Monday, 19 May 2014

Slippery when wet . . .

 . . . and, yes, that's tree roots I'm talking about!  The SXC, Abriachan Forest Trust and Ben Wyvis Cycle Club put on a fantastic course for us up at Abriachan, just south of Inverness on the West side of Loch Ness.  Not too much climbing, some hard-packed gravel sections, some technical rocky climbs and a lot of muddy, wet, slippy roots!  Especially with the overnight rain on Saturday night to make things evern more slippery on a course that felt half trail centre / half natural.

The long trip up north was well worth it for this challenging course.  We headed up Friday evening after work to visit some friends in the North of Scotland then headed over to Abriachan for a few practice laps on the Saturday afternoon.  The light rain on Saturday was actually helping to bed on some of the stoney/gravel sections and make them less prone to skidding but with overnight rain forecast on Saturday night I knew the roots were going to get even slippier.  I sessioned a few sections and was happy to have nailed what I thought was the trickiest rooty technical section.  There was one muddy corner still causing me issues but I'd be surprised if many riders got up it in the race without unclipping!

Skip forward to 1.45pm on Sunday and I was feeling great, lined up on the start line and ready to race.  I was pretty happy with my warm-up but have decided the turbo trainer is now coming to all the races with me.  I used it at Cathkin but at other races tend to just find a flat road or forest track for the first part of my warm-up routine.  Abriachan's forestry roads were either up or down so it wasn't ideal.  It's worth packing the turbo trainer from now on!

Despite this, I was feeling good.  While not peaking for this race, training had gone well in the week leading up to it and I felt I'd got my nutrition spot-on pre-race.  As current SXC series leader (ahead of Scott Logan by only 3 points), I was gridded on the front row and determined to improve on some of my recent poor starts.  Focus.  Get clipped in first time! . . . And we were off!

At last!  A good start!  I got clipped in straight away and was just behind Scott as we headed up the hill to approach the first section of singletrack.  Although going by this photo it was hurting already!  Yet again, must work on my race face!

Martin McGrath (a local Rossshire rider) just got past me into that first singletrack section but as we pushed on up the climb I managed to power past him, followed by Sean Clark behind me (who was 3rd at Cathkin).  I knew Sean and Scott were my main competition based on the last race at Cathkin and was determined to stick with them, but this just didn't happen . . . 

Based on the first half of that first lap, I don't think I lost them due to fitness, power or climbing ability.  I felt on a par with them in those respects based on this race and Cathkin.  But, yet again, my technical skills let me down, and I only have myself to blame for that!

We were held up a bit passing some of the "back markers" from the Sports category in front of us on entering one of the first technical rooty sections through the trees, but Sean just managed to get by me and then just kept slipping away.  Both Sean and Scott were lapping quite a bit faster than me overall and had built up a lead of over a minute by the end of the first lap.  By the end of the race (4 laps), they were ahead by 5 minutes, with Sean taking the win, closely followed by Scott.

I just was not in the same league as them in this race and I put that down to two things compared to my win at Cathkin:

1. My technical skills on muddy/rooty sections.  I much prefer technical rocky courses to roots.  Roots and mud let me down last week at the British Marathon Champs and the same happened this week.  I know I need to work on this so it's time to focus on it!  I'm not terrible; I'm just not as fast as these guys

2. My local knowledge of Cathkin without a doubt helped me take the win.  The course suits me and I know it really well.  Plus, any technical sections at Cathkin are rocky rather than rooty so I'm much more confident on them!

On my second lap I had two crashes.  Both really silly mistakes but, you guessed it, on slippy roots!  Not even on the most technical rooty section either - I made it over that every single lap!  I was about 30 seconds ahead of Martin McGrath on lap 2 but I reckon my crashes cost me almost a minute in total.  I also really hurt my left leg and it was in a lot of pain for the rest of the race.  This then made me a bit more cautious on the roots.

I was pulling away from Martin on the climbs on lap 3 but noticed him catching me on the descents and rooty sections.  This was partly my own lack of skill and confidence on those sections, but Martin was perhaps just a stronger descender with me the stronger climber.  Going by our lap times, I guess this made us pretty even.  Going by the club he rides for I'm guessing he's local too so perhaps he had the same kind of advantage I had at Cathkin.  But who knows, that's just racing for you!

On the 4th and final lap, I knew he was right behind but I again pulled quite far ahead of him on the two main climbs that made up the first half of each lap.  I was determined to keep this 3rd place and get on the podium!  He was catching me on the rooty sections again but didn't feel as close . . . until . . . 

Under a minute from the end of the last lap I hit the aforementioned corner that just didn't seem rideable.  I had to unclip and was just trying to quickly wheel my bike up it and jump back on when Martin came running by me with his bike on his shoulder!

Clearly, the same thing had happened to him on that corner but I didn't think this was a cyclocross race!  He got by me on foot, which seems really unfair to me given it's a mountain bike race, but I guess that's racing and perhaps I'm just a sore loser!  But I was so gutted at the time!  All that effort and to get beaten a minute from the end because I couldn't run as fast with my bike?

I was right on Martin's rear wheel up a final couple of short climbs.  I tried so hard to squeeze past but there just wasn't room.  There was no chance of catching him on the final descent.  While it wasn't technical, it was loose and gravelly so I didn't see the point in crashing out on the ragged edge just trying to get by him.  I eased off and settled for 4th.

Perhaps Martin would have got by me anyway on that final descent.  Perhaps he felt I was holding him up on the roots and he would have got by me if there had been more room.  But that's racing and he beat me to the podium so I need to accept it.

I really was gutted and just wanted to get back to the car and head home.  But I've had a good think about it during the journey back and need to stop being so hard on myself!  

It was a challenging course and clearly identified my weaknesses so I need to go work on them.  But this is my first year competing in any form of XC racing and I've had a 4th, a win and another 4th now.  This puts me 2nd in the series now at the half-way point so I'm still in with a good chance of doing well overall.  And I've already achieved my main season goal: to get on the podium at an SXC race (and it was the top step!).

So, in hindsight, I'm happy with my result and will continue to build on it.  I can't make the next round of the SXC at Glennifer Braes (not far from where I grew up!) in June as I'm on holiday.  This is also the Scottish Champs so I'm gutted to miss it but sometimes real life gets in the way of racing!  The good thing is that the overall series is based on your best 5 of 6 races so I've now got to focus on Round 5 (Lochore Meadows) in August and Round 6 (Dalbeattie) in September.

I'll miss the SXC until then as the event organisation and courses have been fantastic. This was no exception and I have to thank everyone at the SXC, Abriachan Forest Trust, BWCC, all the marshals, first aiders, supporters and all the other racers for a great race.

Next week sees my 4th weekend of racing in a row with the Glentress Seven (solo).  This is back to the racing I did more of last year before trying XC this year and I'm mainly doing it for fun so I'm really looking forward to it (despite it being seven hours long!).  Then it's a recovery week before focussing on my training for June and July with that holiday in the middle.

More from me after the GT7 next weekend!


  1. you under rate a former Scottish champion with many years of racing stop moaning and learn to race its not how you road its how you finish .the highlander

    1. Hi David.

      I don't see how anything I've written above under-rates anyone . . . to quote myself from above "I guess that's racing and perhaps I'm just a sore loser" and I also said "But that's racing and he beat me to the podium so I need to accept it". I think you've missed the point of my post if you think it was moaning - I've identified my own weaknesses, the things I need to improve and learn about racing and why I was caught on the last lap. Perhaps you need to go back and read the whole blog post again and you'll see that was the point I was trying to make - I was beaten fair and square and that's what I've said above :-)


  2. Hey buddy,

    Great blog and really enjoy reading your reports.... I've also just started racing xc and I think I was in the same race as you (masters).

    Unfortunately I still have a long way to come in regards to fitness and working on my climbing. Usually Im pretty good on the roots and technical sections but i must admit I got caught out here too so to be fair I think most were in the same boat. I even saw Gary McRace in Vets go flying over the handle bars so I wouldn't be to hard on yourself...

    Also on the first lap I got caught behind 3 weaker riders on the climb due to a poor start, who just wouldn't let me past. In the end this didn't mater much as on my second lap I got a puncture so another sxc fail... However Least it was only that rather than snapped handle bars like at Cathkins...

    Look forward to your next report and I'll see you at Lochore Meadows which Im hoping I will finish the race this time.... (third time lucky)


    1. Hi Christer,

      Thanks for the kind words. Give me a shout at Lochore Meadows so I can say hello in person :-)

      Sorry to hear you punctured. What happened at Cathkin? Snapped handlebars?! Eek! Were you okay?

      Yeah, I know what you mean about the course and I probably shouldn't be so hard on myself. I spoke to Gary afterwards and heard about his crash. He broke a shoe too so not his race! Was surprised not to see him win but amazing he still got a 4th after what happened to him!

      You doing Glennifer Braes? If so, good luck for that! See you at Lochore Meadows!


  3. Hey Derek

    Unfortunately I’m off to Tenerife on the 27th June so I’m gutted to be missing Glennifer Braes...Could really do with this race to score some brownie points for my team and also get more race experience under my belt.. However, will defo be at Lochore Meadows...You won’t miss me I ride for the mukyriderz who wear bright orange tops, and just by pure luck my Specialized stumpy is the exactly same colour lol..

    Regards to handle bars at cathkins. I tried to jump a silly wee hump on the track to gain some speed and I landed all wrong and ended falling.. When I came too and picked the bike up that’s when I realised something wasn't right...ggrrhh SNAP....Was really lucky though and only walked away with a grazed elbow. However I’m lucky it wasn't about 4 seconds earlier coming down the technical rock section under the wind mill or I think i would have had more than i grazed elbow.... Anyway I'm thinking maybe alloy bars from now on

    Just had a read over your GT7 report...Another great insight into a great day out on the bike, and also well done on your 7th place.... Also thanks for the info on the nutrition part.. It’s something i need to look into more…

    Will hopefully see you at Lochore buddy, until then take care