SQ #2: Irvine Beach (redux)

Superquaich round 2, and the forecast is promising 1C, 30mph winds and snow. And it didn’t lie!

A new course this time, which will be used for the National Trophy CX series in the autumn. After watching the pro cx racers at Valkenburg I was rather hoping for a more-technical-than-average course, and I wasn’t disappointed. Proper short/sharp climbs, fast steep descents, offcamber switchbacks, sandpits, muddy steep offcambers, runups, the lot! A proper challenge, especially over the 1h race duration.

Still, come race o’clock, the weather had other plans. A blizzard flew in just as I was heading to the line, horizontal snow/sleet/ice, hard to even keep your eyes open. I overheard someone say there was a delay, and so checked with the timing dudes and sure enough, race start delayed due to bad weather – first time that’s happened.

So rush back to the car and watch the storm until it blows over. Still, it’s a tough call of how much gear to wear. When the snow stops, it’s a cold but sunny day. It’s tempting to go for normal race gear, but if another blizzard hits it’ll be carnage. In the end I decide to plan for the worst and change into long leggings, and wear a hat and a buff/scarf and full winter gloves. I definitely felt overdressed at the start line – other people were in short-legged skin suits. But come the final lap, I was soo glad of my choices!

I started somewhere near the middle of the pack, and made a few good moves on the first few corners to end up around 30th in the first part of the lap. I had preridden the course, and sussed out lines which let me ride some of the steep sections others were running. But, this being an “A” race, 30th is beyond what I can reasonably hope for. And so the story of the day was gradually slipping back down the field to my eventual 49th place (56th percentile). But that’s fine, it means I definitely wasn’t compromised by starting too far back. If anything, I probably overcooked the first lap in my keenness to be ahead of the tangles, and suffered a bit with a sore back later in the race.

I started to struggle round the long offcamber on lap 2, which let a train of 4 riders past (including the Two Wheel Army). I tried to up my pace to hang on to them, but just didn’t have the legs, and could see them pulling away for the rest of the lap. My strongest point was probably the climb near the start of the lap, which I rode every lap. Each time I got passed by a rider, I’d see where they were making time on me, all useful information. Mid-race I got lapped by Davie Lines (eventual winner) on the flat grass and it was phenomenal to see how fast he goes on the flat!

Coming toward the final lap, the weather was shifting again and then suddenly we were back in another full-on snow storm. Now I was super glad of my earlier choices, able to pull my scarf over my face, and my sunglasses protecting me from the ice. The glasses fogged up as the temperature dropped, so I could only really see the course tape and little else – but on the last lap of a race you don’t really need to see much more than that! I used the Force to navigate round the rest of the lap, pretty exhausted, before making it across the line in 49th. It was like a warzone, with lightly dressed cyclists scattering for cover.

So, takeaways? I found the muddy offcambers hard once they started getting chopped up; don’t think I’ve sussed the best technique out for that. I lost a lot of time in that section over the race, crashing one lap, having an uncontrolled downhill slide on another. My tyres seemed to clog badly in that kind of mud, and despite running lower pressures than ever (28/30psi) I had to run/slide much of the section. It felt like a course that rewarded good technique, but with the weather, there was limited opportunity to preride the course and so I didn’t get everything nailed. Also, there was a lot of flat power sections which I’m always behind-the-curve on.

Still, 49th out of 87 (56%) is actually my best result in a Superquaich A field (vs. 65% at Ayr). So even though I spent most of the race going backwards, it’s actually a step forward.

Bikewise, I’ve finally decided to switch out the rear derailleur. Through various falls, I’ve taken chunks out of the metal body near to the hinges – and since that’s where my previous derailleur failed I don’t want to take chances. Also, the jockey wheel are worn down to points, and there’s abrasion on the inside where I can only assume it’s somehow been rubbed against spokes. Cyclocross is brutal on bikes! Also, I’ve got fed up with eggbeater pedals – partly because they’re not as clog-free as originally seemed, the cleats wear fast, the pedals themselves are hammered after a couple of seasons, and the igus bushings are a nightmare to remove even with the refurb kit. So, I’m flipping back to Shimano SPDs – as used by most european pro cx riders.

Next week is the final race of the season, bringing this run of 4 races in 4 weeks to a close. It’s back at Rouken Glen, where last year I was mere “B race” material and got 9th. This year, it’ll be more “A race” action. Rouken Glen is more about the ups/downs and woodland and less about flat power, so I’m looking forward to it – and currently the forecast is a balmy 8C and dry!

SCX #5: Strathclyde Park

For some reason, Strathclyde Park race was delayed from last November and landed on February 4th instead. It’s a good course, so I was glad it was back and also looking forward to a 40 minute blast in the vet40 category than the 60 minute Superquaich races!

It had started off a chilly day but once the sun came out it warmed up. In the car park, I had set up my “warmer weather” clothes but then went for a test ride along the road and found that although the sun was warm, the air was still very cold and so I hurried back to the car to move my race number across to my warmer top! The earlier races were all running behind schedule, and the previous race was just finishing so thankfully I had time to remedy this mistake.

However, by the time I got to the start line everyone else was already there. D’oh, dumb way to make your race harder! I lined up 80% down the field, and we all had a merry wait in the sun as the organizers tried to figure out where the last few vet50 racers had got to. Then suddenly the whistle goes (you can never hear the 30s warning from the back) and we’re off.

The first lap winds down through a field before joining the main course mid-lap. I made up a load of places, surging forward into gaps as they appeared. But I’d forgot to scout out the lines, and so as the course veered left, I got stuck out on the right side of the bunch miles from the tape and almost had to turn 90 degrees to get back. But still I had plenty of momentum, and the bunch parted just ahead letting me straight-line it down the hill through lots of icy puddles onto the hardpack. Here it’s narrower, but every was in processional mode and I was able to sneak another place riding right at the edge. Then it was onto the (infamous?) red gravel climb, a punishing grind uphill. Someone fell/stumbled and nearly collected the rider on front of me – I had to briefly track-stand and rebalance before scooting around them. Towards the top of the hill were mud sections, rideable on the first few laps but getting gradually harder as the race went on.

Round the corner, and it’s time to fly downhill again toward the bridge. I’d watched the women’s race and saw the large rut which had been cut by running water sucking people offline. I passed one more rider, but at the cost of nearly getting sucked into the rut. At the bridge run-up, I stuck close to the wall (it was good enough for Kerry MacPhee in the earlier race, I figured it was good enough for me).

Then lots of woodland singletrack. Now that I’m on tubeless, I’m gradually dropping the tyre pressures and was running 29/31. This meant I had plenty of grip, unlike last year when I struggled to hold my line through the woods. Towards the end of the lap there’s more sustained climbs, more opportunities for progress, before the final downhill muddy chute which was great/chaotic fun every lap.

After the line, the lap went through a muddy field. Given my experiences in the mud at Rozelle Park, I decided tactically to run most of the mud section and also ride through as many of the puddles to clear the bike. This paid off bigtime – 25% of the field DNF’d – and whilst I had trouble with my lower gears (stone stuck in cassette) there wasn’t the appaling level of mud build up that I’d had in Ayr.

So, after starting in perhaps 80th place, I was up to 30th place by lap two, and by the end I was in 23rd place (out of 98 starters). Which, by far, is my best result in a top flight race.

Very pleased with the result, possibly the pinnacle of my cx career! Not sure that there’s anything I’d change about my approach, apart from getting to the start line earlier. I made full use of the course layout, pushing hard on hill knowing there was a ‘rest’ opportunity afterwards. I probably should’ve started running the red hill mud sections after lap 2 rather than trying to run them. But the decision to run the whole back field was a solid plan.

SQ#1: Rozelle Park, Ayr

As forecast, SuperQuaich #1 was a mudfest. A proper mudfest. Maybe 20% of the course was faster to run than ride. Should’ve done less cycle training and more running training. Even with my Cunning Plan of being careful to avoid mud-build up and even taking time out to clear mud from the frame, by the last couple of laps I think my bike weighed double it’s normal clean weight. Which, when you’re carrying it for 20% of the lap, is a pretty substantial addition. Each time I came past the pits and saw someone emerging with a clean bike, I was rather jealous! I dropped my chain mid-race after the rider on front of me baled out on the camber entering the first field which lost some time (would’ve been more time, were it not for a kind spectator who pointed out why my chain-re-attaching efforts weren’t working).

No close battles this time, the tough conditions meant people were either going forward or backwards – although I noticed Brian McCutcheon once again me passing mid-race with his winning formula (he starts slower but stays consistent, whereas I start fast and then slow). But the course had plenty to keep the mind occupied. Amongst the muddy fields were some rideable uphills, some non-rideable uphills and fun offcambers. I enjoyed the couple of fast woodland excursions, and the short/sharp ups.

My lap times were around 10 minutes, which made the mental maths easy for a 1h race. Mid-race, I was lapped by Dave Duggan, Davie Lines etc, and so when I saw “2 laps to go” I thought there was a decent chance I might be caught by the leaders again before the end. And shortly after the hairpin near the end of the lap, I caught sight of Mr Duggan coming the other way. “Phew” I thought, he’ll pass me and this’ll be my last lap. However, as I got to the finishing straight, I looked behind and saw that he was still a decent way behind and consequently I was going to be one of the final people “lucky” enough to do an extra lap. Karma.

The group just ahead of me were pulling away, and there was noone now behind me, so it was a case of surviving the last lap with my mud-laden 20kg bike. I chased down a couple of riders, but turned out I was lapping them so didn’t gain any place. In the end, my final lap was a 16 minute epic (vs 10 minute first lap) so total race time was something like 1h16m – quite a shock to the system after the 40 minute SCX vet40 rounds!

In the end, I finished 58th out of 89 starters, 65th percentile. Almost exactly where I finished last year. On paper, that look lower than my other season results. But the “A race” has the fastest 100 people from across all age categories, so today I was racing against the best senior/vet40/vet50/females all together.

In races like this, it must be night-and-day between those who have one bike for the whole race vs those with two bikes and/or pit helpers. It was incredible how much mud + grass was stuck to my bike, how much weight and drag it added, and remarkable that it continued to function until the end of the race. Although, given the time it took to clean one bike afterwards, on balance perhaps it’s just as well I don’t have two!

Next weekend is the (delayed) SCX Strathclyde Country Park round. I like the course there, big hard climb then swoopy woodland section. After today’s race, it’d be nice if we didn’t have another mud-fest field to contend with, but given the recent weather that’s probably a bit of forlorn hope.

Plan for the week is a day of rest, a couple of Trainer Road sessions, and some Arthurs Seat loops to simulate the Big Red Climb of the next race. Last year’s Strathy Park was torrential rain, surely the weather can’t be any worse than that?!

CX, part deux

It’s SuperQuaich time, starting at Rozelle Park in Ayr tomorrow. The number crunchers at Quaich HQ have decreed that I’m ‘A race’ material again, which means I’m with all the Proper Fast people. Like last year it’s going to be a wet + muddy course rather than a Bo’ness style powerfest. Last year I managed 64th percentile (52nd out of 81), suffering somewhat from a mud-clogged bike.

Prep hasn’t exactly been ideal; various winter bugs (as ever) plus a firewood-carrying injury which I think has just cleared in time to be fit to race. But Rozelle Park marks the first of potentially 4 consecutive weekends of cx racing so I’m keen to get back into the swing. Last time, the mud clogging the frame was a problem on the last couple of laps. It was exacerbated by an area of wood-chip at the top of one of the run-ups, which mixed with mud to form a crunchy abrasive paste. My plan this year (if the course remains the same) would be to do more bike carrying early in the race to try and preserve the bike for later on.

Stats-wise, so far I did 4 rounds of the SCX championship plus the race at Plean:
* SCX1: Cally Park: 42nd out of 131, 32%. (mudfest)
* SCX2: Irvine Beach: 87th out of 123, 71% (injured, couldn’t walk for days after!)
* SCX3: Dunfermline: 49th out of 132, 37% (rode last lap with rear puncture…)
* SCX5: Lochore Meadows: 55th out of 119, 46% (power course)
* Plean: 17th/55 racers, 31%. (lots of hills!)

So on average, around 46th percentile for series races, a moderate improvement on last year’s 50th percentile finishes.

SCX #4: Lochore Meadows

Say the words ‘Lochore Meadows’ and I hear ‘mud and broken bikes’. It’s not been the kindest course to me, snapping my derailleur in 2014 and then grinding through the mud in 2015 to a 73rd percentile finish.

But this year is going to be different. Cold weather makes for a crunchy start to the day, with the course holding up pretty well during the early races and only modest amounts of mud. I’ve also managed to up my power levels a bit, so hopeful that I’ll do better on the flat/power terrain. A few warmup laps reveal addition to the course: a staircase. I like! With my long legs, hurdles and stairs and climbs are all features where I make up places.

The vet40’s are a canny bunch, and even when I try to get to the starting grid early there’s already a huge crowd there already. So I shuffle in somewhere midpack and hold my ground as everything shuffles around. The whistle goes, and I give it all down the left side to gain position before the first bottleneck, dodging a crash on the way. It’s all stop and go through rest of lap 1, and things only settle down when we get to the spiral for the first time.

The “spiral of doom” is the big feature at Lochore Meadows. With good conditions underfoot this year, I really enjoyed it. The outer part is fast, with two possible lines – inside is shorter but muddier, outside is longer but grassier. I tended to stick with the inside line, since I wasn’t worried about grip but with hindsight I paid the price with lots of mud buildup in the last laps. Towards the middle, the spiral tightens and so transitions into a more technical grip limited surface. Then a flipflop turn to head back out again and the long drag round the grass to the start line.

I quickly settled down chasing rider #14. He’d pass and drop me going into the spiral and I’d be at threshold just to stay vaguely in touch around the spiral. But then I’d pass him on the infield course, often by running rather than riding. And so we passed and repassed each other lap after lap. At one point I thought I’d dropped him, but then he flew past again. A couple of other riders came past, but they too ended up in this elastic group switching positions.

It was only in the last lap that they got away from me. I felt I was still giving out the same power, but I just wasn’t as fast. My bike was getting very clogged up with mud. A few riders flew passed me at speed (did they have clean pit bikes?) as I dropped a few places. I tried to hang on, even tried to catch one on the last half lap, but it wasn’t to be.

In the end, I finished 56th (47%) – having been up to 44th on lap 3. Thanks to chasing #14 throughout, I know that I pushed as hard as possible. I also did as many ‘smarts’ as possible – running rather than riding, surging to take a position before the track narrowed to singletrack. Maybe if I had a pit bike I could’ve sustained my 44th place (after the race, I tried to spin my wheel and it would barely do a single rotation). But two bikes is a level of seriousness beyond what I’m going to do!

Still, although not in the points, I finished in the top half, and on the lead lap again unlapped. My fastest lap time was +14% on the winners fastest. It’s not so long ago that I was being lapped twice, and having lap times 50% slower than the winners!

Next weekend’s race is Plean. Back in October 2011, I did my first ever cyclocross race at Plean (back then, my lap times were twice as long as the winner!). The weather this week has been constant rain, and the forecast is for dry and cold. From 2011, I remember mud. Muddy downhills. Muddy uphills. Muddy flat sections. But it was fun!

SCX #3: Dunfermline, inflated tyres are overrated

It was a rather odd two weeks between rounds two and three. After the Irvine race, I literally could not walk for days and it was only through a lot of careful stretching and gentle exercise that I got back to a place where doing round 3 wasn’t insane. Happily, all went well in that regard and I managed the race at Dunfermline without any injury worries.

Dunfermline last year was a mudbath. This year, despite the sunny start to the day and short-sleeves weather, conditions underfoot were true to tradition meaning plenty of running, sideways drifting and horrible grindy noises from the chain.

I’ve switched to tubeless this year, which went well in the mud at round 1. For round 2, I switched back to faster tube’d tyres and when it came time to remount my tubeless mud tyres it was a really hassle getting them to seal. I didn’t understand it at the time, but subsequently I found that the rim tape was coming away near one of the offset spoke holes – ie. nothing to do with the bead at all. This was to play a part in my race day sadly!

Despite being at the course early, I elected to skip any sighting laps to keep my drivetrain clear of mud. This also meant I got to the grid nice and early and was something like 35th our of the 132 starters heading into the first few corners. The chaos corner was a 180 degree muddy offcamber. From watching the women’s race earlier, it was clear that the fastest way round was to dismount, flip the bike 180 degree, run the initial mud and then remount to ride the offcamber. Then you spilled out onto a short concrete section which was a nasty trap for the unwary – slick with mud and with a metal manhole cover just offline. The following field had a few tweaks since last year; instead of immediately going over barriers, the course followed some hardpack before switching back for the barrier – this has a good flow to it. Then off up to tree corner before grinding up the gradient back onto tarmac. Midsection through trees was a mixed bag – it felt like it ought to flow, but the grip was just a bit too sketchy. I lost my frontwheel on a tarmac transition midrace, managing to hop off before it hit the deck. The third quarter of the lap is zigzags through muddy fields which thankfully had Just Enough grip left to avoid the momentum sapping from last year. But the last part of the lap back to the start line was unrideable mud. Even the seniors were running it. Fortunately, despite never practising running, my long legs help me out and generally I recover ground whenever it turns into a running race.

The race was pretty steady, with me gradually losing a few places each lap. This is a good sign – it means I started at about the right place on the grid! I was in 38th/40th/41st over the line on laps 2-4, looking good for another top-third point finish. But just after that start of lap 5, with 2 to go, my rear wheel punctured. On any other course, this would’ve been a disaster. However, Dunfermline is so obligingly muddy and soft that I really wasn’t too much slower on the muddy sections. Thankfully the tyre stayed mostly attached to the wheel, so whilst I didn’t have any suspension I still had grip. I wasn’t relishing the idea of doing 2 laps in that state though. Thankfully the leaders were my salvation as they caught me just at the tail end of the lap. I lost four places during the lap, then another four in a group right at the end, to end up in 49th position. Miraculously still in the points!

It was a fun day, and I stuck around afterwards to watch the seniors with plenty of action and spills! Pretty happy with the race too, given the state I was in just a week prior. To finish in the points again despite 20% of my race being on a flat tyre was nice.

After a lot of futzing, I’ve found that the initial wrap of Stan’s rim tape wasn’t sticking down properly. My rims have offset spoke holes which make things fiddly. Need to try again with two layers and do a lot of brutal test rides before Round 4 at Lochore Meadows.

SCX #2: Irvine Beach (a mare of a race)

Another race weekend! This time, a big drive through to Irvine for a warm sea-side race.

Unfortunately for me, this turned into a nightmare race. As is traditional, I did ‘just one more warmup lap’ and found that the previously empty start line had filled up with a hundred eager racers. Ah well, been here before. Plenty of chances to power-surge on lap one and make up position.

The starting whistle goes, and we funnel round the first few turns before I get a chance to accelerate hard down the side of the straight and sweep past the crowds. Swinging into the hill climb, I followed someone up the right side of the track, but they have a ‘moment’ and stop and I had to unclip. Still, around the high parts of the course I continue my progress and by the time we’re up to the runup I’m feeling pretty good about my progress.

Remounting after the runup, someone shouts that I’ve got course tape wrapped around my rear wheel. I stop immediately – it can only get worse – and step to the side to clear the racing line. My initial tugs removed some of the tape, but the rest was trapped under the chain so, as all the pack whizzed by, I had to flip up some gears before I could get the rest out and rejoin towards the tail of the field.

So, nightmare start, doubleplus nightmare to lose all the places gained with tape-gate, but my bike was still intact and plenty of time to make amends. Next couple of laps flew by as I retook places. I was strong up the climbs and runups, and carried confidence on the off-cambers to pass people high and low.

But, on the day before, I’d pulled a muscle in my hip picking up cheribum #2 and although it wasn’t affecting my pedalling too much, it was taking a hammering every time I jump on or off the bike or ran the last part of the sand. On the lap 4, it went from ‘sore’ to ‘excruciating agony’ and after struggling through the end-of-lap sand I was close to giving up and DNFing. But, since I could still (mostly) ride I figured I’d push on, see what I could make up on the momentum sections and see if I could minimize losses on the bits that required working anatomy. But the lap times tell the story – lap 2 was a decent 6m59s which crashed to 9m24. It was agony physically on the runup and sand, and although I was still passing people on the other bits of the lap all the good work was undone when I needed to get on/off the bike.

Towards the end of the race, someone passed me with course tape wrapped around their rear wheel, so I returned the earlier karma by shouting to tell them. They glanced at it, but kept going across the offcamber. As they dropped down off the hill there was a horrible crunch as, I assume, the tape wedged their rear mech and did nasty things to their bike. At least I wasn’t alone in having a nightmare race, and I was glad I’d taken the time to calmly clear the tape from my own bike.

Final result was 86th out of 123 starters, 70th percentile. I was expecting much worse given the calamity! The highest position I had at the end of a lap was 67th (54th percentile). I lost 40 seconds dealing with the tape, and maybe 3 minutes following injury as I struggled up the hills and kept off line the rest of the lap to not impede others. In the ‘fantasy league’ where I get to magically deduct those mishaps, I’d have finished in 50th place (40th percentile) which would’ve been spot on my expectation, given that Irvine is more of a power race than last time out at Cally Par. But, back in the real world, a bit of a painful day – I even had to ask a kindly fellow racer to help me lift my bike onto the car!

Thankfully, two weeks of rest before SCX #3 at Dunfermline.

SCX R1: Callendar Park (*does a little dance*)

Cross is here! Today was the first round of the Scottish Cyclocross Series at Callendar Park in Falkirk. Historically, Cally Park has been a dry fast start of the season, full of swoopy hills and long flat fast sections. But at the calendar turned to October, someone flipped the switch and we got the forecasted heavy rain and 40mph gusts. Mud tyres for round 1!

Training: My prep this year was slightly improved. A decent set of longer rides, regular 16 mile Cramond commutes, a blast up Glentress and some steep hill technique backed with a good few Trainer Road sessions on the turbo. The turbo sessions are great for learning to ride at your threshold. Additionally, they’ve taught me the importance of breathing effectively when at my limit, something I never thought about before. I’m really glad I got the turbo – I wasn’t sure how much I’d use it, but it’s turned out to be really practical. Last year, training was interrupted with work travel and then a post-flight virus – thankfully no such troubles this year.

Tech/Hubs: After several years of hard service, the bearing races in my rear wheel were getting damaged and were still sad even after cleaning and new bearings. I don’t understand why Shimano persist with cup+cone wheel bearings. If the bearing race gets damaged, you have to replace the hub, which means a wheel rebuild – assuming, that is, that Shimano still sell a suitable hub (which they don’t, 28h CL). Every other rotating mechanism in the known universe uses cartridge bearing which are cheaap and easily replaceable. Unfortunately, relatively few hubs on the market use cartridge bearings, and so I ended up wheels built around the Hope RS4 hub.

Tech/Wheels: Cyclocross is often grip-limited, and lower pressure tyres give you more grip. But low-pressure tyres can pinch-flat inner tubes. So it’s a precarious balance between awesome grip and game-over puncture. Pro racers use glued-on tubulars, but that’s too pricey for me. Sitting in the middle is tubeless, so I made sure the new wheels had tubeless ready rims. When they arrived, I ran them with inner tube for a week, intending to stick on my tubless mud tyres after SCX round 1 and 2 which I expected to be dry. But once I saw the biblical forecase for this weekend, I leap into action with my track pump and sealant and got the mud tubeless tyres on (Clement BOS). A bit of solid trail hammering at the end of the week convinced me that they were robust enough to risk racing on them. And so today was my first outing with a tubeless setup. I ran 30psi today, lower than the 32psi I’ve risked with tubes last year. Grip was awesome, loved them, very pleased.

Tech/Bottom Bracket: In the week before the race, my bike developed a noticable creaking. I hate going into a race with any kind of unresolved mechanical issue, so soon I was removing/cleaning/greasing anything which might cause creaking – pedal pivots, pedal bolts, skewers, seat post, cranks and bottom bracket. Except I couldn’t do the bottom bracket because I’d lost the plastic adaptor which came with the Hollowtech BB. I went to Evans Cycles to see if they had a tool which fitted directly, and the lovely people in the workshop supplied me with the adaptor I’d lost – great customer service! Soon the bottom bracket was off, meticulously cleaned, reassembled with copaslip, and torqued up. Thankfully, the creak was gone!

Race day: I got to the start grid nice and early, claimed my place nearish the front. But the commissaires wanted everyone to shuffle back to make space for gridding. So back we shuffled, but I shuffled too far and ended up closer to the back of the field, arg! After a wet and windy wait (glad I brought my rain jacket, even though I had to just chuck it in the trees) the whistle went and we were racing. I made a bit of progress down the straight, not taking any risks but surging through any gaps I saw. Then suddenly people ahead were shouting warnings, and everything slowed down as we passed a crashed rider. I just saw a bike on the road, presumably rider had a hard hit on the tarmac. The packed picked up speed again, and I continued picking up places keeping a high cadence and carrying momentum where I could. The corner hill has been bypassed this year, replaced with some woodland zigzags which were a lap 1 choke point. As we accelerated out of the wood, someone crashed (or had a mechanical) a bit ahead of me. The rider dragged to the side, picked up their bike and threw it with digust ONTO THE RACING LINE. Arg!! What were they thinking?! The rider ahead of me crashed into the thrown bike, I had to do a full body swerve and only just made it round them without being collected. A rider to my left slid out and hit the deck. All of this on a flat, straight bit of the course – totally ridiculous behavior.

Thankfully that was the end of the mayhem. After starting near the back, I knew I’d be spending the race passing people so I got down to work. I do steep climbs well, particularly today with masses of mud and my grippy tyres. And for the first time ever, I didn’t treat the flat sections as mini-rests – thanks to Trainer Road I’m used to doing over/under intervals and pushing into the red knowing I can recover on the following section. After the race, one of the riders I was battling with complimented me on my speed on the flats – the first time that’s ever happened! The Cally Park course is well designed, and the new zigzag section actually helped a lot by giving you a rest between the flat sections and the first hills.

Course highlights for me were the offcambers. The first one, steep and tight, was rideable during warmup if you straightlined it but during the race I only rode parts of it as the course got chopped up. The swoopy downhill off camber was exciting every lap – foot out, right on the limit, and I had to avoid riders who slipped out on front of me at least four times. I loved the steep climb before the zigzags. I remember reading a post by David Lines who had said the whole point of the zigzags was to let you recover (people had been running them the first year). So every lap I’d max it up the steep hill, knowing that I’d recover on the zigzags. Enjoying a steep hill is a great way to out-psyche your opponents too!

I spent the whole race catching and passing people, knowing that every rider was a target. If you start near the front, you can hang onto other people’s wheels. But starting near the back, you have to assume that everyone on front of your is slower and to settle into their cadence basically spells the end of your progress. Catch, pass, repeat. Ride your own pace, except when you choose to push it to get past a rider before you get blocked on a technical section.

Last couple of laps were an awesome struggle. There was a red/blue rider following me for a while and a queue at the narrow offcamber brought him right behind me. Just after remounting, I tried to power away too quickly and my rear wheel stepped out, losing momentum and he got past me. Arg! Fortunately for me, as often happens when follower become leader, he carried too much speed into the downhill offcamber and slipped out. After a bit of a skpping, I managed to avoid him and retake the place. I absolutely caned it up the following steep climb to consolidate, took the zigzags at 80% avoiding more crashing riders, and caned it along the muddy flats toward the finish. As I came round the hairpin before the finish line I could see there was no way to catch the next rider, and a solid gap behind me, consequently no need to sprint. So I enjoyed a leisurely roll down the last straight to take the flag.

In previous years, I’ve mostly thought in terms of percentiles – progressing from 80th to 70th to 60th to 50th percentile over the several years I’ve been racing CX. But since I was starting to get closer to the points-paying positions (points down to 50th place) I decided my goal for this year was to aim for points finishes. Therefore, I was very pleased to find out that (despite my rearward starting position) I had made it up to 42nd place by the end. It’s also the first SCX race where I finished on the lead lap, another milestone. My lap times were rock solid – steady within a few seconds of each other. And after I’d rolled over the finish, I wasn’t completely toast was stuck around to watch the Senior race with Richard (+ a welcome coffee!). It was mental, with the course getting muddier and muddier, and a full on elbows-out battle between some of the top rider.

Next weekend is Irvine Beach, perhaps with gale force winds?

2016/7 season stats

This year, I had decided to get a bit more serious about training for the cx season. So, it’s the first year that I’ve done any kind of structured training – using a turbo trainer and doing power based intervals. I didn’t do anything fancy in terms of base buildup and peaking for races, but having the turbo trainer allowed me to fit in training time where otherwise it would’ve been impossible to get out on the bike. Did it make a difference? Let’s see ..

I had hoped to do six rounds of SCX, and four rounds of SQ. In the end, I had to miss Knockburn Loch through illness, and Lochore through family illness and I didn’t succeed in the Bo’ness lottery. But I still managed 4 SCX rounds and 3 SQ rounds. This year I moved into the vet40 category in SCX so it’s hard to compare my results with last year, except at Dunfermline where I entered the senior race when the vet40 filled up quickly.

Results:

  • Round 1: Cally park: 63th/146 = 43%
  • Round 2: Strathclyde: 59th/146 = 47%
  • Round 3: Knockburn: DNS
  • Round 4: Dunfermline: 56th (58%) (senior race)
  • Round 5: Irvine: 58th/108 (54%)
  • Round 6: Lochore Meadows: DNS
  • SQ1: Rouken Glen, B race, 9th/104 (9%)
  • SQ2: Doonbank, A race: 52th/81 (64%)
  • SQ3: Foxlake, B race: 12th/114 (10%)

Back in 2014 I was finishing about 70% down the field in the seniors, and in 2015 it averaged out to mid 60’s. This year it has been around 50%. So looks like some progress was made.

The turbo training has helped with stamina to last the full race. It’s also taught me that I can go over the limit, and recover again without slowing down too much. It’s much easier to practise that when you have detailed feedback on power, so you know you’re hitting the same level of exertion.

I think for next year, I’ll aim to get a solid base with longer summer rides before using the turbo to really target the cx-style intervals. I also need to focus on technique all round. I gain a lot on technical downhills (from MTB’ing I guess) but if I could make similar gains on muddy corners, off-cambers or other course features it’d be all gain for no pain (ie. no more watts required!).

But for now, it’s time to chill out for a bit and think about all this free time I have now that I don’t need to wash mud off everything every weekend!

SQ#3: Foxlake

Foxlake, aka Thistly Cross CX, was my final cx race of the season. Having raced there a few years ago, I was looking forward to the technical nature of the course, and I wasn’t disappointed. It has steep ups, fast downhills, sketchy turns and plenty of twisty off-cambers. All in all, a great technical challenge and a standout course.

This time, I was in the B race and so hoping to match my 9th place in the B race at Rouken Glen. I got to the start line good and early. Everyone was being well behaved, waiting in a group back from the grid lines. But as new people wheeled their bikes in at the front, people started edging forward nervously before we all finally legged it for the grid. I started a couple of rows back, next to two riders who know are a tiny shade faster than me and hence are good people to try to stay with in the race. Plenty of start line banter about the world cx championships and green tyres, then suddenly we were off.

Normally, I try to avoid overcooking the first lap but on this course I knew there’d be several choke points after the initial fast flat section (at the muddy twists, then on the first downhill). So my game plan was to burn some matches off the start line to get clear of the masses and avoid holdups. This worked well, getting myself into 8th position by the time the course narrowed. I managed to stay in 8th for the first few laps too, despite a few holdups with people crashing on front of me.

Then by mid-race a familiar pattern set in. Paul-in-blue (as I think of him) caught up with me, and we switched places a few times. Brian McCutcheon also moved smoothly by me, as he often does mid race – I think he paces himself better during races than I do, and by the time he’s caught me there’s no way I can lift my pace to stay with him. I also was passed by a pair of superfast riders hammering through the field together – I guess they must’ve started further down the field because they passed me midrace but at a thundering pace!

As usual, I gained on people on the technical sections – banzai’ing downhills and swooping through the twisty woodland. I was out-tactic’d on the steep climbs though – I took them at 90% to avoid going into the red, but others would redline it past me on the climb then recover on the next descent or flat section where it was hard for me to repass. Lesson learned!

I was glad for having decent mud tyres. It wasn’t an excessively muddy day, but the end-of-lap zigzags got chewed up quickly and the tyres gave me confidence to throw the bike into the fast downhill turns. After running 32psi in previous rounds (limus clinchers), I went up to 34psi as a bit of insurance against the many stones and roots. There was plenty of punctures and mech failures around, so certainly not a day to be risking anything.

Towards the end of the race, I was making time back on Paul-in-blue on front of me – catching him through the last woodland section, then losing a bit of time behind a backmarker at the bombhole, then recatching on the road to the final ‘stadium section’. I was right behind him after the offcamber runup, but opted to try and ride the hairpin hill (which I’d managed the previous lap) whereas he ran it. So I was a little bit back as we did the final switchbacks, and although I tried to seek out a creative grippy line for a sprint it was all to no avail and so I rolled in to take 12th place. And then collapsed!

All in all, a great day of racing – close competition, a quality course with so many interesting bits, and decent weather too. I couldn’t ask for more for my final race of the season! Kudos to the organisers, marshalls, and all the racers and spectators!