which one is the dark side?

I often hear my mountain bike friends joking about 'turning to the dark side' and sneaking out for a cheeky road ride. So I was amused to overhear exactly the same phrase being used about mountain biking when I was out for my first group ride with a road club a few weeks ago. Up until now, I'd have said I was a mountain biker who enjoyed the occasional road ride. With extra appreciation for the cake stops.

Today, however, still high from the buzz from the weekend, I'm completely undecided.
Two races in two days. One, a 32mile road race in the south of Glasgow and two, a dry and dusty 3 laps of kinnoull hill near perth, as part of the SXC season.

My nerves were running high on Saturday morning. Part of me thinking the other girls who road race in Scotland are all really fast -I'll just get dropped off the group in the first five minutes and will be time trialling by myself from then on. The other half was desperately trying to think about anything BUT the broken collar bone stories I'd been hearing in relation to road racing. I'd tried to allay my fears for the former by exerting peer pressure on any girl I know who so much as owns a road bike. Why not enter a race? Never done one before? Great, I'm new too!! Somehow it must have worked at least a tiny bit as I was delighted to find out on arrival that there were in fact several novice racers in the group and all of us milling around asking questions like 'how does it actually start?' and 'what do I need to bring?'. Even the race briefing sounded like a foreign language with terms like 'hill prime' and 'neutralised rolling start' being bandied about. Eventually, a bit of discussion and questioning of the friendly organisers meant we all at least had a vague idea what was going on. Or at least, so we thought.

20minutes later, I'm at the back of a group of 15 riders, not riding anywhere like as fast as I thought I'd be. In fact, I was actually braking a lot to avoid running into the girls in front. It was all a bit bizarre and a quick chat with my neighbouring rider confirmed that she was also completely confused. We agreed it was probably best just to sit back and see what happened. Every now and then there would be a short sprint as the girls on the front tried to burn us off. I suppose if the group had split we'd have been a bit lost at the back. As it was, we always had plenty of time to anticipate the sprint and weren't really in danger of being dropped. Until THE HILL. Quite a big hill really and suddenly the pace shot through the roof. I watched the group break up ahead of me and put the hammer down until my lungs were exploding. I was going to catch them. I WILL get up this hill and I WILL keep going at the top. I passed some other riders, thinking they might latch on and work with me to catch the others in front but they must have burnt out a bit on the hill and instead I sped past on my own. Eventually I caught three others and for the next 45min was given a lesson on what road racing was really about. Sneaky, deceptive, tough, hands on the drops, fighting to close up the gap if ever one appeared. Trying not to do any longer at the front than I had to but also trying to work as a team to suck up the girls in front. Only 50seconds in front said one of the marshalls. But how many were they? Had I known I was in contention with the other girls in my group for third place it might have all felt a bit different. I'd just assumed I was slow and therefore the majority of the field was still in front. Not so.

Next time THE HILL came round I was dropped by two and I dropped our fourth. We hadn't all been working like a team, some worked harder than others and following a fast and furious time trial to the end the 'hider' at the back was rewarded with 3rd place. I can't decide how I feel about that. Road racing is a strange but strangely alluring sport. I was fifth, out of the 15 girls who turned up and totally ecstatic about it. I am already looking forward to my next race.
Post-race, I ate some cakes, put on some recovery tights and pretended to myself I could recover in one night for the next race. Perth was my first sxc last year and I remember the scary bits and the superman-style falls. This year was going to be a different story.; the first course I would actually ride the whole way round.

Only a momentary lapse of 'brave' meant I gave way second place to Eilidh, who spend down the steep descent while I tiptoed and slid down the edge. No need at all, I just couldn't shake the memory of the fall. Thankfully, seeing Eilidh inspired me to get a grip and I rode in both times on my next laps. Every now and then I'd see Eilidh up ahead and would try to catch her but just never quite made it. A high speed race with some great chasing, fun descents and mega-tough climbs. I will be dreaming of that wooden squirrel at the top of the hill for a very long time. Perth is my favourite course but I still feel like I'm learning how to race (and how not to brake all the time). So lets see what Drumlanrig, the final race of the series has in store. Maybe I can climb past second place? Trans wales between now and then however.

Back to answer my original question, I think it must be track riding that's the dark side. At least, there's definitely a dark side to meadowbank, and it has a headwind. Probably not so common on indoor tracks but, for the moment, that's the best Scotland has to offer. They're breeding us Scottish cyclists tough!


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