Words: Eric Easton
Photo: G. Watt
It couldn't have been better. With the rest of the country seemingly under water and grinding to a halt, the organisers at Irvine put on a cracker of a course and some fantastic racing. High winds, heavy rain and biting cold were minor distractions to the riders tackling the big dipper, sand pits, steep run-ups and off-camber sections. The course was so well judged that all sections were ridable but only if you were skilled enough. Sheer power was not enough to get a result - finesse, chutzpah and careful choice of tyre pressures were required as well.
Such a selective course, of riders and their equipment, was bound to result in some upsets and these were scattered throughout the day's racing.
This was always going to be about the up and coming mountain biker and the two former champions. Grant Ferguson changed code from XC to CX to ride away from Raleigh Series leader Davy Lines and returning former champ Rab Wardell. Ferguson attacked hard early and established a good lead over the first two laps. For Lines and Wardell it was all about limiting Ferguson's winning margin. Both riders hammered it for lap after lap with Lines putting time into a race-starved Wardell and kept the winning margin to a respectable 2.26 min. Ferguson rode with style, skill and considerable power - accelerating over deep muddy sections that others ran and relishing the sand where others were merely coping. Ferguson was a popular winner with many seeing the young mountain biker as Scotland's next up and coming CX star.
The cognoscenti have picked out the senior women's races as being the most exciting and most open with four different winners in the previous four races. This race was a battle between the road power of Anne Ewing and the technical chops of Lucy Grant. On this course, it was always going to be Grant and she rode away from Ewing to take first with Jane Barr rounding out the podium. Grant and Ewing sit equal at the top of the series table with Barr not far behind. It looks like we can expect another cracking race as a decider at the Cross at the Castle in Mull this weekend.
Vets 40+ Male
Gary McCrae continued this season's form with a cracking win over a rapidly improving Hans Forhaug. This is the best result so far for Forhaug this season, it will interesting to see how he fares in Mull. Alister Watt took a deserved third place from Stephen Jackson in fourth although Jackson still retains his second place in the series.
Vets 50+ Male
Kenny Kentley took a great win from an unfortunate Brendan Roe who had a bad day on the dunes rolling a tub and crashing at a critical point but still managing second and keeping his place at the top of the series table. Kentley has now won two of the series to Roe's three wins and will surely challenge Roe all the way at the Castle on Saturday.
I wish I'd put money on John MacLeod after picking him out as a likely winner last week. MacLeod has been racing hard on the flatter courses and getting some decent results but never quite challenging Craig Gow for the win. On the much hillier dunes of Irvine with its long run up, MacLeod was in his element and made his bid for victory on the final lap after Gow suffered a bit of bad luck. MacLeod took his chance and showed no mercy as he opened up the power and gave it full gas to the finish. Calum Shackley was third.
Vets 40+ Female
Brenda Callander has been commanding so far in the series - but not at Irvine where Janet Erskine pulled off a classy win amongst some strong competition from Marie Meldrum (2nd) and Caroline Harvey (3rd).
Vets 50+ Female
ElizabethClayton was first from a chasing Anne Chisholm and Catherine Logan.
Vets 60+ Male
Alex McAllister was first, John Walker second and Sandy Wallace third.
The organisers put on some cracking racing for youths and thanks must be extended to the comms who did all that they could to make the racing more competitive and exciting. In the Under-8s Nicholas Jackson continued to dominate his class with a first from a rapidly improving Angus Fraser-Moodie and Gareth Davies; Daisy Wilkinson narrowly beat Nina Padmanabhan into second in this small field.
There was a huge field in the Under-12s and some great racing, Freddie Fuller made his customary strong start but this time failed to burn off Ben McMullan who made a massive effort to hold his wheel and maybe unnerving Fuller. In the final lap McMullan attacked Fuller to take a great win against an on form rider showing that sometimes tactics can trump strength. There were no such upsets in the girls' race, Imani Pereira-James won again from Eilidh Shaw and Skye Donnellt. Those three have been juking it out all season but Imani has always come out in front.
The Under-14 girls' race was won by Anna Flynn in fine style with Eva Young second and Elena McGorum third, the boys' race was won by Jamie Johnstone, Rory McGuire second and Callum Cooper third. These three have taken turns in all three podium positions recently and are very evenly matched and this makes for great racing.
Sean Flynn wasn't able to capitalise on his recent great form to challenge Cameron Mason in the Under-16 boys' race. Mason won convincingly from Charlie Johnstone (2nd) and Struan Pryde (3rd). Anna McGorum put two places between her and her main rival for the series - Ishbel Strathdee. McGorum leads Strathdee by only ten points now. Strathdee won the first two races of the series but McGorum has now won the last three and is looking to wrap up the overall on Mull this weekend.