It seemed fairly fitting that the last ‘cross race I’d see in 2013 would be the Scottish Champs. Getting out to as many races as possible this year has been one of the best things I’ve done as a cycling fan. The racing’s great, the people are friendly and welcoming and there are better facilities than at any road race I’ve been to.

In another illustration of the great community spirit in ‘cross, Jonathan Herbert offered to drive me through to Dunbar to save me a few hours of train and bus adventure. Thanks!

After a nice easy trip we arrived about ten minutes before the Juniors/Women/Vet50 race was due to start.

We headed down towards the arena through the riders doing warm up laps and ¬†in amongst them Joe Nally ran past us with his bike over his shoulder. It took a few seconds for it to sink in that something was wrong – he shouldn’t be warming up and I’ve never seen anyone practise a carry that long!

After last week’s amazing battle with Conner Johnstone, I think everyone was expecting another closely fought race. Lady Luck had different ideas. After two punctures Nally had to run the last lap and a half, ending any hopes he had of taking the title. The fact that he ran almost two miles carrying his bike rather than DNF speaks volumes about his attitude and dedication. Chapeau young man.

As Jonathan was signing on I caught the u16 Youth podium presentations, with Emma Borthwick and Conner Johnstone taking the top step in their categories. This is my first year watching the youth races and they’ve been really entertaining and competitive, so congratulations!

Juniors, Women and Men’s Vet50 race

Before that we watched the Juniors, Women and Vet50 Men get gridded. I know that it can be hard to follow with all the different categories in this race but I hadn’t realised just how complex it was getting everyone lined up to start!

Juniors, Women and Vet50 Men get gridded

Juniors, Women and Vet50 Men get gridded

Junior Men

The junior men’s category has been hard fought all series long with three different winners in five races. Those winners were joined on the start line by Calum Magowan, a first year junior mountain biker from British Cycling’s Olympic Development Programme.

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Harry Johnston is unbeaten so far this year in series races, but after the first lap you could see that Magowan would be pushing him hard. Magowan was off the front alone, with Johnston about 15 seconds behind. A little further back, Mark McGuire and Jamie Mason were chasing, followed by Conor Nally and Rory Mellis. The race was already strung out, but as was clearly illustrated in the Youth race anything can happen.

I headed into the woods, where there were two climbs and a fast, technical descent, with a hairpin bend at the bottom. Conor Nally showed some great skills, bunny hopping over the the log at the top of the climb. The woods were pretty busy with spectators and photographers which really added to the atmosphere.

Magowan never let up and his pace pulled the race apart, finishing almost two minutes ahead of Johnston to take the title. McGuire came in another thirty seconds back for bronze.

Women

The women’s races have been really entertaining this year as well, with a few different winners and some great battles.

Kerry MacPhee made her trademark charge at the start but ¬†junior Isla Short had her in her sights and Maddy Robinson wasn’t too far behind. Short had taken the lead by the next time they came round but both MacPhee and Robinson were close behind.

Maddy Robinson

Maddy Robinson

I heard some calls for First Aid over the tannoy, but couldn’t really tell what was going on from the edge of the woods. After a while I noticed that MacPhee was missing and it must have been her that had crashed. It’s such a shame to see her championships end on a low after some great performances in her maiden ‘cross season but it was good to hear that nothing was broken.

With MacPhee out of the race it left Short and Robinson to fight it out, as they were more than two minutes ahead by the half way point. Short continued to press on at the front of the race and it never really looked like she would be caught. Maddy Robinson was next over the line, looking to have taken the senior title ahead of Lyndsey Carson.

It turns out that, unlike at Irvine, the juniors were also eligible for the senior classification at the championships. This meant that rather than Maddy being the winner, as a good few of us thought, Isla Short took both the senior and junior titles.

I don’t know the ins and outs of it at all but I was surprised that there were quite a few experienced riders who didn’t seem to know the rules were different. Hopefully it didn’t cause any controversy, as they’re both really deserving of recognition for their riding this year.

I don’t know if the Vet woman category was awarded on the day but I wanted to mention Anne Murray’s impressive ride, in only her second ‘cross race of the season, breaking Brenda Callander’s stranglehold on this classification.

Vet50+ Men

Brendan Roe has dominated the Vet50 races this season, winning every one that he has entered. Gregor Grant came onto the scene at Lochore Meadows with an impressive ride to take second and he was here again.

foxlake brendan roe

Malcolm Dunlop, who has been on the podium at every race he’s entered was also on the start line, along with Bill Young, who has been Roe’s closest challenger.

As is becoming his trademark, Roe led from the start with Grant chasing. Dunlop looked to have started slowly but throughout the race he pulled it back steadily. Young, who had been ill in the build up, struggled with the pace and looked to be suffering.

Roe rode his own tempo and nobody got within a minute of him, while Dunlop managed to put daylight between himself and the rest of the chasers by the end.

Grant and Alistair Dow got into a good scrap for third place and Grant came out on top to claim bronze.

Men’s Vet40-49 Race

This is often one of the most exciting races at each event, with lots of attacking as everyone tries to unseat Gary McCrae. Sunday was no different!

Stevie Jackson leads the charge

Stevie Jackson leads the charge

I took a wander down to the start to get a look at the infamous start line sprint and it was pretty impressive. Stevie Jackson had a couple of bike lengths on everyone by the first bend, closely followed by Franco Porco. Things got really interesting when Gary McCrae punctured almost immediately and went straight back through the field.

Even with repeated digs Jackson couldn’t shake off the rest of the field and although it was strung out riders like James Melville, Alister Watt and Mick Nally were still well within reach.

Even with such a select group on the front there was to be no stopping McCrae. Slowly but surely he worked his way back up the field, eventually dropping Jackson with a couple of laps to go to defend his title from last year. It was one of the best comeback performances I’ve ever seen in cycling!

Jackson managed to stay clear in second place and Porco took the last podium spot after holding off the challenge of Steve Nicholson and James Melville.

Senior Men’s Race

Coming over in the car we’d talked about who would be favourite for the men’s race and if anyone could challenge the recent dominance of Davie Lines. I hadn’t looked at the start list in quite a while but after his performances at Irvine and Lochore, on very different courses, I couldn’t see past him as long as he avoided any mechanicals. I was wrong!

Race faces from the gun

Race faces from the gun

The race was insanely fast from the start. Sean Clark attacked from the line and by the time they came round again a very strong group had formed at the front, containing Clark, Lines, Paul Newnham and Iain Paton, with Roger Campbell-Crawford just a few seconds behind.

The pace was just too much for Campbell-Crawford to get into the group and by the second lap Paton had made a move off the front. Clark was next through, putting a bit of pressure on Lines with Newnham just behind him.

I headed back into the woods and by the time I’d got there Paton had pulled his lead out to almost a minute, which even so early in the race had the feeling of a winning move. This obviously spurred Lines into action as he broke away from Clark and went off on a near 45minute solo chase.

In the woods it was practically dark and there were camera flashes going off everywhere. A big group had gathered in the pits, where three parts of the course met, and were cheering the riders on with everything they had: cowbells, megaphones, sirens… It was awesome. I don’t know if it’s because of the course, the fact that it was the nationals or just coincidence but the atmosphere was the best I’d experienced at any outdoor bike race.

Because it’s common for riders to get lapped in ‘cross it can be pretty hard to follow at times. I wasn’t sure exactly where in the field he was, but I could tell that JP Baxter was on a great ride as he stormed up the climbs in the woods.

With a couple of laps to go I headed over to the arena, where the front of the race was turning into a bit of an exhibition. Paton, Lines, James Fraser-Moodie and a couple of others were bunny hopping hurdles and riding up the steps even when going full gas.

Paton stretched the gap to over 90 seconds on Lines by the end in a real show of strength. Clark had looked really strong all race and he managed to hold off Newnham to take bronze after a really solid season.

JP came in 12th, a great showing from the Ayr Roads man, with Jonathan finishing 21st.

It was pretty amusing to drive into torrential rain almost as soon as we left Dunbar after joking regularly about how much nicer the weather is on the east coast on the way there. On the plus side it will have saved lots of people a bit of bike washing!

Acknowledgements

Edinburgh RC and the Tri Centre deserve tonnes of praise for organising such a successful championships. The course is definitely one of my favourites, both from the racing it produces and the ease of spectating. There aren’t many places you can watch a bike race and wakeboarding in the same place.

I owe Jonathan a massive thank you for kindly driving me over to Dunbar!

VC Moulin have done a great write up of the day and FInlay Strivens has written an account of his race.

Anthony Robson made a cracking wee artsy video. I’m really looking forward to more of these.

Thanks to James Melville and the Glasgow United guys for recording the race too, always makes it easier to remember what happened when you can watch the highlights!

I hope everyone has a great time on Mull next weekend, I’m definitely adding it to my list for next year. See y’all in Bo’ness!