POW! The fecker just punched me, he has actually punched me! (race prep change No.1)
It’s half three on a beautiful snowy Saturday afternoon on the towpath at Cawdor and I’m now standing watching the snow around my feet morph into a king of the mountains jersey. Obviously the first thought through ones head when ones nose has just been broken by the fist of a cyclist hating dog walker is *Shit, will I be able to race Rouken Glen tomorrow?* Other thoughts did follow quickly but best not go there now, as kids may be reading…
It’s 7pm and the very caring nurse in the Yorkhill Minor Injuries Unit tells me that under no circumstances am I to race the next day as this could easily start the bleeding up again. Hmmmm, maybe she is right, the front of my face was a tad throbby at this point. After quaffing two paracetamol I go home, have a medicinal beer, veg out in front of TV with my very concerned/supportive wife Jake, then early to bed (setting the alarm, just in case mind).
8am – it’s race day. I wake up very groggy, quite sore and reach straight for the paracetamol (race prep change No.2). I’ll be dammed if that thoughtless, aggressive prick is going to stop me indulging in my cycling passion! Now, after a few days reflection, I realised I also needed to be amongst our supportive ‘cross community to somehow emotionally balance out the events of the previous day.
Approaching the race venue it was easy to tell that this was going to be no ordinary race day. The B race was in full swing accompanied by pumping music and fantastic commentary, making for a post Christmas snowy party wonderland, with everyone wearing smiles, even on my, by now, panda face. What first struck me about the course (not having ridden last years inaugural race), was the amphitheatre nature of the terrain that allows spectators to see a hell of a lot of the race action from a single position, making it a fantastically engaging venue. Then I noticed that the B race riders were disappearing into the abyss just after crossing the finish line area. A quick walk over revealed the challenges that lay ahead, plenty of snowy off camber corners to stop the mind from wandering.
Sign on and then off for an on the course warm up. Now, I’ve a confession to make. Each year after November I start praying for snowy cross races but up to this year I’ve only ever been able to do four in all the time I’ve been racing. Snow brings a unique set of challenges; constantly tip toeing on the edge of conceivable grip being the main one! This was the second time my snow devotions had been answered in 2016, as the previous Saturday’s ‘cross race at Chatelherault was equally blessed, helping those who rode it get into the speedwayesque tripod style of riding required to tame the white stuff.
As I progressed further round the course it was easy to see the level of attention that had gone into both the pacing and the contrast of sections within the course, Jim and Euan had used pretty much every piece out of the CX bumper Lego box set, bar sand and an expensive scaffold flyover, but those may have got lost under the sofa. All that was left to do was another quick lap forcing my still extremely sluggish body to buck up it’s ideas.
Start line magnetism was calling and like a returning swarm, 100 focused riders buzzed their way to the starting strip, then did the usual Scottish ‘cross thing and commenced with witty on the line banter. The unicorns of SR Albannach had thought of everything and provided 4 big magenta placky containers to dump all our warm-up kit into, a complete godsend during the coldest part of the season (other race organisers take note), allowing us to strip down to race kit at the last minute. The pack fell silent and taut, sometime in the next 30 seconds we were off.
Now as some of you may already know, I’ve a penchant for a quick start but decided to hold back from all out madness as it was going to be a race that needed pacing and a steady mind (plus I don’t have the form for those shenanigans at the moment but don’t tell anyone). At the end of the start straight I entered the wooded mud decent in 4th, but after I soon slipped forward to the front to get clean lines through the wooded single-track section before the lap line.
From here on my recall of what happened and when gets a bit sketchy, so forgive me if it’s a tad off, although I have studied the MyLaps info (all three forms of it!) to try and get a more accurate picture of what the hell went on during this wackiest of wacky races.
So on the first lap proper Davie put in a very impressively speedy dash up the WEST Beer run-up and opened up a gap. No surprise there, given Davie’s talent. Best to continue riding my own pace with my partner in chase, the young Cameron Mason. Then about half a lap later we pass Davie who is running, with bike on shoulder, the result of a rolled tub. I know Davie won’t chuck his teddies oot the pram and it’s early enough in the race for him to get Cannondale SuperX No2. I see it snarling at me as I pass the pits.
Ok at this point I’m un-expectantly in the lead and I’ve got a Cameron sized tail glued to me. I lose him a few times over the next four laps on the tech sections but each time he brilliantly catches back up. Cameron is such an impressive rider. I think we‘re all excited to see his progression over the next few years as he’s got great potential. Each time Cameron lost contact I had to stop myself from cheering him back on! How amazing/depressing that the Super Quaich series enables two riders with a 28 year age difference to race each other, superb!
After the 4th lap Cameron had dropped off the pace. I was alone at the head of the race and knew I needed to keep working away at the course, each section broken down in my head, focusing on one segment at a time, staying loose and flowing on the bike but still paying attention to the announcer relaying time gaps as Davie continues his charge back to the front.
I continued like this for one and a half laps, then PSSSSSSST! My front tub, that I was running extra sexy soft, and that had allowed me to carry good speed through the snowy corners, had picked out something hard on the muddy wooded descent and no amount of sealant from a former race puncture would cure it. I had a rear flat at the frosty, extremely wet Plean race just as I was passing the pits and rode the entire last lap on a on it, which was a great learning experience in what is possible with a flat tub, although riding in the snow with a flat front was going to be something altogether different. What the hell, I already had a broken nose so did it really matter if I fell off? I just went for it, trying to minimise my losses. Davie quickly caught up and passed me, the spectators loving the unpredictable nature of the race.
I made it sketchily in one piece to the pits for a bike change, to bike two shod with tubes not tubs, so spent the first minute or so adjusting my riding approach to accommodate for the different setup. In my head I’d kind of settled for 2nd place, focussing on Davie being ahead. Little did I realise a new dark force from behind was threatening. A certain Mr Ian Dunlop had the Jaws theme tune firmly running though his head, and in true SVENNESS stylee pounced stealthily just as we approached the corner at the top of the downhill towards the race village. I knew Ian would have been chasing hard to get up and that I needed to be into the last wooded single track first. It was now or never for a last all out effort and I saw my chance for second place as Ian rode the popular wider line round the corner at the top of the hill, leaving the less travelled inside line open. I cut the corner and accepted the pain of the next minute and a half, channelling my grass track and velodrome experiences of all out efforts.
Into the woods first, a quick look behind showed a gap opening and I was confident of securing second. I quickly (and politely) negotiated some lapped riders only to see Davie up ahead, running again with bike on shoulder, a broken mech the culprit this time. The snow gods weren’t smiling on Davie. I passed with a few quick words acknowledging Davie’s bad luck and then it hit me, I was going to win the first Super Quaich! A few quick slippy corners later and over the line with the crowd cheering, thoroughly entertained by the madness of the snowy race! What an end to a mad 24hrs, despair to elation.
As with all races there are things to learn. So what should I take away/share from my Super Quaich 1 experience at RGCX?
A huge thanks to all the SR Albannach crew for a fantastic event. To everyone who sponsored and supported the race, to East Renfrew Council for allowing us to use a great venue but a special personal thanks to Trakke for the amazing bags they gave as prizes, you should all go and check em out, top quality, home grown, beautifully detailed products!
Cheers to Stevie for his account of the A Race happenings at the head of the field and indeed to Davie, Ian and Cameron for putting on easily one of the most excited battles this season.
Full Results from RGCX found here