Sunday, 7 July 2013

Back to the UK

British National Series Round 4 - Margam Park

I was excited to be heading back to Margam Park after having raced and won here as a youth rider. The hilly profile with lots of steep climbs and overtaking opportunities suited me perfectly. So with a quick couple of laps on the Saturday and I was feeling good for the race.

The start of the race went slightly slow on my part again, but this time with a long wide track for the first few minutes I was able to ramp up the pace then push on getting into the singletrack in 3rd, behind Mike Thompson and Sam Stean. I was feeling good so at the first opportunity i took to the front and on the climb upped the pace. Mike was able to go with me so coming round the after the first lap it was the two of us out ahead. I stayed on the front and on the climbs really pushed on again getting the gap I was looking for. From  here on I tried to keep the pace on, but was starting to suffer in the heat.

I was starting to feel pretty week and suffering with the heat, expecting to be caught at any moment, but it looked like the others were struggling too with the time gap holding. On the last lap I kept it constant and controlled but coming into the last wooded section I slid out on a loose corner. Back on as quick as possible and I crossed the line to take my second win of the series! The gap had come down a lot towards the end as Sam and Mike had been battling each other for 2nd spot.

Despite feeling pretty bad towards the end I was happy with my race, riding consistently and feeling comfortable on the bike.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Italy and Switzerland

I was lucky enough to be selected for the two big races in June -  world cup round 3 in Italy and the European Championships in Switzerland the next weekend. After my win at Hopton woods I knew i was on better form so this would be a good opportunity to improve on my result in Germany.

UCI World Cup round 3 - Val di Sole, Italy

After a very twisty drive over some mountains from the airport in Milan (a journey that didn't sit well with my stomach), we finally arrived in the "Valley of the Sun" - and it lived up to it's name with roasting hot temperatures each day.

The course in Val di Sole was very steep and hilly, with three main climbs and some tricky rocky sections on the descents. The descents weren't overly difficult  but with lots of dusty turns and different lines appearing it was going to be interesting to race on when tired. Overall the course was really tough when you linked it altogether but I felt it suited me pretty well.

On the Thursday we raced the XC eliminator which is a fairly new discipline consisting of a short lap, roughly 3-5mins where 4 riders race head-to-head with the top 2 advancing. This would be a new experience for any of the juniors, and with only the top 32 (including senior men) qualifying there really was no pressure on us. A good practice on the track which went up the first main xc climb and then down the 4x track meant it was really good fun but times would be very close. After a good warm up we headed over to the start area, but after some confusion from the officials we came very close to missing the start, and being under-prepared for when it did start. None of the juniors qualified for the final but we all learnt something from the experience.

The next couple of days were spent watching the other races, easy rides on the road and just resting up for Sunday morning.

So onto our race and with a gridding of 56th it was going to be another game of trying to move up the field. The start went ok for me, as usual I slipped back a little bit, but as soon as we hit the first climb I starting moving past big groups of people. The first two laps I really committed to the climbs giving my all then trying to hold that pace for as long as possible. This tactic worked well as I moved into the top 30, but it was taking it's toll. I still managed to keep the pace going and slowly pick off more riders but towards the end of the race I started to get cramp in my legs which I put down to the heat. On the last lap I managed to sneak into the top 20, finishing in 20th place and completely wrecked!

I was really happy with how the race went as I really attacked the first couple of laps which is usually where I struggle to get going. I could tell I was on good form now and would hopefully carry that onto the European champs the next weekend!

European Champsionships - Bern, Switzerland

After a long long drive we finally arrived in a small Swiss town near Bern where we would be staying for the next week. The course for the event was a really "modern" style course, lots of short steep climbs with some artificial jumps, a pumptrack section and lots of other fun bits! A really great course to ride and race on!

After a few days practice and easy rides on the surrounding roads it was the day of the race. Thanks to my result at the previous world cup I was relatively far up the gridding in around 30th. The start went pretty well for me compared to usual, slotting into the singletrack around 25th. The field stretched out here and on the next open section I tried to move up as much as possible. The legs were feeling prety good and I was riding well, moving into the top 15 towards the middle of the race. I was still moving up well with a possible top 10 on the cards. But then disaster struck when coming into one of the short steep climbs my chain snapped, leaving me running to the tech zone. This lost me a lot of time and places, dropping back into the mid-30s. With one lap of the race left I tried to get going again but running for so long and really taken it out of me and I rolled across the finish in 31st, disappointing after being in such a good position.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Ding Ding.. Round 3

British National Series round 3 - Hopton Woods

So it's already round 3 of the National series, and at Hopton Woods in Shropshire it was a course I really liked, having come 2nd here the previous year. The nice wide, long start straight into a long climb played to my strengths and would hopefully mean my bad start wouldn't rule me out of the race straight away.

The week leading up to this race had been spent on another Olympic Development Programme training camp in the Peak District. It was a tough week and all of us were feeling pretty tired heading into the race. On Saturday I practiced with ODP team mate Mike Thompson (Nutcracker Racing) who I was staying with for the weekend, and after some wheel trouble for the both of us, and eventually running my training wheels we got the track in our heads and I was feeling surprisingly good. The course had some big steep climbs in it, mostly in the first part of the track, so it was going to be all out at the start! The rest of the course was more draggy fireroads and some twisty man made singletrack. the course wasn't very technical, all pretty simple, but it was very high speed on the descents so was going to be tough while in race mode.


Sunday morning me and Mike rolled up and got everything ready for the race. A good warm up and I was ready to go.

 photo: Isla Short

A fast start into the climb and I was hanging on just inside the top 10, but as it got steeper I was able to put in a big effort and move into the singletrack climb in first. This is exactly where I wanted to be as so far this year I haven't seen the front of the race. further up Mike got past me but I was happy to sit in behind and try to hang on to his wheel. Just as we reached the top of the climb, and at the steepest part Sam Stean moved to the front and I stuck to his wheel, but just before it leveled off I made my move to get into the descent first, creating a small gap briefly but Mike was right with me once again. We worked well on the first lap, coming through together with Sam about 30 seconds up on 4th place.



Up the climb I took the lead and myself and Mike created a small lead. On the steepest part I put in a dig and created a gap, however on the later flat sections Mike was strong enough to close back to me. Now moving up through the elite field it became tricky to get a clear run, but we came through with one lap to go with a lead of over a minute on 3rd place. I knew this lap that I would have to give it everything on the climb and hold on for the rest of the lap if i was going to stay ahead of Mike, so from the start of the lap I attacked and kept pushing. I opened up a good gap but I knew it would be close. On the longer fireroads I could see Mike behind so it was a tense final lap. I rode within my limits on the descent as I didn't want to throw away my lead, but attacked the fireroads as much as possible. Rolling across the finish line I was really happy to take the win - my first National win for quite a while - by 40 seconds.

It was a really tough race, but with all the ODP riders making up the top 5 it shows that you can really push yourself even when your knackered! My form is coming along well now and hopefully will be able to keep the podium results coming.

And with this result I'm happy to announce that I have been selected for round 3 of the UCI world cup in Italy, followed by the European championships in Switzerland the week later.

A big thanks to Dryburgh Cycles, Forme Bike and also my parents.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Weltcup-Rennen in Deutschland

UCI World cup round 1 - Albstadt, Germany

So after the first few national races I was selected to race the first round of the 2013 UCI world cup in Albstadt, Germany. I was really excited to be racing as it is the highest level competition for mountain biking outwith the Olympics. Having raced a couple of these last year though I knew how unpredictable and manic they could be, mainly due to there being such a large field of riders and the sheer speed at which the race goes at! There isn't really anything that can prepare you for them - it's completely different to anything in Britain.

One problem I also had in Germany was that a knee injury that had stopped me from training and racing the last fortnight was still not 100%, but some special tape from the physio was hopefully going to get me through the race.

Arriving on the Thursday and not racing until early Sunday morning meant that we had a couple of days practice. The course was mega steep on the way up, proper little chainring stuff, with 3 big climbs. The downhill was surprisingly slippy due to the thin layer of mud on top of the rock underneath making it like an ice rink at times. The course wasn't overly technical but when tired it was going to be tricky to control the bike, especially if it rained.

photo: Alfons Benz

The start of our race was pretty hectic, and being gridded 66th meant I was right in the thick of it. You don't see it on the replay of races, but behind the front row riders everyone is squeezed up together with lots of pushing and elbows out to try and get as far up as possible. And inevitably with over 100 juniors sprinting in close proximity there was a crash just of the start, and I was in just the wrong place. I didn't get held up for too long but instead of moving up the field in the start straight as hoped, I had lost ground and was back in around 100th - lots of work to do! 
I hit the first hill pretty hard and tried to gain as many places as possible before the singletrack. The huge number of riders funneling into a narrow singletrack also meant lots of running/walking with the bike if you were not in the top 20. So lots of waiting about then just having to descend in that position before the next opportunity to overtake. Meanwhile the leaders are able to ride at their own pace! 
After the first lap I was roughly 80th but at least now there was more room to attack and move round people. The really tough course meant that you were on the limit at the top of the climbs, a short tricky descent and then attacking again up the next climb. I rode a pretty consistent race, no crashes (apart from the start) or problems, and I kept moving up the field, eventually finishing in 52nd place. My knee held up well until the final lap where it was starting to hurt but I was able to hold on to the finish.

photo: Alfons Benz

The result was lower than I was hoping for but I was pleased to have ridden a controlled race. It was a good result  considering the problems with my knee the last couple of weeks and getting caught up in the start line crash. The next race that GB are taking juniors to is round 3 in Italy followed by European Champs in Switzerland, so I will be hoping to get selected for these and have my knee all fixed up to give it another shot.

Also there is a video on youtube from the Junior race which gives you an idea of what it is like:  Here

Friday, 17 May 2013

Catch Up Time

So as usual I've managed to completely forget about updating the blog with some race reports. So here is a quick and clear round up of the races so far;

British National Series round 1 - Sherwood Pines

I did not expect to racing through deep slushy snow in the middle of March! But the show must go on and so I got the spiky tyres out in the hope of finding some grip out on the course.

The course at Sherwood Pines is well known for being flat and not very technical, but due to the conditions it was all about controlling the bike as it tried to slip about, even on the fireroads. This also meant that overtaking was going very very difficult so a good start would be key - and that is not my strong point!

Anyway race day came about and I was keen to get going. As usual I didn't have a great start, going into the first sort of singletrack just outside the top 10. Not ideal for this sort of course but my legs were feeling quite good and I was determined to move up as far as possible.


After some dodgy overtaking moves I had moved up to around 5th at the end of the first lap, but the effort of moving up the field and having to ride through the deeper snow in order to do so had taken its toll and I was starting to suffer. I briefly moved up to 4th place and was in touching distance of 3rd but I started to slip back as my gears clogged up, leaving me in a very small gear, and getting stuck behind some of the Elite riders that had set off in front of us. I came into the finish in 5th place, which was further down the field than I would have liked, but it was a solid start to the season and something to work on!

Scottish Series round 2 - Abriachan

 A race in the Highlands of Scotland! So for once a local-ish race, only an hour or so drive from home. I was coming into this race just of the back of a week long training camp in the Peak District with the Olympic Development Programme, so it was safe to say I was feeling pretty tired. So much so that I decided not to practice on the Saturday but instead stay at home and rest as much as possible.

Sunday morning was therfore a bit more hectic than usual as I had to fit in a couple of practice laps  in before the race. It also didn't help that the commissaire wouldn't let me out on the course without a number, but I was also not allowed to pick up my number until just before the race.. Anway I had got one lap done and it all seemed pretty straightforward. A really good challenging course, lots of natural technical sections just like the SXC courses when I first started racing! Some rain overnight had made the course really soft and slippy so it would be an interesting race.

With quite a small field my bad start wasn't too much of a problem and I headed up the first climb in 2nd spot. I felt quite good though and wanted to get in front before the technical singletrack. So I put in a big effort and moved into 1st but soon got stuck behind the back of the elite field meaning we were back together. At the end of the first lap I managed to move clear and got a small 10 second gap on 2nd place. My legs were really not feeling too good though -  really heavy and fatigued from the tough training camp.


On the 2nd lap I was suffering quite a lot and in the singletrack the lack of practice meant I wasn't riding very well and kept making lots of mistake, meaning I was losing time. This meant I had to attack the open sections as much as possible to keep my lead, which wasn't too easy with such tired legs. The final lap I was still hanging on and I finally rode the singletrack section pretty well, coming in to take the win with a slim 20 second lead! I was happy to take the win after such a tough week, but was now very keen for a few more rest days!

British National Series round 2 - Cornwall

At roughly 750 miles from home, it made sense for us to fly to this race! So it was packing up the bike bag, wheeling it around airports then hiring a car and driving to the hotel. Still a lot more enjoyable than driving from one end of Britain to the other.

After 5th place at the last round I was keen for a better result here, and having had a few weeks at home away from uni I was feeling a lot stronger. The course here was a big change to Sherwood Pines with some good climbs and fast tricky descents. A short narrow start straight before a long singletrack descent  meant my bad start could once again be a problem...

And that was indeed the case. Going into the descent just out of the top 10 meant that by the time I attacked and made my way up the field the leaders were already away. I felt a lot better here though than at Sherwood, and after the first lap I was already into the top 5. I pushed on a lot on this lap and moved clear into 2nd place, but Mike Thompson (Nutcrucker Racing) who was leading was already a good bit in front.

I rode strong for the rest of the race with not really too much to report on. It was just a case of riding my own pace and seeing how close it would be at the finish. 2mins 36second was the gap at the end, a good bit more than I would have liked but it showed how strong Mike was going.

I  was really happy to be back on the podium, and could feel that my form was coming along well after some time at home with no uni work to worry about! I'm now really excited for the next few races to hopefully keep getting faster. 

Monday, 22 April 2013

Some Time back Home

With my lectures and tutorials having finished at university, and a couple of weeks before my exams started, I was keen to head back home for the first time since New Year!

Trying to fit in training, university work and all the lifestyle things like cooking and shopping while being away in Edinburgh has really made me appreciate how easy everything was at home. The cupboards in the kitchen magically stocked themselves up and my dirty cycling kit would somehow clean itself ready for the next training ride. Yes I realise that my parents may have had something to do with that, but now that I have spent 6 months living away from home I have started to really enjoy living independently and having no option but to be organised. Combining my astrophysics course and training plan with this has been really difficult and this has meant that I probably haven't come into the season in as good shape as possible, but it has been a massive learning curve, one which I'm sure will benefit me in future years!

A massive plus side of coming back home to the highlands and living in the countryside, is that there is actually some decent mountain biking to be done! So one of the first things I did when I got back was head out on my new enduro bike and introduce it to some of the local trails.

Now I just have to get through these exams and I will be able to focus on training a bit more!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Finally Back to Some Mountain Bike Racing

SXC 1 Forfar

The good old Scottish cross country series, it’s safe to say everyone loves these races! And why wouldn’t you? It’s the perfect mix of a fun weekend, seeing loads of people you know, some brilliant mountain bike tracks and then there’s a wee bit of bike racing to cap it all off.
An SXC at Laggan back in 2009 was the first race I ever did, and since then I think I’ve only missed 3 rounds (for good reasons of course).

Well this was the first mountain bike race of the year, and I was excited to get going as I had taken delivery of my brand new race bike for the year- A Forme Winscar 29c (yup I’m on the wagon wheels now) – and what better way to test it than in a full on race!

The course at Forfar was really good fun to ride, lots of fast singletrack and some good steep climbs back to the top, ideal for me. And with there being a relatively small junior field we were being set of at the same time as the Elite riders which would make for some tough racing. The weather had taken a turn for the worse this weekend, really heavy rain and sleet meaning the grassy sections of the course was instantly turned to mud, and keeping warm before the race proved difficult.

Despite this we still had a race to do, and first the first time ever I was racing in pretty much winter cycling kit. When the whistle blew I had one of my usual terrible starts, losing quite a bit of ground to the guys at the front. However being used to this I kept calm and slowly picked off riders and attacked on the open climbs to bridge back up to the lead group of elite riders after roughly half a lap.

This was a really good situation for me as the group was made up of some really experienced riders, the best elite riders in Scotland, all of whom are hoping for commonwealth games selection.


As we got to the end of the first lap and had to negotiate the boggiest part of the track, Rob Friel (santa cruz/siempre) attacked from the group and I managed to go with him... for a bit. It was obvious at that moment that he was going strong, he simply powered through the mud as if he was riding on tarmac. I was now in 2nd place overall ( 1st junior) just 10 seconds or so behind Rob. I tried to catch him up but with the course being so muddy it proved difficult to gain any time back. I felt I was riding well however and loving the new bike!

For the rest of the race I was stuck in no man’s land in 2nd place keeping ahead of the chasers but not able to catch Rob, and that’s pretty much how it remained. Dave Henderson (GT racing) was coming back strong towards the end, but with my race being shorter than the Elite riders I celebrated being 1st junior and headed back to the car while they had to carry on for a bit longer!

So it was a really good first race of the year for me. The new bike was feeling amazing; nimble in the singletrack and really light on the climbs, plus I was battling it out with the top riders in Scotland.

A big thanks to Dryburgh Cycles and Forme bikes for helping me get a bike sorted for the year and to Ben Wyvis Cycling Club for the support.