Going down


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I crashed once coming down a hill that I knew well.  I was following a friend off Sherrifmuir and overcooked a 90° right hander to drop down into Dunblane.  My back wheel lost grip and along the road I slid, ripping skin off arm and leg, bashing the bike and bruising my pride.

Ever since then I have been a bit wary about pushing it downhill.

On the other hand, however, when I am on roads I know well enough I always try to beat my quickest ever top speed (64kmph down ‘The String Road’ on Arran).   And on a recent spin up the Crow Road, near Glasgow I was third slowest going up and third fastest coming down. So perhaps my wariness is less about speed than uncertainty.  What’s this corner like? What’s around the corner?

Why am I wittering on about this in my first post for months?  I was lucky enough to witness two examples of brilliant descending recently.

The first saw Peter Sagan use guts, raw power and descending skills to win the Road Cycling World Championships. 

Watch how Sagan builds on a minimal gap with some demon descending.

And at the weekend Vincenzo Nibali did something similar to win Il Lombardia, the final monument of 2015.

Both rides were equally impressive, as Sagan and Nibali put everything on the line to win.

Enjoy the top-class descending in the links, and be careful if you intend to take a leaf out of these guys’ book when going downhill!

As for me, I will let you know if I ever top my fastest speed.

The Lost Art of Riding a Bike

2014 was a bit of a gap year… very little by way of riding my bike, and next to no activity on here.  I could go on at length the reasons why, job pressure, family life, lazyitis.  But I won’t bother.

Instead I thought I would have a wee look at the highlights of 2014, because I didn’t bury the bike by any manner of means.

In May I tackled the well-known Etape Caledonia.
This is a gentle 80 mile pedal around the glorious Perthire Hills.
The roads are closed to motorized traffic and 5000 cyclists are free to rip it up.

There is one big climb on this route, up the Schiehallion, and this is tough, but the payoff is being able to really smash it on the descent without having to worry about oncoming traffic.

This was a grand day out and I would certainly recommend taking part in at least one such mass-participation event.

A little later in the year I went out to Ibiza on holiday with the family.
While there I took the opportunity to hire a bike for a few days and get out and about.

I planned early starts every morning and was out before the sun was properly up and back in for breakfast at 9! This still gave me a maximum of 3 hours to enjoy the early morning warmth and sunshine with some great roads and stunning views across the Med & inland to the hills. Speaking of hills, there were two which stuck in the mind. One was a leg-breaking 1 mile at 22%, while the other was a great 4 mile climb with loads of switchbacks with a fast, flowing run down the other side.

Now i know what it’s like to not cycle with the constant threat of rain!

The final highlight of last year was an 80 mile ride from Glasgow to Perth for charity.
This took in some roads I have never been on, a horrible section near Gleneagles when I felt like quitting and getting the train home followed by tea and cake in Aucherarder. Needless to say the last leg of the ride was a breeze thanks to the Glucose-doping, despite another legbreaker of a climb.  But I have never been so happy to see a Builder’s Merchant, which marked the finish line, in all my life.

So that was a quick look at some of the stand out rides of 2014.

I hope to get a few more and more regular rides in 2015…

For Foxlake!


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Following the immensely enjoyable race at Rouken Glen last week, I decided to enter one more CX race for the 2014-15 season, at the Foxlake Wakeboard Park, near Dunbar.

I spent a couple of hours on race morning getting organized, then set off in good time to allow me to sign on and check out the course before the starting horn. Unfortunately on my way around the course a pedal snapped off, and it took a wee bit of time to replace.

In the end I managed to check a fair bit of the route out, which consisted of a flat section that became quite muddy, followed by a steepish climb into a wooded area, which then pointed upward more gradually before plunging back down. A sharp right hander with a wee hollow at the bottom of the hill was there to catch people out, as was the tough climb bringing you up to the top of the course. Another drop and climb under the belt and then the final descent back into the start finish area, which contained a log which had to be hopped and a wee hill to run up, then a ‘Belgian switchback’ back to the finish line.

And so the race…

There are normally 80-100 people waiting to start a race and often it’s a case of first come first served at the start line, if you’re not in the top10-15 who are called forward.  I will often go to the back of the grid, but today I positioned myself further up as my starts have been relatively good of late.  A quick briefing from race organiser Jimmy Mac and off we go.

Round the back of the lake, through the grasping, cloying, mud and into the trees for the first time. A chance to see how I am doing? A quick look and I can see a few still behind me, and around me a group of 5 or 6 riders I am in touch with.  Up the hill and a few pass me, but I claw my way back to them and then down down down a roller coaster of a drop and then up another climb. This one hurts but I manage to pass one or two on the way up and it’s time to push on. Legs churning and burning as I trundle through an undulating section and it’s back down again before a tough climb, which felt much easier in practice than during the race. Then line up for a final drop drown, grab a breather and into a flat section where you pick up a wee bit of headwind before struggling over the log and up a wee lump before switching back to the finish line… Only another 6 laps to go.

Things start to settle down and I can think about the riders around me. Sometimes I would hang in a wheel, other times I would get past them to set my own tempo.  A few riders ahead I could see a man in orange, and he remained my target for the rest of the race.  At one point I could have touched his back wheel, but he managed to stay away.  On the penultimate lap a couple of riders put me under pressure, one guy managed to get a gap and he was away, another pushed hard but I dug deep on a hill and the following section to form and hold a lead, while trying to get back up to my target man.  In the end I could not bridge that gap and crossed the line, barely able to talk.

After my own race I was able to watch the A listers race and saw Davie Lines rip the field up to win for the second week on the trot.  A quick hand to help tidy up and then back down the road for some well earned dinner.

Turns out I did ok, placing 50th out of 60, beating some riders who left me for dead last week and finishing in the same lap as people who were a lap ahead of me before Christmas.

A great, fun, ride to close the ‘Cross season and now it’s time to make plans for the next one.  More of which in the next blog.



A New Year’s Revolution & Rouken Glen


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Some of you may have noticed I haven’t blogged for a long time.  But since I barely turned a wheel in anger for too long, there was not much to write about.

However I made some personal promises to myself a few weeks back.
This concept may be familiar to you as ‘a New Year’s Resolution’.

One of these was to get more miles on the bike, and in the process ride more cross and race a wee bit again.

I got out during the Christmas break on some nice ‘cross rides, on routes close to home which I never knew existed. In fact, I have cycled past some of these on a regular basis without making that left/right turn.  It was certainly worth getting out.

Strange to think the weather was this nice in January:

Bothwell Castle

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The Battery near Blantyre

So with a couple of ‘cross rides under my belt and a few sessions on the turbo I got on with racing some Cyclocross at Rouken Glen.  I was keen to see how I would fair in the ‘B’ race versus people I had struggled to keep up with last year.

The course itself was fantastic, with snow, some mud, steep drop offs & run ups plus some great wooded single track and hairpin sections. And great crowds & organization.

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Rouken Glen : Sunny in January again?

There was a long uphill start followed by a dash into the trees, then another drag up the side of a gully and into the woods again. I held my own in the pack for longer than I thought I would, but a slip on an exposed tree trunk swiftly followed by overshooting a corner dropped me down a peg or two.

Then I played cat-and-mouse with a couple of guys for a couple of laps before I had a wee problem with my pedal cleat, which wouldn’t release.

By then I had lost too much ground and it was all about getting to the finish line, sore and tired and near the back of the field, two laps down on the winner.  I did manage to collect some beer tokens during the ‘handup’ which I was able to convert into hard bottles of beer (x3), which are still chilling in the fridge.

And I was able to watch the A race after my own and see how the really rapid guys do it!

The day was fast, furious and fun, and reminded me why I love ‘cross so much.

So on to the next race at Foxlake on Saturday near Dunbar.

‘Hup hup hup’

Hit the North

I was on the road recently between Grantown on Spey and Forres.

Barely a car to be seen just me bowling along under a crisp, clear blue sky.

it was a spiritual experience and I thought, it’s days like this you live for on the bike.

just a shame I was car the car!

I’ve barely looked at the bike for several months now, for various reasons.

And I have had to miss all of the cyclocross season. So time to get some goals sorted for next year!

A day at the races – British National Road Race in pictures

Sunday 23 June was a great day for cycling in Scotland.
The cream of British cycling descenced on the city of Glasgow to battle it out for the title of British Champion.
There were thrills aplenty (and luckily not too many spills) along the way.

I had the good fortune to see the end of the women’s race (alas no pictures).
And spend the duration of the men’s race in good company around the course.

There are plenty of great race reports & photos around the web.
So this is simply a few pictures I took of my day at the races…


Brian Holm DS of Omega Pharma Quickstep (Mark Cavendish & Andy Fenn’s team), before the race.

Hardman Hammond drives the bus!
‘This is my trucker look’

Housewives favourite Rab Wardell looks fresh and clean.

Cav & Fenn’s team car, also carrying a spare bike for BMCs Adam Blythe


Fenn and Stannard out on their own at the bottom of the High Street.

Montrose street was a popular spot, with one Manxman wearing nothing but a Man flag.
It was like being in the Alps!


Vote Manx Missile?


A knackered Hugh Porter, ‘I hope you enjoyed the entertainment’


Me: Are you getting a lift home on the Death Star? (Millar’s nickname for the Team Sky’s bus)
Bronze medal winner and ‘Man of the Match’ David Millar: Ha ha! No! But I’m off there for a shower.

Queen Jay at the National Road Race Championships


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Following on from my preview of the National Time Trial Championships I managed to fire a few questions at Jay Burgess. who will be riding in both the TT & road race.

Jay  is the recently crowned women’s champion of Scotland for 10 mile and 25 mile time trials.  Her storming rides this year have earned her a place in the National Time Trial on Thursday and the National Road Race on Sunday.

I know you’ve been a wee bit ill recently Jay, but still planning to ride on Thursday and Sunday?

Absolutely! Illness has scunnered me in June for the last two years, meaning I have been poorly for the British RR champs but I am determined to ride this year.

You have picked up some good results this year, winning the Scottish 10m & 25m Time Trial championships. Well done!  Any other TT results you are proud of?

To be honest, those are by far my best TT results; I have picked up a couple of silver and bronze individual medals in TTs over the years so the Scottish 10 was my first individual gold. My time in the Scottish 10 was also really unexpected and it took a while for William (Jay’s partner) and me to believe that I’d won.

Is this your first ride in the National Champs TT?

I haven’t done a British level TT championship before so I am really looking forward to this new experience. I’ve made a lot of progress against the clock this year which has made me reconsider my attitude towards TTs.

How do you prepare for this race?
Any course recce-ing?

My preparation has been compromised by my chest/sinus infection so I am really focusing on getting well. I rode one lap of the course today (Sunday) to get my head around it. I would have like to do some race intensity efforts round the course but I am just easing back into the bike.

What is your goal in the TT?

 I will be setting myself a power output and average speed target. I try not to set results as targets in TTs; I can only control my own ride so I try to ignore what others will do. Obviously, I want to do well; I am just interested to see how my best compares to the very best in the world.  

How different does this feel  for you compared to a typical 10 or 25?
Does the fact it’s a National Champs on home soil mean anything?

I expect the atmosphere to be incredible. Because it’s a TT, I can rehearse and plan my own race so the anxieties I experience before a RR are, to a large degree, eliminated. Hopefully this means I can soak up some of the atmosphere!   

There is a strong mix of local riders and Olympic medal winners.
Who do you see as having the best chance of picking up the win in the Time Trial (apart from you!)?

I reckon Jo Rowsell is taking the TT pretty seriously. I saw her out on a recce today when I rode the course. Rebecca Slack has picked up some great results recently. But would you really bet against Julia Shaw? I wouldn’t!

And you are racing again on Sunday in the road race.
Have you carried out any prep work for that?

I want to have a ride round the RR course but, again, my chest/sinus infection has scuppered my plans. Plus, it looks like the course goes up some one way streets the wrong way. There’s still time though…

And which discipline do you prefer?

That’s getting harder to answer! Until the Scottish 10, I wouldn’t have hesitated: road. But now I am not so sure. There is a brilliant buzz in a RR but I am starting to enjoy the Zen state TTing requires. Can I answer that at the end of this season? (No bother!)

There seems to be growing interest in women’s cycling.
The Olympics last year certainly helped and I know there are many people working hard to raise the profile.  How have you experienced this?

Wow, yeah, it’s like a different sport. Even just in Scotland, the number of women regularly racing has rocketed in the last 12 months. It’s brilliant and I hope it continues.

I hope Jay recovers well and is able to put in a strong performance against the clock on Thursday.  And may the good form roll over to Sunday for the road race.

All being well I will try and catch up with Jay after her busy weekend to see how it all went.  You can follow Jay on twitter @scotiabikerbird

Good luck to Jay and all the home riders racing over the weekend!!!

Light it up!

British National Time Trial Championships Preview


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Time trialling is an essential part of cycling in Great Britain.

The History

Back in the dim and distant early years of the sport the National Cycling Union (as was) banned bunched road racing, as it was feared this could bring the reputation of cycling into disrepute.  The NCU wanted to move racing to closed circuits and velodromes.

Time trials became the only way to circumvent these rules.  Riders would race the clock and, by extension, each other without breaking the NCU regulations and races would be held at ‘secret’ locations with the minimum of fuss to avoid unwanted attention.  Even now time trials are held on quiet roads and often as early as possible on a Sunday morning, although that is more to do with rider & marshal safety than secrecy these days.

The legacy of British time trialling can be seen in the competition calendar: at the time of writing there are 128 competitive road events planned in Scotland, of which 69 are time trials of some kind.  This number does not include the dozens and dozens of confined time trials organized by cycling clubs for their members.  The CTT (Cycling Time Trials) is the national governing body for time trialling in England & Wales and their website lists hundreds (if not thousands) of open and confined TTs on English and Welsh roads.  it’s hard to imagine the current level of British cycling success without considering the time trialling and the role it has played in British cycling history.

Championships are held each year to determine the fastest riders over 10, 25, 50 and 100 miles as well as duration-based trials such as 12 and 24 hours.  But the BC National Championships will determine who will be the best British time trialler and for the coming year they will don the national jersey when competing in any road-based time trial competition.

Alex Dowsett in full flow wearing the national jersey
(Image from Eurosport)

The Course

The women and under 23s have two loops of 17.5km to cover, while the elite man have two loops of 24.6km.  Both routes start and finish in the Ayrshire town of Stewarton and the roads around here roll nice and easy.  It’s not flat and there’s a bit of a rise out of the start/finish area before gradually losing some height down to the bottom of the course.  The turn means slowly rising back up to Stewarton, but we are not talking about hilly time trial material!  The roads are quite exposed for most of the course, so wind could play a role in determining who performs well.  Prevailing winds means there is likely to be a bit of headwind for the early part of the race, with a tailwind pushing the riders back to the finish line, but I don’t work for the Met Office.

The Contenders

The Under-23 race will see last year’s winner Sam Harrison defending his title.  Sam rode a club 25 mile TT recently and tweeted he hoped he wouldn’t be riding a 25 any time soon as it is #toolong.  Lucky for him this race is about 22 miles! Sam will face stiff competition from George Atkins who already has two silver medals in the race: can he go one better this year?  Joe Perret will be sure to gatecrash everyone’s party following his win in the CTT 25m champs.  Local lads Duncan Ewing & Finlay Young will be hoping to make an impression in this race.

The women’s race has been dominated in recent years by Emma Pooley & Wendy Houvenaghel, neither is racing on the 20th.  Julia Shaw will be hoping to improve on recent second places by taking the top spot for the second time in her career.  She has shown good form this season and is the current CTT champion for the 10&25 mile events.  A whole host of Olympic medal winners will be trying to take the jersey, including Lizzie Armitstead & Laura Trott.  Hannah Barnes will aim to continue her good run of form, after her did-she-didn’t-she drama at the London Nocturne (she did!)  And Jay Burgess is top of the best local representation at the moment, coming in hot from her recent victories in the Scottish 10&25m champs.

The men’s race has been won by Alex Dowsett for two years now.  He showed in the Giro, where he won the first individual TT, that he continues to time trial well since leaving Sky for the Spanish Movistar team.  He will surely be favourite to make it three in a row. Former teammates Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome who are both strong time triallers will not race this year.  Former winner Michael Hutchinson also misses out. Matt Bottril has climbed on to the podium in several occasions through the years, but will do his best to make it on to the top step for the first time.  Local representation is once again high in this race, with Ian Grant and Ben Peacock both showing good form recently, winning the Scottish 25m and 10m champs respectively.

A full start list can be found here
And the event website here

Three and Not So Easy – Kinross CC’s Three Ten Team Time Trial



A solo Time Trial means 100% individual effort against the clock over whichever distance the course covers, be it 10 miles or 100 miles, or any other distance for that matter. More importantly it means 100% pain.

Surely sharing such a burden with two others during a team time trial means shouldering only one third of the burden, and only 33% of the pain?

That was the thinking when Jason, Norrie and I entered Kinross Cycling Club’s Three (man) Ten (mile) Team Time Trial. Unfortunately, due to an uncomfortable injury, Jason had to withdraw his entry. Luckily another willing victim was found in the form of Graeme and the team remained intact. Both Graeme and Norrie had clocked well under 28’30” in a recent solo 10 miler, so I was hoping the two big diesel engines would drag me around the course in a time we could all be happy with.

As race-day approached a second three-man team from within the ranks of Stirling Bike Club was taking shape: the SBC ‘Elite’ squad of Charlie, Glen and Steve. They would be fighting our ‘Three and Easy’ equipe for the SBC honours, while both teams would be competing against clubs across Scotland, with the home club being well-represented by three teams hoping that their knowledge of local roads would help them defeat all-comers.

The organizers had given the teams the option of riding aero with tribars, deep rims / disc wheels and pointy hats etc, or to ride on normal road bikes. We had opted for the latter.

The first trio was off at 9.30 and sign-on was a few miles away from the start line, so after an early muster and chit chat, we rolled out to the start/finish area to warm up and check out the set up.

The course had three left turns which brought the riders back almost to the start line and we were able to reccy the run up to the finish from the final turn. There were nice clear signs marking 1km and 500m to go. We talked about how we would wind up to a sprint for a blanket finish, then realized we’d be burst by then and we’d have to hope for the best.

We rolled up to the holding line, where there was a nice big digital clock to tell us what time it was, like something from a track meet.
A course marshal checked who we were and gave us some info about what to expect at the start line and out on the course. A couple of minutes of chat about how we should line up at the start and then on to the start line proper, where three pushers held us in position while we steadied ourselves and watched the clock tick down and peep when time was up.

And then it really was time for us to go…

I had the responsibility of setting us up for a good start and pushed hard out of the blocks to pull us up the rise and into the first mile of the course. We had talked about setting a high tempo without going in the red, so as soon as I felt close to the danger zone I eased up and realized I had probably set off a little bit too hard and would pay for it down the road! Sure enough at the end of my second spell I was struggling to hold the wheel and we became a little fragmented. After a few seconds to regroup we pushed on again and settled into a good rhythm with each rider taking spells on the front.

We were rolling ok at this point and took the first turn off a main road into a minor side road. It seemed a little easier on this stretch and the tempo and speed started to climb. Graeme and Norrie were fairly flying at this point and we made it to the next turn in no time, being heckled along the way by some old-timer for being 10 seconds slow (no idea what that meant!). At this junction we were merging onto another, busy, main road, and this was slightly more difficulty. We had to slow up and regroup again after the junction, then our speed dropped as we bit into another gradient.

The team crested the wee rise and picked up speed as Graeme and Norrie pulled us up to +40km/h over the next couple of miles.
I think I may have had an out of body experience at this point, but I managed to hold it together and get on the front during this section.

It wasn’t long before we reached the final turn and knew the race was almost over, was that my dad waving a red marshal flag on the corner? I think so, but we’re not stopping to find out now! And on to the final 1.5 miles as we picked up a bit of a headwind in the last drag. I definitely had an out-of-body experience here, as did Graeme (Norrie too I’m sure!) and we pushed hard to get over the line.

And all too soon, or should that be not soon enough(?), we were over the line and gasping for air, trying not to fall off our bikes after that supreme effort.  It seems that a three man time trial still means 100% pain!

Our time was a respectable 27’29”.
And as Norrie pointed out this will be the fastest any of us will do a 10miler for some time!

In the end the SBC ‘Elite’ team took club honours, beating us by just under a minute (26’35’’), so well done to Charlie, Glen & Steve.

The overall and Aero cat winners were Bicycle Works with a time of 21’40.
And City of Edinburgh won the Road cat with 22’27”.
So well done to those guys too.

This was a cracking event, well-thought out and organized and I hope I can enter this next year with the same team to see if we can improve on our time.  Big thanks and well done to my team-mates and to KCC.

You can see more results at Kinross CC website

What’s in a name – the Willie Rafferty 10m TT


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What’s in a name?

Willie Rafferty was a devoted cyclist and important member of the St Christopher’s Cycling Club. So much so that the club honours his name by holding a memorial 10m (16km) Time Trial on the roads he loved. The race is one of the most popular on the Scottish Time Trialling calendar and attracts a huge, top quality field every year.

Willie Rafferty was also my dad’s Uncle, and he remembers riding out as a boy over the hill from Castlemilk to ‘the lochs’ on rolling roads with his dad and uncle(s). ‘…And all I wanted to do was play football with my pals!’. I’ve also heard stories of how the brothers and friends made trips abroad, with one cycling and camping trip resulting in a French field being set on fire!

I decided at the turn of this year to focus on riding in some time trials.
I hoped this would give me some focus in 2013 and get some speed and stamina for the ‘cross season later in the year.

There are plenty of club and open time trials around the calendar, but it would have been foolish of me not to enter the ‘family’ TT, so enter I did.

The main goal was to try and beat my modest PB of 31’23”.
(See a post about my first ever open TT here).

I arrived at the sign-on half an hour later than planned thanks to heavy traffic on the motorway, then getting lost in the vicinity of the hall where everyone was meeting. That’ll teach me! A quick sign-on and change while blethering to my dad and fellow competitor Grant (who is organizing the Sharon Argue Memorial Race) and by then I was in a hurry to get to the start line. I made it with plenty of minutes(!) to spare and got ready to start.

60 seconds and then off you go… so time for a bit of banter… ‘Where’s the finish’… 30 seconds… ‘Who’s counting?’… 5-4-3-2-1 and away.

Down the hill to the underpass and then straight back up again. Hang on, how come this course isn’t flat? Shouldn’t all time trial be flat, unless advertised as a hilly TT? Why am I constantly up and down the gears? In fact why are my gears slipping themselves? This won’t be no PB!

After a wee bit of mild panic about the absence of flatness (!) I was able to settle in to a steadyish rhythm as gradients gradually took me up or down. As I approached the turn I was cheered on by some tifosi at the side of the road. The same tifosi cheered me by name on the way return …mon the Raffertys… and that bit of family support gave me some extra energy to push back up the gradient and into a bit of a cross/headwind.

Time seemed to be slipping away as I approached about three miles to go, and I forgot about the clock and tried to keep the average speed as high as possible. At this point I passed a wheelchair entrant, who then whizzed past me going downhill. I dragged myself up the rise to the start line and picked up speed again as I rolled ever onward to the finish line. I spotted two people at the side of the road, who looked like they could have been finish timers, but it didn’t feel right and, sure enough, as I pushed on I spotted the real finish and thrashed as hard as possible to get over the line.

A gentle spin down the hill brought me back to the sign on, and I was able to get changed and organized in a more sedate manner than before the race! I had enough time to sample one or two of the fantastic cakes on display, plus a mug of tea and a blether with my dad, Grant and a couple of other entrants. Unfortunately I then had to cut and run home to the family, which was a shame as it would have been nice to have stayed to the end to meet more entrants and family and eat more cakes of course.

I am not sure what my time was but I believe I came in under 31 minutes.
So that’s an improvement if correct: mission accomplished!

All in all this was a very enjoyable night, with a safe and well organized course and a great selection of cakes and sarnies at the end.

Only 365 days to the next one…


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