Last Sunday kicked off the four race Superquaich cyclocross series, with the opening round at Rouken Glen. I’ve never managed to race there before, always clashing with something or other. The photos from previous years showed a snow covered glen with rolling hillside, and for a while it looked like history would repeat itself with more of the white stuff falling in the days leading up to the race. But it wasn’t to be, and temperatures on race day got up to a heady 10C, leaving a moderately muddy day’s racing.
The SQ series splits into a very fast A race, and a slightly less fast B race. Given that I’m midfield in the SCX round, I end up either end up near the front of the B race or the back of the A race. At Rouken Glen, the Quaich Masters had decided I’d be a “B”.
There was to be no gridding, just some advice to ‘hussle, hussle’ so I planned to get to the start area early-ish to avoid the first lap chaos. After my first sighting lap, I wasn’t sure where the start area was. In fact, I was entirely confused by the course layout since it didn’t seem to correspond to my reading of the course map earlier. Later, I found out that due to the twists and turns of the Rouken Glen park, my bearings were out by 180 degrees – somehow I thought north was south. This didn’t help my efforts to find the start line, and I ended up setting out on a second sighting lap and then quizzing about five different riders before I found my way to the start.
Start line was a bit chaotic and narrow, with a “prisoners dilemma” causing everyone to bunch at the start grid rather than the muster area. But everyone got away cleanly, up the start hill, and slip sliding through the first woodland section. By the time we reached the big dipper, I was about seventh and felt pretty comfortable with the pace. A fall just before the start line lost me a place or two – it was subtly offcamber which I hadn’t quite realised, but actually the early fall clued me into the available grip levels which became handy later in the race. I got up quickly, checked the chain, and got going again.
I stuck with a group of four riders for a while, before gradually getting dropped but then somehow a lap later I was close up behind them again. I’ve often found that I’m faster than my peers on downhill technical stuff and steep uphills, but I lose out on sheer pedalling-on-the-flat situations. At Rouken Glen, there was plenty of downhill technical stuff, tripod’ing my way down the fast curves at the start of the lap and the later zigzags was always fun, and the steep runups suit me fine too.
I really think I was right on the limit fitness-wise, slightly dodgy stomach midrace which passed, and always pushing on the ups and recovering a bit on the downs. I spent most of the second half race in a great back-and-forth with a blue rider (I can just about name colours whilst racing, but not much more!). He’d pass me on flatter sections, and I’d repass him on technical sections. I thought I’d passed decisively through the woods on the 2nd last lap, by sticking to the edge of the course where there was more grip. But he came back fast on the flatter end part of the lap, passing me as we started the bell lap. As luck would have it, he slid out on the fast downhill curves which gave me a comfortable gap on the rest of the last lap and a ninth place finish. Great racing, lots to concentrate on.
I was also able to stick around to watch the A race. Rouken Glen is great for spectating – a pile of rocks gives a great vantage point to see a large part of the race course. The commentator was also spotting the race from there, which meant I could see everything he was talking about. The quality of racing was high, with Gary MacDonald and Cameron Mason battling out in the front, David Duggan solid in third, then a bit of a gap to Struan Pryde and the crowd-pleasing antics of Craig Hardie and a flying John MacKenzie. They’re all blisteringly fast, especially considering that us “B” racers had mashed up the course for them. To put it into perspective, my fastest lap was 11m02s (first lap on clean course, by the end I was doing 12m30s) whereas Gary MacDonald averaged about 9m30s. It was interesting watching technique – GM tripod’ing around all the fast corners and looking a lot better than anyone else on the downhills, and all the fast guys hugging the edge of the course at the end of the lap to seek out grip. The course was getting brutal by this stage, with fifteen DNFs in the end – I saw tubs being rolled, mechs snapping and someone with front brake jammed on.
Lessons from the day? Starting near the front meant I was racing near the front for the first time. The course rewarded confidence on the faster sections – “hands off the brakes and look into the distance” stuff. I felt that my turbo-training and over/under intervals has taught me a lot about riding at threshold. But I’ve still not nailed the “raw power” sections, which have always been my weakest point. On that note, I wasn’t lucky enough to get an entry to the Bo’ness race this year. It’s a shame to miss the season ender, but if I had to choose a SQ round to miss then it’d be that one purely because it’s so flat and power-heavy and I suffer greatly on it! Maybe I can become a roadie over the summer and finally sort out this “racing on the flat” thing.
Next up, Doonbank at Ayr, where the SQ number crunchers have decreed that I am “A race” material, so it’ll back to reality and battling it out with the great & the good for the higher numbered places.