Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Southern Upland Way - Melrose to Cockburnspath

Scotland's Best Signposted Field


It's been a while since I've written anything for this blog.  I missed most of the 2015 cyclocross season through illness and I spend the first 4 months of 2016 training for the London Marathon.  I haven't got any racing planned in the immediate future so I thought I should come up with something else to blog about.

Over the last month I've managed to fit quite a few long rides in and have started to feel a bit like a cyclist again.  Inspired by the dusty trails and perfect conditions that Graeme Warren and I enjoyed riding Glen Tilt and Glenfeshie I was keen to get out for more of the same the following weekend.

My plan was to take advantage of the dry trails to ride the final quarter of the Southern Upland Way from Melrose to Cockburnspath.  I really struggled to find any information online about riding this section so I thought it would be worth making some notes on what I found.  This might be a bit dry but hopefully it'll be useful to someone planning a similar ride.

Unfortunately the long dry spell had broken in the last few days.  After looking through lots of forecasts I finally found one that looked good enough and decided to go with it.


Newcraighall to Tweedbank

This ride was made much simpler thanks to the newly opened Borders Railway.  50 minutes after getting on the train at Newcraighall I was underway.  Until the line was re-instated the Southern Upland Way followed a path along the old line so the route starts from the end of the platform.


Space for 8 bikes according to Scotrail.
Dusty trails looking less than likely.





















Melrose to Lauder

Almost straight from the train station the route dropped into a nice little singletrack section down to the bank of the River Tweed.  After crossing the river the route turned back west along a fun rooty path.

Unfortunately the good riding didn't last too long and the route swung north to follow what was shown on the map as doubletrack.  The Southern Upland Way is obviously not a heavily used trail.  Most of this section was heavily overgrown and it was hard to see an obvious path in a lot of places.  It didn't take long riding in this terrain before I was completely soaked.

As the route headed north it was dominated by the sheer number of gates.  Some fairly uninspiring riding on tracks, over fields and through muddy farmyards punctuated by dozens of ropey old gates.  Everyone seemed to have a different style of latch and be broken in a slightly different way.  In the end it was easier just to lift my bike over and climb over.

As I approached Lauder the route turned into a field of knee high grass with no sign of any path.  Fortunately there was a route-post randomly sited in the middle of the field.  It was a actually quite a fun descent but by the end of it I was thoroughly soaked.  This sums up the Southern Upland Way pretty well, it's essentially Scotland's best signposted field.

A quick blast off Staunchly Hill in the pouring raining and I was in Lauder.

In need of a bit of respite from the weather I headed straight for the Flat Cat Gallery.  Despite the fact I was plastered in mud the staff couldn't have been more friendly.  After attempting (and failing) to make make myself look vaguely presentable I realised that the only person who was worried about the mess was me.  Two slices of cake and a coffee later and I was feeling far more positive about the rest of the day.


Chain Bridge over the Tweed in Melrose.
There's a path under there somewhere.

Lauder to Longformacus

From Lauder an odd mix of great paths and sheep tracks took me through the grounds of Thirlestane Castle to the A697.

A tarmac farm road turned into nice doubletrack as I quickly gained height.  Just as I was starting to think this section might be better the route promptly turned left into a field.  The next hour was back to fields and gates.  An unexpected descent down a fast bumpy section helped to break the tedium of the gates.

As I climbed into the mist the character of the ride had begun to change.  I was onto fast flowing tracks uninterrupted by gates and able to make some progress, albeit hindered slightly by a stiff easterly wind.

The last part of the climb up to Twin Law was on a great path although a look at my Garmin left me alarmed at my relative lack of progress over the first part of the ride.

The descent from Twin Law was the highlight of the day.  3 minutes of bumps and natural doubles.  Maybe not the best return for all the climbing but as fun as it was unexpected.

From there a mix of doubletrack and minor roads allowed some fast progress to Longformacus.

Crossing Blythe Water.
Twin Law.






















Longformacus to Cockburnspath

Riding on the minor road towards Ellemford Bridge brought back painfully memories of suffering on my road bike.  Today's pace was more sedate and as you can see a 29er is probably more suited to this road than a road bike.

Painful memories of the Tour of the Lammermuirs.
The route turned off this road and struck up the hill on the right.  From the road it didn't look like the path would go as it was so overgrown.  It turned out to be ok, albeit a slog up a steep field of sheep.  A nice path over the top of the hill was short lived and I soon found myself slogging up a churned up muddy sheep track.  This was probably the least enjoyable section of the day but it was all ridable.



Crossing the Whiteadder at Abbey St Bathans.

A blast down some fast doubletrack brought me out on Duns road just south of Ellemford Bridge.     Over the road a steep gravel climb was waiting followed by a more gentle climb.  A lovely looking singletrack descent was ruined by 3 or 4 gates in the space of a few hundred meters.

Some muddy miles brought me fairly quickly to Abbey St Bathans where it was time to sit down for 10 minutes to have something to eat.  One problem with this route is a lack of water.  By this point I was even looking for an outside tap on a house but I didn't see anything.  In the end I didn't find any decent water source after Lauder.

A nice riverside path got the final stretch underway.  It wasn't long until the route descended back into fields and gates, pretty wearing by this stage of a ride.  An hour of easy, if uninspiring, riding brought me to a fast tarmac descent to the A1.

A really nice track through Penmanshiel Wood would have made a good finish to the ride but there was a sting in the tail.  The Southern Upland Way goes through Pease Dean Nature Reserve.  It would be a good place to walk but not when you are carrying a bike.  20 minute of temptingly good singletrack constantly interrupted by steep slippy steps and treacherously wet duckboards was immensely frustrating.  It would probably be more fun in the dry but in the wet it was by far the least ridable section of the day.  A quick spin round the coastal path at Cove brought me to the finish at Cockburnspath.

A tricky ride to sum up.  Only a few genuinely good sections but I don't think that is what this sort of ride is about.  It's much more a big day out and a bit of an adventure.  But even on that measure it's hard to reach a judgement.  It's a remote route with only one town on route and it barely crosses any roads but it doesn't feel that remote.  The landscape is agricultural and heavily shaped by farming and feels far less wild than other areas of the Lammermuirs.  It would be a good route but for me there are just too many gates to let it flow.

By far the best section of the route is through the Lammermuirs from above Lauder to Longformacus and it's the only bit I'm likely to repeat.






Monday, 30 May 2016

Back in the Game

Almost a year since the last race, and barely a pedal turned in anger in the preceding year, and I was in danger of becoming an absentee VCM rider. Work, commuting and two mini-mes will do that to a man.

Good to get back in the saddle then at Glentress 7. As good a course as you will get at any lapped endurance event, and always a good chance to catch up with the regulars, including super supporter Wardman - the only man who heckles you in the woods on both the first and the last lap. Commitment to the cause.

Top marks to Colin Shearer for triumphing in the old boys category, Maddy for a good battle to second in Female Pairs (with Cat) and for the Marquis pairing for commitment to the singlespeed Tweedlove cause. Personally, my legs seem to be in the same shape as the last time I raced, if anything a couple of minutes faster overall, which isn't a bad base for getting into shape. Good enough for 7th <40 solo and 9th of all of the solos, but not quite good enough to catch the two guys only 2 minutes up the road.

Dates in the diary, mountains beckoning, new kit in the post and shenanigans afoot at SocialCross. Let's do this shit. #backinthegame



Thanks to Trevor Worsey at enduro for the photo

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

Roadtripping

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


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 


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?


Saturday


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)


Sunday 


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)

Saturday, 14 November 2015

I've got the Fever (literally)

Race round up for the Scottish Cyclocross Association series so far.

During the Summer I managed to contract Glandular Fever so that put me off the bike and put paid to any thoughts of competing in the 3 Peaks race. Under doctors orders I shouldn't have been back on the bike till mid October at the earliest but as I felt ok I thought I'd give Callendar Park race a go, having done one interval session since June I knew this race wasn't going to be pretty so slipped in at the back and settled down to what I was sure would be a grim 3/4 of an hour.
Sure enough, off we set and it was obvious straight away that what little speed was there was going going to go off very quickly. I settled into a bit of a slow rhythm and started to enjoy myself, the Challenge Chicanes were really good to begin with but as it got a bit greasier I should have swapped bikes to the Baby Limus shod one, but hey this was just a sociable ride in the park? Aye right, the leaders went past on the final lap and I was pretty sure there was an interloper in the sunshine sneaking through with them, SPRINT for everything I was worth (chicanes spot on ;-)) and that 72nd place was mine


A good day out in the sunshine wearing the old school tropical white skinsuit. 


I sat out the next round at Knockburn Loch due to the arrival of this bundle of fun

And so to Strathclyde Park, I decided to race the seniors as it meant I could leave that morning and be down in time for the race. A great plan except for the weather on the way down which made driving challenging. I made it in time to get signed on, changed and then a quick lap of the course and then off we set in pouring rain and near gale force winds, the attrition rate was quite high with quite a few DNS and DNFs. There was a crash at the start which held up a number of folk but I managed to sneak by and get the Challenge Limus into the grass/mud mid pack, these tyres were awesome all race and as I got more confident with them I settled into a reasonable groove, passed a few folk and got passed by a few, the red gravel climb was every bit as bad as I remembered but was told of the line to take by a clubmate so that made it a bit easier. The run up was enjoyable except for the camera man hidden behind a tree with a huge flash, not the first time that s happened in this park! then into a bit of single track through the trees, bit of a bombhole then back into the carpark and away we go again. I really started to enjoy this race even when the the real rain started, it got grim out there but did keep the race bike clean, no need to change it. 43rd in the seniors and a most enjoyable day out. 





The glandular fever seems to have abated to be replaced with Crossfever which I am very pleased about!!
The weather was certainly different to the last time I was out preparing the course at Glengorm Castle for the tenth anniversary of Cross at the Castle


Many thanks to Challenge tyres for the speed and grip they provided magnificently for both races, now onwards to the mud bath at Fife!!  #crosslove
Many thanks to to big Mick Martin for the photos





Monday, 6 July 2015

Capital Trail 2015.



It has been a couple of weeks since Chris 'Marquis of Darkness' Marquis and I took on the Capital Trail 2015. You probably have heard of this event, organised by Markus Stitz and run alongside the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling.


It is difficult to know how this event is seen by Joe Cyclist. It doesn't have the back country cojones of, say, a Cairngorm Loop or a Highland Trail Race (which Markus receently completed, in good style), but it is still a fairly intense under taking: 238km of mostly off-road riding with 6000m of climbing.




After a discussion on where to aim our efforts, Chris and myself decided to travel fairly light, bivi near Peebles - around 150km into the loop - and after refuelling with a hot breakfast and coffee at Glentress after an early morning spin around the trail centre, head for home on the second day.


This is probably not aligned with a true race-head perspective and we were both entirely happy with that. We had no real idea how the first half of the loop would go, given then-recent unsettled weather, strong winds and our general lack of knowledge of the trails Markus was using. The second half of the loop was more of a known entity, Chris and myself both having cut our chops riding in Edinburgh as young bucks.



It was great to see a good number of 'Moulineers on the start line, some looked in better shape than others with illness taking its toll in some cases. I'll let them tell their tales, but Russell put in a fine effort on his Shand, outfitted with a fairly tall gear range for the climbing required! chapeau!

Otherwise, there was a range of intentions on display from fat bikes, hip flasks and happy banter to serious faces and chiselled legs.

The first few hours were a joy: we zipped along with barely a breath of wind and the warm air and dry trails were rewarding. Far from the dull drove road and canal path it might have been, these trails tested and engaged. After passing through Melrose, the energy levels began to become noticeable. Bikepacking, even lightly loaded, still means you are carrying considerably more weight than on a more usual ride. The steep climbs as we hit the Southern Upland Way were sobering.


One poor chap's bike snapped at what was likely the most isolated point of the loop: the 3 brethren near Selkirk. It would be a strenous way to end the evening dropping down to Innerleithan wheeling the bike, but he remained in good spirits.



The good spirits were also in abundance as we enjoyed the fare in the Traquair Arms pub, along with around half the riders from the grand depart - or so it seemed! This was a particularly timely stop for me as Chris had had a small mechanical with his bike, necessitating a MacGuyverism and due to my disaster style packing, I had fairly minimal warm kit. By the time we sat in the pub, I was in full blown shivers. Orders were large and we washed it down with some ale before leaving and making the long climb, back into the hills.



Fairly late in the planning stages, there was a change in the route. Markus removed the initial HAB up Dun Rig, which was welcome, but we still had to push the bikes a fairly long way up into the thickening clouds on the route between Innerleithan and Peebles. There was a good bivi spot prior to hitting the grassy slope at an old estate building, where quite a large number of riders decided to stay. We pushed on, getting the climb out of the way as we aimed towards Gypsy Glen, where we intended to overnight. Just as the dark began to set in, the rain became a little more of an issue and by 11 we were thoroughly wet, which was not ideal immediately before getting into a bivi sack, however a couple of cans of Dale's pale ale made up for it and we were soon relaxed and chatting over the highly enjoyable day. Later, a couple of sopping wet riders careered down the trail with lights illuminating the drizzle. We snuggled into our sleeping bags gladly as we sheltered in the woods.



Day 2 dawned not-so-early and both of us slept fairly well. As we packed and got moving hunger and a powerful need for coffee gnawed at us. We climbed on the Red route at Glentress trail centre before dropping down the Blue to arrive, like several other riders, not long after the cafe opened. Full Scottish was a given and sated, we rolled off into the mild dreich to finish the loop off.



Wet trail and repeated grassy climbs sapped energy, which was in short supply by the time we pushed from Nile Mile Burn, high into the Pentland hills. Nevertheless, the reward was a fine loop on well known trails and a grand view of Edinburgh, sun now out and beaming, with only a few miles to go.



With a final, odd tweak of trail on the side of Arthur's Seat (I suspect Markus originally planned for us to ride round the volcanic lump, but could not due to a scheduled running event) we dropped to the coast and wriggled through the sun-worshipping crowds on the esplanade back to the finish at 4.30pm or so.



This was a thoroughly enjoyable loop. The trails were excellent quality - nothing was too challenging and the lack of 'exposure' and proximity to escape routes means it could act as a fantatsic introduction to multi day bike rides for an inexperienced bikepacker. Indeed, with Peebles sitting as a major destination point for overnighjting and recharging, a credit card tour with a stop in a bunkhouse or B&B is an easy possibility.



Of course, those shooting for a ITT will go as long and as far as they can - as evidenced by David King, the 'winner' completing in 15 hours 15 minutes, but my view of this loop is that it lends itself to a slightly less intense pace and the calm, enjoyment of the environment that Southern Scotland can bring.

More details here:
Edinburgh Festival of Cycling
fearless and unique
trackleaders

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Equinox: using time wisely.



High pressure, stable weather and a yearning to ride all day long. A twangy lower back muscle after a bit of singlespeed induced hernia-popping climbing action notwithstanding, it was time to grab 'Maul and run to the hills.



Out through Mugdock, taking in some choice trials that haven't been dry in months. Pinballing around and loving every second of it.



Then down to business on the West Highland Way: missing the gates, considering my forward progress at Garadbhan.



The back was holding up and the legs were still going round in circles so I could cut north for Aberfoyle, then Callander but I could not think of a fun way back home. So: Mangrunt? Even sans Conic Hill, I had to have a chat with myself and see if I was up for this so early in my spring mileage build-up.



Nothing ventured….



Round the lochs through Queen Elizabeth forest park and then the terrain opens up as you approach the upper portion of Loch Lomond.

Lots of wildlife to be seen.





Some in worse shape than others...





Take the fun trails down the Lochside until Balmaha and ducking in and out of the woods, follow the West Highland way back home.









Seven hours, 75 ish miles. My body reminded me that this building up every year is always a battle, an act of perseverance, but oh, the places you'll go…