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.