The Cyclocross season is now well underway, both in Scotland and around the UK. For those not familiar with the discipline it normally involves riding (and running) round a short (1-2 mile) off-road course for one hour plus one lap. The courses vary significantly with a diverse mix of terrain, from tarmac to grass, to woodland single-track (to almost anything depending on how devious the organizer is feeling!). There is alwasy at least one obstacale forcing riders to dismount and carry their bikes; this could be a muddy bank to steep to ride up, a set of steps or a set of hurdles.
I say cyclocross is ‘normally’ an hour blast as the traditional season opener is something significantly more meaty- the Three Peaks Cyclocross (3PCX). 3PCX involves riding a bike over the three highest peaks in Yorkshire, Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent. Though the route is different the basics are the same as the fell race, the winner is normally the same too- Rob Jebb. This years race was run in fantastic conditions, somewhat different to last year (thanks to James C for the picture below showing the monsoon conditions of 2012). Having had a quiet season, only entering a few events, I was keen for a result at the 3 Peaks, resigned to the fact that I wouldn’t be challenging Jebb (can anyone? Alastair Brownlee maybe?) but confident that I could be well up there I was looking forward to the race. The start was not so good, I struggled with the high pace on the initial road section and couldn’t go with the leaders. Up Simon Fell and onto the top of Ingleborough I was pretty grumpy knowing I was well outside the top 20, not where I wanted to be. Determined to make amends I attacked the downhill run of Ingleborough hard, pulling in 12 places and going from outside the top twenty into 14th place, a bit more like it. The few miles of road work along to Whernside were into a savage headwind, luckily I had two companions to share the work and we made good progress. Whernside was tough and the first signs of cramp began to creep in so it was a case of pushing as hard as possible whilst not digging too deep. Again the descent off Whernside went well, another couple of places picked up and crutially no punctures- the main thing to avoid in this race. More road and more headwind along to Pen-y-ghent but thankfully also another two strong riders to share the work. PYG is by far the most rideable climb of the three but by this point the legs are really feeling it so it’s a tough slog. Thankfully my mum was waiting at the bottom with a bottle of coke for a rapid caffeine and sugar boost to fuel me over the last peak. Much like Whernside the climb of PYG was a case of going as fast as possible whilst not going crazy and blowing up. Having slipped back on the climb I was again determined to reclaim two lost places on the final descent so it was a case of staying off the brakes and holding on. Thankfully, again, no punctures and no crashes though a few ‘moments’ pushing the pace whilst trying to avoid riders on their way up (you climb and descent the same track on PYG!). Another fast and smooth descent allowed me to pull back two places for 12th at the finish, achingly close to the top 10 I was after but never mind it was a great day out in one in one of the UK’s best bike races.
Slightly closer to home the first round of the Scottish Cyclocross Series took place at Auchentoshan on the first weekend of October. A fantastic wee course and well run event organized by Glasgow United CC. I was happy to get 3rd in this having had a cracking race-long battle with and Colin May who was flying on his singlespeed machine. We pushed each other as hard as we could, trying in vain to catch the lone leader who had broken away on the first lap. I faltered slightly on a run up and Colin snuck away, that’s cross though, much like running the smallest gap is all you need to slip away from an opponent. Great race though and I can’t wait for round 2 this weekend at Callendar Park. For more info on the Scottish Series have a look here; http://www.scottishcyclocross.org.uk/ If any other Westies fancy having a go at cyclocross give me a shout and I’ll try and help out with any questions you have. The Scottish races are relaxed, good fun and you can enter on any off-road capable bike.