Boy and his Bike Part 5a: Cyclocross

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On the way to winning the junior race at Glennifer Braes. Pic MM

 

The next part of my diary takes me both forward and back in different senses. It throws back to the time where I was pretty much exclusively an off roader, racing only MTB and CX, but also forward in that it was the first big step forward into success on the bike. That said, it was a bizarre CX season.

At the end of the 2012 Scottish Cyclocross season I was handed the Junior series title, and accolade I’m still pretty proud of to this day, but it by no means signifies that I was the best Scottish junior cyclocross rider that season. What I was, was consistent, and persistent. All of the better riders rode only one or two races in the season, so the fact that I turned up week in week out meant that I was one of only a few, that stood a chance to win the overall. That’s not to detract from the battle that did ensue. The other consistent, persistent rider in the junior ranks that year was Bryan Moodie, and the two of us had some pretty epic battles all things considered. One week he won, next it was me, it was quite a story. Anyway, the specifics:

The first race of the season, which is now the traditional season opener, was at Callendar Park in Falkirk. The race takes in some pretty scenic parkland around Callendar House, and for the lucky among us that were there that day, it was a beautiful sunny day. By the way, this was at the time that the Juniors raced with both the women and the vets, before the decision was made to draw out the over 40’s category into their own race, so it was a pretty hectic affair I ran in 27th overall, pretty insignificantly, beaten in the junior category by Calum Foster (he was one of those much better riders I was talking about earlier) who finished in the top 10 overall. But a 2nd place put me in a good position to do something in the series.

The second race was the legendary, and now defunct, Auchentoshan CX. I can’t remember exactly where I was but if memory serves I had vastly improved and was actually in the top ten or so for the majority of the race, before puncturing and having to run a section of the race to get back in to the pits for a bike change (punctures were a recurring theme in this season). Just before that I had cockily shouted across the tape at Graham McGarrity to “catch me if you can” as I was a wee bit up on him. Well, he did, and I finished just inside the top 20, and second in the Junior race, to the formidable Iain Paton (another one of those better riders I was talking about) who won the race overall that day.

The third race was the most northern, and one of my favourite races, Knockburn Loch. I always like travelling to this part of the world because it affords a chance for me to stay with the Cranston clan in Montrose overnight. My dad and Sylvia Cranston knew each other from the triathlon scene and it’s always a pleasure staying there, we are always extremely well fed and watered and kept suitably comfortable. The chat is great too, it’s always nice to catch up with them. The race was a bit of a disaster that day mind you. It was the first day I knew it was possible for me to pick up a win in the junior category as it was only Bryan Moodie there that I knew could come close. I just couldn’t put a run together, though. Long before I understood anything about tyre pressure or proper CX bike setup and I was all over the place. Countless skids and crashes and again I rolled in to finish 20th, with Bryan besting me to get the junior win in 13th. But that’s when I started to hit my stride.

My fourth race of the season was a non-series race the Thomson’s Cycles’ Halloween Howler, organised by my ‘sponsor’ the race’s eponymous shop and team mate Lynsey Carson. Held high up on the Glennifer Braes in Paisley the race was open to the elements, and, by god, did the lements deliver. Wet, windy and bitterly cold, taking to the start line came with a certain level of smugness with my travel buddy Graham McGarrity saying “fuck that”, and refusing to get out of Michael Martin’s van to start. A depleted field set off on the course and quickly me and one of the better vets of the year James Melville made off into the distance taking a considerable gap out of the rest of the field. I played the dumb card for as long as James was there, staying deep in his wheel and out of the wind, it was one of those days where drafting was pretty important in a CX race. However, James punctured quite far round the course and it was a pretty long course by CX standards, meaning he was out of the race and I was out on my own. The gap was comfortable, I was going to come in in front of the entire field, not just the juniors. That was until I punctured (didn’t I tell you about that recurring theme?). There was this one bit of the course where you had to go over this crumbling stone dyke wall, and it was maybe about half a foot off the ground, easy enough to bunny hop? Aye, maybe for a skilful rider. With the wind in my chamois and the fact too that my dad was marshalling that particular part of the course I wanted to show off and pssssst, down my back wheel came on the stone dyke wall, and down went my inner tube. Shite. As I previously said, this was a particularly long CX course, so I had some work to do if I was going to get to the pits in a favourable position. A mixture of riding the bike on the rim, but mostly shouldering the bike and running miraculously got me to the pits still ahead of the field. I grabbed my spare bike took about two pedal strokes and vomited over the bars. The extra effort of running had turned my stomach and ultimately put me out of contention to win overall in that race. I managed to nurse my way round to finish first in the juniors, with my now teammate Ruari Yeoman beside me on the podium, but I still regret that day greatly. The race was never held again either so I didn’t get my chance to have another go. But I had won a junior CX race, and that was where things started to get good. I’ll tell you next time.

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On the top step of the podium at Glennifer Braes. Ruari Yeoman in 2nd

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Boy and his Bike Part 4: rounding out my first year

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Although I’ve never went terribly well at this time of year, I quickly learned that post July is my favourite time of the season. For the second cat and under, there are some ace races at the tail end of the season. Wanlockhead is probably my favourite race I’ve ever competed in. There’s so much that appeals about it, the fact it’s long(ish), it’s one big loop (no mundane circuits), and the Mennock is just awesome. When paired with the private road that leads right out of Wanlockhead to the golfball, although it doesn’t do that in the race, it’s the longest road climb in Great Britain. If that doesn’t peak a racer’s interest, I don’t know what does. Furthermore, I had watched Scotland’s last remaining Premier Calendar The Tour Doon Hame go over it both ways earlier in the year. One day it was pissing rain freezing cold and the next scorching, impressive to see both ways, I couldn’t wait to race up it.

So after the getting my 3rd cat license after the 4th cat race at the crit champs, onto Wanlockhead it was. It’s seriously such a great loop, out from Muirkirk and up the Glentaggart there are always some early attacks, generally brought in on the road round to Sanquhar. That road is great, it’s fast as fuck, and if there’s a chase on you can rattle along it feeling like you’re in the Tour. Going on to the next part you cut through Sanquhar before heading up the Mennock pass. Because they’re roads I train on I always want to do something around there. Heading onto the Mennock pass that day I felt good and got myself near the front, but my relative inexperience caught me out and I was distanced going into Wanlockhead. For anyone that’s done that climb you’ll know that it kicks really harshly out of Wanlockhead. Pretty cruel when you’re just off the back watching the bunch push on over the top, knowing that the run out is so fast you have no chance of getting back in, especially on your own on junior gears.

I can’t remember where I finished that day, but it was a crawl over the line, but I was hooked on that type of racing. A race for the hard men no doubt about it. A guy from ERC, Neil Taylor won that day, solo if I remember correctly. Was pretty impressive. I’m sure he was actually away from before the climb which is something I’ve only ever seen then. In every other edition of the race it’s been won by someone who was still in the bunch at the bottom of the Mennock pass.

The other really great race in that same vein is the Lammermuirs. One of my oldest cycling buddies and now teammate Scott McCrossan won it in 2011 and gained his 1st cat license in the process. He once said thank fuck he managed that because he would never have to ride it again. The race traditionally takes in a few laps of the Gifford circuit before veering out of the town on Gifford into the Lammermuir hills. The first, and hardest, test of the race is the formidable Redstone Rig. It ramps high in to the teens% for prolonged sections, and as it is in moorland the wind can play a big part in the outcome of this climb, and the race as a whole, before doing a loop round the braes of the Lammermuirs, finishing atop the rig from another side. Craig Wallace won that year, beating out the relative newcomer to the sport Steven Lawley. For those in the know, they’ll recognise how good the field was from just those two name, both those chaps have achieved fantastic things in the interim. I finished 31st, but came away from it knowing that one day I would love to win that race.

The last race of the year was one of the best, one of, or maybe the, first edition of the Ballater Falling leaves stage race. Still a one day affair at this point, there was a prologue in the morning and a road race in the afternoon. I travelled up with my team mate at the time John Fox. A long morning in the car and we were greeted by freezing temperatures in the tiny wee town of Ballater. I remember putting on my skinsuit in an attempt at aerodynamics for the prologue TT before piling on the layers just before the start because of how nippy it was. Paul Friel, another Couriers teammate also lent me his pointy hat just before the start, which was a mistake as the medium helmet was just too wee for my massive napper and I felt like I was getting my heid squeezed in a vise for the duration of the TT. The TT was uneventful to say the least, I’ve never been any good at pushing myself in that way, although John who I had travelled up with missed the left turn up to the finish, he was fizzing at the marshall. The road race was a bit more of interest though. Having just done the two 2/3/4 hilly races I’ve just mentioned I had ridden myself into a bit of form and was relishing the uphill finish, with it being a 3/4 race I was in with a shout. The bunch stayed pretty well together and John was looking after me for the sprint. We hadn’t reccied the finish, which turned out to be pivotal. We were going on the distance John’s Garmin was showing him, and it led to him burning out way too quickly. I followed some other wheels but one of the local lads, David Anderson knew exactly where the finish was and went at the perfect time. I’m sure if I’d known where it was I could have had him. I finished 2nd in that stage.

Annoyingly we waited round for a prize that never came, and that was a sort of metaphor for my now finished road season. The cross that followed was better. Next time!

 

 

Boy and his Bike part 3: Politics

Something I find totally fascinating in any vocation in life, be it a job, a sport, a hobby like music or art, is the fact that all of them have in some way unique politics. A lot of the broad strokes can be the same but there are nuances in each and every different political situation, that make them fascinating even to an outsider. Of course it’s possible to stay out of the politics that may surround you. I, for example, try not to get involved in bike racing politics. I have opinions, yes, but I often find myself weighing up the pros and cons of getting involved, and in most cases the cons usually send the pros skyward.  Of course there are also those people that go out of their way to get involved.

Before I start in earnest let me say this, I’m in no way taking a dig at anyone, or trying to dig up any unpleasantness that may have gone before, the reason I’m going to tell the story is an exploration of how bike racing politics captivated me for the first time, and how really you should always let yourself form your own opinions of people (although this approach can bite you on the arse as well, I’ve found it usually fares better).

So there I was: a 4th cat bike racer, in search of more points to gain my 3rd cat license. The next race was the Scottish Crit Champs’, in Paisley town centre, support race, 4th cat only. It turns out I got the points I needed to go to 3rd cat that day, finishing 4th. Although, and I’ll tell this part very briefly, the race was dominated, for me, by another event. The course took in part of Causeyside Street in Paisley, before turning left towards Glasgow and round the Abbey. There was one really tight bend on the far corner of the course and I felt as though I had positioned myself really well into it. Coming out I felt someone grab the back of my skinsuit and pull me back down the line, shouting and swearing about how I had cut him up in the corner. I reckon whoever it was had tried to go up the inside in the corner. Not advised. Anyway, that properly shook me and I couldn’t get back into the right position for a sprint. I finished out the race in fourth. It was won by a Spanish guy who was over doing an exchange with Scottish cycling – he had won the Battle of the Braes the previous day too, Alain Ramirez I think his name was. There was another skirmish coming over the line, all of a sudden I had guys shouting and balling at me, one guy was shouting that  he couldn’t get round me in the sprint (eh, of course ya dick, that’s the whole point) anyway, the controversy of the day wasn’t that.

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Wayne Barr, me, at the 2012 crit champs 4th cat support race. 

In writing this I’ve realised I’m a year out, the controversy I’ve been hinting at was actually when I was a youth, in 2011, the crit champs were held on the same course hence my confusion. Anyway, as much as I’d like to, I won’t go into too much detail about this, some of it is quite unpleasant and I Don’t particularly want to piss anyone off, but here’s some of the details: in the Billy Warnock Super6 race that year, there were some questionable tactics by the Endura development pair of Davie Lines and Gary Hand. I wasn’t there but I’ve heard the story a bunch of times and here’s what I’ve put together: Davie had some sort of mechanical that rendered his bike un-rideable for the rest of the race. Instead of pulling out, Davie apparently commandeered a bike from a spectator (a women’s bike depending who you ask) and jumped back in the race when it came back round again. Now although in real terms Davie should have just appeared on the finishing sheet as a lap down, or a DNF, I don’t know, it was his riding back into the race to then lead out his team mate Gary to win the race that caused the controversy. Or did it. In days past, an event like this may have passed, words been spoken among riders and that would be that. But with the infinite possibilities of communication, brought to the fore by Tim Berners Lee’s greatest invention, small controversies can be dragged out and out until they seem way bigger than they actually are.

For those, relatively, new to the Scottish cycling scene, before all the moans and whines of riders went on Facebook, there was the Braveheart Forum. For the especially young guys, yes this was facilitated by the Braveheart cycling fund that’s printed on the GCT jerseys. But anyway, after the Billy Warnock that day, Scottish Cycling’s greatest antagonist (sorry, Martin!) Martin Lonie took to the Braveheart forum, to post about the events, sticking up for the absent James McCallum. The way it had worked out, by virtue of winning the Billy Warnock, Gary Hand had won the series that year from James, and Martin argued that he would have been mightily pissed off had he been in James’ shoes. The post went viral, before the term viral was even coined. Everyone and their granny had something to say on this post. A notable one was Davie Lines in a rather noble admission of guilt asking to be removed from the results. The forum used to have these wee flames that would appear when a topic was being heavily commented on, this was a veritable inferno.

Anyway, the point of me bringing this story up is this. In 2011 when I went to Paisley first of all to compete in the Youth A crit champs, then to watch the following races including the elite men, I had this image in my head that it was some big showdown between Davie Lines and James McCallum. It was like the boxing posters, “THE REMATCH”, or whatever, this was James’ chance to get Davie back for the series. And the funniest part about all this is, I watched Davie win the champs that day and was totally raging, because Davie had become this villain in my head, a guy that wasn’t to be liked, just because of what my young mind was reading on the Braveheart forum. In the ensuing years I’d like to say I’ve become good friends with Davie (so I hope this post doesn’t piss him off!), he’s always been willing to offer a bit of advice to the young rider, and he even won my dad’s memorial race last year, and in contrast to watching him win the crit champs in 2011, I couldn’t have been happier to see Davie win the race in memory of my old man.

The moral of the story is this: take people at face value. It can be easy in any sport or competitive field, I assume, for people to garner reputations. People can be painted as something they’re not because of what others say and what they hear from others, I think it’s been important for me throughout my time on the bike to feel people out for myself. If you don’t you can wind up with prejudices that have no basis and it’s just not a nice feeling more than anything else.

For now, I’ve rattled past my  self-imposed thousand word word count for these posts, so I’ll sign off for now. Next time the end of my first season, and into my most successful cross season

Boy and his bike, Part 2: gaining momentum

I forgot to mention in the first instalment, that at this point (2012) I was riding for the Glasgow Couriers. A club with a pretty proud tradition, I joined from Peebles CC because they were a far more road orientated club. Really it was a bit of a bizarre choice for a club, but at that point there were actually quite a few lads from round my way, Carluke, in the club. The way I heard it the reason for this was due to a guy from Lanark called Alex Hay. He had talked my dad and a few others into the couriers with chat about doing an 100 mile TT or a 12 hour I can’t quite remember. That never came off anyway, but there was born a Clyde Valley Couriers contingent, being part of which I enjoyed.

So, I was just home from the Dundee 2 day, and in search of my 3rd cat license. It’s amazing when you’re young how wrapped up you can come in something like cycling. Especially when you have someone looking after all the annoying stuff, maintaining the bike, buying stuff for the bike. Christ at that age all I had to do was turn up and ride, Dad did most stuff else, although as I started working at Cyclesmith in Rutherglen on Saturdays, I not only started earning my own cash to pay for stuff, but I started to learn how to fix my own bikes and look after them, so the days of being looked after hand and foot weren’t long. Anyway, my next race after Dundee was the Lothian Flyer road race, and this was still in the turn up and ride phase. This race presented me with a unique opportunity in that it was on roads that I often use to train on, the circuit being from Stobo village hall, out and up the Dreva turning left before the top and round to Drumellzier road and back round Dreva for a few laps, finishing the last time up to the top of Dreva.

On paper this race was a great chance for me to get some points towards my 3rd cat license, uphill finish suited me, although in hindsight I probably wouldn’t have got anywhere near a win, the guy that won it was a big strong guy that muscled his way onto the top of the podium. The story of this race is quite short. It was pissing with rain and on the first lap after going up Dreva, down and left onto Drumellzier road someone went down in front of me, I don’t know how it was a straight flat bit of road, and I went over the top. I remember seeing him going down then the next thing I knew I had been peeled off the road and stuck in the back of the first aid car. I must have hit my head pretty hard as the helmet was smashed up pretty badly. Day over, I remember being pretty pissed off I’d have liked to see how I went at the end of a day like that.

I scored some points a few weeks later on my birthday at one of the Ingliston 4th cat crits. I don’t remember much of that race, but likely I scuppered my chances of getting a win by riding round that bottom corner like a total pussy. I still do it every time. After that was the East Kilbride Summertime Classic, my first taste of the infamous Clunch Road circuit, a circuit that has been very good to me since. Paul McInally won that day, one of the most well deserved wins I’ve ever seen in a bike race. He was relentless attacking all day and in every move. Won it at a canter in the end, on his own if I remember correctly.

I got my first taste of racing in England after that, with me and my teammate Keith Laird heading to one of the CDNW events. For those that didn’t experience the CDNW events, they were this series of races in the north west of England (Cycling Development North West, duh) which always had an E/1/2/3 race and a 3/4 race, week in week out. Your team paid an entry fee for the series and had to commit a marshall for at least one of the events. In return you got some great quality racing. I only ever managed to go to the 3/4  events but I heard the E/1/2/3 races were of the highest quality, Matt Cronshaw won the E/1/2/3 that day, he’s still a big hitter these days. Anyway this race was quite an interesting one, it was on a countryside circuit, pretty mundane stuff apart from a really steep climb right in the middle, which turned out to not be that pivotal. What was pivotal was the wind. If you cast your mind back to the 2009 Tour de France (or if you can’t watch the documentary Chasing Legends, which follows the HTC Columbia team, and Mark Cavendish, that year) on Stage 3 there was this section of road that almost zig-zagged and the way the wind was blowing meant that they kept getting these high crosswinds and HTC Columbia hit the front in the crosswinds and managed to split the bunch. The race was all over the road, Cavendish won the day, but crucially Lance Armstrong made the split on his comeback tour, with his Astana Team leader Alberto Contador stuck in the back group. Anyway, this day at the CDNW, there was a pretty similar wind and road situation, and I reckoned that a few bodies going full gas through the section could split the race pretty decisively. It did. But I wasn’t in the move. Not having the balls to pick it up myself I missed out and chased in vain to get back in the break but couldn’t get there. In the end I finished 12th or thereabouts, sprinting away from my group with ease. Keith, who I was down with, finished 3rd and reckoned that if I had been in the break I would have outsprinted them all. So all the way home he called me a fanny and kept laughing at me. Wouldn’t let someone pinch my tactics like that again.

 

The next instalment of this is going to be a meaty one, dealing with my first experience of some of the politics that exist in amateur bike racing. Tune in for that.

Boy and his bike: Part 1 – The first race.

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Let me start by saying that I used to have a really great name for this piece. I was going to call it Confessions of a 3rd cat, because of my aptitude for getting kicked back down to 3rd cat every year I gain a 2nd cat license. However at the time of writing I just got my best result ever probably and have bumped my way back up again, so I’ve signed myself up for 2 more years at 2nd cat and that means I’ve probably spent more time at 2nd than 3rd, so that was that.

I’ve been considering the idea of documenting my bike racing days for a while for a few reasons: Firstly, I’ve never been great at keeping a diary even though I’ve always been told to. I’ve been given a few diaries over the year, my aunt gave me a cracking wee book called Cycling Notes, you could keep note of every day you went out, what you did, document the routes you used, it was so easy. I didn’t do it. Even worse my sister gave me a wee diary called One Line a Day. Even that was too much. Secondly, I want to remember my years on the bike, because what’s happened on the bike really has been a major constant, and one of the biggest factors of my existence since I started. My youth racing days have already merged into what seems like these long Ingliston and Bellahouston crits, dirt crits at Glentress and the odd foray into ‘cross near the end. I think I smashed my youth memories out of my head falling off the mountain bike so much, I really wasn’t great at keeping it upright, hence the move to road racing as a junior. A pretty memorable one was at the SXC at Comrie Croft trying to overtake a much better rider by taking the A line down a wee descent. Over I went onto my dome and out went the past few years of racing bikes. Not to say I didn’t have some memorable moments though, finishing third behind the Wilcox brothers (there’s a name that’ll strike fear into the hearts of any youth MTB racers born in the mid 90’s!) at the Peebles Stage Race, and giving the bunch the slip with Aidan Quinn at Bellahouston to come the closest I ever got to a youth road win was nice too.

Anyway onto the first ever road race. The year was 2012 and the very first race was actually a stage race, the Dundee thistle 2 day for that matter. I believe the race had a bit of an illustrious past, having been an E/1/2/3 the year prior, but due to some dodgy riding the year prior (or so I hear) the decision was made to take it down to a 3/4. It was quite a special occasion looking back, as it was one of the few times I actually got to race alongside my dad. You understand that prior to taking up racing I had no idea that there was anyone else quicker than my dad that wasn’t in the Tour de France. Turns out there’s a gulf there, and my dad wasn’t that quick at all, he was what gets described in cycling as a ‘diesel engine’ – a term I always thought was quite patronising, and something I never wanted to be described as. To me it was a way to describe a rider who could power for miles but when it got sticky often didn’t have the goods. Which I still believe to be true, but not necessarily a bad thing. I digress.

On the Saturday morning we packed up the car and it was off to Dundee. The race started with a short prologue up to Dundee law (Check this out! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agRLRYZER6o) and being there pretty early I headed out for a spin up it. Seemed well doable, I went up with the lad that had parked next to us at the strip, Dan Halliday, he won the prologue later that morning.

After bluffing my way through the prologue it was onto the first road stage. All very new to me, races over 40 minutes, I was talked through it and told it was a flat day that finished up a hill, sounded simple enough. Round this route we went, pretty fast but I hung in fine on my junior gears. Then the single funniest incident I’ve encountered in a road race to date. I don’t know precisely what happened, and maybe the man in question will be able to give us a fuller account, but there was a bit of a stramash in the bunch behind me and glancing over my shoulder all I saw was a body flying off the top of this grass verge on the left hand side of the road into a dank muddy river on the other side. Hilarious. I found out a few years later that body was John Gartland, and apparently his chain had broke forcing him off the road and into the burn. Apparently the banter over the race radio was class. The driver of the first following car couldn’t get a message to the first aid for laughing. Dad was also caught up in the crash, minor scuffs but he couldn’t get back on and that was the problem on a 2 day race, I’m pretty sure he DNF’d. Anyway, other than that it was a rather uneventful day, spinning round the lanes, until we hit the hill. Having not done a recon I wasn’t sure of the finish, but someone mentioned a bridge about 200 metres from the line. Calum Foster one of my mates from the mountain bike scene and fellow junior popped off the front as soon as we hit the climb and no one followed. Calum soloed to a pretty impressive win, as I watched from behind, suddenly we were on a bridge. Oh shit. I finished 11th that day, not bad for my first RR, I would say. It was the second day that mattered anyway.

Dan Halliday that had won the prologue carried the leaders jersey into the second day and I suppose it was assumed that he would take it all the way. The third stage really was a monster, up this steep climb 3 or 4 times, finishing at the top. I think I held in for 2 ascents and then got dropped on the descent. Junior gears never do anyone a favour on the descents. Plus I was burst, two days racing like I never had before. Just before the 3rd time up the climb Stevie Robertson came up to me and gave it “Too much too soon!”. Smarmy bastard, I thought. He was right though. I’d killed myself early that day. WE pedalled up to the finish and sat in the sunshine and watched the race unfold. Some dude from down south had decimated the field and won by over two minutes, whilst Dan Halliday had had a puncture and couldn’t get back. He was fizzing coming over the line. That was the first time I saw passion like that for a race lost, that’s when I started to see what bike races could mean to someone. Legs cooked, it was home time.

 

Return of HTC – Highroad and Viscious Viviani

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Day one of the Tour of California and the first road stage of the Giro d’Italia delivered the ‘grandstand’ finishes they had billed. Spectators in Sacramento were greeted with an all too familiar sight of the past half a decade from the peloton, but first to Genoa where team Sky’s Italian fast man Viviani came away with the win.

In a day marred by several pretty nasty looking crashes, one of which – according to Trek Factory Racing’s Eugenio Alafaci – was caused by some genius on a fixie riding into the bunch, Viviani managed to come up looking brand new avoiding the fate delivered to other fast men including Australian road race champion Heinrich Haussler of IAM cycling who was seen rolling on the tarmac more than once. Possible worst off of all was Ettix Quickstep rider Pieter Serry who came over the line looking like he’d went a few rounds with Tyson, his ear was alright mind you, mostly his eye showing it.

One of the Eurosport commentators was particularly fast to dub the sprint as messy, and although I agree that the lead up to the sprint was pretty scattered, Viviani’s actual gallop was a masterpiece. The aerial shot revealed the way the Sky rider surfed the wheels in the last 500 metres leaving it to the last second to hit the wind. Orica Greenedge rider Michael Matthews looked to be the one to take the day after making his way to the front just a bit too early, although managing to take the Maglia Rosa I in a repeat of last years race. There’s no denying the stage win was well deserved after seeing Viviani having a bit of a tumultuous time throughout the spring classics particularly when a picture of him chasing a wheel he threw away across a field during the Strade Bianche. With fewer big name sprinters than we’ve seen in the grand tours of years past, Viviani has a chance of more stage wins if he’s able to displace Greipel and Boonen in the upcoming flat days.

Later on in Sacramento it was the Manx Missile that got his hands up after a textbook lead out by his team mates from HTC High- I mean Etixx Quickstep. After reeling in the breakaway with the face that seems to be taking most of the wind in these Pro Tour races, Will Clarke of Drapac, the boys at Etixx shrugged off the usual infiltrations by foolhardy teams trying to get one up on them before the gallop, with finally Mark Renshaw leading out Cav with Peter Sagan of Tinkoff Saxo hardly even close in second place.

Although in different colours than before it was hard to ignore the mirror image of the HTC Highroad train that we were so used to seeing a few years ago. Barring a few fleeting moments of brilliance in the past few years, this was probably the first time we’ve seen a dialled lead out train for Cavendish in the Belgian squad. The finish looked pretty bloody easy for the Manxman and although he’s always had an aptitude for picking his way through the crowd, now there’s other strong guys that can box with him, namely Kittel of Giant Alpecin, it’s not hard to imagine that Cavendish might be putting up a better fight than we seem from him last year in the Tour de France with his bodyguards around him.

Preview: Strathclyde Park CX

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Jack Ravenscroft leads Rab Wardell and David Lines at Callendar Park

Jack Ravenscroft leads Rab Wardell and David Lines at Callendar Park

The second round of the Ridley Scottish Cyclocross series is upon us this Sunday, October 12, at Strathclyde Country Park in Motherwell. The course behind M&Ds theme park has over the years become one of the riders’ favourites, representing both the traditional and the more extreme aspects of the Scottish Cyclocross series.

In the Senior men’s race, Rab Wardell (Orange Monkey Pro Team) is expected to double up on last weeks victory with a win in Motherwell. With last weeks 2nd place rider David Lines (Starley-Primal Pro Cycling) absent from proceedings this week young rider Jack Ravenscroft (Team Thomson’s Cycles) is expected to step up to the plate to challenge Rab.

In the womens race Anne Ewing (WV Breda) will be hoping to take first spit again as she did last week, however on the more technical course she will face stif competition for Team Scotland Commonwealth athlete Kerry MacPhee (Rock & Road) and furthermore if Isla Short (Team Thomson’s Cycles) makes her return this week then all bets are off.

Gary Macrae leads Colin May in last weeks Vet 40+ race

Gary Macrae leads Colin May in last weeks Vet 40+ race

In the Vet 40+ it looks as though Gary MacRae’s (Leslie Bike Shop) domination is set to continue for another year however if Colin May (Velo Club Edinburgh) gets over his growing pains in the veteran category he should be able to give MacRae a run for his money. Furthermore the Glasgow United duo of Stevie Jackson and Hans Forhaug may fare better on this weeks more technical course.

Racing kicks off at 9.50 with the under 8 category, so don your bobble hat, grab your cowbell and get on down to Strathy and do some heckling.

Wardell Wins in Falkirk

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Rab Wardell salutes his win at Falkirk

Robert Wardell turned himself “inside out” (Orange Monkey Pro Team) to draw first blood in the Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series today, taking the win from race organiser David Lines (Starley Primal) and young buck Jack Ravenscroft (Team Thomson’s Cycles). The hour-long race was hotly contested with the top three riders staying close together for the large majority of the race. Ravenscroft was first to be distanced by the relentless pace of the two elder statesmen of Scottish Cycling. Wardell managed to put distance into Lines when he had a spill and, although holding on, was being closed in on the rest of the race.

"I turned myself inside out."

Elsewhere in the veterans race, with a field of an impressive 125 riders, Gary McCrae (Leslie Bike Shop) reminded everyone of his continuing dominance in the 40+ category with a fine win over Colin May (Velo Club Edinburgh, 2013 Scottish Cyclocross Senior series winner), underlining that he is the man to beat again this year.

In the Women’s Race, Anne Ewing (WV Breda) managed to ride away from the rest of her rivals to take the maximum points towards the series standings.

Preview: Cyclocross at Callendar Park

[ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE EDINBURGH REPORTER 1/10/14]

The 2014 Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series kicks off in style in Falkirk, with the backdrop of the 14th century mansion at its centre, Callendar House.

Success from the 2013 series is expected to carry on with over 350 riders already pre-entered for the inaugural event with even more expected to enter on the line.

The Callendar Park event, now in its third year, has in the past attracted riders such as Grant Ferguson, Commonwealth Games athlete and all round British mountain bike legend, and with the tradition of such company the start list this year is of equal calibre.

Race organiser David Lines told The Edinburgh Reporter that the course will be suited to those riders not only adept at off-roading, but also those who have major success in road racing. He said:

“The course is really dry, fast and flowing with a few technical and off camber sections to test people out.”

“On this type of course I expect the likes of Rab Wardell (Orange Monkey Pro Team) (photographed on the right above) and James McCallum (NFTO Pro Cycling, ex-British Criterium Champion) to be the men to watch.”

Head along to Callendar Park where there promises to be exciting racing all throughout the day, beginning with the under-8′s at 9.50am all the way to the main event of the senior males at 2.00pm.

Pro-Cycling – Hot or Not

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[Cyclists are a superstitious bunch, and as such, it’s important to go with what’s hot.]

Time for a round-up of this years racing from the start to May. It was a very decent Classics season by all accounts, with a bit less dominance from Spartacus, but a satisfying run all the same. On top of that there’s been some pretty decent stage racing too with the Basque and Trentino.

With my expert analysis (i.e. hours of drinking coffee watching men in lycra) I’ve compiled my list of what’s hot and what’s not from the first 4 months of 2014.

What’s Hot?

National Champions Jerseys

Come on, let’s be honest, national champions jersey’s are cool. And this year, the national champs have been doing the business. Michal Kwiatkowski, Polish national champ, has been on fire this year (incidently my pick for the white jersey at the Tour this year) and wins at Strade Bianche, the prologue at Romandie, the Volta ao Algarve, and top tens in La Flèche Wallonne, LBL and Amstel Gold – Kwiatkowski is on fire in the Polish champion’s jersey.

Another example is Simon Gerrans, who won the Australian championship in arguably the best field at the race ever, boasting Team SKY’s Richie Porte and Tour de France winner Cadel Evans. This set him up perfectly to grasp the Tour Down Under overall and sprints jersey, as well as a stage. He’s also had a classics season to mirror the 2012 season when he last won the National Championships, claiming his second monument, LBL, to add to his win in Milan – San Remo. It’s also worth mentioning that this year Gerrans equalled his best result in Amstel Gold, claiming 3rd for the third.

Also honourable mention to British Champ, Mark Cavendish, you only have to take a look at the stage results at the Tour of Turkey to see that the boy racer is on form.

Aero helmets

Aero helmets have been a huge cause for debate in the past few years (I own one, Giro Air Attack to be precise, and although it looks like a mushroom cap, I have to admit it’s light and comfortable, and serves to keep your head warm in cold Scotland.) But this year they’re as popular as ever and Gerrans, in LBL, Niki Terpstra in Paris – Roubaix, have gone to show that aero helmets might just give a little bit more to the dark horses in the monuments.

OPQS

Being in Omega Pharma Quick Step is pretty hot this year, let’s be honest. They’ve far more victories than you can count on your fingers and toes, and the names Tony Martin, Michael Kwiatkowski, Mark Cavendish and Niki Terpstra are synonymous with winning this year. Honourable mention also goes to Tom Boonen who didn’t have the Classics campaign he planned , although winning Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne, personal circumstances probably left him on the back foot.

What’s Not

Beards

Beards ain’t cutting it this season. Although they may look good to some, hardly any of the dudes with facial fuzz have got their arms up this year. Notably Luca Paolini and Bradley Wiggins, arguably the beardiest men in the peleton, have been a bit of a flop this year. Paolini has looked strong all year, probably most so in Kristoff’s Koncerto at San Remo, but hasn’t been able to pull off the win that so many have tipped him for.

Being a World Champ

It’s probably the biggest curse in pro-cycling, the curse of the rainbow stripes. Rui Costa hasn’t had the best of luck this year in his road champs jersey, as some had tipped him for the Ardennes after his win in Florence last year. The same goes for Cyclocross world champ Zdenek Stybar who was tipped for the cobbled classics but never really had the impression he was tipped to have. Furthermore DH MTB world champ Greg Minaar lost on his home turf for only the second time ever at round one of the 2014 World Cup at Pietermaritzburg, where he claimed the rainbow stripes in 2013. Maybe the XC title will work for Nino Schurter in his brief intervention into the world of road racing…

Team SKY

Being in Team SKY has been a bit underwhelming this year, maybe it’s just due to their dominance in previous years. To be fair to them they had a decent classics season with Stannard winning the Omloop and Ben Swift getting second at San Remo. But their stage racing game hasn’t been so strong this year, with Froome struggling with injury and illness. Maybe he’ll come good for the Tour, but how do you deal with a problem like Alberto?