Seems like just weeks ago that I was coming home from a great end to the 2010 series at Drumlanrig, probably due to the fact that was heading out in the same general direction for the first round of the 2011 SXC series at Kirroughtree.
I did approach Newton Stewart with a certain amount of disappointment, as the official SXC pre-season press release made reference to “guaranteed sunshine” a promise far removed from the rather dreech sort of mix of mist and rain that greeted us on the way out of Ayrshire.
This however, never seems to bother people when they are on a mission to race, but no matter, as I’m glad to report that when we arrived, the aforementioned weather started to clear up rapidly and the rain that had threatened to fall all morning never really materialised.
Kirroughtree has a reputation for being an up and down kind of course and the SXC committee in partnership with the course designers at The Break Pad made sure that this was exploited to the maximum. Climbing and descending at race level on specifically designed courses requires a fair level of concentration at the best of times, but the rain that never came on the day, had unfortunately been falling rather regularly in the days leading up to the race on Sunday, making for some fairly tough conditions on parts of the course were race places were won and lost.
Contrary to what you’d think may be common opinion, this actually seemed to enthuse a good many riders and there was no shortage of smiling faces coming across the line. Of course these faces were mixed amongst ones of pure determination, pain, achievement and some with a look of general confusion as to why some regular racers continue to put themselves through the sometimes difficult routine of 6 weekends of good, hard XC racing.
Whilst perhaps perceived to be under threat for a while, the primary school SXC races thankfully went ahead this year, continuing the great work undertaken by Ian Grant and his small team of helpers last season. On the forums and from word of mouth, this was a great relief to mums, dads and kids across the SXC community as this race was very popular last year. At Kirroughtree, the future racers did not disappoint, with almost 60 kids taking to the mud with mind boggling enthusiasm and showing the adults how to do it with a huge grin attached. Hopefully this race will be a regular feature of the SXC weekends for years to come.
The best of the adults were however showing the rest of us how to do it, Lee Craigie has been the benchmark for the women’s Elite/Expert category for as long as I can remember, and the Torq sponsored rider showed a clean pair of heels to the rest of her competitors. After pulling out a margin of around of around a minute on the first lap, Lee put in a metronomic set of three lap times all within around 40 seconds of each other to cross the line two minutes in advance of second place Elke Schmidt (Squarda Porcini) It’s hard to see how anyone has an answer to Craigie’s pace again this year and if her schedule allows her to race the series, it will take a herculean effort to knock her off top spot. Worth noting here that Lee’s sister Kim Craigie (Rockhard racing) took the female masters race by a six minute margin too, begging the question, what do they put in the stew in the Craigie household?
The male Elite/Expert race was contested mainly between Gareth Montgomery and Dave Henderson (both for GT racing UK) Carrying where they left off as the two to beat, they brought it home within seconds of each other with Gareth coming out the victor at round one. These two are so evenly matched that there cannot fail to be some epic battles throughout the season for the elite spoils. The nearest competitor and in third place was James Fraser-Moodie (Pedal Power RT) who was a full ten minutes+ behind the leaders, a great race from him, but again, with performances from the two GT riders being so consistent, any challenge from other riders will have to come quickly to see that they are not the only ones challenging for the top of the shiny SXC podium when the series finally rolls into Perth for round 5.
The men’s Master, Veteran, Super Vets’, Grand Vets races were also well populated through both the men’s and women’s disciplines, proving that the draw of racing a mountain bike against likeminded folk is a bug you can’t shake no matter what your age or continuing ability. Such is the attraction of the SXC that near to 100 heads of the total race entry are made up from these diverse categories. Along the same encouraging lines, well over thirty riders opted for the open category, showing that there are always a good sized group of riders of varying equipment and ability willing to pit their wits’ against the challenge of riding the courses that even some of the most seasoned riders may find a challenge.
It never fails to amaze me what a group of likeminded volunteers will put themselves through just to get a race on. Having been involved in many aspects of biking for a good few years, it’s my observation that it’s very rarely anyone takes a wage or any type of payment for organizing the huge number of MTB events that you see happen not just in Scotland, but across the UK.
If you want a good, cost effective way of seeing if you’re REALLY any good on a mountain bike, then you could do worse than to try an SXC round. There is a category for everyone and the atmosphere outside of the on track rivalry is one of family and without the pressures you might associate with “racing”
The next round is at the home of super cool singletrack that is Aberfoyle, just a stone’s throw from what most of us would call civilization. So come along and have a go, or just add your number to the growing number of supporters and spectators that are attending Scotland’s only Cross Country MTB race series.
It’s on Sunday April 24th See you there.