Yesterday was Rouken Glen, round 3 of the Superquaich. I really enjoyed the course last year, although I remember it being hard on my bike. This year was to be no exception.
I was back to the B race (I have no idea how they work out who is in the A or B race but it seemed equally random with respect to men and women getting relegated). I managed to get a spot near the front of the grid and had a really good start. Got clipped in straight away and powered up the hill. I got overtaken by a few men as my initial burst faded towards the top of the climb but I gradually reeled them in over the first couple of laps until I was in 1st place for the women and 6th overall.
I was enjoying the course, and thought I’d found a cunning line through the singletrack behind the pits – cutting tight round a tree while ducking a branch. Until the passing of many tyres wore away the coating of soil over a diagonal root and I lost the bike completely and hit the deck on lap 2. Back up quickly and riding again, hearing the commentator talk about the gap between me and Laura in 2nd place. Lap 3 and I was opening up the gap a bit.
I had just crossed the line to start my 4th lap when I heard it – the telltale ripping sound of a tubeless tyre coming away from the rim. After losing air from my rear tyre and needing a bike change at Strathclyde Park I had been worried, but the bike behaved itself at Irvine. I knew I was done for. Still, it was the last race of my CX season and my blood was up. What’s a shredded tyre and a buckled rim compared to muddy cyclocross glory?
I rode as far as I could with a completely flat rear tyre, eventually grinding to an undignified halt in the mudbath leading into the woods. I was actually still clipped in and just toppled sideways into several inches of liquid mud. Apologies to those riders who heard me swearing as I flailed about trying to unclip and right myself.
Up and running into the woods, and I realised that the front tyre was now flat too. Shouldered the bike and jogged up the hill, shouting encouragement at Laura as she passed me. Ran round to the pits, ditched my beloved Ridley unceremoniously on the ground and grabbed my old, mostly-pensioned-off Revolution.
At this point my lap times took a nosedive – the difference between the two bikes is like night and day! It was actually really interesting to see it thrown into such sharp relief. The run-up where I’d merrily chucked the Ridley on my shoulder was reduced to a stagger, pushing the bike. I didn’t have the gears to ride up the hills I’d been powering up on the Ridley, and the Revolution is heavy besides. And I just didn’t trust it in the corners and off-camber as much.
Still, it was a bike, crucially with functioning tyres, and it got me round my last couple of laps, miraculously still in 2nd place for the women and 19th place overall.
It was an eventful finish to a season that’s seen my results improve so much – I didn’t even have a target at the start of the season other than to improve. New bike, some newfound confidence in my bike handling and a good level of fitness thanks to some coaching. Odd as it may sound, despite having been (at various times) a runner, triathlete and cyclist for at least 15 years, this is the first time I’ve actually felt like I’m pretty good at a sport. And you know what? I like it. I’ve become much more competitive, approximately eleventy-million times more confident on the bike than I was a year or two ago, and I’ve met a lot of awesome people along the way.
So the Ridley is cleaned and put away (still with one flat tyre that now contains more mud than sealant). A thorough service and researching yet more new tyres are on my to-do list. What next? The road season is fast approaching, and I’ve entered Crit on the Campus, but crashing on tarmac at 20mph is somewhat scarier than slo-mo mud tumbles, and I’m still not sure that road racing is really for me. Maybe I’ll finally try some of the XC mountain bike series. In the meantime I’m going to rediscover club rides, at least for a while!