Monday, 24 November 2014

Don't call it a come back.


It has been a long time since I threw my leg over a cross bike and my cross bike over a barrier. Still, the last day of my 40th year seemed a good time to dust off the flying dismount and test out some under used legs in the ever decreasing circles of Lochore Meadows. I have never raced there before and it was suggested that I wouldn't fall head over heels with the course. I was willing to put that to the test to see my good buddies from VC Moulin and get some blood pumping.

Prior to the start the commissaire flexed his 'I am the law' muscles by demanding that I remove my tiny speaker and iPod from my bike. A safety issue, apparently - potentially doing as much damage as a bar end. I never knew my music taste was so, well, tasteless? I hope he felt good. It made me a bit sad: has it really come to this?



The start was not as furious as expected: perhaps the heavy going through the grass and mud slowed the pace, or perhaps I was simply too far from the pointy end to notice. The MC Escher designed course had us looping in an impressive, laws-of-physics defying, circle of taped off grass. With the previous classes and our huge number of wheels, it rapidly disintegrated into a mud bath. All good fun, for a while anyway.



It was bizarre to come in to the second lap and hear Jammy over the tannoy yelling that it was only 29 minutes to go. That would mean I was probably only going to ride 4 laps. Of a entirely flat ~2km course. Do the math and you will see that the average speed wasn't exactly electric. Very 'cross.



It was good to loop around with my main men Chris Marquis and Martin Steele. Chris pressed his advantage, moving easily up the field, after I crashed out, sat on my rear wheel, one hand barely maintaining a grip on my bars. I had lost the front wheel around a corner, whilst rebelliously trying to get AC-DC to play out of my stashed speaker.

Martin and me traded places for a little while, until he left me fighting my own private battle with the build up of organic debris and mud that was all but bringing me to a standstill. I can't say I enjoyed the race - but that is not the same as saying it wasn't good to do. The team acquitted themselves well: see the placings in the Scottish Cyclocross link and a big thank you to Sue for taking care of VC Moulin's smallest fan.

So, perhaps I'll see you in a field some time soon. Ride on.



Pics by Trina.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

this aint no picnic


With two feel good rounds under our chamois, it was time to head to Irvine Beach for Joksijde. The Walkers Cycling race is now part of SCX folklore, it’s a course like no other and one that always delivers. I shouldn’t need to tell anyone reading this about the course but in case you need to, please refer to last years review of this race here or alternatively here. And like last year, I would reiterate the point, “yep, I could race that course every week”

Stevo in full flight and smiling (pic by the Press Room

After the balmy heat of the first two rounds we could be forgiven for speculating a lovely sunny day beside the seaside. Mother nature had other plans though and as the weekend got ever closer the weather warnings got ever more severe. Wind and cyclists have a peculiar relationship, it is very much like that slightly creepy, heavily fragranced aunty who demands a kiss at Christmas but then slips you a tenner when your mum isn’t looking. Today the wind was demanding a lot of kissing and in fact some heavy petting in a strictly one way relationship.

I’m getting into the earlier start of the V50 race, it gets it out the way and the courses are generally in better shape because they haven’t been hammered by all those fat V40’s. I did however get myself into a bit of a flap and it all became a mad rush for the line in the end. Now as we all know the start is a pretty crucial element of cross racing, you certainly don’t win from the start but you can very easily lose. Bizarrely it was announced that we would all start together (J/50/W) and if that wasn’t odd enough the gridded women were put in behind the gridded V50, this added another layer to getting a decent start and was a real blow for the un-gridded women more than the old blokes as they had to hustle for position amidst grumpy old men. The resulting start was messy, we all charged into the switchbacks and farcically attempted to find our place. I may have swore here and said some unpleasant things, I’m sorry if I offended anyone.


Ainsley, calm collecting some more points (pic by the Press Room

I love this course as I think I have mentioned on numerous occasions. The off camber sections, the big dipper, the sand, the bumpy lumpy singletrack, its got it all. Today it also had a brutal wind that tore away any rest you might have got on the descents and pummeled you with sand and sea at every opportunity. I tried to get into a rhythm but it was so fucking hard to keep momentum going at times that my head went up and down like a demented yoyo. After a couple of laps out on the furthest of the off camber section I thought I felt my rear tub roll, I pedaled on and looked down it seemed to be rolling fine, I then forgot all about it. A wee group had got together and it was hard to shake riders off with the weather, Billy McCord snuck past and pulled one of the Angus Bike Chain guys with him but they were still within clear sight for the duration of the race as I did battle with another couple of dudes, whose names I haven’t worked out yet.

Last lap and at that same place I got the squirm from the rear tub only this time it wrapped itself around the wheel and I ground to a halt, fuck fuck, fuckity fuck. I floundered around attempting to pry it back onto the rim, this was a big mistake as I wasted way too much time, I attempted to run it back but by now my legs were fried and my run resembled a death march, slowly riders of every age and shape passed me as I hauled myself to the pits, grabbed a bike and finished the last couple of hundred metres. I was disappointed I wont pretend.  In other news, first time crosser Campbell Hall managed to get round one of the toughest rounds in one piece which is mighty impressive, I think he may have got the bug. .

Steady does it for Addy (pic by the Press Room

A quick change and reloading of the car and I was out to watch the V40 cavalry charge, damn there are so many of them, I missed the start but can only imagine what it was like. Our guys seem to be doing battle mostly with each other in this category; we were missing Gavin May and Simon Muir who are usually the fastest of our 40’s so it was up to the rest. Everyone finished (except another first timer Bikelove Carl) and speculated the glory of the mid pack hustle.

No sooner had they finished than the seniors were off, another packed field and they were blessed with probably the worst of the weather.  Our seniors are having a great run this year and this race was no different, Stevo, Graeme, Ian, Addy, Simon, Steven and Gareth all turned up for this one and made there presence felt. Meanwhile at the front Rab Wardell was wondering what he was going to do to shake off Grant Fergusson who made a rare appearance. The answer was nothing, a season of racing at world level has certainly put a gap between Grant and his domestic rivals. He stepped up a gear and cruised his way around never looking particularly phased by the weather or the effort, a different class. By the end of the race Grant had lapped the entire field right up to 3rd place! That third place was held by our own Steve Halsall who is having another great season as is Graeme Warren with another top ten finish, in fact all of our seniors are riding themselves inside out, mucho respect, 7 riders in this category, possibly the best represented club out there.

Irvine was over for another year and despite the weather I am already missing it. It goes without say, well done to Walkers Cycling.

How we doing.

Women
Maddy Robinson 3rd
Ainsley Turbitt 10th

V50
Colin Shearer 10th
Chris Duncan 18th
Campbell Hall 30th

V40
Martin Steele 45th
Davie Graham 46th
Russell Stout 48th
Fraser Waters 52nd
Chris Marquis 59th
Carl Lottering-Geeson dnf

Senior
Steve Halsall 3rd
Graeme Warren 7th
Gareth Jones 8th
Addy Pope  16th
Stevie Turbitt 18th
Ian Dunlop 19th
Simon Fairful 24th








Monday, 10 November 2014

the goody good times

Here we go again.

Round One Callendar Park 
Better late than never with this one, possibly.  We bemoan the long wait for cross season all year and then it happens and we’re never quite ready.  So with unseasonally mild weather I headed to Falkirk for the opening round at Callender Park. Like last year the course was superbly laid out by Franco and Davie and looking resplendent in the autumn sun. This was my first foray into V50 I had to get used to leaving the house that wee bit earlier but yet on arriving it seemed even busier. Kids were zooming around everywhere on mini cross bikes, and anxious parents were bustling around ensuring everything was in place for their little darlings race. The popularity of cross among children (parents) is a strange phenomenon, in theory dragging your child to a cross race in the depth of winter could be seen as a case for social services intervention but drag they do and to be fair the kids mostly seem to love it. Because of the huge volume of young uns, sign on and consequently start times had to be shunted slightly, no big deal, it gave time for a leisurely wander round the course to check the changes and see how it felt under foot. The park is blessed with just the right amount of gradient and curves to make a superbly interesting course that keeps you moving and thinking for the whole race, not a lot of scope for recovery, despite the seasonal rain leading up to it the condition was firm and dry!

Quietly getting the job done, the rapid Steve Halsall (pic by The Press Room)

Soon enough the start time came around and up we lined, if I am honest by the time I had lined up I was already thinking about getting home, in retrospect it might not of been such a bad shout. I have to say I much prefer V50 to the rowdiness of V40, a much more sedate and gentlemanly category, don't get me wrong every bit as fast and fiercely competitive but a whole lot more civil. Anyway we were off and yep it was going to be fast unsurprisingly. I quickly lost touch of the race and my will to live and the bell lap didn’t arrive anywhere near quick enough. Round one done. Unfortunately because of other commitments I had to rush away so saw none of the other categories so cant tell you what happened but I’m sure it was a roost fest.



Round Two Strathclyde Park
Thoughts of why the fuck am I putting myself through this again filled my head for the next two weeks in the lead up to StrathclydePark, traditionally one of my least favourite courses but its always good to come home. So again, car loaded up the night before to make the early start and some new music loaded up for the drive. Arriving at the park I was greeted by more glorious Lanarkshire sunshine, once more mini racers were zooming everywhere and the air was full of the sound of burning rollers, somebody needs to find a way to harness the energy from this warm up ritual and tap it into the National Grid, surely a money spinner for a smart race organiser!
Anyway, on arriving caught up with fellow early starter Ainsley and we had a walk around the course to see what lay in store for us, it looked much the same as last year with some subtle changes and again seemed reasonably firm underfoot so potentially pretty fast. In fact the sun was ever so slowly warming my soul and a wee smidgeon of my ancestral enthusiasm was returning. After much more faffing and procrastinating, I decided I better have a semblance of a warm up. A quick sprint the length of the park and back was enough to remind me that is actually wasn’t that warm once out of the sun. The time was fast approaching for action and I was feeling less than ‘stoked’

Control, speed and elegance, just three of the things missing (Chris Duncan pic by The Press Room

Maddy in blur of speed, pow! (Maddy Robinson pic by The Press Room)

The starts of races are pretty funny affair, no two are the same yet they are all identical. A relaxed chatty vibe is followed by a nervous tension that then becomes an inelastic mass awaiting the freedom of elasticity. That freedom comes soon enough, the deafening shot of the starters pistol and we are projecting forward at a velocity bordering on the unsafe but fortunately we were safe. All too quickly we were onto the climb, oh that fucking climb, the nastiest little fucker of a climb in the SCX calendar. The nice thing about this course though, is once that climb is done, its pretty good fun and fast, in fact as fast as you can ride the descent really. Great last section through the trees and back into the arena. The race went fairly uneventful, I felt ok, stayed safe on the slippy corners and tried to punch when I could, there were some minor placing battles and all too soon it was over. I have to say I really enjoyed this round. I held it together, the bike held together and there isn’t much more to say. I've really warmed to the Strathclyde course, it is very different from the other rounds and that is a good thing. 
Maddy was going very fast, very.
I hung around for the V40 race and most of the seniors but then had to leave to get myself up the road. The V40 race is a clusterfuck, I am so happy to be out of it, the volume of riders and the depth and range of ability make it a bit of a minefield unless you are in the top 10% of what is going on. I really feel for these guys. What was going on however was a Glasgow United whitewash, 1,2,3!
As always East Kilbride Road Club put on an excellent show and everything from what I could determine ran as it should.

Great beard but he is only just getting away with that multi coloured helmet (Steven Turbitt pic by The Press Room)

How we did.

V50.
Colin Shearer 6th
Chris Duncan 16th

Women
Maddy Robinson 1st
Ainsley Turbitt 6th

V 40
Gavin May 20th
Chris Marquis 29th
Simon Muir 45th
Russell Stout 47th
Martin Steele dnf (tsk tsk)

Seniors
Steve Halsall 2nd
Graeme Warren 7th
Ian Dunlop 12th
Steve Turbitt 17th

Not such a bad day in the motherland. .

The end



big thanks to the  The Press Room for all the pics, support these guys. 







Sunday, 2 November 2014

creatures of the night


Hallocross

Lets open with a nice little snippet from the Jehovahs Witness website (www.jw.org)
"The Bible warns: "There must never be anyone among you who . . . consults with ghosts or spirits, or calls up the dead." While some view Halloween as harmless fun, the Bible indicates that the practises associated with it are not. The Bible says: "I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the lord and the cup of the demons too."

When I read this off the back of a web search about the origins of Halloween the penny dropped with the precision of the guillotine slicing off the head of naughty aristocrat who had been caught with his pants round his ankles at the foot of the queens bed. Within that little paragraph lies all the reasons I would want to dress myself in suitably stupid, dumb, scary (probably not) and unsuitable for cycling outfit, throw a leg over my cross bike, flick the switch on an overly bright light and race around a damp (but oh so warm) country park in the dead of night for an hour. Yes I do want to consult every last one of those ghosts and I want to embrace every ghoul and goddamn demon that’s ever wandered across my path. Because for one hour in October nothing else in the world really mattered, except the sheer beauty of riding bikes hard with smiles on our ungodly faces.

dumb, stupid, scary. pick any two (pic by Addy Pope)


First up well done to James for picking this event up when it needed someone to, there aren’t many occasions when bike racing is fun while you are doing it, sure afterwards as we dwell on our awesomness we realize maybe we do enjoy it but while we actually race it never usually feels that awesome. Cyclocross perhaps lends itself to the weird, for it is indeed a sport that lacks a lot of sense, a sport designed to punish and brutalise both rider and equipment, throw a bit of self humiliation into the mix and it almost makes more sense.

"When you're dead, you're dead. Thats it."
Marlene Dietrich

So on what was possibly the mildest Halloween evening on record over a hundred mostly suitably dressed and like-minded souls prepared to go into battle with the demons of the night? And battle we did, mass starts like this are a bit hair raising anyway, add into the mix unsuitable attire and darkness and the spicy cocktail is complete. We pedaled and cranked our way around the start loop, to start the race proper (did anyone else hit that hidden rock right on the race line before the swinging sponge section?) The pace as you would expect was frantic and the short but sweet lap made for some super fast racing, no let up at all with only a couple of muddy sections to give you any bother.

loved this section. (pic by Addy Pope)


By lap two I was feeling ok and riding in the mask wasn’t as bad as I had thought it was going to be but then I went to hop over the log, front wheel up, mask slipped over eyes, kerashhhh. I went down like a gravediggers sack when he hears a Bobbies whistle. In the few seconds between flying and hitting the deck it occurred to me I hadn’t crashed for quite some time, in fact this was the hardest I had hit the deck in ages but bounce I did. You can’t beat that adrenaline rush that you get from a crash. Elbow, hip and knee felt a bit sore but everything was working so back on the saddle I got and tried to compose myself as best as possible.

The laps seemed to keep coming until eventually there was a bell, nobody really wants to hear about my race that much so I wont bore you, big shouts to all who entered into the spirit of things, too may to mention but all winners in my opinion. And on that subject, anyone turning up to a Halloween CX race and rocking out in their team skinsuit, I’m sorry that’s a mighty fail and you have missed the point. There are plenty of opportunities throughout the year to keep it tight and ‘pro’ Hallocross is not one of those. If you cannot love the absurdity or the overwhelming positivity that this event encouraged then stay at home. We all need fun and Hallocross delivered. Until next year. . .

thankfully he put the mask back on shortly after this pic was taken (Jimmy Mac by Addy Pope)

how we did:

seniors
7th Ian Dunlop
14th Andy Wardman
20th Simon Fairfull
women
2nd Maddy Robinson
Vet40
10th Chris Marquis
15th Martin Steele
Vet50
2nd Colin Shearer
4th Chris Duncan


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Scottish XC series roundup (aka what we do between CX seasons)

With cyclocross season now well and truly arrived (see Steven Halsall's write up from an excellent 3 Peaks CX, which always neatly precedes the Scottish CX season), this is as good a time as any to reflect on the summertime exploits of Scottish Cross Country.

After a fun first round at Forfar back in March, the season has continued in a similar way - great courses, top notch organisation and a really good bunch of friendly riders. Round 2 moved on to Cathkin Braes, and the final test race there ahead of the Commonwealth Games. After the March sunshine of Forfar, Glasgow treated us to the stereotypical horizontal rain. The course here is one that has never really quite suited me - it nevers seems to flow for me quite as well as I would like. A few young whipper snappers in the Sport field set a high pace at the start, and I probably stretched myself a bit keeping up with them. A lingering stomach bug earlier in the week also put in a re-appearance, probably not helped by being soaked through and shivering for 20 minutes in the car post-race. I was therefore delighted to grind out a 3rd place and some solid points. It says a lot about the organisers that they (and particuarly Morven Brown on the mic) managed to still create a good atmosphere in the race village.


Young support team at Abriachan
Round 3 marked a return to Abriachan above Loch Ness. Some tweaks to the course layout since 2013 worked well, and with the weather being drier, the course was faster and more enjoyable too. I had initially intended to skip this round, but after good showings in rounds 1 and 2, was tempted back up the road (justifying the long trip by an overnight in Aviemore with wife and son, and some quality time with them on the Monday). Ben Wyvis Cycle Club put on a great singletrack course again - some rooty climbs and descents, mixed up with just enough firetrack to allow overtaking if necessary. I felt pretty good coming into the race, and was slightly disappointed by the small field - after setting a steady tempo with another rider up the first climb, I dispatched him into the second, and rode on my own for the rest of the race. It would have been good to test my legs in a close battle, but as it was, I was sprinting out of corners, racing myself for the fun of it.

Round 5 became Round 4 (the June Champs round at Gleniffer Braes being cancelled due to organisational issues with the local authority). After a huge break from racing and a 2 and a half week lay off during my summer holiday (enforced by breaking my road bike shortly before I set off to France), I wasn't feeling particularly sharp heading up to Lochore Meadows. The wet and windy battering that certain teammates were getting at the Stirling Crits was softened slightly at Lochore (at least the trees gave some shelter), and the organisers had managed a nice little event village. The local club put on a good new course, making use of some purpose built trails, and also some more natural stuff through the woods and fields. The latter was a bit of a grassy slog for low power, low(ish) weight riders like me, but the course was enjoyable on the whole. I spent a good 3.5 laps of the race locked in a battle with Michael Blossard of Nevis Cycles (impressively racing on a new 29er he had only picked up that weekend). The lack of summer riding told on the last half lap though, and when the pace was inevitably lifted for the finish, I dropped off to roll home on my own in a solid second - good enough to wrap up the Sport category series win with a round to go.


The final round marked a return (after an absence of a good number of years) to Dalbeattie. This round would double as the Champs (after that June cancellation) and was run in glorious sunshine. Local club Stewartry Wheelers put on a cracking course with some relatively technical singletrack climbs and descents, and a fast trail centre finish. If being pernickety, it was slightly longer than ideal, with a reasonable amount of firetrack, but it was a blast to race on. This was no doubt helped by being pushed closely by Stuart Dun on his singlespeed (I felt cruel dropping him on a fast fireroad section on the second lap) who kept the race interesting. I mixed it up with a few Vet and Masters riders on the run in too, and came home in a delighted first place again.




Overall, this season has been brilliant - 5 courses that I suspect most riders at English and British rounds would kill for, and great organisation by a small team. The only niggle is the relatively low numbers at some rounds - it is clearly difficult to attract riders who are lured to road racing or enduro too. The price seems fairer now though (still not cheap, but price rises in other events has meant that SXC rounds are now more in line) and the format will no doubt lure me back again next year (the two day commitment required for enduro is too much for many riders with families like myself). As well as plugging the series, this is a handy opportunity to namecheck my supportive family and friends who have variously allowed me to race, heckled, cheered, rung cowbells, and given me a lift to race when I didn't have a car. Top marks to Endura too for this year's kit - it does feel rather special!

At the start of 2014, one of my silly aims had been to amass enough points to move out of the Sport category (which is open to anyone of any age) and into "Expert". British Cycling runs a system where the top 15 sport riders in the country at the end of the year move up to Expert, and this is inevitably dominated by southern riders with access to a plethora of races, including the "British" (read English and Welsh) National Series. The cancellation of Round 4 in Scotland meant that I was always going to struggle to get enough points, and so I decided against a long haul South to a British round to go point hunting. In hindsight, a mid pack result at one British round might have been enough to tip me into the top 15, but in the end, I am actually looking forward to the alternative challenge of racing in Masters (30+) next year instead. The racing there has been close and hard fought this year, and I'm sure I'll get a better race in Masters in 2015 that I would slogging around on my own in Expert.

A few VCM riders have promised and failed to materialise on the SXC start line this year (Greig Walker being the exception, with some great podiums in the fast Vets category), so I'll be haranguing a few of you to put in an appearance next year. It really is a great series now, with a lot of similarities to Scottish Cyclocross in terms of friendliness and great courses. I'll see you on a start line in 2015.