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.