Irvine Beach Park was the first cyclocross race I ever went to see, back in January 2011, and it has held a special place in my heart ever since. This year’s cyclocross travels have opened my eyes to just how great all of the Scottish races are, so Irvine had some work to do if it wanted to keep it’s place as my favourite. It did not disappoint!

The day started with me shivering at the bus stop on a beautiful frosty morning. It took about thirty seconds to realise that the hawaiian shirt outfit wasn’t going to be practical, so I threw on another base layer and a fleece instead. Next year, maybe.

The first train got me to Beach Park in time to take a walk round the updated course before catching a bit of the under 12s race. I love the variety of the kids’ races, some kids on high end machines, others on balance bikes and BMXs. Just grab a bike and go and have fun.

Youth race

Conner Johnstone and Joe Nally on the dune climb

Conner Johnstone and Joe Nally on the dune climb

I feel pretty bad trying to write anything remotely in depth about the youth and junior races, as I don’t really know enough of the riders to know who’s who or which category they’re racing in. So, here’s what I could figure out.

Joe Nally of Hardie Bikes had won every round he’d entered so far, and he had a bit of a battle with Conner Johnstone (Leslie Bike Shop/Bikers Boutique), winner at Strathclyde Park. With series leader Calum Shackley (Glasgow Riderz) absent this was a great opportunity for Nally and Johnstone to  stake their claim with only one round to go.

Nally and Johnstone were off the front together for most of the race but it would be Johnstone who would take the win, crossing the line with a 17 second lead.

They were followed home by Edinburgh Road Club’s Sean Flynn, who took the male u14 category.

Stirling Bike Club’s Jenny Holl took the win in the girls under 16 category from previously unbeaten Emma Borthwick of Edinburgh Road Club, bringing both of them closer to series leader Eleanor Strathdee with only one round to go.

In the under 14 girls category Glasgow Riderz’ Ellie Park  made it two wins out of two for this year’s series, leading home Emily Field by 21 seconds.

Although some of these riders will be moving up to the junior category next year, I’m hoping to be able to put a few more names to faces so I can follow the race a wee bit better. Homework required!

Swag

Scottish Cyclocross has grown massively in the last few years, with record numbers of participants and new races added to cope. As a spectator though, the biggest improvement has been in the facilities provided at the race.

As well as the excellent Grange Kitchen (the veg curry is AMAZING!) we’ve also had Big Bobble Hats at races this year, as well as Scottish Cyclocross’ own merchandise.

For Irvine this lineup was joined by Thomo Tees, offering custom t-shirts from the guys at Thomsons Cycles.

There’s now a proper event village at all the races, offering a variety of things for riders and spectators alike to do between the races, and with branded merchandise it’s a great way to advertise the events.

This is a fantastic addition and will hopefully encourage more people to come down and watch. Let’s face it, standing in the cold for four or five hours on a Sunday isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but if there are things to do during breaks in racing then it’ll encourage more people to try it out.

Juniors, Women and Men’s Vet 50+ race

Juniors

Conor Nally riding up the dune

Conor Nally riding up the dune

Thomsons Cycles’ Harry Johnston, who is unbeaten in this year’s series, missed this event, giving Conor Nally (Hardie Bikes) a chance to claim the series if he won at Irvine. Unfortunately for Nally, who has had a brilliant season so far, he couldn’t hold off the challenge of Rory Mellis (The Bicycle Works) on the day.

He did however provide one of the highlights of the day by riding up the dune climb, the first I’ve seen it done since my first day at Irvine two years ago. West Lothian Clarion’s Jamie Mason, who has also had a great series, was in the mix for large parts of the race, having moved ahead of Nally for a while before finishing third.

If you were to look at the results you could (maybe) be forgiven for thinking that Isla Short had won the category by default, as the only rider, but that would be a gross injustice.

Isla Short (Team Thomsons Cycles)

Isla Short (Team Thomsons Cycles)

Obviously there’s not much can be done about the fact that there are so few women in the junior category but with larger numbers at youth and kids age groups I’m sure this will change over time.

Most importantly though, she destroyed most of the field at Irvine, finishing sixth overall and ahead of all the senior women and behind only the top four junior men and Brendan Roe.

An emerging world-class mountain biker, she cruised through the sand without any mishaps and powered up the climbs where many struggled. Definitely one to watch!

Vet50+ Men

The Vet 50+ Men’s classification has been dominated by Brendan Roe this season, winning every race he’s entered. I’ve seen him on the podium at Irvine as a plain old Vet before, so it was safe to say he was the favourite again this weekend.

Brendan Roe

Brendan Roe

Roe was off the front early, but  Bill Young of Pedal Power RT was mixing it with the leading women for much of the race until he suffered a mechanical which brought a premature end to his challenge.

Malcolm Dunlop (VC Edinburgh) and Robert Earp of host club Walkers Cycles joined Roe on the podium, with Roe guaranteeing the series title in this classification.

Veteran Women

Brenda Callander

Brenda Callander

I’m afraid to say this is another of the classifications I’m pretty ignorant of, knowing only that Stirling Bike Club’s Brenda Callander has won every round so far. I do know Walkers Cycles are pretty well represented in this series too.

So, to avoid embarrassment and/or offense, I’ll stick to just the one photo from this race. Thanks to Stirling BC’s Twitter (I suspect it may be Owen?) for helping identify their riders!

Brenda continued her clean sweep of the series and was joined on the podium by a pair of Walkers riders, Lorna Sloan and Catherine Logan. Unless my maths is way off, I think Anne Chisholm’s fourth place at Irvine means Brenda Callander has won the series – congrats!

Senior Women

Finally. A category I know a bit about!

Velo Club Moulin’s Maddy Robinson led the series coming into this race and had only lost once this season, to national champion Eileen Roe at Callendar Park back in round two. Kerry MacPhee’s aggressive riding style has put Robinson under pressure in the last few rounds and with the sand trap at Irvine requiring a combination of power and balance this was going to be a very exciting race.

Kerry MacPhee (Rock & Road Cycles)

Kerry MacPhee (Rock & Road Cycles)

As with the last round at Strathclyde Park, Kerry took the race on early, finishing the first lap with a ten second advantage over Robinson.

The next few laps were steady from both riders, with gap growing no larger than twenty five seconds. Both the leaders lapped the rest of the field while slogging it out and at the start of the final lap the gap was down to sixteen seconds.

On such a tough course you’d expect that to be a fairly comfortable lead but Maddy set the race alight on the final lap, posting her fastest lap of the race. I was still in the sand trap as they finished but the results show Kerry MacPhee holding on to win by just three seconds.

Glasgow Green CC’s Elizabeth Adams took third to complete the podium in an enthralling race.

Men’s Vet 40-49 Race

This is another category that has given us exciting racing even though the top step has been the sole territory of Gary McCrae. His dominance has led to a lot of attacking from the other racers as they try to unseat the series leader.

Franco Porco takes the lead early

Franco Porco takes the lead early

Glasgow United’s Stevie Jackson has been the main protagonist, but he wasn’t on the start line this week so it was down to McCrae’s Leslie Bikes team mate Franco Porco to try and shake it up.

Porco attacked from the start, hitting the dune climb in the lead. It wasn’t too long before he was caught though, and McCrae gradually pulled away. John Woodrow (Sandy Wallace Cycles) joined the chase as he and Porco tried to make up ground on the leader but they couldn’t get back  to within a minute.

James Melville (Glasgow United) returned from injury with a strong performance to take fourth.

Senior Men’s race

I apologise in advance for any hyperbole that follows.

Coming into the race, David Lines was the form rider having won the last two rounds. This category has been nothing if not unpredictable, with three winners from four rounds and first class racing at every round.

The late announcement that Scottish champion Rab Wardell would make his series debut after concentrating on mountain biking in the run up to the commonwealth games made it even more intriguing.

Wardell leads from the start

Wardell leads from the start

Rab powered away early but a chase pack containing all the overall series contenders quickly formed to chase him down, with Colin May, Sean Clark and Paul Newnham joining Davie Lines.

The MG Maxifuel pro put on a show at the dune climb, riding it on almost every lap and even pulling a wheelie at the top! That’s not something you see every day. Newnham  joined in the painfest with a climb of his own as the excitement around the course grew.

Soon Lines was off on his own, and he and Wardell swapped the lead a few times while they sussed each other out. Both looked really strong on the sand, with Lines throwing himself around a bit to keep momentum going in the deep ruts and Wardell powering through.

As the cat and mouse continued it was clear that it would come down to the wire. Sure enough, on the final lap Davie started attacking, first on the zigzag climb and then on the grass, before finally pulling away on the sand and rolling home 14 seconds ahead.

Behind them there was a battle between Newnham (Leslie Bike Shop/Bikers Boutique) and series leader Colin May (VC Edinburgh) fighting it out for the final podium place. With May leaving the series early for a race it was important to get as many points on the board as possible but it was Newnham who took the spoils after a terrific performance.

I’d been putting my cowbell to use throughout the day, but saved the best til last as Ayr Roads CC’s Chris Johnson (who recently invited me to join the Ayrshire Alps Development Group – more on that later) made his first competitive appearance in five years.

Chris gets a special mention as he and club mate JP Baxter have been doing some exploratory cyclocross in the Ayrshire Alps and there are some very exciting ideas coming out of those trips.

The sand trap is pretty savage on the legs, but the climbs and off camber sections are equally tiring. Overall it was a tough old day. Just ask Saul Ayton!

Saul Ayton

Acknowledgements

Neil Walker and all his helpers deserve a huge amount of praise for making the day possible. The course has always been great, but the new sections that were added for this year have really stepped it up a level.

Thanks should go to Gordon Watt who came up with the brilliant hashtag #jocksijde. There has been a fair mix of hashtags for all the events, so I’m thinking it would be good to come up with an official one for each round (or just one for the series) so that we can better communicate on Twitter. What do you think?

It was good to meet some more of the riders and organisers and put more names to faces. Hope to see you all in Fife next week!

All of my photos are on Flickr:

They’re all set as available to download so if you, your club or your event are in a photo, it’s yours to do with as you wish. If you have any issues downloading them let me know and I’ll send them to you.