Cross in the Sunshine

Raleigh SCX1: Callendar Park, Falkirk

words: anthony robson
pics: mark mcghee

Callendar Park in Falkirk is often referred to as the best cyclocross course in Scotland, and who can argue with 600 registered riders? Sunday saw a lineup with 146 riders starting the V40 category alone. When the sun is shining down on competitors and spectators alike, the grounds of the park flowing out from the French chateau-like grand house, it’s easy to dismiss the hard work of Franco Porco and Davie Lines as pure luck. However Scottish cross is making its own luck at the moment, reaping the benefits of the dedication of a number of people.

This was about as perfect a first weekend of Series racing as could have been hoped for. The dry weather in the run-up to the event meant for firm going, with just a slight cutting up in a few exposed areas that had taken on an overnight dew. Elsewhere there was dust being kicked up, and the racing responded by being extremely fast.

The course here has a flow, where even the dead turns feel like a simple and smooth progression, the steep ups and downs being rideable but keeping you honest, the switchbacks keeping your front wheel on the very edge of grip. Transitions between points of interest were just long enough to decide between getting a breather in, or pressing home an advantage, but short enough that you didn't get bored waiting for the rollercoaster to restart.

The paddock in front of the big hoose saw the majority of spectators and riders congregate, and each time passing, hoping your wheels wouldn't give way in the gravel and ping you into the metal railing, the shouts would grow and encourage. And almost all the while the sun beamed down.

As ever it was the youngsters who kicked things off, demonstrating that fearless approach you hope they'll never lose.In the Under 8s Finn Crowther was the cream, with Angus Fraser-Moodie almost a minute behind. First girl home was third in the field, Melanie Rowe bringing it in just a minute and a half off the winner. The Under 12s were somewhat closer, Patrick Barnes just edging out Finlay Taylor (despite posting the same time), with Jamie Thomson and Elliot Rowe pulling off the same trick for 3rd and 4th. Emily Carrick-Anderson (and there's a famous Scottish cross name) was first girl, nabbing a top ten finish in the process.

The Under 14 male race had another Carrick-Anderson, this time Corran, earning the victory, ahead of Frederick Fuller and Ross Birrell, with Eilidh Shaw, Eva Young and Elena McGorum on the top three steps for the female race. Under 16s was a battle of the Annas, with Anna Flynn and Anna McGorum taking first and second respectively, again with the same time, and Anna Shackley on the third step. For the boys the ever-impressive Jamie Johnston was on top spot, followed by Callum Cooper and Rory McGuire.

Then started the truly large fields of riders. The combined Junior/V50/Women's race had 132 riders on the start line. 

Cameron Mason was untouchable in the Junior male event, followed in by his teamate Conner Johnstone then Craig Dobbins; while the Junior women were a little closer together, Megan Wilkinson winning, just 35 seconds ahead of Eleanor Strathdee, and Katie Allen nabbing third.

The senior women saw a fantastic battle develop between Jane Barr and Kerry MacPhee, that running all the way to the line, with Jane taking the victory by just two seconds on the final sprint. Maddy Robinson filled out the podium. For the vet women Sian Tovey won by just 5 seconds from Lindsay Branston, with Brenda Callander another 28 seconds behind in third; while the Vet50 men were taken home by Michael Nally, a little distance ahead of Gary Beall and Brian Nicholas, who were only separated by 4 seconds.

It wasn't long before that enormous field size was eclipsed. The male V40 category has grown more than any other in recent years, and 147 of the auld yins (the writer included) were on the line. Perhaps even more remarkably 143 made it to the end (and last man home Eric Easton deserves a shout for the sheer amount of running he did). Gary McCrae was first over the line, followed in 22 seconds later by man-mountain Hans Forhaug, then ever-dangerous Stevie Jackson.

Only time for a few deep breaths, then it was the senior men who took to the still-fast course. I may go as far as to suggest that this year may see the strongest top of the field so far in Scottish cross. When current series champion Davie Lines rolls home in 5th you know there's something special going on ahead (though we'll give him some leeway for being up at the sparrow's fart to set out the course). After a couple of laps with a stellar leading group, Harry Johnston imposed himelf, and rode away to a victory of almost a minute. That was ahead of Gary MacDonald, fresh (or perhaps not so) from his Three Peaks podium exploits, with Calum Magowan in 3rd. Allan Clark was the last man ahead of Lines, but with 2 and a half minutes covering the top 7 there are interesting times ahead in this category.

And there's not long to wait. Sunday 23rd sees the entire circus set up camp in Aberdeenshire, and the dramatic natural surroundings of Knockburn Loch.

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Stars Flock to Dig In at the Dock

Helen Wyman and Amira Mellor to Race in Scotland

words: dave hamill
pics: stefan wyman/anthony robson

Helen Wyman (Kona Racing) and Amira Mellor (Next Wyman) have today confirmed they will be closing off the current cyclocross season with an appearance at Dig in at the Dock in Bo’ness on 19th of February. Their willingness to travel to Scotland is testament to the fast building reputation of the Bo’ness race. Race organiser David Hamill had this to say.

“We’re over the moon to have Helen back racing in Scotland and that she and Amira chose our race in Bo’ness. They have the choice to drive just 90 minutes from Helen’s home and ride the C1 race in Oostmalle, but instead they’re choosing to make the trip up to Scotland. She promised to come to the race someday and she has remained good to that promise. I’m chuffed to bits.

Helen is really popular wherever she goes and people in the Scottish cyclocross community adore her, so the decision to come up and see us again will go down very well I’m sure. She’s a crackin’ lass and a fantastic ambassador to both cyclocross and women’s bike racing generally. She’s done a tremendous amount for the sport.”

Nine time British Cyclocross Champion Helen and husband Stef will be delivering cross clinics the day before the race, one in the morning for under 16 year olds and another in the afternoon for the older riders. Keep an eye on the Dig in at the Dock Facebook page for more details of these being announced.

Helen told us how happy she is to make a return to racing in Scotland.

“It’s going to be cool to be back in Scotland, this time for my first experience of Dig in at the Dock.  Everyone knows I’m a fan of Scottish CX and this will be a really fun way to finish my season. The crowds in Scotland are by far the biggest in the UK, so I’m hoping they’ll be making some noise as I take on the men.  Of course I’m hoping for a mud fest for my last outing, and I’ll expect cow bells to be ringing.”

It will be Amira Mellor’s first experience racing north of the border and Hamill is keen to build on an already strong women’s field.

“Dig in at the Dock is the last race in the Super Quaich Series where we categorise riders by their racing level rather than age or sex. So riders get a challenging race at every level. We already get a strong field of female riders at Bo’ness and Amira is an amazing addition to that. I’d like to call on more women to come and race, be they among the best riders in the world like Helen and Amira or a mum of four kids who’s getting a bit bored of spin class. You will have someone to race against and you’ll be very welcome.”

Dig in at the Dock has a special place in the Scottish cyclocross calendar thanks to the spectator-friendly approach taken by the organisers. There are prizes for spectators and photographers as well as riders with cowbells and horns provided for the cross fans to make plenty of noise. A balance bike course is also provided to keep the really young riders entertained.

It’s a very popular race in Scotland with rider entries tending to sell out within minutes of opening.

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Raleigh SCX 2015 Series Winners receive their prizes.

words: Gordon Watt

Series winners Lucy Grant and Davie Lines receive their new machines from Graeme Hart

Scottish riders Davie Lines and Lucy Grant received their prizes as overall winners of the Raleigh SCX 2015 Series. The Raleigh RX Race and RWX Race bikes, supplied as part of Raleigh’s two year sponsorship of the Scottish Cyclocross Association, were built up and presented by Graeme Hart at Raleigh’s Edinburgh dealer, Hart’s Cyclery. The Series winners also received CX wheelsets from Strada Wheels.

“A massive thanks to Raleigh and Strada wheels for their support and prizes for winning the Scottish cyclocross series. To be presented with prizes like that makes all the training and rolling around in the mud completely worth it!” said Davie Lines, at the presentation on Monday.

Both Davie and winner of the closely-fought Womens series, Lucy Grant (Peebles CC), will get the chance to start the defence of their titles at the 2016 Raleigh SCX Series. This years seven-race Series kicks off with the traditional opener at Raleigh SCX 1 - Callendar Park on Sunday, October 9, 2016. The upcoming calendar promises a lot of exciting developments, with a number of youngsters moving up into more senior categories, new teams and rider transfers, and the groundswell of enthusiasm for CX all contributing to what will hopefully be another great season for Scottish cyclocross.

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NC500: Ride for Charlene

James McCallum Takes on the Double-Header: £10,000 and a New Record

words and images: Mark McGhee

Jimmy Mac, Jimmie Mach, Uncle Jimmy…call him what you will…former pro' rider, Commie Games veteran, coach and current DS for One Pro Cycling, there can't be many people in the cycling world in Scotland, and beyond, who don't know James McCallum.

Mixing a life in professional cycling with that of being a dad and husband often calls for a fine balance between commitments but somehow James McCallum is making it work…so much so that he's about to embark on yet another challenge, but one that is uniquely personal to this amiable rider.

Late last year McCallum's sister-in-law Charlene Doolan fell victim to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and sadly died. Amid the understandable grief, a desire grew to mark Charlene's passing in a very personal manner and James came up with the idea of a cycling challenge…a not uncommon ambition for cyclists familiar with personal loss.

Charlene had always been very supportive of McCallum's career and he'd felt especially welcomed by her when he and Pamela married so it was natural that he'd use his talents to come up with something special. Short of time during a busy race-filled season, James will take on the North Coast 500 (NC500) tomorrow in a double-header challenge... raise £10,000 for Thrombosis UK and try to break the 38 hour mark of professional adventurer Mark Beaumont.

Finding time to train has meant fitting rides in between commitments, use of hotel gyms and inventive ways of getting out on his bike even if that included nighttime training sorties or riding in the wind and rain…something he could face tomorrow although the forecast is looking decent.

The NC500 has caught the imagination of a lot of long-distance cyclists…combining stunning scenery with almost traffic-free roads, it's a godsend for those riders who don't have time to fit in an End-to-End or an Arch-Arc. Being a relatively newly defined route there's also a certain kudos on being among the first riders to take up the challenge.

Inspired by close friend Rab Wardell who did the ride last year, the NC500 is the ideal course for James to take on. Mark Beaumont rode solo to help publicise the challenge and set a time of 38 hours but James is confident that he can go quicker. He's keen to point out that the time, while still important, is not the main objective as achieving his fund-raising target is the main goal. Ensuring a lasting legacy in Charlene's name remains the focus but he's a racer, and a good one, so we all know he's going to give it everything and put the record on the shelf.

On that point, the NC500 is so new that trying to find official stats is difficult so the accepted benchmark of Mark Beaumont is the target. James is remaining tight-lipped about what time he's going for but if everything goes to plan, expect to see that record reduced by several hours.

Starting tomorrow, James will have a film crew recording his efforts and renowned photographer Trevor Mould will be providing still images. He's over halfway there with £6,465 raised so far so let's help him smash both his targets.

Good Luck James!

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Diary Date!

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King of the Classics!

words: mark mcghee
photos: alessandro federico (@alefederico_cycling)

Our man in Italy, Alessandro Federico, gives us the lowdown on this year's Strade Bianche!

Tuscan Triumph for Spartacus!

Riders head through the Tuscan countryside

On a day when World Champions and former winners came to the fore it was the two-time victor Fabian Cancellara who proved the strongest on the day…and won himself a named sector of this race through the beautiful Tuscan countryside. A strong and clever ride saw him win out in the end over the Etixx-Quickstep pairing of Zdenek Stybar and Gianluca Brambilla with Peter Sagan paying for his efforts on the final run-in.

Curse of the World’s Stripes?

Die-hard fans of our sport will remember the much-cited ‘curse of the World’s jersey’ where off-season dinners and ‘meet-and-greets’ took a toll on a champion’s ability to be race-fit come the following year. Younger fans though have never really been exposed to this and our current road champions have put the theory to bed.

In a thrilling finish to the women’s race Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead took yet another victory to see her season more than justified already…and she’s only just started. Could her male counterpart Peter Sagan do likewise?
Here’s how it played out.

Grey Day

As the riders rolled out from the historic city of Siena it was under leaden skies with a drizzly rain just beginning. Riders from the northern classics would be very much at home even if the mud was bound to be a different color. One racer missing from the start was Orica’s Adam Yates.

The first group to go clear consisted of eight riders: Jesse Sergeant (AG2R-La Mondiale), Riccardo Stacchiotti (Nippo Vini Fantini), Marcin Mrozek (CCC Sprandi Polkowice), Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo), the Lotto Soudal pairing of Jens Debuscherre and Pim Ligthart, Lorenzo Rota (Bardiani-CSF) and Tiziano Dall’Antonia (Androni). With the riders from lower level teams keen to get some television exposure they gained a lead of some three minutes. Eventually though, Etixx-Quickstep began to up the pace and this had the effect of splitting the main peloton into three distinct groups.

the famous gravel roads of the Strade Bianche

Feedzone Stock-up

With the gap coming down the main group of about 50 riders came through the feedzone and there was the inevitable slowing as riders made sure to take on enough supplies to see them through the second half of the race. The gap to the leaders went out again but once the group had settled down the leaders were caught in short order.

Five of Nine

Onto the fifth sector and there was movement off the front as Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QS), Andriy Grivko (Astana), Pim Ligthart again, Salvatore Puccio (Team Sky) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC) went clear.

With Grivko bouncing on and off the back of the leaders their advantage was only 30 seconds as more and more riders were falling away from the chasing group. Bad news for Puccio as he had a chain issue and was forced to pull over.

Fighting Back

With the main group down to 30 riders the second bunch was trying to organize an effort to get across but the lead group could smell victory. Lars Peter Nordhaug (Team Sky) attempted to get across to the break but ended up sitting in no-man’s land before being reeled in by the lead group.

Chipping Away

The leaders had a gap of 1:08 but this was gradually coming down as the chasers could see them on the long straight sections. With Puccio’s bad luck Sky had put a man on the front of the group and were chasing with Movistar in an attempt to salvage something from this race. The lead riders however were working well together and the gap was hovering around 40 seconds with 25km to run.

Now or Never

Onto the seventh sector and Brambilla, who had been very active at the front forcing the pace, eventually pulled Brent Bookwalter clear of Grivko and Monfort.

Sky Plan B

The former World Champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) injected a huge effort on the front of the bunch in an attempt to close the gap. Sensing this, Brambilla dropped Bookwalter as he attempted to evade the efforts of his former teammate.

Kwiatkowski’s effort was so huge that it split the group and around 10-15 riders were left struggling to catch the wheels.

'most aggressive rider' must go to Gianluca Brambilla!

Solo Effort

Onto the eight sector…and it was 20kms and 20 seconds for Brambilla as he attempted to solo to the finish. Could he hold off the challenge from the chasers or would he be caught?

World Stripes

And suddenly there was Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo)! He oh-so-quickly reeled in the Etixx rider but they also had a Plan B. With him was last year’s winner Stybar (Etixx-QS) and Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) quickly saw the danger and bridged across. If Cancellara could win for a third time he would get a sector named after him.

With Nibali (Astana) and Van Avermaet (BMC) caught up in the groups behind this lead quartet had a gap of 15 seconds.

Into the final 12km and the chasers were desperately trying to reel in the escapees with Nibali himself doing massive turns on the front. The four leaders were looking comfortable now especially as they’d just hit the final sector of strade and at only 1.1km in length they knew they didn’t have too much longer to run. The gap wasn’t great at 13 seconds but with Sagan and Cancellara making the running it might just be enough. Behind, Nibali was now paying for his efforts and had to watch Greg Van Avermaet tear off into the distance as he attempted to get back on terms with the leaders.

So Close

With another of the short, sharp climbs taken by Cancellara and Sagan at the head as usual, the distance between the chasers and the front of the race looked so slender, especially from the helicopter. Now it was a desperate struggle for both groups as they sped past ancient-looking villas and down twisting roads only 8km from the finish in the Piazza del Campo.

Advantage Etixx-Quickstep

With two riders upfront the advantage was obviously with the Belgian squad and the first attack came from Brambilla with 7.7km to run. Sagan and Cancellara continued to push and it was the Trek rider who eventually closed down the attack.

Downhill, and into tuck positions as they headed into Siena, and they were all back together only to see the Italian attack once again as the road leveled out. Possibly, not the best use of their upperhand but Stybar knows how to finish a race off by himself.

5km to Run

Into the twisting streets and Brambilla almost overcooked it on a tight right-hander. The ‘bunch’ behind had not given up and were still chasing but time for them was fast running out. The Italian only had a few seconds in hand but with the steep sections at the finish the other three didn’t look too worried and were more intent on each other and the chasers behind.

Final Kilometer!

Brambilla was under the flag with 8 seconds to spare over the others but the climb was hurting as Sagan, Stybar and Cancellara wound him in. Over the crest on his own…but only just as the crowd drove him on. Cancellara and Stybar were onto him as Sagan dropped off and for a moment it was three riders. But really it was all about Cancellara as he and Stybar left Brambilla to take third spot.

The Swiss rider had exactly the right position and held it through the final tight turns and as the two riders sped down the final little slope he was never challenged for the win by last year’s victor who had settled for second spot.

Cancellara now has his third win and will get that named sector…a fitting prize for a worthy winner and he was ecstatic at the finish. Stybar took second to add to his win last year. Brambilla, with all his attacks, could only take third and the World Champion Sagan had to settle for fourth today.

With Armitstead taking her second win in two weeks and with Sagan just off the podium in the men’s race, the future of the UCI World’s jersey looks secure for another year…and the curse has finally been put to rest.

1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing 04:39:35
2 Zdenek Stybar (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step
3 Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx - Quick-Step 00:00:04
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Tinkoff-Saxo 00:00:13
5 Petr Vakoc (Cze) Etixx - Quick-Step 00:00:34
6 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team 00:00:37
7 Diego Ulissi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 00:00:41
8 Tiesj Benoot (Bel) Lotto Soudal
9 Lars Petter Nordhaug (Nor) Team Sky
10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:50

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