".

A couple of days before we left Addy got in touch to say that I could get a lift home with them if I wanted to race Sunday.  This should have given me ample time to sort an outfit but unable to overcome my inner 'humbug' I never quite got round to it.  The effort that so many people had made certainly put me to shame.

The weather on the west coast was unpleasant and we were greeted in Oban by an unexpected squall and rough seas.  After some confusion about whether the ferry would sail we were suddenly off.  The wind departed as quickly as it had arrived and the crossing was calm.  Fraser was feeling in holiday mood as we set off towards Tobermory on the wrong side of the road.  A deep seated link between ferry journeys and foreign holidays strong enough to overcome the reality of a dark and wet night on a Scottish island.  A relaxing evening in the house and we were ready for whatever the weekend could throw at us.


Saturday dawned (well I assume it did, I was last up) bright and calm.  We were up at Glengorm fairly early to take in the kids races and have a walk around.  Given the heavy rain in the preceding weeks it was surprising to see that the course wasn't as wet as previous years.  I didn't ride the course until later in the day as it was obviously going to change dramatically before the senior race.  

The course looked like it was riding well in the early races and it was great to see 6 VCM riders racing in the women's race, a new record?

Photo by Addy Pope

It doesn't seem to matter how early I arrive at a race I always seem to end up with slightly too much to do in the last 40 minutes.  A quick spin on the rollers in the sunshine and I was quite literally warmed up.  Ditching my leg warmers and jacket I headed for the start line.  A quick roll down the hill into the shade and I was cold again.  There were lots of good riders in the small senior field so I was grateful to get a reasonable call up.

I made a good start and managed to stay in position in the race up the starting hill.  At some point I passed Addy who had punctured, fortunately only a short distance from the pits.  The field stayed fairly compact over the first few laps so there was lots of close racing in the slippy and technically challenging main arena that made up most of the lap.  The intensity of this section was broken up by the fast run down to the greasy tarmac surrounding the cafe and then it was onto the brutal run up through the rodedendron trees.  A fast tarmac descent took you back to the main arena.

The middle laps were a bit of a blur but time wasn't passing quickly enough for me and I started to slip back through the field.  Each time up the run up I managed to claw a little ground back but the damage was happening slowly as I failed to maintain the intensity required through the arena.  Addy came past strongly as he moved back up through the field.  Dropping my chain in the deep mud pushed me back a little further and a front brake failure made the descent to the cafe a little more interesting.  On the penultimate lap I moved too far off line on an off-camber section as I was being lapped and hit the ground.  A decent final lap saw me pick a place or two back.  A steady ride but letting the side down a little as all of my VCM team mates rode to good results.

A quick trip back to Tobermory and there was just enough daylight left to wash bikes and kit in preparation for Sunday.  After a great meal and a few drinks we never made the planned trip to the ceilidh but from the tales that were recounted on Sunday morning it sounded like a good night.  No gossip on this blog I'm afraid.  If you want to know what happens at the ceilidh I'm sure Davie will point you in the direction of a ticket for next year.


Sunday's race is a bit different.  A chance for those who smashed it on Saturday, whether in the race or later on, to relax a little.  If your Saturday didn't go so well it's an early chance of redemption.  It's a friendly atmosphere but despite appearances when the gun goes there are still plenty of people there to race.

Photo by Sue Steele

VCM enjoyed a strong showing in the first race with Maddy taking 2nd and Colin Shearer completing a weekend double of race wins in the Vet 50+ category.

A combined field of vets and seniors meant that the start line was quite a bit busier that it had been the day before.  And quite a bit brighter thanks to some excellent costumes.  There was a bit of last minute excitement for Crawford Carrick-Anderson as he punctured on the way to the start line. His wheel was quickly replaced but he found himself at the end of a motley crew of Santas, Rudoplhs, christmas puddings, elves and Glasgow United riders (pot, kettle, black).

Fraser had kindly taken one of my bikes home with him so I had decided to race singlespeed.  My thinking was two-fold; no mech to rip off and a vague hope that I'd be forced into riding harder on the singlespeed.  The whistle went and I got a great start, the line was on the perfect incline to get the gear turning.  A surprising easy blast up the climb and I turned into the singletrack inside the top 10.  I was surprised that Addy who had started on my wheel hadn't passed me and it later turned out he had punctured on the first climb.  Unfortunately he had a much longer run to the pits today.

I managed to hold steady in about 11th or 12th position over the first few laps and getting to grips with the course.  It had everything: a hard climb, muddy rutted singletrack, a road descent, another climb and a reverse of the previous day's arena section.  OK, so I wasn't loving the road descent but at least I had a good excuse for not pedalling.  A hard frost overnight had made the arena section much easier to ride with minimal mud, easily the best course I've raced on in Mull.

I was loving this course and loving racing singlespeed again but the race was a lap too long for me.  My legs fell off on the penultimate climb, where I had been getting on top of the gear I was struggling.  Riding the arena for the last time I got swamped by riders I was no longer able to hold off.  Addy passed me on the last climb as he worked his way back from his first lap puncture, it seemed like a fitting way to end the year in a familiar spot trying to chase him.

I'd like to pay tribute to the effort that Davie Graham has put in to this event over the last 10 years.  Each time I've raced here he has improved the course and the event and with the help of the weather this year was the best by far.

Mull, another addition to the ever-growing list of things I was wrong about.

A big thank you to Maddy for organising the accommodation, Fraser and family for the lift to Mull, Maddy and Addy for the lift home and especially to Davie Graham.

How did we do?


Maddy Robinson 4th (Senior Female)
Erika Allen 7th (Senior Female)
Katie Newlands 8th (Senior Female)

Ainsley Wood 6th (Vet Female)
Elisa Smith 7th (Vet Female)
Jac Marquis 8th (Vet Female)

Colin Shearer 1st (Vet 50+)

Simon Muir 16th (Vet Male)
Chris Marquis 18th (Vet Male)
Fraser Waters 21st (Vet Male)
Davie Graham 22nd (Vet Male)
Martin Steele 26th (Vet Male)

Ian Dunlop 10th (Senior Male)
Steven Turbitt 11th (Senior Male)
Addy Pope 14th (Senior Male)
Simon Fairfull 24th (Senior Male)


Maddy Robinson 2nd (Senior Female)
Erika Allen 5th (Senior Female)
Katie Newlands 13th (Senior Female)

Ainsley Wood 5th (Vet Female)
Elisa Smith 6th (Vet Female)
Jac Marquis 7th (Vet Female)

Colin Shearer 1st (Vet 50+)

Ian Dunlop 6th Overall / 4th Senior Male
Addy Pope 16th Overall / 7th Senior Male
Simon Fairfull 17th Overall / 8th Senior Male
Chris Marquis 19th Overall / 11th Vet Male
Martin Steele 30th Overall / 18th Vet Male
Steven Turbitt 38th Overall / 16th Senior Male
Simon Muir 44th Overall / 27th Vet Male

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Irvine Beach

Scottish Cyclocross Championships - 6th December 2015

Photo by Martin Steele

My 2015 cross season hasn't exactly gone to plan. 

I gave the early season races a miss so that I could race a block of road races to build some speed.  That part of the plan worked well and I arrived on the start line at Callendar Park feeling confident.  That's unusual for me but I genuinely felt that I was in shape to get a good result.  Everything changed in the first lap and to some extent those 6 minutes shaped my entire season.

I got a reasonable start but within half a lap it was obvious that something was up, I was unable to ride with any intensity and when I tried I was finding it hard to breathe.  I held out some hope that as the race went on I would get going and hoped that it would be a long race to give me a chance to move up.  Instead I slipped further back as the race wore on and I was left puzzled by what had just happened.

The next morning I woke up feeling awful which was a relief.  After 10 days off the bike I jumped on the rollers with enthusiam but a 30 minute session made it obvious that a trip to Knockburn was out of the question.  This was the low point of my season, Knockburn is one of my favourite courses and it's a great roadtrip.  With hindsight I probably should have made the trip as a spectator but at the time I just wanted to pretend that cross didn't exist.

A trip to the doctors revealed that I was suffering from a respiratory tract infection and led to some more time off the bike.  I raced, or maybe I should say rode Stratchclyde Park.  It was great to catch up with friends but it was obvious I still wasn't 100%.  I thought I was going to have to pack it after the first lap but I managed to find a level that I could sustain for an hour.  Another 18 days with only one ride and I finally started to feel like myself again.

The upside was that I was over the illness in time for the champs at Irvine, my favorite course.  The downside was that I had only been on my bike a handful of times since Callendar Park.  A couple of turbo sessions in the week before weren't pretty but it was great to be able to ride again.

My lack of racing and form meant that I felt a surprising lack of nerves on the start line at Irvine which maybe explains my rubbish start.  I spent the first few corners going backwards before we got to the climb and I started to move back through the field.  Irvine is always a brilliant course but Neil Walker outdid himself this year.  Extremely wet weather in the lead up to the race meant that the course had a different character to normal.  Sand is normally the dominant feature of Irvine but the compact wet sand was much easier to ride than in previous years.  I really liked the new sand pit which was cleverly placed so that you could attack it and recover before hitting the dunes.  The off-camber sections were slick and interesting to ride, especially after a hail shower and the muddy big dipper was more of a challenge to ride than it is in dry conditions.

The nature of the course meant that it rewarded clean riding which I really enjoyed.  My one mistake of the day came when I got over confident on the off-camber section after the big dipper and I found myself sliding on my back through the tape.  A steady ride over this fantastic course left me falling back in love with cross. 

A big thank you to Scott Kerr and his team.  Irvine really is a special event and they raised the level again this year.

A good turnout by VCM but how did we do?

Maddy Robinson 4th (Senior Female)
Katie Newlands 12th (Senior Female)

Ainsley Wood 6th (Vet Female)
Elisa Smith 10th (Vet Female)

Colin Shearer 6th (Vet 50+)

Simon Muir 41st (Vet Male)
Chris Marquis 43rd (Vet Male)
Davie Graham 54th (Vet Male)
Martin Steele 55th (Vet Male)

Steven Turbitt 17th (Senior Male)
Simon Fairfull 25th (Senior Male)
Gareth Jones DNF (Senior Male)