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 fiancée 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