SQ#1 Battle Of The Bing

A new year, a new cyclocross series to tackle!

First time doing the Broxburn “BoTB” course, so got there nice and early to get signed up, number pinned on and wee look at the course. However, when I rolled up it was clear that there was both a half hour delay in proceedings and a large and very wet storm cloud arriving. As the rain poured down and the wind blew hard, I tried my best to shelter under a tree, but trees have no leaves in winter and so all of the merry “B” race riders got well and truly soaked before placing a wheel upon the race course.

Eventually, a whistle was blown to signal that the course was open for practise. “Just one practise lap” cautioned the commissaire, which seemed more than generous. The course was a fine mix of rideable and non-rideable steep ups, muddy off cambers, a pump track and a rather committed steep descent. I’d seen videos of this descent on YouTube and had decided that surely the camera was making it look higher and steeper than it really was – most Scottish CX courses don’t have that Belgian-like technical features. But I was mistaken – it really is quite high and quite steep, and quite rutted and muddy for good measure. It was a case of dropping in with a bit of care to line up with the rut, then removing your fingers from the brake and letting gravity take over. Whoosh! I’ve never noticed marshalls with red flags at a CX race before, but there were some here – presumably anticipating muddy carnage.

The whole field was gridded, and I was maybe halfway down in this B race. The run up to the first corner was sketchy, with a guy on front of me braking and I had to kick my foot out to stay upright. As we reached the twisty off-camber a huge bottleneck formed as most riders dismounted to run. I kept riding more than most – you’re narrower on the bike and I found I could squeeze through wee gaps better whilst riding. We made it round past the finish line and headed towards the spiral. At this point, someone came out from the pits and meandered right across my bunch whilst look down at their pedals. I had to take avoiding action, and then he tangled with another rider in the spiral – a chaotic first lap.

The course then headed up a root-sy woodland bank – I rode this climb half of the time, but fluffed line choice or got blocked on the other laps and had to push. I really helps to preride these sections and decide on one line to aim for every lap, rather than blundering in a doing different things each time.

The rest of the lap had a pretty exhausting push-up, and my shoes felt very loose whilst running. Some folks were managing to ride this, but every time I tried my line was blocked by someone ahead. Then round through the pump track and onto the offcambers. These were rideable in the early laps, so long as you carried momentum into them. But as the race progressed, they got muddier and riding wasn’t much faster than running. By the last few laps, I was entirely running the mid section.

Much to my surprise, my seat got dislodged halfway through the race and ended up at a jaunty angle pointing upwards. I stopped briefly to ineffectually hit it with my hand, but to no avail. It was barely rideable, since my weight was being tipped towards the rear wheel. I briefly considered giving up at that point, but decided to try for another lap and see if I could either stand the whole way or somehow adapt. In the end I managed to keep going, but the flat power sections were really difficult to put down any power.

By the last lap, I was part of a group of four. I managed to get in front via a good choice of where to ride and where to run on the off camber. On the penultimate straight, another rider overtook me (with my borked saddle) which wasn’t the end of the world since it meant I was following him into the final hairpin and could see him. On the drag to the line he had a little lead, but I decided this was the moment to spring a surprise volgas sprint. I think the other guy tried to respond, but his foot unclipped from the pedal (shades of MvdP) and I managed to squeak ahead with metres to go.

Timing shows I was in p23 on lap 1 and made up a place every lap to eventually finish in 18th out of 64 starter. My pace was pretty steady throughout – I tried hard to not over do it on lap 1 since I was starting cold. Tyres were fine – 28psi, tubeless. My hands were pretty cold with the rain and 4C temperature. I was wearing my thin MTB gloves, but should’ve put nitrile gloves on under (top tip for cold wet days – your hands get wet from sweat but at least they’re warm).

All in all, a fun first Battle of the Bing for me despite the terrible weather. Roll on SQ#2 at Linlithgow in a week’s time!

2022 SCX#8 Fife College

Sooo … the plan was to finish 2022 with one final cyclocross race. I was looking forward to Fife College, which is always a mudfest. I .. believed .. I had entered the race weeks ago at the same time as I entered the Battle of the Bing race. But when the race pack hadn’t arrived by Thursday, I checked my email and realised that I’d screwed up and just hadn’t entered the Fife College round at all! D’oh!

I emailed Paul (race organiser) to see if there was any possibility of a late entry (on-the-day entry used to be possible back in the day). But nowadays all the awesome computerised timing and pre-organised race-numbers-in-envelopes means there’s lots of logistics to set up ahead of time. So no race for me.

But since I’d already “booked” the day for cyclocross in my head, it seemed poor form to just sit on the sofa and be annoyed, so instead I volunteered to help marshal at the race. This turned out to be quite fun and interesting and I’m glad I did it.

Race day was freezing cold. I turned up early, found Paul Davies (race organiser) and he sent me and Paul Zarb off to talk to the race commissaires to find out what our job would be. We ended up doing the manual part of the race timing for the whole day. Although these races all use wonderful electronic timing, there’s also a backup manual timing process. In the event of a complete computer failure, this would be the fallback. But it’s also common for there to be problems with individual chips – whether hardware or just the rider forgetting to wear the chip.

I basically had a clipboard, and Paul Zarb would shout out the rider numbers as they passed the finish line and I’d write them down. Rinse, repeat for several laps. Then repeat again for several races. Although sometimes it’s hectic to write down 10 numbers quickly, it’s also kind of hypnotic and relaxing – a bit like playing bingo for hours. On the early laps, you can kinda guess which riders are likely to be appearing next, based on their lap 1 positions – usually riders cluster into little groups. But later in the race when the leaders start lapping the slower riders it gets harder to track, and once everything gets muddier it’s harder to read the rider numbers. By the last race, I’d sort of invented a way to track the mix of leaders and backmarkers lap-to-lap – I’m sure people who do this a lot have got this all figured out.

In the end, given the freezing temperatures I wasn’t too sad to not be racing. Given I was just standing still, I dressing in full winter set up – thermal leggings, trousers then snowboarding trousers. I was never warm, but I wasn’t cold either. The only bit of me that suffered was my feet. Thick woolly socks and welly boats weren’t enough – the welly boots on cold ground just seem to suck the heat out from your feet. I started dreaming of USB-powered heated wellies for a while ..

After all the racing was over, I helped out tearing down the course – pulling out stakes and winding up miles of tape. As a racer, I knew there was lots of race logistics for the organisers to deal with but I hadn’t fully appreciated just how much work goes into the course setup.

All in all, it was a fun – but very different – day out. The volunteers who put on these races do a huge amount of work to make them happen. The race officials who travel around to all the different races are super stars. I realised that the “execution” of the race itself is primarily under the control of the commisaires, rather than the race organiser himself. For example, the race organiser was busy doing podium presentations for the previous race whilst the next race was being gridded. But even the little details fascinated me – someone has to sit down and prepare three separate prizes for each of five races, and store them in a neat order so they can be found at the right moment. Someone has to go to the shops to buy an appropriate number of chocolate selection boxes to give as part of the race prizes. Someone has to acquire a suitable waterproofed PA system and mics and battery (and spare generator, as it happened!). I’ve organised music gigs and night clubs before, but these race events start with an empty fields and everything else has to be brought in. It really was a slick operation, with responsibility for different aspects of the event being delegated to separate groups.

So unexpectedly, SCX#8 Fife College was a great day of racing, even though I didn’t do any pedalling at all!

2022 SCX#7 Kinneil X

November 27th cyclocross race was my first time at Kinneil, just outside of Bo’ness. In addition to its cyclocross palmares, it’s also the location where James Watt worked on his steam engines – pretty cool!

A quick sighting lap revealed a nice mixture of twisty muddy hilly turns near the start, some long power sections in the middle, and an awesome woodland up-and-down incorporating a pump track. The default tyres which came on my new race bike weren’t handling the muddy bits, so I opted to change tyres to the Limus (tubed) set I got years ago at put them at 36PSI. This was slightly stressful given lack of time and the muddy state of everything, but the new tyres gave much more grip. I even ended up deliberately pushing the front harder and harder into the chicane turns to see where the limit was – they were that grippy.

I was gridded about 2/3rd of the way down. Off we shot around the first few turns onto the straight. On my warmup lap, I’d scouted out if the far left and far right of the track was rideable (it was) and so when everyone else bottlenecked for the next corner, I changed off the main line and passed about 10 people in one move.

The rest of the race was spent being steadily repassed by these 10 riders, who turned out to be fitter and faster than me in the long run. But it was a fun track, and on the technical sections and grip-limited sections I’d pull ahead – although eventually I’d lose out on the long power drags. I found that pedalling throughout the corners helped me judge the grip level and despite a few “drifting” moments I remained upright throughout.

By the last lap, I’d found my steady position in the race. I could see the guy chasing me, but knew that if I pushed a bit I’d maintain the gap and hold onto my position. Overall, I felt pretty good throughout the race and was able to push a steady pace and turn on the power for the climb each lap. So it was slightly disappointing to only finish 40th out of 54 (74%) given how good I’d felt.

Takeaways? Once again, it’s mainly the flat/power sections that I lose out most. I realised that perhaps all the fun zwift races I’d been doing weren’t the best kind of training. I ought to be focusing on more structured training – over/under intervals and threshold work, rather than the typical “medium pace then crazy pace” that most zwift races are.

Anyhow, thumbs up for Kinneil CX – great course and enjoyed the race!