Adventures in Aberdour

Haugh+Cross hastens in the 2015/16 Cyclocross Season

words and pics: Anthony Robson

Robinson and Lines ahead of the pack
Three years ago I suffered my very first cyclocross race, at the inaugural Haughcross event above the Silver Sands of Aberdour. The race has now become something of a traditional season opener, celebrating its fourth running in that hinterland between the summer (such as it has been this year) and the more expected wintry cross conditions. And for this year gone was the standard format of mass starts, or categorised races. Instead, riders were faced with the daunting prospect of having to race twice, with two heats taking place in the early afternoon, and the top and bottom half finishers then separated into early evening A and B finals.

Even with the races reduced to 40 minutes plus a lap (with the A final giving an extra 5 minutes of pain), this gave a feeling of trepidation to proceedings for some, not that you would have guessed it from the pace of those at the front, or even more particularly in danger of not making the split, in the heats.

Falkirk's Finest: Davie Lines, as aggressive as ever!

The first heat was viewed from the inside, but with the leaders passing me twice it was clear to see that Connor Johnstone (Leslie Bikes), the heat winner, and the world's best cycling fireman, David Lines of Velosure Starley Primal, were head and shoulders above. They took a 1m30s advantage over Matthew James (Rossendale Road Club) in third, and looked to be cruising (if the unruffled non-breath-catching “On your right” and “thanks” were anything to go by).

They were making the most of a course that looked like holding together well all day. Despite forecasts earlier in the week of the end of days, the sun was out, and a bit of a breeze was doing its best to dry out the downpours of earlier in the week (as well as providing a headwind on the inward portion of the lap to keep you honest). From the start/finish a long sweep and some wide corners then saw you pick up speed to a great downhill (the only respite on the course) which ended in a sharp corner that, with a bit of courage and faith in your tyres, could see you leaving off the brakes to power up a short climb. Nearer the sands the route became twisty, doubling back on itself with tights turns punctuated by short sprints (and one incredibly tight 180˚ bend that saw more than a few end up on the deck), as well as a single, but large, hurdle. The climb back up felt like it would break you each lap, before a long and flat grass run, with a deviation to take in a couple of low, uphill steps (with about a 50:50 spit on riding them or dismounting) before the trademark under-then-over scaffold bridge.

Stephen Jackson looking to the winter!
The second heat was all about an upcoming cyclocross star, in the shape of Neon Velo's Hugo Robinson, Jammy on the mic letting us know that at only 20 years of age he's already ridden in every major international cyclocross race. He was out on his own by almost a minute, and despite not being pushed was only a couple of seconds off the pace set by the leaders of the first heat. James Fraser-Moodie (Pedal Power) was the second man in, with Paul Carmichael ( rounding out the top 3. There has to be cause for special mention of Anne Ewing (WV Breda) as well, rolling in 11th, unlapped, and the only female rider on the day to reach the A Final.

There was then a gap of some three hours for the main event riders, filled in part by some great kids races. It was heartening to see riders as young as 5 or 6 taking on a shortened course, with a mixture of both determination and enjoyment evident on their faces. In the P1-3 race Alistair Easton took the win, well ahead of the battling pair of Finn Crowther and Matthew McCleery; Anna Birrell in fourth spot taking the first girl prize. The P4-5 race was then taken by West Lothian Clarion rider Katie Galloway, sprinting away from Alexander Crombie in second, and Finlay Cooper in third, to leave the boys in her wake.

Rain or shine, the kids give it everything.

During these kids races the weather took a turn for the worse, the wind building, and squally showers falling as the under 12’s and then under 16’s battled with each other in disappointingly smaller fields, but even more disappointingly small spectator numbers, as they understandably (given many had to ride again) took to their cars, or the giant marquee. Your intrepid reporter held on to take pictures, but with the rain falling, and a non-waterproof phone in the pocket for note taking, I can merely report that some riders won, and others didn't (though it brightened up in time for an Ythan CC rider called Callum to take the chequered flag in the under 16’s). This regrettable oversight will be rectified once the results are online.

The ever-impressive Anne Ewing!
There was then some rejigging of the running order, with the B Final to take place first, presumably with a realisation that saving the fast guys in the A Final for the spectacle of the day was the best option. There was still an hour to prepare, but my legs were starting to grumble about having to saddle up again. However the sun was back out (if only to underline the bad luck of the junior riders) and as the whistle was blown once more we all settled into the familiar routine of laps of enduring. This new setup echoes experiences of other events that have put on A and B races, with people judging their own ability and experience, and whereas the heats had pockets of competitive riding, there was a clear disparity. In both the A and the B Finals, there was more of a sense of a level playing field (even if ours was sloped to the sea...) and being 'in' the race, even for those of us still occupying places towards the tail end.

This tighter nature was evidenced by the closer finishing of those at the top. In the B Final Adam Wallace of Deeside Thistle picked up the win, just 11 seconds ahead of Ron Mill (Leslie Bikes), who himself had just a second's grace over Dave Smeaton. Katie Carmichael of Hervelo came in fifth overall, and top female rider, gapping Lettie McDonald (Stirling Bike Club) by almost a minute, with Caroline Harvey nabbing third.

Riders from all over Scotland, happy to be racing 'cross again.

The A Final was a two-laps more affair (though they also had 5 minutes more) and from very early on it was clear that Hugo Robinson and David Lines were going to march away. Lap times were about 20 seconds faster than in the heats, and they exchanged the lead between them over the course of the first 8 laps, playing cat and mouse with each other. But it was on the ninth lap, as they came into view heading towards the steps, that it became clear Hugo had made the decisive move. There was a gap of about 20 metres, and while the elastic hadn't quite snapped yet, as they came through the finish line to get the bell, Robinson's face was one of calm concentration, while Lines was in full on pursuit. As they appeared again the gap hadn't increased by too much, but enough that Robinson simply had to see out the bridge with no disasters and he would roll over the line as the champion. That he did, with David Lines popping a wheelie to cross in second place, just 8 seconds down.

Vet RR Champion Graeme Cross rocking the summer Albannach kit.

Behind them the big battle was for third between Gary McCrae and Allan Clark. It was telling that McCrae's fastest lap was his last one, as he pushed Clark all the way, but in the end it just wasn't enough, with Clark taking third, and McCrae recording the same time in fourth. Anne Ewing, as the sole female rider, was clearly in top spot, and came in 18th overall.

All through the field there were battles that developed, again emphasising the competitive nature of mixing riders in terms of ability, rather than simply by age group or sex. The sun had stayed until the end, and the course had remained solid for the most part, earning its tag of summer cross. The season opener had delivered again, though the withdrawal symptoms kick in with a month's wait for the next race, a new event in Kirkcaldy, to be run at Beveridge Park by Portage Cycling. We'll see if the sun comes out on Fife once more.

*If you're wondering at all how your reporter got on, he comfortably qualified for the B Final by finishing fourth last in the heat, before actually speeding up in the final itself, and improving by 8 places. See you all in Kirkcaldy!