by Genevieve Whitson
Eight weeks ago, I moved from the idyllic rolling countryside of Oxfordshire, England up to the wild, rugged terrain of Edinburgh, Scotland to try my luck at cyclocross racing in this bonny part of the world, and if there was ever any doubt in my mind as to the stellar reputation of Scottish ’cross racing, this was quickly demolished in my first race.
The contrast between England and Scottish cyclocross races is fairly extreme. English ’cross races are mostly well suited to pure power house riders — someone who can put the hammer down from the gun and time trial his or her way around a relatively flat course with some tight hairpin corners along the way, bunny hop hurdles and smash their way through a sea of eager competitors. The National Trophy races have the bonus of being UCI-sanctioned, so you can pick up points and this draws big numbers.
These days we get 15 to 20 women on the start line in the senior women and around 50 racers lining up for the senior men, but because of the popularity, they also have to stick to the three-meter-wide rule and with that comes the difficulty in making the courses a little more creative. But … this is where Scotland steps in.
I experienced my first ’cross race here three weeks ago and it was pretty wild. Set off the coast of Glasgow, we raced along mud-stricken paddocks, a series of super steep rollercoaster drops that almost resulted in giving me a massive over-the-handlebars thud, carried bikes up staircases and navigated our way through single track sand dunes — all in the space of seven minutes! The Scottish races may not fit into the box for general rules’ sake, but the fun factor is huge. It’s not just about fitness and having an engine. You generally have an advantage at these races if you come from some kind of fat tire background — cross-country, downhill, free ride – all would be an added bonus for some of the gnarly drops that the Scots throw into their races, as well as mud skills. Let’s face it, it’s nearly always raining in Scotland and if you don’t like to give your ’cross bike a facial every weekend, then perhaps you should stay south.
I’m lucky this winter because I am getting the best of both worlds. Being based in Edinburgh, I am almost right on the border of England and will get to race the UK National Trophies and the Scottish ’Cross Nationals – which means I get to work on speed and skills and staying upright all at once!
Plus, the prize money is getting better for women. I walked away with 50 pounds at the last ’cross race I did in Scotland. That is progress for women’s cycling. Who knows, maybe in ten years time all prize money at cross races will be equal … At least, a girl can dream.
If you haven’t experienced a British ’cross season, now is the time. There is something in this neck of the woods for everyone and with such huge influx in the numbers; there is always someone to fight it out to the line for that post-race beer (unless you’re a “real” athlete, meaning absolutely no beer, recovery shakes only for you … now get back to training!)