Ronde CC at the beach

Ridley Scottish CX Series - Round 3, 
Irvine Beach

26 October 2014

As a newcomer to cyclocross, I now realise that I've had it pretty easy up until this point. My first race, the excellent Ronde Haugh+Cross back in August, took place in sunshine and a light breeze on firm ground. The second, a few weeks ago at Callendar Park in Falkirk was similarly mild, if not quite as warm. But with heavy rain and strong winds forecast in Irvine for the only beach-side cyclocross race in the UK, I knew I was in for a different experience this time.

Photo: Mark McGhee

This was confirmed during a quick recce of the course during the vet 41-49 race, riding up to the highest point of the beach park, getting off the bike, standing back to the wind, holding the bike off the ground and watching it get swept near horizontal. On the plus side, and despite the torrents of water on the drive through central Scotland, the rain hadn't really come to much...yet.

A quick cheer on of the vets and it was time to get ready for a practice lap or two. Though unbeknown to us, the practice slot had been cancelled due to the races running behind schedule. We set off and then half way through came across the scrum for the start of the race. I quickly stuffed the race cape I was wearing for warm up into my jersey pocket, tried to get myself into as good a position as possible for the start, but ended up a few rows back and in the knowledge that the race would bottleneck soon after the gun and I'd be struggling to find a way through. Before I knew it we heard the announcement “the race will start any time in the next 15 seconds”, and then we were off.

Photo: Mark McGhee

Sure enough it was a squeeze at the start, with the 20m wide start grid compressing down to a 5m wide set of switchbacks almost immediately. It was a case of just trying to hold a line and avoid clipping the front wheel on the riders all around. Once through the first set of bends the field strung out and it was onto the main course. The first obstacle was a steep grassy hill with loose turns; a struggle the first few laps with a 39x17t singlespeed gearing but I later realised you could gun it at the bottom and almost plow a straight line with the momentum to the top, sorted! From there it was onto the 'Big Dipper', a steep down and up section which you need to carry speed through the downhill to make it up the other side. A long off camber section plus a couple of step over barriers followed, and then it was into the brutal headwind, where it was a struggle each lap grinding the gear just to keep moving forwards, the only slight help was if you managed to tuck in behind another rider to let them take the brunt of it. A run up section then a few more twists and turns and it was onto the sand section – a 200 meter length of singletrack that I just couldn't seem to get right. It seemed as if you deviated slightly from the harder packed left hand side, the loose sand would stop you almost dead in your tracks. I must have ended up on the ground 3 or 4 times from 10 laps. With one down it was just an hour more to go. I managed to move slowly up the field and eventually into a bit of a battle with a Velo Club Moulin rider for the last couple of laps. When he came a cropper on the final sand stretch, I thought I'd come out ahead but then I went over again and ended up 5 seconds down at the line. 

Photo: Mark McGhee

Other than my modest 20th from a field of around 60 seniors. Katie Newlands took 17th in the Senior Women's category and was denied a higher result only because she wasn't wearing a timing chip for the first lap! Alistair Dow was unfortunately forced to pull out after 2 laps, especially bad luck given his incredible 2nd and 8th place results in the Vet 50+ category for the first 2 rounds of the series. 

A great day of racing and plenty of lessons learned to be taken forwards to the next round of the series in Auchentoshan.

Words by Gavin McDougall, Photos courtesy of Mark McGhee