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.