The CX that was

That’s cyclocross season over for another year, only 8 months before it all kicks off again! Here’s my season summary.

Firstly, in the vet40 category for the SCX series I finished 42nd overall out of 227 riders who competed (final standings)
* 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…)
* SCX4: Strathclyde Park: 23rd out of 98, 23%. (best race result of all time!)
* SCX5: Lochore Meadows: 55th out of 119, 46% (power course)

I did one non-series race, lots of up/down which suits me:
* Plean: 17th/55 racers, 31%. (lots of hills!)

Then this year the Superquaich series consisted of three races with A/B format rather than age/gender categories. Last year, I was either at front of the B race or the back of the A race. This year was definite progress – put into the A race in all three rounds, and safely in midfield rolling over the line. Overall, I finished 40th out of 244 riders (final standings).
* SQ#1: Rozelle Park: 58th out of 89, 65%.
* SQ#2: Irvine Beach: 49th out of 87, 56%.
* SQ#3: RGCX: 54th out of 85, 64%.

I’m pretty pleased with all that. Cyclocross is a lot of fun, and the races and racers are a very friendly bunch. But at the same time there’s serious talent in the field – Davie Lines, Eileen Roe, Anne Ewing, Jane Barr, Kerry MacPhee are all Commonwealth Games riders, and Isla Short will be joining that list this year. So, for me to finish 42nd overall in SCX and 40th in Superquaich is no mean feat!

So now for a bit of chilling out …

SQ #3: RGCX @ Rouken Glen

Final race of the 2017/18 season was Rouken Glen this year and the Albannach delivered a great course for racing and great weather too!

Got to the start line early, and thought I had a decent spot but by the time the gridded riders got pulled forward, I was closer to the back than the front for the mad dash up the hill. I happened to end up next the guy I’d race with back at round 1 in Cally Park, across from Bryan Hutton who’d had a stonking race last time out and, as it turned out, the guy to my left would be the guy I’d be sprinting to the finish line against!

It was the usual can’t-hear-the-briefing followed by surprise start-hooter and then we were off flying up the narrow hardpack up the hill. No traumas this time, always wary of the big ditch just to the right of the track! Then left into the slippy slidy woodland section and everything got more chaotic with riders starting to fall off and get snagged up left right and center. As we exited the woods, a rider fell broadside two ahead of me, which always get lots of sympathy from other riders (read: none at all) and I had to half bunny hop to avoid him. Around the hairpin and I manage to quip something to Bryan about “surviving the chaos” before piling down the big dipper and up into the woodland singletrack.

The course had several short-but-steep climbs, which are one of my stronger points. I was also continuing my “decrease tyre pressures by 1PSI each race” and with 27/29PSI the tyres were sticking to the climbs well and the spectators were giving plenty of encouragement for riders willing to ride rather than run!

Rouken Glen is great for the fast downhill off camber stuff, so lots of foot-out tripod’ing with the bike under and oversteering all the way down. The run in to the switchbacks was particularly fast, with the offcamber sucking you down towards the left side. The first few laps were fine, but on lap three I had a high speed (~20mph) off as the front end let go and the bike and I parted company. I picked myself up, checked my arms were still attached and then looked at the bike. Hmm, rear wheel no longer attached. So I tried to get it back, but it doesn’t want to go. This is weird because I put the back wheel in and out every time I use the turbo so I’m unlikely to do it wrong. Then I spot that the chain is also off, but also realise I’m sitting on the race line. So I shuffle up the hill to continue my repair – getting the chain unstuck and back on, which finally lets the wheel back in. I figure it’s worth spending another few seconds double checking everything, since I don’t want to ride that same hill next lap with any doubts about the bike. Then I’m back on the bike to see how both me and the bike are fairing, and within a few corners it’s back to racing again. Unfortunately, I was stopped for nearly two minutes and all the folk I was racing against are long gone. Still, could easily have been worse, and there’s plenty of laps to catch back up.

Each rider has different strengths and weaknesses. I might gain places on the technical climbs, but I’ll often get re-passed by riders who have better raw power on flat sections. But this makes for fun racing, as people go back and forward throughout the lap. I made a repeated tactical mistake by not pushing into the red before the woodland singletrack; this meant I’d often get stuck behind riders unable to pass them – frustrating because I’m reasonably strong on sketchy terrain and also it’s a lot harder to pick lines when you’re unsighted.

In the last lap, I passed a Montevelo rider before the big dip but then got clogged up in the singletrack section and so emerged into the last few corners as a group of four. I came round the sweeping right hander at speed with another rider inches to my left, but since the final turn is a left-hander he had the better position. As we turned, I tried to duck underneath and sprint but ended up lightly tagging his wheel knocking him into a bit of a slide. He caught the slide, but since we were only a few meters from the line my sense of race etiquette kicked in and I followed him over the line (didn’t want to gain a place through a last-corner collision).

In the end, 54th out of 85 (64th percentile). On lap two I was 45th, then after crash I was down to 60th before ending up 54th. Two minutes further up (ie. without the crash) would’ve seen me squeezing into the top half around 42nd place. Pretty happy overall with the result and despite the crash I had a really fun day out and loved the course and its technical challenges.

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.

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 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?

SCX #4: Dunfermline

Last Sunday was round 4 of the Scottish Cyclocross series, a new course at Dunfermline. The forecast was looking okay, with rain forecast to move in after all the races had finished. Unfortunately, the forecast wasn’t very accurate and the rain arrived before my race started.

Cyclocross is become incredibly popular in Scotland. For the first time, entry to the vet40 race was closed early as they’d reached a maximum 160 riders. I’d been intending to leave it to the last minute in case I got a cold – normally a sane plan given that races cost about £16 to enter. But this time, it meant I lost out. Fortunately, the ‘senior’ race, which I’d been doing last year, turns out also to be the ‘open’ race. I think you have to be 18-39 to compete for points, but the race itself is open to anyone. And, with ‘only’ 100 entrants, I managed to secure a race place.

I’d set up my bike with mud tyres which was a sound plan, as even the short roll to the sign-on desk was a mud bath. I registered, and came outside to find my bike had a front flat. Pretty confusing, since there was nothing flat-inducing on the ride in. Back to the car for a quick repair, and I found a pin hole in the middle of the inner tube. I think I must’ve picked up a thorn on my test ride the night before, which then fell out in the mud. Regardless, always better to puncture prior to the race then during it.

I’m super-cautious about tyre pressure, since I hate DNF’ing due to punctures. At 74kg, and with clinchers, I usually ride between 35 and 40psi. This course had one steep ramp which hammered the bike, and a few kerbs, and so I went for 38psi. In hindsight, I should’ve tried lower on my sighting lap, but having already punctured, I was a bit rushed.

The start was wet + cold, with a lot of riders being gridded before everyone else shuffled in and waited for the race to kick off. The course was a mudbath by this stage, reminiscent of my first two cyclocross races at Plean/Mugdock in 2011.

I’d looked at my lap times in the vet40’s this year, and projected them onto the laptimes in the senior races, so I knew which riders were likely to be going at a similar pace to me. After the initial start chaos, I dropped in behind Mr Two Wheel Army, easy to spot with his green race gear. He gained about 10 places at the chicane by running round the gridlock, and then I got a large branch wedged in my front spokes after the barriers which dropped me back. I gradually caught up with his group over the next two laps, gaining on the technical stuff and losing out by trying to ride the deep mud on the start straight whilst he was running it.

After following for a lap or two, I got past somehow (I think maybe another riding/running split decision) and pulled a bit of a gap. After that, I was fairly heads down passing a few more people, but mostly preoccupied with line choice and figuring out where others were riding.

I never figured out how the fast guys were riding the start straight. I’d run the first part, then ride the hairpin and most of the return leg before running the off camber. I’d like to believe that they were achieving this due to fancy gear (low tyre pressure, or tubular tyres) or perhaps physics (maybe if you keep above some critical speed, you glide over the mud rather than being sucked down into it). But I rather suspect that the answer is just raw power/torque.

I got lapped by the lead rider at 30 minutes, followed by a bunch including Rab Wardell, who lead the Dirt School class I did earlier this year. Rab apologised for something as he went by – not sure if he nearly slid into me or what – but it never fails to impress me that the fast guys are always super polite to the less quick racers they’re lapping.

The mud was causing chaos all around. One guy with an orange helmet mis-stepped after the run up, tripped over his bike and did a full-body slide into the mud – he came up smiling though. I also passed a marshall who was helping a racer extricate his foot from the spokes of his rear wheel.

I finished in 56th place (58th percentile) which is a bit better than the 65th percentile I’d predicted pre-race. I was pretty pleased with my racing. Doing Zwift races has improved my race endurance a lot, and I can do a full hour at race pace without flagging towards the end. I’d love to know how to ride the deep mud like the fast guys, and with Lochore Meadows coming up in early December, I’ll probably have another chance to try. My bike handling, which was under par at Strathclyde was good, and I actively enjoyed the course with all it’s challenges.

Afterwards, I compared my gps trail on Strava with some of the leaders. My best lap was 8m48s, where the winner managed a 6m40s lap. I lost an entire minute on the start straight, and the other minute on the muddy switchback field. The rest of the lap – through the second field, the trees and the bottom field was at basically the same pace. So there’s a lot of time to be gained in the mud. But then, maybe that’s just where the raw power of the leaders shows up.


It’s that time of year again, cross is coming.

For me, it’s the usual conflict between structured organised training vs chaos of winter/autumn bugs and work travel. I managed to plan ahead this year, and did all required work travel by early September with the plan of having two clear weeks to train to peak. Unfortunately, I got off the plane and immediately caught a bug which mean zero training for over a week, sad times.

Before all that kicked off, in mid-summer I had decided to stop procrastinating and actually buy a turbo trainer. I’ve been considering getting one for years, and having had it for two months now I’m very happy with it. I’d expected that the main benefit was avoiding bad weather and darkness, but actually the quantified nature of indoor training has been very helpful for me too. My main weakness in cyclocross has always been in the road-y ability to deliver high watts for a long time, and so I’ve never done well at flat courses like Dig In. On the turbo trainer, it’s easy to do time-trial simulations, or over/under intervals, or stop-start sprints. All of which hopefully will pay dividends once the race season starts.

But, given that I’m still suffering somewhat from my autumn bug, I’m not sure if I’m going to make race #1 at Callendar Park right now. I cycled to work this morning for the first time in a while, and had to bail onto a shorter route. All this non-cycling has given me time to strip down, clean and rebuild my bike so it’s working better than new. But it would be very sad if I ended up with a shiny bike but lacking the health to race it. Lots of fruit, sleep and fingers crossed that the rest of the week goes better …

Training, numerically

After a slightly ‘meh’ ending to this year’s cyclocross, I thought a bit about how I train for races. The high level answer is “haphazardly”. Like everyone else, cyclocross is just one of many things I do and so I fit training rides in and around the rest of my life. That mostly means using commutes to work and the odd longer weekend ride as my base. I generally try to ride as hard as I can, but that’s pretty variable in practise given Scottish weather conditions, traffic lights etc.

My biggest training success this year was on the Arthur’s Seat hill climb. I started the year doing the climb in about 4m40, and with focused training lopped 45 seconds off that. The hill climb has the advantage of being repeatable and quantifiable, and the only downside is that the wind direction has a large impact.

But while a 4 minute burst of full-on ascending speed is handy (eg. Glentress or 10UTB) it doesn’t help much at races like Dig In At The Dock which is flat as a pancake and an hour long.

To quantify progress, it’s handy to keep as many variable fixed as possible. I don’t have a turbo trainer, so instead I’ve picked two wide, traffic free and usefully long stretches nearby. Rather than trying to “ride fast”, which usually means “ride fast initially and then tire” I’ve decided to do each stretch at a fixed speed. If I complete the distance at (say) 18mph, then next time I ride it at a fixed 19mph and keep stepping it up until I hit the threshold. So far, my threshold for the shorter 1k stretch appears to be around 22mph, and I’m still stepping up through 19mph on the longer two mile stretch.

This isn’t intended as training, per se. The world says that intervals are the most effective way of getting faster. But this approach gives me a fairly constant reference point to see if the other training is having an effect.

So that’s the plan for the sustained-fast on the flat. However, I’m also signed up for the Glentress 7’s this year, so there’s a big need for the ups and downs too. Hence, I’ll be alternating the flat days with more Arthurs Seat loops (or just hill reps) since that’s served me perfectly well for xc in the past. Eleven weeks until Glentress 7’s, so no rest for the wicked.