SXC Series Round 2: Cathkin Braes

Riders Turn Out in Challenging Conditions to Test Themselves Ahead of Commonwealth Games 2014

words: Morven Brown
photos: Alastair Ross

On the 27th of July 2014, international teams with coaches, managers and some of the top riders in the world will arrive at Cathkin Braes to take part in the XX Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Just a few miles out of the city centre the riders will face a course that is challenging and thrilling in equal measures. Fortunately for the locals, Cathkin is not reserved simply for the world’s elite, and the last major event before the Commonwealth Games took place on the same course last weekend. The second round of the Scottish Cross Country (SXC) Series rolled into town, following a bright first round at Forfar a few weeks previously.

With over 140 riders pre-entered, and many more set to arrive on the day, the stage was set for a true spectacle of racing as riders tested themselves on one of the greatest cross country race courses in Scotland. On a wild weekend of weather it was a true testament to the riders’ determination, as the early part of the day saw winds gusting up to 40mph, coupled with torrential rain in the afternoon.

The racetrack itself was the full Commonwealth Games race course and, after a few years in existence, certain lines have started to erode and bed in, work which will be done before the Games. Setting off along the fast, wide start it was a blast along to Propeller Point, a large rocky drop with two large step-downs. Duking through the crossover tunnel and holding on tight for a few more rocky descents, the racers arrived at the highlight of the course: Dual Descent. Two separate lines with berms, step-downs, jumps and rock gardens. Reaching the bottom at Castlemilk, wrists and arms shaking with exertion, it’s time to climb again, all the way up the Clyde climb to the mast point and two extremely technical drops – and the section of the course which saw the most injuries. From there, it’s a rollercoaster of twists and turns through the trees all the way down to the daunting Brig O’Doom, and an uphill sprint to the line to start the next lap.

With the support of Dales Cycles, the event arena had a buzz throughout the day, even when the weather turned cold with rain and wind. With professional masseuses on hand for post-race sports recovery massages, the Grange Kitchen providing their usual excellent range of sustenance and the Dales Cycles team mechanic offering repairs, the event village was the place to be for the day. As the race also incorporated the Scottish Student Sport Championships, the field was bolstered with students and their friends cheering loudly from the sidelines.

On a day when even the most hardy of souls would rather stay indoors on the sofa in front of the television, it was inspirational to see so many racers of all ages battle through the weather and the challenging courses to take part in the event. The spectators and photographers, who kept cheering even when getting blown away, lifted sprits and the marshals who stood in the rain until all riders had completed the course were a highlight of the day.

Here’s how the action unfolded across all the races…

Morning Races

The morning race saw the oldest and the youngest riders to take on the full course set off. With an extra lap added to most categories to compensate for the short course, pacing and endurance came into play. The first race result came in the Juvenile Boys, with most riders relishing the opportunity to complete two laps of the course. Riding a strong and controlled race, Tim Shoreman (Deeside Thistle CC) took the victory, improving from his second place at Forfar. Less than 20 seconds later, Tam Munro-White (Ben Wyvis CC) came home in second with Jamie Johnston (Thomsons Cycles) in third. Riding for Peebles CC, Anna McGorum narrowly pipped Emily Field (Stirling Bike Club) to the win in the Juvenile Girls race, with less than a minute separating the riders after 42 minutes of racing.
The Youth Boys were challenged to four laps of the course, and put on an exciting event for spectators, with a group of three boys riding clear of the chasing pack. Conner Johnstone (Team Leslie Bikeshop), Finn Crockett (Ben Wyvis CC) and their Northern Irish compatriot, Cameron McIntyre from Bambridge CC knew a place on the podium was guaranteed if they maintained their pace and composure. At the start of the final lap the boys were still together and a sprint finish looked likely, however after over an hour of racing, Johnstone arrived back at the arena alone to take a clear victory. Crockett arrived 16 seconds later for second place with McIntyre a few minutes down in third. Johnstone’s victory was made all the more incredible, with his final lap being the quickest of the morning races, completed in 15:59! Ben Wyvis CC rider Ella Conolly rode strongly throughout her three-lap race in the Youth Girls event to finish six minutes clear of her nearest rival, Thomsons Cycles’ Katie Allen. Louisa Watt (Peebles CC) was third placed youth girl.

“My race went really well today, and pretty much exactly to plan. I always want to enjoy my racing, especially on a fun course like Cathkin, but in the back of my mind I knew that I wanted to win it. The Commonwealth Games course is awesome! It’s so fast and it flows really well. I love the rocky drops and the big climb back up to the car park. I was delighted to set the fastest lap of the morning races on my last lap – I didn’t even realise that I was going that fast, I was just trying to control the race and pace myself! The longer race distance really suited me today as I was able to get into my rhythm and warm up my legs and lungs. Riding on the Commonwealth Games course was really inspirational; I follow the successes of Rab Wardell and Kenta Gallagher and hope to be as successful as them one day!” Youth male winner, Conner Johnstone

With a mass start for the women, the younger riders are allowed the opportunity to test their strength and stamina against the top Elites that Scotland has to offer.  Having led out the women’s field at Round 1 at Forfar, junior rider Lucy Grant (Peebles CC) again displayed her power to win the Junior Women’s race with a time that would have seen her claim second spot in the Elite race. Katie Allen (Thomsons Cycles) and Even Hanlon Cole (Peebles CC) put in equally impressive performances and fast times to round off the podium. Marie Meldrum (Nevis Cycles RT) smiled throughout despite the challenging conditions, to take the win in the Master Women’s category. There was an equally smiley victory for Anne Murray (Team Jewson-M.I.Racing-Polypipe) in the Veteran race, as she fended off competition from Kate Whiteside (Ben Wyvis CC) and Louise Allen (Mukyriderz).

In the Elite Women’s race, top Northern Irish rider Claire Oakley (XMTB-McConvey Cycles) led clear of the entire female field to take the race win, completing four laps in 1hour 13minutes. Gillian Pratt (Team Leslie Bikeshop) finished less than 3 minutes down for second place Elite, with first time Elite rider, Katie Carmichael ( in third.

Mark Barnett (Team Leslie Bikeshop) continued his fine run of form as a first year Grand Veteran rider to finish over a minute clear of reigning British Champion, Gregor Grant (Moray First CC). Eamon McConvey (XMTB-McConvey Cycles), having made the long journey across the water from Northern Ireland took third. John Newton, another strong Team Leslie Bikeshop rider took a comprehensive victory in the Super Veteran race ahead of Eddie Gronkowski (Mukyriderz) and Dave McLean (Hetton Hawks CC), who were split by a mere 7 seconds.

The Taster category has been a welcome addition to race day for many riders, creating a ‘fun’ race, allowing new riders the chance to experience mountain bike racing, and more experienced racers to re-find their race legs over a shorter distance. Stirling BC rider Stephen Field raced to first place ahead of Scott Morgan (Manx MBC) and Matthew Ball (West Lothian Clarion CC). Kathryn Scott (St Andrews University CC) took the win in the female taster category.

Under 12’s races

On a shortened version of the full Commonwealth Games course, almost 70 Under 12’s racers set off, in their categories, for fast, fun and supportive racing. Taking on a longer course than usual allowed the kids to challenge themselves and gain confidence at racing further away from the arena and parents. With the Under 12’s course situated just behind the race arena, large crowds of riders, friends and family gathered to support the stars of the future.

First off were the Under 8’s, to complete 10 minutes of racing, which equated to two laps for the older children and one extremely long lap for the younger racers on pedal-less bikes. Gavin Gronkowski, the young star of the Mukyriderz led his race from start to finish, using strength and stamina to complete two fast laps and claim victory for the second round in a row. Gregor Watt (Discovery Junior CC) and Sandy MacKay took it down to a sprint for the remaining podium sports, with Gregor narrowly edging out Sandy by a matter of milliseconds. Gavin’s teammate Helen Graf rode extremely strongly in the Under 8 girls race to finish clear of Heather Wilson and Sarah Aitken.

Zander's flying high...

In the Under 10’s category, Zander Millar-Todd repeated his impressive performance at Forfar, and again took victory by two minutes, even wheelie’ing across the line, much to the delight of the spectators. The remaining two podium spots were less decisive and there were changes throughout the four lap race, with five riders all in contention for a medal. Eventually, Lewis Watt (Discovery Junior CC) rode clear of Fraser Thomson (Glasgow Riderz) in an exciting race. With the top four riders in the Under 10’s girls category all completing the same number of laps as the boys, there were some fast times over the long lap. After 23minutes of racing, Emily Carrick-Anderson (Peebles CC) took an impressive victory; wearing a race jersey bearing the name of top female rider ‘Lucy Grant’ was obviously a good omen for Emily. She finished ahead of the Glasgow Riderz pairing of Skye Donnelly and Kasha Gronowskabutz.

Finally, the Under 12 riders set off and having supported friends and teammates in the earlier races, they had a good idea of the course, and how challenging and fun it would prove. Another stunning solo ride saw Corran Carrick-Anderson match his sister’s result and complete 5 laps in just over 22 minutes. Callum Cooper (Ythan CC) took second spot ahead of Alex Ball (West Lothian Clarion CC). In the Under 12 girl’s race it was a battle of the Peebles CC riders, with Elena McGorum seeing off her teammate Emily Wilkinson and Beth Wilson.

Afternoon races

By now the rain was pouring and the wind was howling, and most riders were probably considering if it was too late to dash back to the car for a second set of arm warmers.

Off on the first gun went the Elite men, with a large field of 17 athletes competing over 6 laps of the Cathkin Braes Commonwealth Games course. Taking an early lead, which at times stretched to almost a minute, it appeared that Rob Friel (Glasgow Wls) was keen to avoid the same sprint finish as at Round 1 at Forfar. Completing the fastest lap of the day, in an impressive 14:27, Friel was riding with control and power to maintain his lead. Gareth Montgomery grew in strength as the race progressed and going into the last lap there was less than 20 seconds between the leading two riders. With baited breath the bedraggled spectators in the arena waited in hope of a sprint to the finish, and a little excitement to warm up cold bodies. However, Friel maintained his pace and despite closing the gap to a mere 3 seconds, Montgomery could not challenge for the sprint. A second win of the series put Friel comfortably in the driving seat in the Series competition. With riders coming from far and wide to experience the Commonwealth Games course, third place went to one of the international racers from the Isle of Man, Elliot Baxter (Manx Viking Whls CC).

The Junior men’s field was blown apart over the first few laps by Thomsons Cycles most southerly-based rider, Jack Ravenscroft, who rode a thrilling race and enjoyed a large margin going into the last lap. However, it was the black, red and yellow of Rockhard Racing MTB’s Pearce Sommerville who won with an impressive last lap, as Ravenscroft ran out of energy. James Edmond, another English visitor from Ferryhill Wheelers CC, was a close second having rode with the leaders for most of the race, and Ravenscroft finished admirably in third place.

In the Sport category, St Andrews University CC member, Seb Stott, claimed top spot ahead of Stuart Dun and Graeme Warren (Velo Club Moulin), with all three podium finishers coming in over 8 minutes ahead of the rest of the field. In a close-fought race, Derek Shanks (Trek Concept Store Glasgow) took his first victory at the SXC in the Masters category, having only made the switch to cross-country racing this year. Having battled back and forth throughout, Scott Logan (The Bicycle Works) eventually passed Velo Sportive’s Sean Clark. With four riders in the top six, Team Leslie Bikeshop showed their specialisation in the Veteran men’s field. Race winner Gary McCrae finished almost four and a half minutes clear of his nearest rival, to compound his Scottish XC and CX Championship titles. Greig Walker (Velo Club Moulin) split the Leslie Bikeshop riders on the podium, with John McCaffery returning to form in third place.

I still can't quite believe it and I don't know how to express how happy I am in words . . . but I'll give it a try! I knew I'd have the "home advantage" at Cathkin as I live near Glasgow and ride at Cathkin every couple of weeks.  I know the track well as it's my closest trail centre and I use it for a lot of my XC training. I got an okay start but not great.  I didn't get clipped in on the first pedal stroke but soon got going and stayed in the top half of the 20 riders in our Masters category heading towards the first corner as the track narrowed from about 6 riders wide to just enough room for two. My pre-race strategy was to use Clyde Climb to my advantage and I soon got up into 3rd place, tucking in behind Sean Clark, with Scott Logan in the lead. We gradually broke away from the rest of the group and this is when I had the realisation that I was in the lead group. I decided it was better to have a go in front and see what it would be like setting the pace.  It's sometimes the only way to find out if you have it in you to pull away.  I managed to get by Sean on one of the climbs on lap 3 but he stayed right on my tail for most of the rest of that lap. As I passed through the feed zone, my wife (bottle swapper / support crew / amazing person who puts up with all this training and racing!) told me she couldn't see him back down the hill and I thought, "could I actually win this?" Eventually I crossed the line.  I couldn't believe it.  My brother was there and I had to check "did I just win?!” It was all worth it, and the win means so much to me.” Master winner, Derek Shanks

You can read Derek’s race report here:

Read more »

Preview - SXC Round 2. Cathkin Braes

13th April - Preview

Words: Morven Brown
Photos: Alastair Ross

On the 29th of July, in the full flow of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, some of the top mountain bikers in the world will be racing around Cathkin Braes. The chosen few, lucky enough to pull on National team kit, will be equally excited and nervous and in for a real treat on a world-class course. On Sunday the 13th of April, the lap times may not be quite as fast, but the racing will merit the same spectacle as the Scottish Cross Country (SXC) Series descends on the venue.

Riders will be treated to a thrilling course, with few moments of rest between the well-built man made features. A spectator favourite will be the Double Dare – a dual slalom running down the hill to Castlemilk, with berms, jumps and rocks. A quick breath and there’s the Clyde Climb and Heartbreaker Hill to test leg and lung power. For 8km the course twists and turns its way between the trees and rocks, a mere 15 minutes drive from the centre of Glasgow.

With 150 riders already entered and many more set to enter on the day, there will be large competitive fields, with open and fast racing. That’s not to say that everyone will be lycra-clad whippets – for 2014 the SXC have introduced a Taster category. It’s a non-prize winning category, where competitors will be taking (on average) 30-40 minutes to complete a lap, and having a friendly go at mountain bike racing.

In the first race start of the day, at 11am, riders will set off in the Youth, Juvenile, Grand Veteran, Super Veteran and Taster categories, alongside all the female categories. Despite being the youngest and oldest riders on the full course, these riders are no less fast!

In the Women’s categories, Juvenile rider Anna McGorum (Peebles CC) will be looking to improve on her second place at SXC1 at Forfar, while Youth rider Ella Conolly (Ben Wyvis CC) will be hoping to make it two wins from two. British Junior Champion, Erika Allen (Thomsons Cycles) will be hoping for better fortunes at Cathkin, following her puncture at Forfar, with Eve Hanlon Cole (Peebles CC) also entered. Anne Murray (Team Jewson MI Racing- Polypipe) will be going for her second win of the 2014 SXC Series in the Veteran category. In the female Elite category, Round 1 winner, Gillian Pratt (Team Leslie Bikeshop) will face stiff competition from Northern Irish rider Claire Oakley and returning racer Hannah Ferguson.

For the Juvenile boys, a strong field will line up, including the top 3 racers from Forfar; Sean Flynn (Edinburgh RC), Tam Munro-White (Ben Wyvis CC) and Tim Shoreman (Deeside Thistle CC). It’s a similar situation in the Youth boys, with current Scottish Champion and SXC1 victor Conner Johnstone (Team Leslie Bikeshop) entered alongside Forfar podium finisher Finn Crockett (Ben Wyvis CC). However, for both these categories in such a short race, one mistake or one clever line choice could make all the difference between winning and losing, so the racing will be fast and furious. In the Grand Veterans, a large field will line up, with Mark Barnett (Team Leslie Bikeshop) hoping to take his second victory in his first year in the category. John Newton (Pearson Cycling Club) will be hoping to replicate his Forfar success in the Super Veteran category at Cathkin Braes.

The Under 12 racers will be set off at 12.30pm, in a slight amendment to the Round 1 race schedule, to allow more time for these races. With three separate race starts, and huge fields expected in the Under 8s, Under 10s and Under 12s, everyone is encouraged to cheer these young riders on. All entry for the Under 12s races is on the day, so we can’t make any predictions yet – but we can tell you for certain that the racing will be fast, fun and entertaining!

The final race of the day will include the Elite and Junior men, the Sport, Master and Veteran Men. After an enthralling sprint finish in Forfar, Rob Friel (Glasgow Wheelers), will be looking to claim another victory, perhaps without such a nail-biting finish!  At Cathkin Braes, on the Commonwealth Games course, Rob will have more than fifteen fellow competitors all jostling him for that top spot. In an international field including riders from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man, with so many unknowns, any one of a number of riders could take the win. In the Junior race, the money would be on Conor Nally (Hardie Bikes) for the win; however with an international field there too, he could be stopped in his tracks. Graeme Warren (Velo Club Moulin) will be looking to claim his second victory of the 2014 SXC Series in the Sport category. With only one of the podium finishers from Forfar pre-entered in the Masters category, Scott Logan (The Bicycle Works), it will be all to play for. With a Team Leslie Bikeshop one-two at Forfar, reigning Scottish Champion Gary McCrae and teammate Damien Slorach will be hoping for similar fortunes at Cathkin Braes. However with 25 other extremely fast riders entered, competition will be tight.

The second round of the 2014 SXC Series at Cathkin Braes will also play host to the Scottish Student Sport Championships, with championship medals on offer for students in the Junior, Sport and Elite categories.

Entries on the day are still possible for all categories (except the Student Championships), with more information available on

Everyone is encouraged to come along, to participate and to get involved with supporting the racers as they take on the challenging Cathkin Braes Commonwealth Games course.

Read more »

Ice Breaker 2014

Words and photos by MM (Editor)

'Race of Truth' Season is Here!

Michael Allen of the host club, Fullarton Wheelers (Derek Skinner obscured)

Last Sunday saw the traditional season-opening TT, the Ice Breaker 2-Up, take place at Irvine and for the second year in a row the weather gods smiled on the event. Fullarton Wheelers once again put on an excellent event and clubs from all over the Central Belt had travelled to Ayrshire to take part. Although The Press Room hasn't officially been going for a full year yet, we covered the 2013 event for VeloVeritas ( and this year's event was every bit as good.

One half of last year's winning team, Ben Peacock (right) riding with new Paisley Velo signing Gerry McGarrity

The time-keeper waved away 55 teams of two and two single riders and all but three teams (and a single rider) completed the course within 30 minutes. The title was wide-open this year as the winning team from last year, Stevie Blom and Ben Peacock (Paisley Velo) were not paired for this event. Ben Peacock was teamed instead with new Velo rider Gerry McGarrity who moved across from Inverclyde Velo in the off-season. They were the last team off and returned in a final time of 20:54 but unfortunately this was only good enough for third spot on the day, albeit within the same minute as the winners.

Top Team: Silas Goldsworthy and Alan Thomson (Sandy Wallace Cycles)

The undoubted stars of this year's event was the pairing of Silas Goldsworthy and Alan Thomson riding for Sandy Wallace Cycles and they completed the course in a time of 20:21 to take the race from the second placed team of Steven Lawley (Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes) and David Griffiths (Glasgow Wheelers) who finished 17 seconds further back. The Women's race was taken by the very talented pairing of Toni McIntosh and Lynne Wardrop for Ayr Roads CC in a time of 25:40.

Winning women: Lynne Wardrop and Toni McIntosh (Ayr Roads CC)

The course is a tried and tested one with the base at Eglinton Country Park in Irvine. Away from the starter, up onto the first roundabout and then down onto the duel carriageway, taking care where vehicles can exit as well as enter. Then it's due south to the Papermill Roundabout and return to finish just before the exit back up to the first roundabout again. The sun came and went as the odd cloud passed overhead but this had a noticeable effect on temperatures and the slight breeze. By the end, the breeze had turned around and was a slight headwind for the final runners but even just 30 minutes earlier riders were reporting the breeze in the opposite direction.

Early pace-setters Gary Bratt (Lomond Roads CC) and Nick Tryon (Dooleys Cycles RT)

The early pacesetters was a composite team of Gary Bratt (Lomond Roads CC) and Nick Tryon (Dooleys Cycles RT) who came back with a time of 21:59. Off so early in the field meant that they had to wait just over an hour before they saw their time bettered by Neil Walker and Charles Vincent (Walkers Cycling) by 8 seconds, bringing the time to beat down to 21:51. This was good enough on the day for 4th place overall and it was satisfying for the team from Kilmaurs as Charles Vincent had punctured on the way to the start line in last year's event. It was a good day for Walkers Cycling as they also took 2nd place in the Women's event with Lorna Sloan and Lorna Todd in 28:05, with an honourable mention for the composite team of Catherine Logan and Russell Mowat finishing in 27:57.
To much applause, the 'lantern rouge' prize went to Fiona Walker and Fiona Wallace in a time of 33:32.

Clockwise from top left: Alan McAulay/Colin Gillespie (St Christopher's CC), Neil Walker/Charles Vincent (Walkers Cycling), Steven Lawley (Herbalife-Leisure Lakes)/David Griffiths (Glasgow Wheelers) and Jason Fogarty/Lauri Peil (Edinburgh RC)

Other random 'honourable' mentions go out to the pairing of ever-popular Jocky Johnston (Icarus Racing) and Tony 'Spider' Nugent (East Kilbride RC) in 25:09, John 'The Slab' Campbell and Steven Smith (Royal Albert CC) in 25:27 and the pairing of Jen Mason and Jill Morton (unattached) in 30:27. We won't go into detail about Steven Smith's 'clothing' malfunction just before the start and Jen and Jill appeared to smile all the way around the course. Special mention also to Michael Robb (Ayr Roads CC) who managed a very creditable time of 22:40 riding on his own and Jennifer Nicol (Fullarton Wheelers CC) in a similar predicament returning in 32:38. And extra special mention to Neill Kemp (Glasgow Nightingale CC) who took a slight tumble but still finished in a time of 24:27 with Gavin Thomson. It was also great to see former stalwart of the old Erskine RC John Craig who has returned to racing and came home in a time of 22:53 with Greg Kerr both now riding for Team Thomsons Cycles. Greg only started cycling when Thomsons Cycles re-opened so we'll keep an eye on him. Their race was good enough to take second spot in the vets race and 9th overall.

Clockwise from top left: John Craig/Greg Kerr (Team Thomsons Cycles), Jen Mason/Jill Morton (unattached), Neill Kemp/Gavin Thomson (Glasgow Nightingale CC), John Campbell/Steven Smith (Royal Albert CC) and Tony Nugent (East Kilbride RC)/Jocky Johnston (Icarus Racing)
In conclusion then, this year's Ice Breaker lived up to its reputation as the first true test of the season. It was another fine example of organisation from the host club with the top three teams all looking ahead to a 2014 which should see some blistering performances…but the day belonged to the popular team of Alan Thomson and Silas Goldsworthy. Well done!

Race winners: Silas Goldsworthy/Alan Thomson (Sandy Wallace Cycles)

Full photos on our Facebook page:
Results list:

Read more »

Strathpuffer 2014 – Team Age B4 Beauty Re-United

Taking part in a 24 Hour race is physically exhausting…that's a given! The mental exhaustion though can often take a toll which is harder to see, and takes longer to recover from. After a year out Morven Brown returned with her teammates to the Strathpuffer 24 and rekindled a love for one of her favourite races.

Saturday the 18th January 2014 saw the ninth Strathpuffer held at Torachilty Forest near Contin. Out of those nine Puffers, I’ve competed in and loved every second of eight as part of a mixed quad team – Age B4 Beauty. For family reasons I chose to miss Strathpuffer number 8 in 2013…at the time it was the right decision, made for the right reasons. However, as it turned out, even before the 2013 race had begun I was champing at the bit to take part. Seeing ‘my’ team taking part with a replacement rider standing in for me was a blow; up until then I’d taken pride in having ‘ridden every Puffer.’ I knew that while the reasons for my withdrawal could not be changed, my attitude could…and would have to. The time had passed for making a point and living in the shadow of others’ decisions. It was time to get back on my bike and to ‘puff’ away for 24hours in the way that I know and love.

The lead-up to the 2014 event followed the usual plan. Up the road from Glasgow on the Friday morning (considerably less distance than when I flew home from living in France to take part in 2010), pick up the campervan from the rental company and then fill it to the brim with bikes, gazebos, gas canisters and enough food to feed a small nation. Over the years we’ve learned the secrets for survival at the ‘Puffer. It’s become almost like snobbery, but each time we discover a new trick that works we keep it. It began with the oversized camper van. Like. Then the homemade bike rack made from a carved log. Like. Next, a wee dram of whisky at midnight. Like. Don’t forget the fairy lights to string from the van. Like. Without a doubt the ultimate little luxury is the gazebo set-up with a blow-heater in it, providing a super hot changing area and instantly warm and dry clothes for the next lap…and it stops the camper getting filthy inside.

Friday night is for getting set up, unpacked, organised, eating, walking the course and sleeping. An early night on the Friday is absolutely imperative; before you know it, it’s quarter to 10 on the Saturday morning and you’re lining up for the rider briefing. I had chosen to line up at the start and take the first stint for my team again this year. I’d done this in 2012, challenging myself to be first woman around and to then stay strong after the run. For purely selfish reasons I wanted to start 2014 and aim for the same targets.

Trapesing along to the ‘Le Mans’ style start line 300m from the bikes I bumped into an old friend from Youth XC racing days. It’s the wee moments like this that make the ‘Puffer so special for me – meeting rarely-seen friends and feeling relaxed enough while racing to have the time to chat. I got myself onto the fourth row of runners and took a deep breath, steeling myself for the next 24 hours.

Bang! Off we went! Swathes of runners, dressed in various states of warmth; those deciding that it was a ‘race’ and shorts and T-shirt would do – wise – and those who were planning on doing a longer, steadier stint, wrapped up in jackets, overshoes and ski gloves. Jogging along a smile spread over my face. The ‘Puffer is my thing; I love it! Being back in the madness certainly is good for the soul. Scrambling around to find my bike at the side of the track I jumped on, my team cheering me on and friends further up the track giving me a shout. First lap for me really is about racing. It’s a short, fast one, that you really can go for, before a few hours off and relaxing into the 24hour race rhythm. Powering up the fire track I was pleased to see the campervans of friends at the side of the course and supporters standing outside. It’s amazing the boost that this gives you in the wee small hours that lay ahead.

The Strathpuffer circuit is a bit of a classic. I’ll be totally honest: until 2012 I hated it. Point blank - hated it! It’s a rocky, challenging course with a whopping great climb to welcome you right from the start. Once you get to the top of the fire track ascent, it’s across the rickety wee bridge and onto the undulating single-track. The trail is tight and twisty, littered with rocks ranging from small obstacles, to whaleback slabs to be negotiated. Following this energy-sapping track for 2km or so, your legs, back and arms start to burn, before you’re spat out onto a short landrover track. A sprint to the top of the pallet-chair and the view of Strathpeffer opens up. It’s the best spot to be for a dawn lap. A few more downs and ups before the short, steep climb leading to the top of the final descent. Swooping down the berms and jumping the culverts, this descent gives the feeling of invincibility – it’s like wearing a superhero cape. At the end of every lap, dropping back into the timing marquee, the ladies and gents on the dibbing stations offer friendly words and encouragement; their smiles are a shining light in the dead of night.

On lap one, by my reckoning I was first woman. I knew I’d only overtaken on the run, and once I jumped on the bike, the only people to pass me were blokes. Feeling pretty confident I’d meet my goal I smiled my way to the top of the fire-track, not even slowing down for the icy sections; thankfully they turned out to be grippy! Passing the marshal point they congratulated me on being first woman up the climb, and that’s not even my strongest section! Swooping through the trees I enjoyed pushing to ‘race-pace’ as I pedaled hard up the climbs and pushed it to the limit on the descents. It’s always a scary situation having to ride a course at race pace without having done a pre-ride. Even when you know the course quite well, have done many laps previously, there will always be a nervous moment or two. I had a wobbler on the last descent of that first lap. With many culverts and drainage ditches, it’s imperative to stay switched on and remember when to take the weight off the front wheel. Screaming down the hill, out of nowhere a culvert appeared in front of me. Eeeeekk!! Slamming on the brakes I just got over it safely, but with a racing heart I figured I’d better cool the speed a little bit. Smiling my way into the dibbing station I’d achieved my goal of first woman around the first lap and was delighted to discover when I passed to my team-mate (my Dad) that I’d done a 42 minute lap. That was until my Dad finished his first lap in 36 minutes. Let battle commence!

Another delightful wee treat being the rider who starts the race, is that you will be guaranteed to get the most laps completed before darkness falls. This year, as a team we were going so quickly that I managed a lovely three laps in daylight. With only a very light drizzle of rain on my lunch time lap, conditions were as close to perfect as a 24hour race, in January, in the north of Scotland, could ever hope to be. By lap 2 I was warming up and feeling good, overtaking slower riders on the climbs and feeling like a racer again. I knew I’d felt good, but I almost fell over with shock when I clambered back into the campervan and looked at our lap counter chart. I’d done a 39-minute lap! In 2012 when conditions had been pretty near perfect, I’d been delighted with a 49-minute lap and consistently lapped in the low 50’s. This year the course was fast, oh so fast. My third lap followed suite with a low 40-minute time, as my teammates all put in equally impressive lap times and made the most of the favourable conditions. In fact, everyone I met was complaining that it was too warm!

By now it was getting dark, and the true Strathpuffer was coming into play. This is why people travel for hundreds of miles to take part – it’s all about the joy of taking off into the forest, just yourself and your bike, lit up by a few small lights to go as fast around a testing mountain bike trail as possible. My first nighttime lap was at half past 7 in the evening, with each of my teammates having already completed a night lap. Near the top of the fire-track I was delighted to see the lovely Julie from Velocity bicycle café whom I had bumped into every lap previously. I was even more delighted when she turned to me and told me that I was a “machine” for the speed at which I was going up the climb. Result! This was our thirteenth lap as a team, and I wouldn’t ever proclaim to be especially superstitious, but landing up in the dibbing station unscathed and turning up the fire-track to see our campervan with fairy lights on the first corner was a relief. The first lap in darkness can truly be a different kettle of fish. After learning the course in the daylight, knowing which line to take, where to push on the climbs, the world shrinks and you’re operating on a few metres of pinprick brightness searching for the trail in the pitch-dark forest.

As a team, our primary goal is always just to finish. To keep going all night, and to all get to the finish line safely. There’s been more than one occasion that we’ve not managed this. The first year we all went to bed in the back of a transit van at 2am as the cold, darkness and lack of batteries had put paid to our efforts. Other years we’ve had teammates end up in hospital, or bikes end up in multiple pieces unable to continue. So as the night wore on, and in a race with sixteen hours of darkness, team spirit comes to play a major role. Teammate finishes a lap; you offer to wash their bike – secretly hoping that they say no and do it themselves! – but always get them a cup of tea and some food to keep energy and motivation levels up. One of the greatest challenges in a 24hour race is to keep eating…and eating the right things.

After my lap at 8pm, I had decided that it was probably dinnertime and that I should have something more substantial. I’d been feeling my legs tiring on that lap and I knew as we neared the halfway point I would need some extra sustenance and nutrition. I tucked into a cheese and ham roll (with extra salt), some fizzy energy juice, salty crisps, jelly babies and even took half a gel for good luck, all washed down with a cup of tea with sugar. Which all added up to a massive rookie mistake, and I was left doubled over with stomach cramps and feeling sick. 12 hours of eating plain rolls, and all of a sudden the salt and sugar overload sent my stomach over the edge. Luckily my Dad agreed to switch laps with me so that I could have a lie down and a wee nap.

By the halfway point at 10 pm, we’d completed sixteen laps, which put us on-target for a record lap haul as a team. All we had to do now was keep going through to morning. Revitalised, I headed out on a lap that took me over midnight, avoiding any mishap in the witching hour. I’d gone with a cunning strategy of wearing a light jacket for the first time – it had been a long sleeve T-shirt up till now – to try and slow me down so that I could get my body back to rights and not burnout before the finish. I managed to slow down to a 49 minute lap – still under that magic 50 minute marker. The conditions were still brilliant, and the course was holding up to the trauma of hundreds of wheels passing over it. Sadly this year though, clouds shrouded the trees and there were no stars or moon to light the way along the trails.

Despite the halfway point of the race being 10 pm, for me, the most significant marker is always midnight. Crossing into a new day it begins to feel as if the race is moving towards daylight hours and that’s a huge psychological boost. Getting off my bike at half past 12 in the morning, when most other young women my age are stumbling in from pubs in high heels and dresses, I was buzzing. Sitting down in a camp chair outside the campervan (yes it really was warm enough to do that) I made the most of our latest Puffer luxury. One of my teammates, Ian, works with trees and wood and often brings a random gift to the Puffer for the team. This year it was two humongous ‘Swedish Candles’. A log stood upright on its end, cut vertically with a chainsaw into a star shape, a fire is lit on top and will burn, looking like a giant candle. The warmth it provided, coupled with the twinkly fairy lights gave our campsite a truly magical feel, and many a delirious soloist gave a grin as they wobbled past in the wee small hours.

Stirring myself, it was 3 am and time to get ready for my next lap. By now, Ian was starting to suffer, and my Dad had long since beaten me in our own wee family ‘who can go the fastest’ competition. We were into the ‘survival’ stage of the race. The early hours before sunrise is when the race is won or lost. Unfortunately, for team Age B4 Beauty, we were out of medal contention. It was the first year that we’d not been either challenging for the podium or comfortably on it, and for us it was a bit of a let down. We were holding fifth place, but quite close to fourth, and knew that a few solid laps before the end could see us move up the ranking. The course was starting to get more cut up now, with rutted holes in the descent and phantom rocks appearing along the way. I safely completed another lap, feeling tired and mentally having to dig deep to get around.

I was getting excited, I had done the maths and knew that my next lap would be the dawn lap, and that as a team we would complete that hallowed figure of thirty laps. As it went, neither of my fantastic 5am prophecies materialised! As a team we were barely slowing at all in our lap times, a great achievement for a team who suffered so much in the first year of the Strathpuffer.

Slogging my way up the fire-track, which was covered in a layer of sticky, gloopy mud, I was disappointed that I still had my lights illuminated. When does the sun even rise?? When you’ve been awake for 24 hours and riding your bike for the best part of that time, concentration becomes a real challenge. Physically my body felt surprisingly good, I could keep the legs spinning quickly up the climbs. I would like to apologise to the chap I overtook on the fire-track on this, my seventh lap. As I bounded past with a bright and breezy “hello” he questioned my cheeriness and speed. “Oh, I’m in a quad, it’s really easy actually”, I bounced back, assuming that he must be a despondent soloist. “I’m in a quad too, I can assure you, ‘easy’ is not the word.” Oops!

We were now sitting on 26 laps and were going back and forth each lap with the Dulnain Bridge Garage team, our rivals for many years now, for fourth place. Dawn had finally broken, and the Strathpuffer was greeted with light again. All of a sudden the course seems shorter, you can see the big rock on the track before hitting it, you know which of your friends you’re meeting out on the course. By 8am we realised that with the bonus hour provided up ‘til 11am to complete laps started before 10am, we could do 29 laps. Not quite my hoped-for 30, but a remarkable achievement for our team. We worked out our strategy, and I took on some food and fizzy juice as I would have a shorter gap between laps this time.

Jumping on my bike and shooting off up the fire-track away from the campervan for one last time in the 2014 Strathpuffer, I felt good: great in fact. The team had told me just to complete the lap. Times may have been tight with the Dulnain team, but we were most interested in completing the race safely and enjoying it – there were to be no heroics on the last lap. Chugging around I paced myself – eight laps may not seem like a large number, but when you factor in sleep depravation, it takes its toll. Counting down the climbs in my head I kept it cool on the technical sections. My bike with its ‘kooky’ look and big wheels just ate up the ground, rolling over the rocks like they were flat asphalt. Hitting the top of the pallet chair climb I looked out over Strathpeffer and knew the most fun bit of the course was to come. Zooming along the downhill, I let the brakes go and enjoyed that descent, knowing that was it almost all over for another year, almost time to pack up and go home. Dropping out into the dib station, I smiled to the cheers from friends and teammates, before they turned serious. “So… did anyone overtake you that lap?” Racking my brains, I could only remember two people passing me, one of whom was a friend of mine. As it transpired, the Dulnain team had only been 30 seconds behind us going into the last lap, and if I’d been passed they would have claimed fourth place ahead of us. There was a tense few moments while we checked the results screen – and we’d done it! Pulling out another minute over our rivals I was delighted that we’d stayed ahead. Obviously it’s all about the participation, the achievement, the survival, the team spirit, and the warm fuzzy glow. But ultimately, it’s a race, and they’re always all about winning!

So, it was back up to the campervan to dismantle our site for another year. Packing up, I realised how much I had missed the event the previous year. It’s a bit like Christmas lunch, when something has been part of your life for so long, it doesn’t feel right without it. The Strathpuffer gets under your skin, becomes a way of life, a force of habit, and to all those people who say “Never again!”…I’ll see you next year…

In general, the Strathpuffer 2014 provided some exciting racing and brilliant results. I had hoped to do a report of the race as a whole and write about the podium contenders throughout, however, when racing that becomes, essentially, impossible! Here’s a low-down of the main results.

In the male solos, Jason Miles from Team JMC/Exposure completed a fantastic 31 laps to be crowned 2014 Champion. Guy Martin (Hope Factory Racing), of motorbike, mutton-chop fame, passed early leader Keith Forsyth (i-cycles) to claim second place on 30 laps with Forsyth taking third having completed 29 laps. For the women soloists, Morven Mackenzie-Flemming (Ben Wyvis CC) put in a stunning performance to improve on her second place last year (in her first ever ‘Puffer) to take the victory on 15 laps, with Emily Hulley (Manchester Mountain Bikes) one lap down in second place. Third spot on the podium went to Lisa Cross (Osley Tyres) with 11 laps.

The bigger the team, the more laps, and winning the Male Pairs were Team JMC/MSteel Cycles with an impressive 36 laps, two clear of nearest rivals ‘Roscoes Rescue Squad’ and four ahead of third placed ‘Mojo on Ice’. The top female pairing from the ever-strong Deeside Thistle claimed 10th place overall in the pairs category, finishing on 27 laps. In the mixed pairs, ‘Julie and Bosco’ completed 27 laps, ahead of second placed ‘Mud, Sweat and Beers’.

An incredible 43 laps saw team Flat Out Cycles/Lupine Lights take top spot in the Male Quad competition, two laps clear of their nearest contenders, Nevis Cycles RT. Mukyriderz/Leslie Bike Shop finished in third place on the podium, with a team containing the youngest rider in the entire competition. The top Mixed Quad, ‘Wild Scottish Pussies’ finished 15th overall, with 33 laps and only 20minutes ahead of second placed team GDSM Racing. Third place went to ‘Chaffing the Dream’ on 30 laps. The first Female Quad team was the Velocity Café team, who completed 29 laps, ahead of ‘Ben Wyfies Cake Club’ on 26 laps and ‘T-pot and the Trouts’ on 25 laps.

The 2014 Strathpuffer was, as ever, an excellent event, which ran like a dream, thanks to the event organisers. Square Wheels bike shop put on a great race year after year, with their small army of willing volunteers to help out at sign-on, marshaling right through the night, and to keep the event running. (Results here:

It’s the tenth year next year and I’ve got my mojo back; time to get training for the big one!

Read more »

Support Your Local Bike Shop

Words and photos by Anthony Robson
Introduction by MM (Editor)

Use It or Risk Losing It

Cycling has been on an upward spiral for a number of years and the reasons are numerous and varied. There's the Hoy/Wiggins/Cavendish effect; there's an increasing uptake of government 'cycle to work' schemes; it can be argued that the recession has forced some commuters onto two wheels and others have chosen cycling 'stay-cations' over lying basting on a foreign beach as the exchange rate makes international travel more expensive.

Whatever the reason affecting individual cyclists they all have two main concerns when getting new kit: they want excellent customer service…and the best price possible for their hard-earned cash. Our retail industry is now comprised of internet/national outlets and small independent shops. The online and multi-outlet stores have enormous buying power and, in some cases, they can stack 'em high and sell 'em cheap. With another customer around every corner they can often, although not always, fall down on providing a quality customer experience and suitable technical back-up. The small shops that have survived this onslaught have done so by providing an excellent personal service and have built reputations that bring them repeat transactions from a loyal customer base. Most run or support clubs but the one area where they can struggle to compete with the giants is price or levels of stock.

All too often we see comments on social media about the need to patronise the smaller stores but these are often followed by someone posting a link to an obscure company selling cycling kit at really cheap prices. Well, that internet company won't be standing by the side of the road or putting up course markers on a Sunday morning and if your product goes wrong, it's not such a simple operation to get it fixed. Here at The Press Room, we would rather sacrifice the small price in order to keep the local shop open. They are, for our money, more approachable, have a greater understanding of technical issues and usually have a very good reason for providing a great service: it's their business and they stand to lose out if they don't. While price is important in these recession-hit times, nothing is more valuable than retaining the excellent local shops that we have here in Scotland. Think of that the next time you need something for your bike.

Our Guest Columnist Anthony Robson recently built a dream bike which saw its first race at Dig In At The Dock 2014 and he tells us of his own Damascus moment and why he'll favour local shops from now on. (Editor)

Anthony Robson
 I have a confession to make: I'm not as nice to my local bike shops as I could be. This might not seem like much of a self-flagellatory statement to make, but recently I had cause to question what I see now had become an over-reliance on the world of the internet.

You see recently I built a new bike. It was a replacement for a bike that was stolen at the end of last year, and so finding myself in possession of an insurance cheque I simply went out to buy all of the bits and pieces in one go. The desire to upgrade various parts took over, and I started price-matching from the comfort of my lunchtime desk, and soon boxes from Wiggle and ChainReaction and various other places started arriving. For a couple of weeks it was like Christmas joy following every visit by the postman or courier. But then three interconnected things happened in a short space of time that led to a sort of epiphany.

1. Two independent Local Bike Shops closed down

I can't claim the news of the loss of the first shop as a true shot to the system. It happened before I started my spending splurge, and was simply a case of the owner wanting to move onto different-yet-related things. Along with others I haven't been back since it went conglomerate (mainly because one of their other stores is closer to where I work, but, y'know, it felt like I was making a stand), but it wasn't until a shop just across the street from my work closed down that I began to wonder at my lack of loyalty. 

Truth be told it wasn't even a shop that I frequented much or liked; they never seemed to have what I wanted and there was a 'club' feel to the staff whenever I went in. But it got me thinking about what I'd do if something like The Bicycle Works ( was to close down in Edinburgh. That particular shop is on my way home, and open late. I've borrowed an 8mm allen key to tighten a loosening crank bolt, and have had my urgently-needed requirements for that evening's bike fettling fulfilled on a couple of occasions in the last 12 months. The stock list at an LBS might not be the biggest, but to get you out of a jam you simply can't beat being able to walk in and pick something up. Unfortunately not all component purchases can be meticulously planned around store delivery slots.

But I'd already got all the parts sitting in boxes at home, so the LBS is now out of the picture, right? Ah no, because...

2. I needed a headset fitted

I'm a self-taught home mechanic. Books and mistakes took me so far, with YouTube videos a remarkable resource for how to carry out those fiddly jobs. From setting up brakes, to building wheels, I've tried it all. So why did a headset defeat me? It's one of those jobs that I can do, and have done, but faced with my first carbon steerer I have to admit, I was 'feart.' I wanted it done properly, and had a crisis of confidence over my abilities. This was just over a week before the bike's 'cross debut. What on earth could I do?

It was quite easy really. It was Friday at work and I sent an email to the Tri Centre (, being one of the closest local bike shops to my house. Shortly after, I was told I could drop it off the next morning and the work would probably be done that day. Lo and behold.... a (remarkably reasonable) labour charge later and the job was one of perfection, with no personal stress involved, and an addition made to the list of places I'd trust with working on my bikes (no matter how good or bad the home mechanic, if you have a vague notion what you're doing I think it increases your standards sought in others).

The thing is, I know avid cyclists who have to take their bike to the shop if it gets a puncture, they love riding but have no desire to learn how it all works. Why should you when there are people who can do that for you? Not everyone can be a home mechanic, not everyone should be expected to want to be. Lose the LBS and you naturally lose cyclists as soon as a wheel buckles or brakes seize or a chain snaps.

Disaster averted. I had my parts, and now the bike was built. But my LBS thankfulness would hit a triumvirate. One ride in and I had hit...

3. Problem Parts

So the bike was built, the race was run, the bike survived, as did I. But there was a problem. My perch is a rather extravagant special edition Brooks that my other half treated me to for Christmas. Bought online, it was the best price (and more importantly available, given only 500 were made). Pure indulgence that brought a grin once unpacked from under the tree. And after one hour riding it was ridiculously worn at a couple of points.

Bought from a local bike shop the solution would be simple: trundle along on the bike and point out the issue, or just remove the saddle and pop in on a lunchtime or over the weekend. The only solution available to me? Well the seller is based in Swansea, so all I could do was take a few photos and email them to the retailer (who to be fair has said they'll get in touch with their supplier as they've never seen anything like it, but I'm still left sitting in the dark a bit five days after that message).

The problem parts can even go as far as an entire bike. My wife's Ridgeback Hybrid was also stolen, and there was no choice from the insurer, the replacement had to come from an online partner they have. The bike arrived 'ready to ride', with just the bars to straighten and pedals to put on. Of course the reality was a buckled rear wheel, a sticking brake, and hideously under-inflated tyres. Again you're left flying solo having the bike delivered and no ability to take it back to the store. You've got to sort it yourself, or take it to.... Yes.... The LBS. 

This trio of occurrences led to something of a 'seeing the light' moment, as I played back those times I'd needed parts. Just today I went looking for a new set of tyres for the commuter. I wound up at another local place near my work, Bike Trax (, having dodged Evans, and chatted through what might be the best option. They didn't have my favoured choice in the store, but would have in a couple of days, and would call me when they were there. Wiggle would maybe beat that by 24 hours, but if I wasn't in (which I wouldn't be as I had to work) then it would mean a 6am jaunt to the sorting office the day after that, and having the tyres at the exact same time to fit.

So the tyres are a little more expensive than online, but there's that personal touch, that point to return to in case of any problems, no great loss of time, and that feeling that I might have contributed, even in a tiny way, to that local bike shop still being there the next time I need it. Before writing this I had tweeted a simple message, "Be nice to your LBS, one day it might not be there. That is all." Possibly my most re-tweeted message, it seemed to touch a nerve, with most people agreeing. There were, of course, dissenting voices that pointed out unfriendly service at their local shop. But you know what, my shift is such that I'd even rather have that unfriendly shop than a faceless entity at the end of an email chain; somewhere bricks and mortar that I can visit on a whim or in a emergency or with a problem, rather than a screen and a post office separating us.

LBS because I LBS. Local Bike Shop, because I Love Bike Shopping. My next bike will be more personal.  

Anthony Robson at Dig In At The Dock 2014

Anthony Robson aka Blackpuddinonnabike is a writer, poet and undisputed fan of cyclocross and his photo stream can found here:

He also writes for and runs

His t-shirts designs are available here at very reasonable prices:

Read more »