Wednesday, 13 August 2014

I knew I should have swapped that rear tyre!

Picture this . . . After messing up your start at the last race, you get off to a fantastic start.  Clipped in straight away and a great sprint off the line.  You take the lead into the first section of singletrack and try to set the pace from the off and lead the race out.  Then, just as you turn uphill round a right hand bend onto an off-camber muddy section, your rear tyre slips completely from under you and you end up on your side, unable to do anything about the 5 or so riders passing you as you pick yourself up and get back on the bike.

Yep, that's exactly what happened to me on Sunday at Round 4 of the Scottish XC Series at Lochore Meadows in Fife!  But I still finished in 2nd place, taking my 3rd podium of the year (2nd of that series) and leaving me in 2nd place in the overall series going into the last race.

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

I'm really happy with that result and loved the race, but why oh why did I not change that rear tyre when I knew the course would be much slippier given the heavy rain?!  Doh!  Lesson learned!

After a break of three months for the SXC Series, it was great to be back racing on "home soil" again.  I feel like I've had so many trips down south and while I've enjoyed it, I'm looking forward to completing the final trip south of the border next weekend for the fifth and final round of the British Series at Cannock Chase.

The SXC events are always really well organised and have a great vibe, and Lochore Meadows in Fife was no different.  The event village had a great atmosphere with various tents around the start/finish and the country park location made it a great day out for supporters and family too.  Just a shame the weather was miserable!  Big thanks to my wife for the usual feed zone support and my friends who came along to cheer me on too!  Especially in that weather!

I did some practice laps on the course on the Saturday and was pleasantly surprised by it.  A few people had told me it might not be that much fun or technical but they were so wrong!  There were some nice twisty sections through the trees, not too much climbing, a couple of technical rocky sections to climb over and a lovely technical rooty and rocky descent towards the end of the lap.  It had a bit of everything and it became even more fun on the Sunday in the rain!  I was surprised how long the descent at the end was given there was only 110m of climbing per lap - a fair bit less than my last race at the British Champs at Hopton and yet you seemed to get a lot of descent in return for not much climbing.  Bonus!

Given the weather, I'd decided to run a chunkier tyre up front for more grip in the corners: a Bontrager XR2 (29 x 2.20).  I stuck with my usual race tyre on the rear though: a Bontrager XR1 (29 x 2.00).  I should have realised how much the course would change with the rain and within 2 minutes of starting my first lap I realised the mistake I'd made.  But it's all a learning experience and I just had to deal with it!

As I was sitting in 2nd place overall in the series going into this race, I was gridded on the front row alongside Scott Logan (series leader) and Craig Webster.  I got a great start and was really happy not to repeat my mistake from Hopton!

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

As we approached the first section of singletrack I felt I could actually push on a bit more, so although Scott was just in front of me, I decided to sprint past him and lead into that first section.  It's not something I've done in a race before (i.e. lead from the start), so I thought I'd see how it would go . . . 

Then, as I started to slip and slide due to my mistake of rear tyre choice, I knew I'd have my work cut out!  When the bike slipped away from under me, I had no time to beat myself up for the mistake!  As about 5 riders got past me, I knew I just had to get back on and get on with it!

By this time, Scott and Craig had got a decent gap of maybe 30 seconds or so.  I managed to overtake the other riders in between and settled into 3rd place on the first real climb of the course.  I still had them both in my sights so felt confident I was still in with a chance.

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;  

On our first time down the long descent at the end of the lap, Craig had a mechanical and I managed to get by him.  Scott, however, was gone, and I later found out that he took about a minute out of me each lap.  I said this to Scott after the race: I really do think he was in a different class again.  I  just couldn't close that gap.  But I'm left wondering . . . If I hadn't slipped on the first lap, would we have stuck together?  Or is he a much better climber or descender than me and would have dropped me anyway?  I just don't know.  Perhaps if I'd stuck with him it would have pushed me to try harder and maybe, just maybe, I could have stayed with him.  I guess I'll find out when we next race together!

On the second lap, I managed to stay ahead of Craig for most of it until we hit that long descent again.  This is where Craig showed he was a far better descender and got by me.  I wasn't descending as well as I should have at this point - I think I was still worried about that rear tyre and didn't want to crash.  But I was probably being too cautious!

I spent the whole 3rd lap trying to catch Craig on the climbs.  On the main climb on that 3rd lap, Craig unfortunately had another mechanical.  I felt bad that this was why I got by him and even asked if he needed tools or anything as I passed.  But he soon got on the way again and started to chase me once more.

At this point I gave it my all to build up a bigger gap before the long technical descent, knowing that he'd probably be faster down it than me.  However, he didn't quite catch me this time.  I think I finally got my confidence on the descent, focusing on the lines, being smooth and carrying speed where I could, and using the grip points between the roots and rocks for braking.  I felt like myself again descending much smoother and faster!  One thing that definitely helped here was tyre pressure . . . After listening to Dougie Shearer's advice recently, I've been running much lower pressures.  Given the conditions for this race, I ran 23psi rear and 21psi front.  It really did help with the grip on these sections!

I got down that descent with Craig still behind me, but closing in.  As I crossed the start/finish line to commence my 4th and final lap, I grabbed my bottle from my wife in the feed zone and told myself I had to give it everything to build the gap from Craig.  I knew he had a damn good chance of catching me and I did not want to risk what happened back in Abriachan where I lost a place near the end of the last lap.  Although, at least this time it was 2nd vs. 3rd rather than missing the podium like at Abriachan!

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

Craig kept the pressure on me, as I continued to look over my shoulder, but I built up a good enough gap to keep ahead for that final descent and pushed as hard as I could all the way to the finish to take 2nd place about a minute ahead of him.  Scott finished first, about 4 minutes ahead of me, and I clearly had no chance of catching him after that first lap.

I have no idea what I'm doing with my face here, maybe my mouth was full of mud! But I was rather happy to cross the line in 2nd place: 

Novantae: SXC Rd.5 (Lochore Meadows) &emdash;

I sometimes wonder why I put myself through the pressure of racing, and don't just go back to riding my mountain bike for fun, but this race really reminded me why I do it.  I absolutely loved that battled with Craig for 2nd and 3rd place.  It was great fun, whether I was in front or behind.  It's all really friendly and we all congratulated each other afterwards, but it's so exciting trying to chase someone down, or looking over your shoulder in the hope that they're not catching you.

I have to thank all the racers for a great race, and well done to Scott on the win and Craig on 3rd!  The marshals were great, the course was great and, as always, the organisation of the SXC committee was perfect!  

I'm really happy with how the race went, despite my daft rear tyre choice!  I tried out a new warm-up routine and a new nutrition plan and they both worked out perfectly.  I felt that my descending was much better on the 3rd and 4th lap once I got over my fear of the rear tyre slipping and I don't think I could have pushed much harder, so overall a great result for me personally.

There's just one race left in the SXC Series this year, at Dalbeattie, and it also doubles as the Scottish Championships.  I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be a great one to watch and given it's the Championships too, there will be final series positions and championship positions to be announced that day.  So come along to watch some exciting racing if you can!  Sunday 14th September and there will no doubt be more details on the SXC website nearer the time.


  1. Great work Derek, shame about the rear tyre. I never realised you could run pressures so low in XC races (my other half is making me train at 30 psi on the back so I get used to it sliding out...!) Good luck for Cannock next week!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I used to run about 27/29 or 25/27 in wet conditions but Dougie pointed out that may be the reason I was struggling for grip at Abriachan. I now run 23/25 if it's dry and rocky or down to 21/23 if it's wet, muddy and slippy. May go even lower some day too. This is tubeless, of course . . . wouldn't go that low with tubes! :-)