Ronde CC into Madness

Ridley Scottish CX Series - Round 5,
Lochore Meadows

23 November 2014

The course for this round of the Scottish Cyclocross (SCX) series (Round 5) headed from the recent west coast rounds of Auchentoshan, (Clydebank), Irvine Beach, Strathclyde Country Park (the weej) all the way back from the Central Scotland location of the first round (Callender Park near Falkirk) to a course just 20 minutes from my home in Fife. This local authority run area just outside Lochgelly has excellent mountain bike trails, a 9 hole golf course and Lochore itself - used for sailing, windsurfing and open water swimming. It’s  locally known as the Meedies - the madness will be explained shortly. 465 riders were registered to enjoy todays cycling...

Competitive cycling is something I have had limited experience of, having only tried a road criterium in Dunfermline this summer (I came second last in the all categories race - a race won by Evan Oliphant which I almost book-ended his position with my second last place). My first try at Cyclocross was the previous SCX Ridley series round at Auchentoshan. That was a beast of a course and on a borrowed bike and road shoes. I completed the Vets (40-49) course just behind the first 72 riders, and in front of 10 remaining riders (tempted to count the 7 did not finish riders but that’s hunting for scraps). The Ronde CC Facebook page shows the video of my attempts to get up a steep bank and demonstrates my lack of skills (remember this point for later).

After that humiliation I purchased a new CX specific bike and some mountain bike shoes - surely I would do better on the relatively flat parcour of this round? 

This course would be taking in a flat single track section through the woods, a short paved section area and some fresh grassy parkland (mud) areas. The parkland (mud) section was to contain 2 hurdles, and a spiral of doom - a taped out spiral area that would make up the largest section of the 2km laps of this race. 

My kids have been competing in this series and they do very well in their categories, podium spots and top 5 finishes are common place for them. So on Sunday I arrived very early to register them in their U8’s and U12’s races. Racing underway my daughter came first in her U8 race and my son led for most of his race but ended up coming 4th. It was looking good for the Birrell family up to this point...

Following their races a combined U14/ U16 race got underway on the course I was to attempt and then the Youth and Vets race took place again on the same course. By this time the course was in a right state with the announcer (the legendary “Jammy”) saying that the race was more likely to resemble a ploughing competition than a cyclocross race. While I was warming up (chatting to other riders and worrying about my tyre pressures mostly) I heard that Ronde rider Alistair Dow had come in 2nd place in his category. Excellent result - this was a good omen surely. I’d also found myself parked next to our very own Kevin Kealy who was looking to tackle the course in the open race (younger riders/longer race time of 1 hour). I managed to share all my infinite wisdom from my previous one cross race and all the lessons I apparently thought I had learned with him.

Once the youth/seniors/womens race finished I had enough time to get a warm up lap in and see how the bike coped in the mud. Oh. My. Word. Hello - traction? Spinning like crazy and going nowhere I started to panic. But it was the same for the rest of the field so this shouldn’t be a problem should it? I headed to the start line waiting to hear if I’d be gridded for the start - but for some reason my name wasn’t mentioned so I joined the rest of the un-gridded riders to await the start of the madness.

Photo: Martin Young

I got off great when the whistle went - no dramas but I heard riders falling to the ground to my left and behind me (I hoped no one was hurt but this could be excellent news I thought). A few days before the race I’d been practising my portage and was keen to show this off in the race. When I got to the first hurdles - dismount (in my mind) was superb - the first hurdles were so high, I had as much prowess carrying my bike over these initial hurdles as a harassed mother with a large pushchair trying to mount a busy bus. I felt good in the first lap doing my damnedest to stay on the bike thinking hey I’m doing great, I can stay upright, not noticing the frequency of people running past me carrying their bikes. I don’t do this nearly enough - I was prompted to do it when I eventually lost all forward motion and fell with a splat on my right hand side. But I still didn’t get off the bike and run enough.

In a muddy mess after my splat I noticed the state of my bike and had no idea how the drivetrain was able to function with all the gunk I now had to carry. This doubled the weight of my bike...arguably. In cross its difficult for the spectators to work out exactly who is in front and who is behind but I reckon if anyone saw me they’d have a good idea where I was compared of the rest of the field. I struggled my way through the mud choosing - wrongly - to ride through the deep mud rather than carry the bike. I knew one of the other tail end riders and I managed to get in front of him. A small victory was surely coming my way. Nah. On the very last corner he got off his bike, shouldered it and ran past me with one bike length to go to the finish line. Did I improve, no, I was 80th. But I still loved it.

Photo: Martin Young

I put a hell of a lot of physical effort for every bit of my 80th place and felt sick at the end of it all. It’s not about the bike. I have however got myself addicted to the cross racing. I’m off to Foxlake on the 29th, then Aberdeen for the next SCX round (Scottish Championship) and up to Mull in December for 2 days of cross racing at the castle. There are still races in January (Rauken Glen),  and if you are lucky enough to get a place there is a Dig in the Dock in Bo’ness.

Cyclocross is tiring, muddy, addictive and challenging. It’s very inclusive - the lead riders are very polite when they lap me. I urge anyone thinking about it to have a go and it doesn’t matter about the bike you use!

As I drove home I passed Kevin in my car who was hammering around the course convincingly on his mountain bike. Gavin was lighting up the circuit with his speed and skill. Pretty sure the spectators knew where Gavin and Kevin were in the race (near the front) - I had to head home and remove 45kg of mud from the Birrell family bikes while there was still daylight, yet I didn’t mind one bit.

Words by Stephen Birrell, photos courtesy of Martin Young