Quaicher Notes

The Super Quaich series has become something of an enigma in Scottish Cross. It’s trying to do something a little different from the main Scottish series. Not to supplant it, just to be… ‘different’. The whole aim is that everyone gets to race, simply because the races are streamed in terms of a calculated ability, rather than by age or sex. As with anything new there are those who love it, and those who seem strangely threatened by it and will snipe from the sidelines, but last year’s series was the first time I felt I was truly involved in a race. I took part in Rouken Glen, Beveridge Park, and the legendary Dig in at the Dock, and each time found myself battling with groups, rather than hanging on desperately at the tail.

It’s true that the 2017 Scottish series races I took part in had seen my performances improve (thanks in the main to months of a longer commute, and fitting in lunchtime rides every now and then), so the need for a race experience wasn’t going to be felt quite as keenly. But even so I was keyed up to enter (a sport in itself) and take part. 2017 saw Beveridge Park sadly drop from the roster, but I was pleased to see Foxlake, out by Dunbar, added in its stead. It had been two years since it had held a race, and I knew it was a course that suited me better than others.

I’ll not delve into detailed race reports, but it’s safe to say the format still delivers for everyone involved. There will always be disappointment that there are only two races at a meet, which naturally limits participation numbers, causing some consternation and frustration. Others get themselves exercised over being placed in the B race when they think they’re more than capable of riding in the A race. Maybe it’s just because I managed to secure a spot in all four of the series, but I have to say my over-riding thought (save in the case of one unfortunate B rider at Dig In who should have been in the A) is simply ‘suck it up’.

Spaces are limited, so take a chance, and if you don’t get in, why not go along anyway and support the sport? If you’re in the B race, well all you have to do is prove you should be in the A race by finishing in the top 5. That’s pretty simple.

For my part I thoroughly enjoyed Rouken Glen again. It’s a rollercoaster of a course, and while I hate riding long drags uphill, the run-ups help me (maybe it’s the long legs), and the downhills are a blast. The Doonbank Trofeee was uncharted territory, but the short course packs in interest, and for the first time I made the top half of the starting field.

Hopes are high for Foxlake, with me telling all and sundry that it’s more ‘my’ kind of course. I raced the last time there was an event here, and got my best finish to date, which simply added to the confidence gained in Ayr. Pride before a fall? It still suited me, the short and punchy uphills just the right length for me to give a kick without feeling the energy completely drain. The downhills singletrack-esque, which rewarded a devil-may-care off-the-brakes attitude (which resulted in almost T-boning someone who didn’t realise I’d jumped, literally off a high root, to the inside, before I executed a rather nifty, but unrecorded, trackstand and restart). The grass can’t deter me as I find a zig-zag route over the muddy centre that actually sees me make time as well. 44th out of something like 119 starters was easily a percentage increase on anything before, but out of 95 finishers it was my first top-half finishing field foray. Aw man, this feels good for someone used to populating the bottom 10 or so. Favourite course, by a distance.

Dig In, however, is just pain for me. I’m not a one-hour pedal pain demon. Interval sprints rather than endurance, that’s my game. So the flat-earth of Bo’ness beats me up. This last race was no different. Sort of. My position dropped (70th out of 121 starters), but that was certainly an improvement on previous years, and I stored up for a last lap kick that gave me my fastest lap of the day, with the legs giving up just as I crossed the line. Maybe the two sets of hurdles helped. And the bombhole, exemplified on one lap by being a distance behind another rider who powered out the other side, while I dismounted and ran. He was cheered all the way up, and lauded for his achievement. As I overtook.

It was a race where I started feeling more than just a participant as well. I mean I didn’t break my back with the effort, but I’d organised the content for the programme (easy enough to do when you’re enjoying it), collected the engraved winners’ quaichs from the trophy shop, and I’d made my way to the Dock for 7.30 to help with the course set-up (I’ve no idea what time the really early crew had arrived, because I was by no means first, though it did give a prime parking spot). Perhaps my initiation was completed by walking the course with a shovel, seeking out any late offerings from dogs before the racing started. I got chatting on the way round to one old fella walking his dog, who thought it was a fantastic event that he was happy to have seen grow from the very start.

But just like that the season was over. Prizes had been handed out (congratulations especially to Gary Macdonald and Anne Ewing for their victories). The summer beckons. Off-season. And I want to make the off-season pay.

2016/17 has been something of a watershed, as the extra miles in the legs have paid off with modest improvements in placings, and while my aim for next season of qualifying for an A race is certainly ambitious, it’s not impossible. Gary Macdonald, in the course of interviewing him for the programme, extolled the virtues of Espresso Cycle Coaching (well, it does include in its line-up the legendary Scottish Cross form of Davie Lines), and I’m seriously considering a little starter package just to see if I’ve got the willpower to push this further. Maybe before that I should finally take my dodgy knee for some professional assessment, but I’m eyeing up September impatiently.

No longer Quaiching at the thought (two Quaich puns in one article, sheesh).

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