Thursday, 24 March 2011

SXC Round 1 - Kirroughtree

The last race of the 2010 XC season saw us compete in the Eastern Championships, on a fast, flat, sun-baked, erm...”Eastern” course. So when the 2011 Dales Cycles Scottish XC Series got underway last weekend at Kirroughtree in the Galloway Forest Park, things couldn’t have been more different! Let’s set the scene. Saturday evening and what seems like half of the Scottish mountain biking world are tweeting about the fast, dry conditions . Sunrise over the forth road bridge seemed to confirm their predictions and left both of us wondering whether our early morning packing frenzy should have included some semi-slicks. An hour later, with scotch mist hanging in the trees and very damp looking sheep by the roadside we had our faith restored in Metcheck!

For those of you that don’t know Kirroughtree is a gem of a trail centre. One of the 7 Stanes it is particularly well known for “McMoab” (southern Scotland’s damper but greener answer to Utah slickrock). Thankfully for Rachel, who finds the idea of a big slab of rock, let alone the cheesegrater granite found around Newton Stewart, quite quite terrifying, it didn’t feature in the SXC course. Damned lazy first-aiders! What the course lacked in white granite-covered whales, however, it more than made up for in a classic SXC mixture of big climbs and fun, sketchy descents. The overnight rains had not been kind to the early “natural” section of technical climb, however, which had gone from dry, to spongy to mud-spraying, wheel spinning give up and run territory. It did make for plenty of chirpy conversations, though, nobody prepared to admit that they didn’t have the breath left for a chat after hauling a mud-plastered bike up the hill! By far the defining section of the course was a slick, mossy, over the edge of control descent where i was expecting (based largely on total racist bias that all Scots are born knowing how to descend effortlessly on two wheels) to be taught many valuable lessons, all with style and panache. Suitably adrenaline-filled, you were then spat out onto a fire road through the arena to start the whole process again.

After second breakfast, and a fully waterproofed reccie (both perhaps signs of a seasoned competitor? – i like to think so!), it was time for Rachel to line up with the rest of the women’s racers. The elites, doing 4 laps of the course, were shown the way by Torq rider Lee Craigie, who led into the first corner and never looked back, with last year’s series winner Elke Schmidt comfortable in 2nd, and Leslie Ingram in 3rd. Rachel made up a place on the last lap, after marooning me in the feed zone with only the wildlife for company during her final lap, to come in 4th, and she assures me much more importantly “not last”! Having spent the last month searching out new places to ride, and watched Rachel ride with common sense and temerity, it was good to see her back to her old descending ways and with a smile on her face!

Free from feeding duties, i had just enough time to scoop the worst of the mud out of my bike’s stays, and oil the chain before it was time to head out and warm up. A quick blast up the hill left me suitably out of breath, clammy, and wondering why on earth i was pinning on a number and not going for a nice ride with slower people. The elites were called forward. Not feeling very “elite” i didn’t respond straight away, but when i did, the commissaire did nothing for my confidence by asking me “are you sure you’re supposed to be here?”. I mumbled something about being an expert rider, and promised i would try not to get in anyone’s way, and he seemed happy enough with that. We were reminded by the start marshall that we would be doing five, not four, but five, count them, five laps. Oh well, i am supposed to be an “endurance racer” i thought!

SXC MTB Kirroughtree 2011 from Rachel Fenton on Vimeo.

The whistle went, and for the first time in my life, when not at traffic lights, i found my pedal first time. No excuse in hand not to, i sprinted to stick to the wheels of the proper elites in front. It lasted until the first corner, where the climbing proper began, and my legs decided to remind my brain that i should have been further back. Ahead, i could see all my fellow riders slipping away into the distance, bugger. But something amazing happened, the guys immediately in front started getting closer again, and the ones further away didn’t seem to be getting any smaller. I chuckled at the memory of “the ones in here are small, but the ones out there are far away...”. Coming through the end of the first lap, i could still see Rob Friel and James FM ahead through the feed zone, and did my utmost to chase. It was not to be however, the anthem having the unfortunate side effect of inspiring confidence that this rider’s skills do not match. Going off one of the rocky drops, i landed a little heavy, and heard the snake in the tyre hiss. D’oh.Puncture fixed and back going, i came through the feed zone sufficiently soon that Rachel thought my meltdown was merely physiological rather than mechanical, and my thoughts went back to catching up lost time. I patted myself on the back for riding more tentatively over the drop that had got me last time, and then promptly pinched not 200yds further on. Game over.

Well, not quite. There were still 4kms to cover, on foot, with a broken bike. Being a good citizen, i did a spot of litter-picking on the way, and by the time i got back to the start finish had pockets full of gels packets, several postie rubber bands, and a chain! How do you lose a chain?! I also had a front-row seat for the final-lap battle between GT team mates Dave Henderson and Gareth Montgomerie who had been locked together since minute one, and were only separated by a final sprint for the line, Gareth just pipping Dave. An evergreen (i only ever see that word applied to Nick Craig; surely a compliment then) James Fraser-Moodie picked up the final podium spot passing Rob Friel on the last lap. First expert was fellow Fife-dweller Doug Shearer in fifth.

Thanks as ever to sponsors AW Cycles, to the Scottish XC Series for putting on a chilled, fun and well-organised race, and to Rachel for being a bottle hander & cheerer without compare. Full results can be found at , and photos will be up on (it’s not all horses!). The next round is a bit closer to home for us at Aberfoyle on April 24th.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Northern Exposure – a mountain TT in mountains (well, big hills)

So, my first race of the year has been and gone! It does seem like ages since i last ineptly pinned a number to myself, and it’s always good to get the first race nerves out of the way before the BMBS creep into the picture (as they do every year – it’s always a shock!). I had originally intended to get a good training race in by doing the first round of the Sup6r Six road race series (basically the Scottish equivalent of the Premier Calendar, but with lowly races for mere mortals like me too), but alas it seems road racing is alive and well up here, and i didn’t get a ride in the 80-strong 4JWV field. Rachel did get a place, so we decided to divide and conquer – she’d do the RR on the Saturday, i’d do a local mountain TT at Knockhill on the Sunday. I’m just going to repeat my last sentence, because i love saying it so much – there was a mountain time trial held not far from where i live. Ah good, getting rid of the east-anglian chip on shoulder!

So, the first weekend of March rolled around surprisingly quickly, and before we knew it, it was time for Rachel to face her first ever road race at Gifford (just south of Edinburgh). The god of small things in cars had other ideas though, and after having got up at 6:30am to make the race start with plenty of time, we found our dreams of getting across the Forth bridge evaporating in the car park of a bowling green near Windygates as we waited for the nice man from the RAC to arrive. By the time our new ignition coil was fitted, our second of the week i hasten to add, we were already going to be far too late to Gifford to make the race, so a bit disheartened by the failure of our four-wheeled transport, we headed home to have a nice day cleaning and fixing bikes.

Blur is model's own!

Things were a bit more civilised on Sunday – my start time of 1332 made a lie in not only feasible, but in my view an absolute preparation necessity. There were quite a few names i recognised entered in the race, quite a few of whom had double-headed; doing the sup6r the day before for good measure, including Dave Henderson who i’ve had the pleasure of standing on the same podium as was back at the nationals in 2008. A “misunderstanding” between Rachel and myself about how far away the event HQ was (we thought, on the basis of a lie we had repeatedly repeated to each other that it was half an hour, it was actually an hour!) made for a sharp exit when we realised we had some distance to cover. Pasta in plastic tub in the car formed the basis of my less than gourmet lunch, and as soon as we arrived i dashed over, signed on (minus license – oops!), and jumped on the turbo to warm up.

A quick dash down the hill, and i was ready to start, with a hungry like the wolf looking Paul Newnham only a couple of minutes behind. D’oh! I got going, straight into the first big climb of the race that took us all the way up to the knockhill car racing circuit, before dropping us back down to the valley floor on a fantastic serpentine descent. I was too chicken to use my tribars much on the descent, having used them for a sum total of 30 minutes in the past two years, i figured that was asking for trouble, but gradually as the race went on my confidence grew. A little too late, sadly, as a flying Paul N came storming past me on the descent, riding amazingly fast, obviously due to not having the dilemma of whether or not to use tribars to worry about! Either that i was distracted from my usual lightning descending by the amazing views, and the pictures of various scantily-clad ladies strewn across the road at one point – you decide!

Grimace is model's own
The mid-section of the course definitely suited a strong time triallist rather than a climber, and left me wondering who this course does suit. I’m not really sure; i can think of plenty of time triallists i know who would have absolutely hated the fact that the whole race required constant changes of pace, but equally someone light enough to climb really fast would have struggled with the faster sections – i guess it just suited hard men. As i got into the second half, people started appearing in front of me – juniors were racing as pairs, and some were starting to struggle on the tough climbs. Equally, people started passing me. Next to come through was a certain Mr Henderson, catching me for four minutes. As the minutes ticked by, i started to wonder whether i might be able to beat Rachel’s best 25 time of 1:04:4?. At the final turn at Comrie, my watch read 1:03. I thought maybe, just maybe, but then i was met by a wall of lumpy tarmac; back down the gears i went for one final grovel to the top. To add insult to injury, the guy who set of a massive 8 minutes before passed me on the final climb to the line, he was absolutely flying. I didn’t even come close to Rachel’s time, in the end, finishing in 1h11m i think. Results to follow, but at the risk of sounding trite, that wasn’t really the point of today!

It would be easy to be upset about this, but losing 5 minutes to Hendo actually makes me pretty happy; it says that although i’ve basically only been back in training for a month after the madness of the move, i’m not totally out of shape. I’ve got three weeks to try to pull something together for Sherwood, and i’m pretty excited to give it a go. I’m now sitting here on the sofa with very sore legs, especially after going out for a spin with Rachel this afternoon that turned into an intervals session. But i’m happy, and i don’t have the race nerves as badly as before this morning. Let’s see what the next six months hold!