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: