I'm settling nicely into life up here in the "Kingdom"; i love my new job, and i honestly struggle to remember the last time i felt this excited by both going to work and riding my bike. It's been a while! Rachel and I have made it a weekend hobby to explore the local riding spots - they're rather more plentiful than they were back in East Anglia - within an hour's drive of our house, there are in excess of 20 places to ride an mtb, leaving us spoilt for choice. So far, my favourite has to be Blebo Craigs/Kemback Woods - a compact gem of a place - a mixture of dark forboding conifers and light, open beech and oak trees, tucked away just a few miles from St Andrews. Even better, it's within easy striking distance of a quick ride from work come the summer time - perfect training to get me ready for the Scottish XC Series.
And what perfect training it is, perched on a steep hillside hidden away in the rolling terrain of Fife, with some extremely steep downhill trails peppered with drops and jumps, followed by a nose on the stem climb back to the top of the woods. There's no respite, but if you feel ready for a challenge it's a great place to test your limits (and occasionally exceed them).
Last weekend was a busy one - Rachel and I headed over to Blairadam forest (another cool riding spot, albeit a bit further away) for the Scottish Universities Student's mtb champs - we were both racing in the old gits races, just as an early test of form. The weather had not been kind to the course, the sections that had been a bit muddy the week before were under three inches of thick, sticky, slippery scottish clay having been comprehensively chewed up by the sport race earlier in the day. The race was a shock to my underprepared, over-strained body, and i soon found myself totally unable to follow the pace of the front riders. I settled into trying to ride the course well rather than fast, making the most of the anthem to get through the trickier lumpy sections that had many other riders off and running, but bizarrely i found some of the riders who'd gone off harder ahead of me either swimming into view, or standing at the side of the course looking unhappy. Certainly, some of the roadies who turned up got rather more than they bargained for. The last few laps were a mixture of great amusement and great annoyance - there's nothing more frustrating than picking up some much mud and leaf matter that your wheels cannot turn. I eventually finished third of the alumni, and a lap down on the champs winner who must have been one very speedy runner!
Straight after the race, we drove on to Rock UK - the location for the 24hrs of Exposure later in the year, where the WXC Team were having their team bonding weekend, and Sara and Paul were busy putting the finishing touches to their ideal course for the 24 champs. We were greeted with good food, and good company, and were looking forward to some good riding on the Sunday. The weather had other ideas, and having stolen toast, jam and special k (what kind of a cyclist has special k for breakfast?!). After food, it was time to brave the torrential rain outside, fully waterproofed and ready to go out onto the 24hr course. Sara gave us the guided tour, including showing us a beautiful bit of natural engineering that she had been indulging in during the week, and then left us to our own devices in the rain at Newcastleton (wisely as it turned out). Rachel and I tootled around for a lap of the red route ourselves, and then were greeted by Paul, Trevor and Keith, all looking very cold and damp at the trailhead. We were enlisted to hit the route for a second time to “sweep” for lost riders – i think Paul was glad there were people even dafter than him there. Of course, after 3hrs of heavy rain whilst we were riding, as soon as we stopped so too did the rain. A not-so-quick lunch in “town” and then it was time for the team building activities, which were spectacular fun, especially with Trevor in charge of affairs!
In my newfound enthusiasm for riding and racing, i have “accidentally” entered a road TT, largely because it had the word “mountain” in the title. It’s the Knockhill MTT this coming weekend, and as the organiser told me two years ago that the event was run with 3” of snow on the ground, i’m expecting a tough one. The move has still left me a little sluggish, so i’m not expecting to be chasing a fast time, but it’ll do me good in the run up to Sherwood. With the season moving earlier and earlier, it looks like i’m going to have to resort to early season races more and more as times go by. Anyway, so long for now, ride it like you stole it,