The Wrath of the Strath Fails to Stop Wardell

Words; John McComisky
Images: Mark McGhee

Lots of spectators and lots of riders on yet another dry day

Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series Round Two: Strathclyde Park

After all the fervour and success of last weekend's Falkirk race, the Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series moved westward to the second round held in the parkland and gravelly trails of Strathclyde Park.
The event organisers at the East Kilbride Road Club, have modified the course over the last few years to accommodate the larger entries that cross is now experiencing, as well as adding some technical features, with rooty adverse cambers and every conceivable change of surface to challenge the great and the good of the sport.

Rab Wardell is getting used to doing this: check out his r/h shifter

With a healthy 350-odd competitors signed on swiftly, the race card would go very much to plan. The organisers, should be credited with having to deal with errant dog walkers on the morning of the race, as well as a few nasty prangs, the biggest of which involved a curious deer, who hoofed its way onto the course and collected a rider (you know who you are John from Kinross) in the process, a first and hopefully a last for Scottish Cyclocross.

The biggest field of the day splashes towards the bottleneck

The main Ridley Senior race saw last week’s victor Rab Wardell (Orange Monkey Pro Team) take to the grid, but he was without the likes of David Lines and James McCallum, both of whom had prior commitments at home and abroad. He would however have a bunch of young Scottish development talent more than able to roll him for his dough, and the seasoned Senior hordes who circulate the lowers steps of podiums and who will grasp and grab any opportunity of a win.

Series leader Wardell, and some of the riders snapping at his wheels

From the arena and start area, the clunk and scream of the omnipresent helter skelter and funfair gave way to the crack of the gun and Senior race blasted out into the lower end of the circuit. Wardell was soon grabbing the race by the throat, and had dispensed with the attentions of a very impressive Mark McGuire (, Callum MacGowan (Alpine Bikes) and Steven Halsall (VC Moulin).

Always there or thereabouts, the excellent Steven Halsall

With the gap stretching out to fifteen seconds, the gurgling chat at the Railway Bridge run-and-ride-up, was all about who would be finishing second, but by lap three Wardell seemed to be in some distress, and it was clear he had hit the deck smashing his r/h shifter.

If you've ever wondered what an Ultegra shifter looks like inside...

With only two gears and no front disc brake, the character of the race looked set to change. And change it did, and for the better with regard to Wardell; he set about blowing the race apart and was soon gapping the field by over a minute.

Rab Wardell puts time into the field as he heads for the finish

McGuire who had been riding gamely, also had an altercation in the woodland section but was back on it battered and bloodied, but by race-end he along with the rest of the young team had to give best to Halsall, a rider who is one of the most technically gifted riders in the sport up here, and simply revels in the ruts and roots of more traditional courses. The final step of the podium went to MacGowan; the young rider has shown well in the first two Ridley events this season and is one to watch for future success.

In hot pursuit: the chasers led by Halsall and MacGowan

Interviewed after the race, Wardell had this to say:

“There is never an easy Cyclocross race, it throws every variable at you, whether you are at the front or the back. After my crash, I just figured on getting the head down, I was getting good split information, and it worked, I don't know how the race would have went if Davie (Lines) and James (McCallum) has been in there, but am sure they will be back to keep me company at Irvine.”

 And quizzed on his plans for the year: 

“I am hoping to fit as many cross races in this year, I will be away at the end of the year to Paris for track coaching, so will miss events, but I really do love getting up on a Sunday and heading to a race, the sport is growing here, there are more and more spectators staying on to watch the action, and it is a good scene...I think it is time I tried to get over to Belgium” he quipped.

The Veteran class is the biggest supported class we have here in Scotland, and the battle for even a series point further down the ranks, is of as much interest to the onlooker as the sharp end of the race itself.

Leading from the front: Stephen Jackson was out for the win

Gary McCrae (Leslie Bikes/Bikers Boutique) was the man with the target on his back after drawing first blood on the plains of Callendar Park the week previous, but as the grid was forming amid the smell of frite fat wafting and hanging across the grid, he was well aware that the Glasgow United and it's three amigos James Melville, Hans Forhaug and Stevie Jackson would be cooking up a plan for him when the gun was triggered.

Marked man: McCrae was left chasing to get back on terms 

From the off, there was chaos at the bottom corner with McCrae entangled in a mess of riders and with this the United “Wrecking Ball” swung into action; before long this trio had smashed down the ramparts of the race.

United's Wrecking Crew: James Melville, Hans Forhaug and (bottom): winner Stephen Jackson

Jackson, so often the nearly man of the Veteran class, was in powerful leg ripping form, and his Swedish Shadow Forhaug was more than happy to keep the pace high alongside him. Melville had to make do with consolidating third place, and despite a gutsy ride from McCrae, to charge back through the traffic, he was going to have to re-group for the sand dunes of Irvine beach in a couple of weeks’ time.

Top ride from the Blue Train's Colin Bain saw him finish in 5th spot

Off the podium maybe but a spirited ride came in the shape of Colin Bain, the home club East Kilbride rider further changing the shape of the top positions in fifth place, and adding a new rider to watch for a possible podium in later events.

Onward to the Veteran Fifty Class and first round winner Brenden Roe (Leslie Bikes/Bikers Boutique) had the fastest pit crew in Scotland in the shape of British Women's Circuit Race Champion Eileen Roe who despite recovering from a bout of illness was on hand to keep her father on the right track, and also to keep an eye on her bike which he is using to great effect.

The all-conquering 'Brembro' aided by a National Champion

The classic motorcycle loving Fifer was truly revved up for this weeks race, and despite being run close the previous week, was soon ploughing his own furrow in the glore and leafy glades of the Strathclyde venue. 

Malcolm Dunlop and Mark Barnett filled out the podium

In his wake came a strong ride from Malcolm Dunlop (VC Edinburgh) who continues to go about the job of trying to wrestle a race win out of the series. New to the Veteran Fifty this year Mark Barnett (Leslie Bikes/Bikers Boutique) scored a first podium of the year in third, and is sure to be a proverbial thorn in the side of the main players. Mark has won at Scottish as well as British level in mountain bike racing, and put this experience to good use in the more natural setting of the Lanarkshire venue.

The three riders we're getting used to seeing on the podium: Maddy Robinson, Kerry McPhee and Isla Short

The Women of Scottish Cross never fail to put on a fine show in the Ridley Series, and the scene was further bolstered by the addition of Jane Barr (Velocity44) and the return of Isla Short (Team Thomsons) who both joined the proceedings for the first time this year. This pairing would have an on-form Anne Ewing (WV Breda), Kerry McPhee (Rock and Road) as well as 2013 Series overall winner Maddy Robinson (VC Moulin) to deal with however, and it was going to be a sort-out for even a podium position.

Jane Barr and Anne Ewing will be challenging for top honours

The early laps saw the cruel mistress that is Cyclocross, deal a deflating blow to Ewing though who was out of the running with a puncture. Up front there was a cracking battle between Robinson and McPhee, with this pairing knocking lumps out of each other for the race win. Robinson showed that she is well and truly back on form after her energy sapping ride at the Three Peaks earlier in the year, and was able to ride Kerry off her wheel for her first win of the year. The diminutive Short had to make do with the final step on the podium, but is sure to take a race to the girls as the series unfolds and can never be discounted.

Race winner Maddy Robinson chases back to Kerry McPhee after clearing her rear mech

The Veteran Female class again saw a strong performance from Sian Tovey (Dooleys Cycles), who looks like she is going to be a tough skull to crack this year, and proved it again by rattling to her second win of the year.

Sian Tovey wins the Vet Womens race and share the podium with Lorna Sloan who took 3rd

The youthful exuberance of the Junior class, again saw the boys ride off the front of the eighty strong field, and control proceedings for the duration of the race. Where most of the entry were off and running, these guys are blasting up the climbs, carving out the turns as well as descending with full-gas. You always have to double take at the lap times of these firebrands who are more than capable of taking a race to the Senior men. At the flag Pierce Somerville proved victorious on the day from Hardie Bikes rider Conor Nally.

Next generation: Pierce Somerville and Conor Nally

While we are on the subject of young talent showing a strong presence in Scottish Cyclocross, a vote for rider of the day, should go to Conner Johnstone (Leslie bike/Bikers Boutique); this lad is no quitter, and despite having to deal with punctures, a bike change and having to ride himself back into the race from sixth place only to puncture again on the run to the line, managed to snatch a fine win in the Youth Class, possibly his hardest day in the saddle to date.

(Top): Our man in the field cheers on Wardell, (right): tough race saw Franco Porco finish 7th in the V40

The Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series now takes a couple of weeks out before we head to Irvine and the nearest we get to Koksijde or Joksijde as the Cross fraternity name it up here. If you want to be part of the Dune race organised by Neil Walker and Walkers Cycling mob, you can get an entry here:

If however the last couple of lung burning series cross races have now, still got you gagging for more of the same, the Doonbank Trofee, superbly promoted by the Ayr Roads Club have a new to the fixture list non series event this coming weekend details here,

These non-series are the future of the sport up here, and need supporting, The Press Room will be there on the day to capture all the action.