The State of Cycle Racing in Scotland

I’ll begin this blog with a good honest look at how cycle racing in Scotland is progressing with regards to the ever changing road racing scene, the slow demise of ‘traditional’ time trialling, then the massive upsurge of interest in cyclo-cross & track racing. I’ll not go into the sportive scene, but may comment occasionally if it affects racing in some way. I currently don’t have a clue about MTB racing in Scotland, but hopefully I’ll find out and include it in this blog.

Road Racing
Just a few years ago, there was the introduction of a Super6 Series, sponsored by Scottish Power Renewables, previous to that we’ve had various incarnations of a Scottish race series, a Grand Prix series, a development series, none of which have really captured the imagination of the Scottish cycling community. But the Super6 was different, it was a fresh approach to racing, two events on the same short circuit, on the same day, one for higher category riders (A Series), the other race for 4th cats & women (B Series). There lies a problem with this, you need to find willing organisers, volunteers willing to take on a mighty task, with the added complication of trying to get your race helpers (marshalls, drivers, caterers etc) to give up a whole day of their time, races are run by clubs and usually spearheaded by one individual in that club who becomes the local leper as he/she tries to gather help for the event they all agreed to run. The Super6 events proved hugely popular, full fields for the first couple of years, until the format became diluted, with organisers unwilling to run two events & then issues with 4th cat riders not progressing, as riders who started the series as 4th cat riders, then gained enough licence points (*see note 1) to gain a 3rd cat licence could still enter the ‘B series’ and took the majority of the points placings, so the remaining 4th cat riders found it hard to progress. The Super6 is all but dead now, it seems Scottish Cycling no longer had the support of their series sponsor and it may have been left to fend for itself, but hard to see how pulling a few events together and issuing a points table requires a sponsor, it could have been done in an informal manner without winners jerseys.
Otherwise there are some interesting things going on in road racing across Scotland, we come down to the work of some volunteers again, the photo finish operators & the NEG (National Escort Group) have made a huge difference over the last few years. Not only in providing a professional looking public face, with a proper finish area and official looking motorcycle escorts for a race, but also in race safety and the now, all important placings down to the last rider. Everybody likes to see exactly where they placed these days, especially the ex sportive riders who are used to timing chips and thousands of riders getting individual placings and timings. Organisers who can’t get hold of photo finish or can’t afford it for their event (£100), tend to get a public roasting by uninformed riders, desperate for their performance to be registered on social media or the melting pot known as the Braveheart Forum.
There are also unconfirmed rumours that the 2013 British Road Race Championships will be held in Glasgow, on the circuit being used for the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2014. Additional rumours suggest this involves traversing the Clyde using part of the Kingston Bridge, involving closing off some lanes of the M8. So if this does go ahead next year, it looks like Glasgow City Council are taking their cycling very seriously, the logistics for this ‘test event’ are huge, but imagine Wiggins, Cav, Froome etc, racing through Glasgow in front of big crowds, this could be an incredible event.

Time Trialling
Where do we start, the obvious ‘old man’ of cycle race progress in Scotland, an outdated BAR competition (*see note 2) with very few entrants, the continuous scrabble to keep events on so called ‘fast’ courses, flat busy roads, often dual carriageways, often with roundabouts, not where you’d normally enjoy riding your bike, then the aero arms race, making time trialling at a level where you want to be competitive a very costly area of cycling to get into.
So how can time trialling compete with things like track cycling, which involves racing from 10 years upwards, an entry level bike capable of winning races at £400, in it’s current state, no parent in their right mind would want to send their children into the time trialling world, so it needs to evolve and it needs to do it quickly. Time trialling can become a huge sport again, with a few simple changes.
Scotland is absolutely jam packed with what we’d call ‘Sporting Courses’, there are also an abundance of riders with road bikes, who want to compete, again crossover from the jam packed sportive market. So why not provide events for these guys, without pointy hats, without disc wheels, without specific time trial bikes, put them on at a suitable date in the few weeks before a big local sportive, include part of the sportive course, they can test their form for their big event. Surely this is where the future of time trialling really lies, is it worth putting off the inevitable any longer?
The best thing about the current TT scene are the recent additions of some excellent hill climbs, promoted and run in a spectator friendly manner, notably the ‘Kingscavil  Hill Climb’ & the ‘Up the Kirk Hill Climb’, promoted by West Lothian Clarion & Stirling Bike Club respectively. Both closed roads, both with commentary, both a great event to ride & watch, both with more spectators in each than watch an entire time trial season, these kinds of events are the future, and the saviour of time trialling. We still have some great ‘sporting’ events, like the Trossachs & the Meldons, which are in the format which would attract many new riders if marketed to the right group of cyclists, ideal events for non aero kit, maybe we should go all UCI and ban aero kit from a few events and see what happens?

Winter: The new Summer
It seems that there’s more folks out there racing in Scotland during winter than in summer, everything is changing and it’s no bad thing, so let’s see how this happened….
Cyclo cross has become a massive winter sport, with the Scottish Cyclo Cross Association promoting their area of the sport incredibly well with an army of enthusiastic & willing volunteers & up to 250 riders participating in each meeting across the different categories. There is also huge youth participation in this branch of the sport (although some of the parental contributions have been unwelcome over recent weeks), supporting events across Scotland in large numbers. If you go and watch one of these, you’ll feel a whole lot better about the future of cycle racing in Scotland, we’ve been lacking in youth & junior riders for as long as I can remember, providing events like these is the catalyst cycling has been looking for and develops skills required in all other aspects of the sport. You’ll also notice a big crossover, there’s road riders, track riders, mountain bikers, single speed riders, all coming together in one event, all very good to see, cyclo cross looks like a proper cycling community meeting.
Our new winter pursuit in Scottish cycle racing is track racing, the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome now provides a focus for the sport & one of the best track venues in the world, here in Scotland. Glasgow Life who run the venue have been gobsmacked by the interest, they still have thousands of bookings for accreditation to get through, so it looks like the booking system wasn’t prepared for the demand, but things should calm down into the new year and more track time will become available. The track league has been oversubscribed too, plenty of youth riders there too, even some spectators turning up on a Wednesday night, so club racing is on-going every week now. The venue hosted a round of the World Cup in November, which was a huge success, before that there was the Scottish Championships, including the Braveheart Thunderdrome meeting & in February there is a round of the spectator friendly Revolution series. It’s all going on and in 2013 we have the World Junior Track Championships to look forward to, followed by the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014.
The main media focus is obviously going to be on the velodrome, after the huge success of the London Olympics, Chris Hoy being a national hero and the short attention spans required by any uninformed public, track cycling looks to be in a very enviable position, if the ‘Manchester Effect’ produced several Olympic & World champions, we’re hoping the ‘Glasgow Effect’ will create some medals & rainbow bands in the not too distant future.

The Scottish cycle race scene is generally healthy, there are plenty of youth riders flowing in, but it needs modernisation & lacks structure in a few key areas, i.e. Road racing & time trialling.

*Note1: The first 10 placings were awarding British Cycling licence points, 10 for first, 9 for second and so on. You could upgrade to 3rd category by gaining 10 point in one season, allowing you to ride a wider variety of races and progress in the sport by riding against stronger competition. By allowing 3rd cat riders to take part in a 4th category race, those places taken by the 3rd cat riders had no points allocated, but nobody else further down the rankings could get them either, so you could potentially have no points awarded to anybody in these events if the first 10 riders were 3rd category riders who were racing for points in the B series. So combining a race series, with a race category entry system is complicated and problematic.
*Note2: B.A.R. stands for Best All Rounder. In time trialling it refers to time trials of 50miles, 100miles & 12hours, you take the average speed of each ride, then you take an average of those averages and apparently you get a winner. Bear in mind there are no 12 hour events in Scotland anymore, so riders have to travel down south to any remaining 12 hour events that still exist, yet it’s still a Scottish championship. More riders record times for the ‘Middle Distance BAR’, which is over 25mile, 50 mile & 100mile time trials, but there’s limited interest in this as it becomes more and more difficult to find suitable courses & riders have to travel a long way. It’s likely Scotland will have no 100 mile TT very soon either, while the most popular distance of these flat TT’s, the 10 mile time trial is not included in any BAR table. Hence the need for non standard distance, non flat TT’s, of which we have an abundance of courses.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s