1x10: Mark McGhee

1x10: Mark McGhee

Photo: Brakethrough Media/Velo Classic Tours

1. Can you introduce yourself and let our readers know a little bit about you?
My name is Mark McGhee and, with the help of some truly fantastic contributors, I run The Press Room which follows cycle racing in Scotland, and Scottish cyclists racing abroad.

2. How long have you been involved in cyclocross?
Like most of us, cycling has been such a big part of my life that it becomes a natural part of the background… Bikes in various rooms with posters and photographs decorating different parts of the house. Despite being seduced away to motorbikes for a while in the 80’s and 90’s, cycling forms the backdrop of a lot of my leisure time and now, with The Press Room, more and more of my work life too.

A rather unremarkable, and very short, stint as a racer convinced me that I was not the next Robert Millar and a really bad mountain bike accident provided the final proof that road bikes would always be my first choice. That said, I’m flirting with a return to racing in CX now that I’m old enough for it not to matter where, or indeed if, I finish each race.

3. What got you into the sport in the first place?
I inherited my Dad’s bike when I was quite young and went pretty much everywhere on it. Next up was a poorly-sized bike from Dales but having since worked alongside colleagues like Andy Barlow, Gregor Russell and Bill Kennedy at the Edinburgh Bike Co-op in the glory days of the late 90’s (and another six years with a faceless national dealer) I now have bikes that fit me.

Cycling gave me the freedom to explore the surrounding countryside and, with the Campsie Hills close to where I grew up, I became a competent if unremarkable rider.

4. Can you remember the first CX race you went to, and how did it go?
Having a preference for road cycling meant that The Press Room had to find someone to help out with the muddier side of the sport and an old riding buddy put me in touch with Morven Brown. Her MTB reports were really good and well liked but when she produced a race report from Auchentoshan in 2013 the website figures rose dramatically.

Reports followed from Callendar Park, Strathclyde Park and Irvine Beach and the number of followers was steadily rising.

I decided it was time to find out more about CX having only ever been at one race, years before in Kings Park in Glasgow where Gregor Grant won out on the day. My first proper CX race was Foxlake at Dunbar: Morven wrote the report and I took the photos. I really loved it and we’ve covered most of the CX races since. 

5. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen at a cross race?
In terms of riding, it’s not so much craziness but rather seeing the all too apparent skills of the riders which is the biggest draw. Photographing Davie Lines going off the jump at RGCX or Crawford Carrick Anderson
blasting through the sand trap at Irvine, to seeing mud-splattered riders limping home at the finish of the storm-ravaged Strathclyde Park has provided a huge variety of great images, and stories, for us.

On the support side, it’s difficult to better all the people who turn out to cheer on the riders at Dig In and the pink inflatable unicorn was a worthy winner of the best costume this year. Last year’s Hallocross was a lot of fun with demented fancy-dressers racing through the dark woods of Dalkeith.

6. What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve done at a race, on or off a bike?
I like to think that I’ve not done anything too embarrassing at races and I try to keep a fairly low profile. I’m always very careful around riders and I hope that most now know that while I may be close to the racing line at times I won’t ever be in their way. This can sometimes mean that I get into some unexpected positions but riders are getting used to me hiding in ditches or behind my favourite tree at Strathclyde Park. Trying to find something different is always a good challenge but then CX races offer so much variety.

7. Do you have a favourite course, either to ride, or to spectate?
Every location is different of course and they all have features that make them stand out… From the sand at Irvine to the fast sections at Callendar Park, from the woods at Foxlake to the twisty, technical sections of RGCX, Beveridge Park and the now lamented Auchentoshan. I really liked the long climb at Kick in the Knock, with Rosyth and the bridges away on the horizon. The new course at Balloch is also good because it’s only 10 mins away from home.

There are a couple of courses I haven’t been to yet and I hear Mull is spectacular. With Social Cross on this year I might remedy that one at least.

8. Are there any riders you particularly admire?
It sounds contrived to say it but I have the greatest respect for anyone who pins on a number, rolls up to the start line and presents themselves to the scrutiny of the ever-increasing number of photographers dotted about the course.

The kids’ races are always fantastic to shoot because they give it everything and the sense of achievement when they finish is written all over their faces. Watching the battle between Freddie Fuller and Ben McMullen at the Irvine championships was awesome and provided one of the best finishes of the year. In the women’s events there’s always a huge element of camaraderie when they finish even if, moments before, they were fightingit out.

Lucy Grant has been phenomenal this year and the women’s side of the sport is getting stronger and stronger. With riders of the calibre of Maddy
Robinson, Anne Ewing and Eileen Roe, and with emerging talents like Erika Allen and the return of Isla Short, it all looks very positive.

I’ve missed seeing Rab Wardell and Jimmy Mac race this year but guys like Gary MacDonald have come on in leaps and bounds. The V40’s are as mad as ever and watching the battles between riders like Stephen Jackson, Gary McCrae and John McCaffery (to name just a few) provide huge opportunities for great pictures. If I do start racing I’m glad to say that I’m now old enough to be able to avoid this group. 

On the organisers’ side, the talent and knowledge is incredible and ’cross has some of the best organisers around, in Scotland and beyond. Seeing the look on John McComisky’s face after the first Beveridge Park was worth the trip in itself and no further proof is needed that it’s a labour of love for the people that put these races on.

9. Any particular highlights from last season?
There were so many top events and performances to pick from throughout a seemingly endless ’cross season that it’s almost impossible to single one out. The aforementioned Fuller/McMullen battle was a good one as were the victories by Lucy Grant and Harry Johnston at Dig In. Seeing relative newcomers like Harry and Craig struggling with the podium champagne while old hand Gary McCrae took it in his stride was really good.

But really, it’s the atmosphere at ’cross races which always impresses no matter how rubbish the weather may be. There’s an element of the funfair that always makes these events so enjoyable.

10. Finally, what are you looking forward to next season?
More of the same really…more fun, more racing and more epic battles struggling through the sun, wind, rain, hail, snow, sand and, of course, mud (and lots of it) of our Scottish ’cross scene…and maybe dipping my toe in although I’ll probably be out of my depth straight away.

Be kind if you’re trying to pass a slightly unfit rider on a beat-up Kinesis and I promise not to post any embarrassing photos…well, not too embarrassing anyway.