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!
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 www.sxc.org.uk , and photos will be up on http://www.colinrobinsonimaging.com/ (it’s not all horses!). The next round is a bit closer to home for us at Aberfoyle on April 24th.