Ridley Scottish 'Cross Series Round 5: Irvine

Words by Morven Brown
Photos by Steve Brown

SCX Round 5 Irvine Beach Park 24/11/2013

A Sea of Sand

"The course here at Irvine is epic! It’s so fast and has a nice mix of everything. You’ve got the off-camber grassy sections, the sand, the energy-sapping running sections… It’s what a 'cross course should be like. I love it at Irvine, it’s like a mini-Belgium." Isla Short

Grass and sand; a typical links combination

The racing at the penultimate round of the Ridley Cycles 2013 Scottish Cyclocross Series at Irvine Beach Park was somewhat akin to the beach on which the race took place. Ebbing and flowing, ebbing and flowing, in and out like waves crashing on a beach. Sometimes the sea sucks a swathe of water back and a breath is taken before the wave crashes back to the shore; other times the waves come thick and fast, with the sand barely draining between sweeps.

There were laps where one rider shot past and then we held our breath; the seemingly impossible time between waves where you wait for the next breaker wondering if the tide has in fact turned and it will never reach where it once did. And then, with greater force than before, having had a moment to compose itself far from shore, the wave, like the charging, chasing pack of racers, came crashing onto the beach with all the built-up force of a cork from a bottle.

Racing caps off to the three riders who managed to ride this slope!

Looking along the start line for the Senior Men’s race there was no mistaking that this would be the ultimate show down, with all the big names hoping to be the victor on the legendary Irvine cyclocross course. With top cross country racer Rab Wardell returning to cyclocross action, current series leader Davie Lines knew that the race would be on and with a talented field compromising riders such as Paul Newnham, Colin May, Sean Clark and many, many others there would be no straightforward victory here. With an incredible number of the competitors all capable of a fine top-10 finish on their given day, the Senior race is always one to watch – and not just to see the podium spots.

"The course has to be one of my favourites; the long straights so you can give it everything, the climbs to run up and the climbs you can cycle up, the 'Big Dipper' is so much fun and hurdles straight after the corner which caught me out on every lap." Connor Johnstone

Despite a few tweaks, the course stayed true to its routes, with course organiser Neil Walker ensuring plenty of challenging sections. In a slightly reworked course for 2013, the wide-open start allowed racers plenty of time for shoulder-to-shoulder action before turning into the narrow trails. A sharp right hand turn and the hillside opened up to reveal a brutal switchback climb. Dropping into the Big Dipper, riders were treated to a rollercoaster-like experience as stomachs turned somersaults. A long off-camber section ensued, with wheels being forced to squeeze every last inch of grip from the tyres to stay upright. Then came the main event: throw the bike onto the shoulder and take on one of the longest run-ups in Scottish cyclocross to the very top of the sand dune banking. A brief respite to circle the dune then it was onto the notorious sandy section on the beach front where wheels flew out from under bikes, great sandy chasms opened and the bikes slowly and painfully started to make their gritty moans heard. For spectators it was a fantastic viewing section to experience the ‘pain face’; watching riders push themselves to the limit. 

Davie Lines shows his star quality

Taking off like a greyhound coming out of the traps, Rab Wardell riding for Trek Factory Racing, took the race to the other competitors by opening a seemingly insurmountable 10-second advantage by the end of the first lap. Riding strongly and avoiding mishap through the sand he was chased by Davie Lines (MG-Maxifuel) and Paul Newnham (Team Leslie Bikeshop), with the rest of the field strung out behind. For some time it looked as though the race would be merely a procession with riders passing by, just like waves on the sand below, in a steady procession, Wardell growing the gap to 20 seconds and Lines and Newnham holding strong in second and third. Then with three laps to go, the routine was disrupted and the crowds gathered on the sandy section increased their cheers, first bursting their lungs at Wardell then egging on the closing Lines. The gap was quickly halved; powering through the beach section Lines was closing in on the tail of Wardell. With spectators cheering equally for both men, the race was definitely back on. Stealing the advantage on the last lap for the first time in the race Lines nipped into first place and holding a strong line came around to take the win, a mere 14 seconds ahead of Wardell. Meanwhile an equally epic battle was unfolding for third place, with Newnham being challenged by Colin May and Sean Clark. With Clark unable to hold the pace, it was between May and Newnham, with both riders eagerly attacking the course. A single second split the riders in their sprint to the finish line, with Newnham holding his ground to take a hard-fought third place. Special mention must go to Newnham and Lines, who were amongst only three riders all day to ride, that’s right, ride, the large ‘run-up’ section on multiple laps, with Lines even pulling a wheelie at the top!

Kerry MacPhee picks her line

In the Senior Women’s category the race was also a battle for position, and with the notoriously tough Irvine worth double the bragging rights, the women were not about to let a win slip through their fingers. However, in the overall battle for first women home, one young lady laid down the gauntlet and simply sailed past all the competition.

"The race today was amazing! I went into it knowing that I was on good form, I was hoping to do something special here as Irvine is my favourite course of the series. After a lap or so I had stayed with the leaders, opening up a sizeable gap. As it got bigger I pushed harder, as I knew then that I could win. First woman has been an aim for a while, and to achieve it on my favourite course is pretty cool and rewarding." Isla Short

Prevented from entering the Senior race due to an age ruling, Junior rider Isla Short (Team Thomsons Cycles) claimed the honours of first woman home, a feat that has been her target all season. Incidentally, that also entailed a victory in the Junior Girls category. Over a minute ahead of the nearest rival, eyes turned back along the finish straight to see who would be next. Having battled throughout the race, Kerry MacPhee (Rock and Road Cycles) was hoping to make up for her mechanical issues of the previous weekend, while Maddy Robinson (Velo Club Moulin) searched for the points to seal her Series title. Taking the victory by less than 4 seconds, a delighted MacPhee took her first cyclocross victory of the season, while Robinson cursed a lack of pre-race nourishment. A strong ride from the extremely consistent Elizabeth Adams saw her finish in a comfortable third place.

l to r: Maddy Robinson, Kerry MacPhee and Elizabeth Adams

In the Junior Boys category, early leader Lewis Champion (Perth United CC) put in the fastest lap of the race but suffered from a last lap mechanical. Despite Champion desperately running for the line, the door was opened for Rory Mellis of The BicycleWorks to take his first victory of the season.

Rory Mellis takes a fine win at the beach

He was closely followed in by Conor Nally (Hardie Bikes), the only other rider to ride the ‘run-up’ sand dune through the race. Jamie Mason of West Lothian Clarion CC continued a strong season taking third.

Brendan's five-in-a-Roe

In a resounding result that would have seen him finish in third place in the Junior category, Veteran 50+ rider Brendan Roe stormed around the course to take his fifth consecutive victory of the 2013 Ridley Cycles Scottish Cyclocross Series. Malcolm Dunlop (VC Edinburgh) took second place ahead of Robert Earp (Walkers Cycling) who made the most of home advantage.

Isla Short goes from strength to strength

In the Womens Veteran category one woman has been ever-present on the top spot of the Scottish cyclocross podium this year. Brenda Callendar (Stirling Bike Club) put in yet another strong performance to hold off the chasing Walkers Cycling duo of Lorna Sloan and Catherine Logan, both of whom put in impressive performances in the women’s field – perhaps more of that home advantage! The male Veteran category has been a fantastic race to watch all year and, despite the apparent dominance of one man, the field has often been wide open with the podium positions changing multiple times throughout the race.

'Pain face' of Gary McCrae

Again at Irvine, it was the man from Fife, Gary McCrae of Team Leslie Bikeshop who took a stunning victory, with a performance unrivalled by any of his opponents. A steadily improving John Woodrow (Sandy Wallace Cycles) has, impressively, increased his result at each round by one place, with Irvine being no exception. Moving from third at Strathclyde Park to second at Irvine beach, he fought off the challenge to finish seven seconds to the good of McCrae’s teammate Franco Porco, who will have done his series standing no harm with a fine third place finish.

In the first race of the day on the shortened Under 12’s loop, over 90 kids took to the course on two-wheelers from balance bikes to high-spec race bikes and everything in between. For 10 minutes of fast, multi-lap racing, the youngsters battled it out with Gavin Gronkowski (Mukyriderz) first over the line in the Under 8’s category; a comfortable margin over local lad Findlay Wheeler (Walkers Cycling) and Struan Shaw (Clydesdale Colts) also on the podium. Young Daisy Taylor of East Kilbride Road Club put in a fantastic performance with a time that placed her 5th in the boys category to take the Under 8 girls victory ahead of Isla McCutcheon and Corrie Gilroy (EKRC). Assuming his regular spot on the winner’s step of the podium, Jamie Johnstone (Team Thomsons Cycles) held off the advances of Calum Reid from Stirling Bike Club and Hamish McLaren of the Johnstone Jets to triumph in the Under 12 category, with all boys crossing the line within 30 seconds of each other. Anna Flynn of Edinburgh RC completed an impressive seven laps in 13 minutes to top the Under 12 girls race, finishing a lap ahead of all the other competitors. Next home was Georgia Ferry (Glasgow Riderz) who took the sprint to the line by less than half a second from Emily Wilkinson (Peebles CC) for second place.

As the first race to take to the full course, the Youth categories headed out around a course in pristine condition and fully reaped the benefits with extremely high quality racing and interesting tactical battles. The Under 16 Boys event was a prime example of the strength and quality of young cyclocross racers that are developing in Scotland as a result of a strong national series. Conner Johnstone (Team Leslie Bikeshop) has come into his own as a racer this season, using his height to his advantage to power through the tough courses with a dogged determination. Pitted against the equally strong Team Hardie Bikes rider, Joe Nally, the racing was intense. Dicing back and forth, both riders unwilling to make the first move and give away tactical advantage, they switched positions for the best part of half an hour until Conner moved clear on the last lap and held that position for the win. Nally was a solid second, with John MacLeod (Edinburgh RC) rounding off the podium. Jenny Holl (Stirling Bike Club) reigned over Emma Borthwick (Edinburgh RC) who had a “terrible race!” in the Under 16 Girls, ahead of Katie Allen (Team Thomsons Cycles) who took third.

The victory in the Under 14 Boys was a lot more clear-cut with Sean Flynn (Edinburgh RC) equaling younger sister Anna’s success to finish more than four minutes ahead of his nearest rival. Cameron Mason (West Lothian Clarion CC) was second ahead of another Edinburgh RC rider, Maximillian Bloor. Ellie Park (Glasgow Riderz) completed four steady laps to finish ahead of Emily Field (Stirling Bike Club) and Megan Wilikson in the Under 14 Girls category.

"This season, I have really enjoyed getting stuck in and getting to grips with this curious cycling discipline. It is my first go at it and I can safely say I have been completely sucked in by the whole scene! I like a good blether and there are a lot of friendly folk on the scene so overlooking the sadistic nature of the race, the social side of it is ace. I also snapped my rear mech at Strathclyde so I believe that makes me a bonafide cyclocrosser now!?" Kerry MacPhee

The race was a true spectacle, with the stunning beachfront setting and views over to the atmospheric Ailsa Craig and the island of Arran. Match this with the suffering of racers as they struggled to keep the bike upright in the sand, whimpered their way to the top of the sand dune climbs and pushed a high gear on the flat sections, Irvine rightfully takes its place in the hearts of many riders and spectators.

Our own Morven Brown shows she's a fighter!

Next weekend there is a brief interlude from the Ridley Cycles Scottish Cyclocross Series, when regional events in Inverness and Kinross take place. The following weekend, December 8th, will be the highlight of the season for many as the Scottish Cyclocross Championships heads to Foxlake, Dunbar.