it's tough at the top

craig hardie

television and the media in general, can make heroes out of pretty much anyone with a nice bicycle and the ability to beat all those trailing in their wake. granted, there has to be a considerable degree of effort on the part of the hero to not only reach such stratospheric heights, but to hang on in there over a disconcertingly long period of time. for if there is anything that the media do better than raising someone to lofty heights, it's dragging them back down again after putting them there. i've no real notion as to how much this affects a cycling hero/heroine in his/her daily life; perhaps in that position its as well to remove oneself from reading or watching, but aside from a welcome increase in salary, and probably several bicycles in the garage, it's a degree of pressure that wasn't on the original invite.

the majority of us will never reach such lofty heights, and apart from the salary and bicycles, of that i'm rather glad. in fact, for the bulk of the weekend pelotonese, the mere act of racing can place an unhealthy deficit on one's bank balance, something that has to be traded against the source of enjoyment and competition engendered.

there are many flavours of cycle competition, all with similar ups and downs, but surely few with as easy a point of entry as cyclocross? basically a field with some shimano tape stretched round a tree or two, and provided you can jump on and off a bicycle vaguely fitting the part, how hard can it be? actually, one whole heck of a lot harder, assuming of course that you'd like to approach success and enjoyment in equal measure.

"Cyclocross is one of the most inclusive sports I have ever taken part in. Everyone competing at their own level, flat out till the bell sounds, then trying even harder to hold position or gain one over that last lap.
"For me as a competitor it's about the challenge of the terrain as well as against fellow competitors. How fast can you go before trying to squeeze another 2%?
"Cyclocross is a discipline where you have to have a whole host of tools at your disposal to be up there: power, sprinting, technical, running. Not only that, but keeping your bikes running smoothly throughout the hour could mean the difference of a place or the dreaded DNF. To 'finish first you must first finish' is a quote that could have been made for 'cross."

craig hardie

the words are those of craig hardie, owner of hardie bikes, cairneyhill in fife, a man who fiercely enjoys his annual cyclocross seasons. in which case, is the intervening road season simply something that gets in the way of cantilevers and some narrow knobblies? "I think for some cyclocross racers that's exactly the case. As the road season continues, it's becoming more common to have people counting the days till 'cross season begins. More are basing their season around it and maybe finishing the road, or in my case grass track earlier to prepare for it."

having averred that the media may be complicit in creating the superstars of the sport, there's a not inconsiderable amount of work required on the part of any wannabes, and no less on the part of those who simply want to compete at the highest level they can manage. given that craig's seasonal thrust concerns the scottish 'cross circuit, how hard does he have to train in order to compete satisfactorily? "For me it's just about getting back on the 'cross bike about four or five weeks before the season starts. this allows me to get some of my technique sharpened including a few run ups with bike on shoulder. This soon reaches places you've not used in a while, but within a few weeks the body soon gets used to it and helps to lessen the shock of the first race.
"I do like to go into the season a bit under-trained. Once racing starts, I like to be pinging in the middle to late part of the season and racing gives you an edge, although the first race always seems way harder than I ever remembered!"

cyclocross is no less an attraction for either weight-weenies or those attracted by bike-porn. despite not being anywhere near fit enough, competitive enough or even interested in racing anyhting on two wheels, i do find myself seriously attracted to cielo's cross racer, bereft of bottle cage bolts though it is, and with a bottom bracket height destined to promote nosebleeds. what bicycle of choice keeps mr hardie out front? "For the last few seasons I have ridden a TREK XO-2 which has been a great bike and carried me to two series wins on the bounce. For last season I did get a spare bike; a TREK XO-1. I've never bothered much in past years about having a spare bike, relying solely on a set of spare wheels. Maybe it's a sign that the sport is getting more serious, with more and more riders using two."

which sort of brings me to my next point about the expense of participating these days. lots of us have more than one bike in the shed, though often of differing materials or styles. even road racing enthusiasts tend only to have a race bike and a training bike, the latter doubling as a winter hack. if the scottish circuit (and no disrespect, but it's not yet the series to which all other aspire), is encouraging riders to go the way of sven nys and have a panoply of cycles ready and waiting in the pit, then a season of cross must start to give some riders food for thought as to how expensive it can all become. add to that the cost of transport, and surely it becomes somewhat of an expensive hobby?

craig hardie

"To start with I would say no as you can compete on any type of bike in Scotland and then progress from there. Once you get a more specialist bike the outlay could be a bit more but as 'cross bikes can be used all year for commuting, training and nipping to the shops I'd say this makes them one of the most practical bikes out there. If you were to say to me you can only have one bike and which type, a 'cross bike would do it for me."

craig has at least, if he'd like to look at it in this way, a bicycle shop that he can promote during his weekly forays into the hinterlands of the homeland. does he attempt to justify his seasonal oubursts in this way? "First and foremost is the fun factor in the racing. I am positive that even if I didn't have the shop, I'd still be battering through the mud regardless. The advertising, to my mind, is a fringe benefit right enough though at times can result in unwanted pressure; the slightest mechanical and the guys are down on me like a ton of bricks:-)"

like any form of racing, what goes around will undoubtedly come around once more the following year, and it's a sure bet that it's possible to become caught up in simply taking each event as it comes, with no thought for the bigger picture. which is pretty much ok as an attitude, one that i'd likely adopt myself if push ever came to shove (which it won't, before you ask). however, as craig has already pointed out, he has two series victories to his credit over the past years. so does he have a cunning plan in mind, or happy to take things season by season?

"I just take it season by season. For me it's all about enjoying the ride and for as long as I'm able to fling my leg over a 'cross bike, I'm sure I'll keep at it".

in which case, i'm sure mr hardie will concur with mr sachs that 'cross fugkinc rules? "Exactly:) and that Sachs bloke knows a thing or two about 'cross, Hup! Hup! and roll on the racing.

hardie bikes | photos by marty steele

posted friday 2 september 2011


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