Cyclists are a hardy bunch, perhaps Cyclo-Cross Cyclists are the hardiest of them all. On a miserable and bitterly cold February afternoon at Strathclyde Country Park for the Scottish Cyclo-Cross Championships they faced the sleet-fall and muddy terrain with good humour and sturdy resolve. I didn’t hear one complaint all day, maybe because everyone was just happy to finally be having a Scottish Championship after it’s postponement from last November due to the ice-covered course?
Demonstrating that the Scottish ‘Cross scene is in burgeoning rude health, there were lots of riders in each category, with the Senior riders going off last and enjoying the nicely churned course in drying but ever-colder conditions.
Rab Wardell (Alpine Bikes) made it all look easy in the Senior Championship, lying in third place after the initial sprint off the line but taking command shortly afterwards and leading through the start-finish area after the first lap.
Rab’s lead just got bigger and bigger, and despite one or two slips and stumbles in the woods, he didn’t look in any trouble (or even pain), composed and at ease whilst lapping almost the entire field to finish four-and-a-half minutes ahead of second placed Gareth Montgomerie (GT Racing UK) with his teammate Davie Henderson in third.
Gary McCrae (Team Leslie Bike Shop/Bikers Boutique) continued his impressive form and took the Veterans’ title in front of Stephen Jackson and Hans Forhaug (both Glasgow United CC).
I spotted one chap in this race wearing his hefty hiking boots – presumably because he forgot his cycling shoes – and using an interesting technique on the fast slippy downhill section by surfing on one foot, scraping it along the track with the other still on the pedal. I wanted to get a shot of him in full flight but contrived to miss him on every lap, too busy chatting to auld pals.
The volunteer marshalls next to me obviously had pals competing in the Vets event, and encouraged them to stay on their bikes and bunny hop the tall kerb; “Go on mate, hit it hard.” Followed by “Eh… no’ that hard” when one rider messed it up and fell headlong into the mud.
In the Junior Men and Over-16 Womens’ race Stuart Wilcox (Team Scott Racing UK) led from the start with Iain Paton (Square Wheels) taking a good second place after breaking his chain and being forced to run to the pits for his spare bike early in the race. Sean Gordon (Thomson’s Cycles) took the final Junior podium place.
Eileen Roe (Breast Cancer Care) wasn’t challenged for the win in the Womens’ Championship, finishing third in the race with the Junior Men with New Zealander Gen Whitson (Ronde Bicycle) in second place and Maddy Robinson (VC Moulin) claiming her best placing of the ‘cross season.
Time to visit ‘the van’, which gave the event an almost ‘Koksijde‘ feel – some of us spectators really needed a Trappist Orval and triple-fried frites by this point, but this being central Scotland and not West Flanders I made do with a hot chocolate instead – thanks Jim!
Earlier in the day in the childrens’ races Callum McGowan (Peebles CC) took the U16 Boys Championship, ahead of Harry Johnston (Dales Cycles Racing Team Scotland) and Rory Mellis (Ronde Bicycle Outfitters), with Emma Borthwick (Edinburgh RC) leading Philippa Samphier (Wallace Warriors) to the U16 Girls title.
In the Youth U14 Championships Joe Nally (Hardie Bikes) took the Boys title ahead of Connor Johnstone (Leslie Bikes) and Sean Flynn (Edinburgh RC), with Connie Hurton (Beacon Wheelers) becoming the Girls Champion, with Rhona Callander (Stirling BC) the silver and Ellie Park (Glasgow Riders) the bronze.
Jamie Johnston (Dales Cycles) won the Boys U12 event and Polly Henderson (Stewartry Wheelers) the Girls title.
I couldn’t help but look at the riders of all ages as they dealt with the muddy and slippy conditions and think that as well as a great way to stay fit over the winter it certainly seems to induce an intense camaraderie; after each of the races the riders described their ‘saves’ and moments of glory to each other like fighter pilots after a dogfight.
It’s not exactly glamorous, and the aprés-sweat facilities consist of a bucket and sponge or a mobile compressor-washer if you’re lucky, but the enthusiasm of everyone involved in Scottish ‘Cross was obvious at the prize presentations with many folk staying back in the bitter cold to applaud the award-winners for today’s Championship as well as for the winter-long series, with much laughter and good spirits in evidence.
The high participation numbers – over 150 riders in total and 74 of them under 16 – together with the work put in by the organisers shows that this aspect of Scottish cycle sport is clearly on the rise, very well done to all involved.