It’s been a while since my last update so here is a quick rundown on winter riding, sliding around on mud and the early season racing.
I took October pretty easy to recharge and reflect on an enjoyable and successful season, and adapt and settle in to the university life at St Andrews. I made the decision to do some cyclocross to provide a bit of intensity during the off season – something which was severely lacking last winter. It turned out to be a lot of fun (I didn’t break any important/expensive parts of the bike or
die of hypothermia at any point so it was really a perfect season) and I even managed to win a race and the overall series at the South Lanarkshire series – a challenging set of 4 rounds which unfortunately clashed with the more popular SuperQuaich series and will surely increase in popularity over the next years. Interspersing racing with long grinds in the cold and wet was a great motivator to keep going out there, and I managed to cover a good number of miles in November and December out on the challenging roads of Fife. January was essentially a month of holiday after uni exams so I started to pick up the intensity and continue to race cyclocross. I wanted to hit the start of season with better legs than last year, where I only really got up to speed by early May.
It was with this in mind that I decided I would take a week out of classes in mid-February to go on holiday to Gran Canaria where I was looking forward to spending whole days on the local playa, exponentially increasing my chances of skin cancer by refusing to wear sunscreen, drinking in seedy bars and complaining about a variety of things including the weather and Spanish people. Unfortunately this utopian vision was ruined by being told I would have to ride a bike while I was there instead. Grudgingly, I have to admit that it was the best week of cycling in albeit my short career as yet. The weather (mostly) played ball and I fell in love with the scenery, climbs, descents and melons the island had to offer. The undeniable high point of the trip was literally the high point – 1944m above sea level at the top of the Pico de Nieves climb. Unfortunately this also coincided with low point of the trip – being dropped by someone on a mountain bike during the ascent. This was the closest I came all winter to quitting the sport of cycling. Another highlight of the week was watching Ross and Andy blasting past me going in the opposite direction to the hotel in hot pursuit of Pete Kennaugh who they’d spotted rolling along the coast road a few minutes earlier. I’m sure this was also Pete’s best moment of the week. Coming home was a bit of a shocker but with racing season only three weeks away there was no time to let up.
First up was the Gifford road race, but for the second time in two years I fell ill the week before and decided not to race. This also put paid to my participation at the first junior national round in South Wales. My first race, therefore, was the aptly-named Fenwick One Day de Panne de Flat. Conditions ranged from challenging to atrocious to painful as hailstones battered down on the road. Wind played a huge factor as the whole course was exposed, and I managed to place myself near the front and out of trouble. With around 30km to go I decided to put it in the gutter and managed to bridge up to a previous break which had gone up the road. We held on for around 10km before being brought back, and soon after the race was halted as riders were reprimanded for riding on the wrong side of the road in the echelons. It was at this point that the hailstones began to fall, and after a miserable next half an hour I could only roll over the line in 22nd place, but happy with how I’d felt during the race. Following this came a foray into the dark arts of time trialling at the classic Gordon Arms TT. Having haphazardly applied a basic knowledge of aerodynamics to setting up my clip on bars, the next hour of my life won’t go down as one of my most comfortable but I was happy with my time and progression from similar time trials last year.
It was at this time that I got in contact with John Bremner, a Scottish Cycling coach who had recently set up a coaching business (HPV coaching and cycling). I had been training a lot, but not always with a lot of purpose, and I thought that a proper coach would propel me to the next level. So far I’ve been really impressed with John – he set me up with a trainingpeaks account, and has given me regular and constructive feedback on the sessions I’ve been doing. The biggest difference I’ve felt is that every time I go out training I feel I have a purpose and a goal, it’s not just aimless riding. In some senses I miss being able to choose what I do when I go out riding, but I realise that this is what it takes to really step up to where I want to be. It’s too early to say if I’ve improved since starting to work closely with John, but we will see as the season progresses.
My second road race of the year was at the Jack Murray junior trophy in Dunfermline. A huge field of 30 juniors and 40 seniors made it an exciting and well organised race to participate in. As it happened, an early breakaway with my ERC team mate Calum Johnston attacked early and held off the peloton for 65km. This allowed me an armchair ride in the bunch and I managed to follow the attacks of key riders and hold a position near the front of the bunch. Having been caught with only 15km to go, I expected Calum to be knackered and set up to try to win a bunch kick on the steep drag to the line. I was well placed and about to hit the front on the steepest part of the climb, but got blocked in a little bit and lacked the snap to go with the fastest riders. In the end I wound up 4th overall and 3rd junior, a bittersweet result as the chance was there to go for the win, but that’s racing. Calum still manged to finish 9th, a fantastic effort given the time he’d spent out front.
Two more time trials (Humbie and the Tour of the Meldons) bring us right up to date. At both, I managed to significantly improve on my times for last year and finish as 1st junior – how much melon can you buy with £20? Next up for me is the Student 10 mile TT championships and then a stacked May – currently I’m entered in nine races including the Scottish national champs and British University champs. Longer term I’m building towards the Junior Tour of Ireland – my big season objective – and the Scottish junior road race champs at the end of September.
So that’s my season so far, but I’d like to talk a little bit about the rest of our squad too. Last year was a tough one, with a few riders hanging up their racing wheels and moving on to other teams, leaving us with only three male juniors for the majority of last year and two female. After a big recruitment drive this winter we now have a squad of six male juniors – myself, Calum Johnston, Stuart Paterson, Matthew Devlin, Joe Agnew and Lewis Gray. It’s great to have a bigger and more varied squad, as we can actually work together as a team during races and use each other’s strengths and protect their weaknesses. Calum has already shown this year that he’s not afraid to take on races and has been competing well at the junior national rounds as well as local races including the Jack Murray. Stuart has also been picking up some top results including a couple of top 10s locally despite suffering a bad crash early on in the season. With Matthew joining ERC we also have more of a presence on the track, with his main objectives for the year being Scottish and British titles on the boards. Lewis and Joe are both extremely talented climbers and we can expect big performances from them in both hillier road races and also hill climbs at the end of the year. On the women’s side, Emma Borthwick and Eleanor Strathdee continue to fly the flag for ERC, with some strong results on the road and off it with Eleanor winning the Scottish cyclocross series and Emma picking up some strong results despite a couple of face altering crashes. It’s been a pleasure to meet, train and race with all of the guys and over the course of the season I can see a strong team bond forming between us.
Finally, I’d like to thank a couple of people who have helped throughout both this year and last. Big thanks goes to Jarlath Flynn, who puts in a huge amount of work looking after the team and arranging training sessions and our participation at big races such as the Junior Tour of Ireland. I must also thank Alex Coutts, who kept me entertained and motivated throughout last year and was a valuable asset out in Ireland. Unfortunately, Alex can no longer commit as much of his time to the team this year but I’ll still hopefully be going out on the occasional ride with him as he’s the most genuine, funny and down to earth person I’ve met through cycling. Finally, thanks Mum and Dad for your never ending support and for carting me up and down the country weekend after weekend when you’d much rather be doing more enjoyable things with less sitting around in small village halls watching other people eat cakes.
I’ll try to post another update mid-June, and of course there will be a reprise of the daily race report and reaction from the Junior Tour of Ireland mid-July.
See you all then!
South Lanarkshire cyclocross series – https://www.facebook.com/southlanarkshirecxseries/?fref=ts
HPV coaching – https://www.facebook.com/HPVcoachingandcycling/?fref=ts