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.
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)
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