Aberfoyle is a bit of a classic venue on the SXC circuit, having seen a number of different courses on it’s steep hillside over the years. This year saw the return of the dreaded Heart Attack Hill (HAH), a steep bottom-gear climb of several minutes, mostly on slippy surfaces. Those of a weaker demeanour could opt-out, and take the forestry road itself, though this came with a small time penalty due to it’s distance.

The first section of descent was down an off-camber technical loamy section, lots of roots and rocks to put the unwary offline. There was a short forestry road sprint after this, followed by a super-fast rutted descent, across the forestry road at the bottom, and onto a supremely hard off-camber traverse before joining the forestry road again. A minute of high-speed big-ring gentle descent took you to the last section of singletrack, being fast singletrack with some tight turns and plenty of line choices in it.

At the start things went pretty steady, a group of six at the front; Gareth (GT Racing UK), Rob Friel, Si Ernest (AW Cycles) [who I initially thought was Chris Pedder after a growth spurt], Niall Frost (XC Racer) and James FM (Pedal Power). On the first lap we were to avoid HAH and go round the forestry road. Once we got to the steep sections Gareth started to float away, with James and I giving some chase before Si finally engaged the after-burners and gave Gareth a proper chase.

Down the first few descents James was apologising profusely for getting in the way, not that I was bothered as I for some reason had the mince dialled up high for the first two laps, before finally getting it together on the third lap. Niall came past me on the second lap, mentioning something about me getting him back on the climbs.

By the fifth lap I could still see Niall, and could see he was having a bit of trouble on HAH, as he got off then managed (much respect for this) to get on and get going again. By the end of the lap I had caught him, had a bit of legsplosion related banter, then dropped him along the forestry road to the bottom of HAH.

Gareth took the win, Si was second, Rob third, James fourth, myself fifth and Niall sixth.

Thanks to Emma for doing my bottles, and I-Cycles and Innerleithen MTB Racing for the help and support. Also thanks to Norman and the rest of the chaps at Squadra Porcini for the great course, and the SXC volunteers for the great event.

Full results are on the SXC website.

Other reports can be had from Si and Niall.

Technical Aside: When building my new bike I had a lot of concern for two races on the calendar with respect to gearing; this one, and the Selkirk Marathon. For as long as I’ve run 9 speed I used the standard 44-32-22 chainset and 11-32 cassette. Switching to a double limits both the top-end and the bottom end. The top-end isn’t a worry, but the bottom end is. HAH was only really doable for me in the granny ring last year, though I did manage it in practice using the middle ring, but decided it was too hard on my legs for six laps. I ended up going for a 40-28 chainset and a 11-34 cassette. This gave me a 21.41 inch gear as opposed to the 18.56 inch gear on the double. Turns out that this was more than low enough, worst fears averted. Much respect for Si Ernest who raced on a single ring, giving him a 36:36 lowest gear.