Cycling Scotland -

Road racing

Not just racing on a road, but in a bunch of up to 200 other riders. Road racing is still the most popular side of cycle racing - though mountain biking is perhaps catching up - and it has a dedicated following, particularly in cyling's heartlands of France, Italy, Spain, Belgium and Holland.

Tactics play a huge part in deciding the outcome of road races. Largely this is because, in the relative comfort of the bunch, wind resistance is reduced to a minimum and riders can conserve energy. If you want to win, however, you have to poke your nose in front at some stage; the trick is in judging when. Strong riders can go for a long, lone break. sFeatherweight climbers can gain an advantage in the mountains. Bulky sprinters generally gamble on the last 200 metres.

Scotland has a healthy road racing scene, where the fields generally number between 50 and 80 riders in the bigger events. These include the Girvan 3-Day stage race at Easter, the Tour of the Kingdom in May, the Tour of Moray in July and the Grand Prix series. In recent years a Development series has been established for young riders and beginners.

Andy McCandlish Photos

Time trialing

The 'race of truth,' since sheer strength rather than tactics decide the outcome, time trialing is the most popular form of racing in Britain. Individual and against the clock, you can't hide in a bunch. Time trials can form part of a stage race, or they can be an event in their own right. In Scotland distances range from 10 miles to 12 hours, though the longer events are becoming less popular among younger riders.

There are official time trials and 'club' events, open to anyone. You get standard distances -- most popularly 10 and 25 miles -- as well as 'mountain time trials.' The great thing about time trials is that, unless you're going for the win, the only person you're competing against is yourself. And the beauty about standard distances is that you can keep accurate tabs on form and fitness as the season progresses.

Andy McCandlish Photos

Mountain biking - cross country racing

Cross country racing is brutal. Like time trialing, and despite the fact that you start en masse, as in a road race, there is no hiding place in a cross country race. Unless it's on a relatively easy course riders are unlikely to stay together and, in any case, there is little shelter to be had when you're going uphill and 'only' travelling at around 10mph.

There's a great mountain biking scene in Scotland, with Clockwork Cycle Sports organising the Scottish series, for all abilities, at venues up and down the country. Men's races can be as long as three hours, while women's events are unlikely to be longer than two hours, but much shorter distances are tackled by younger and less experienced riders.

As in the toughest endurance events, there can be immense satisfaction in just finishing a cross country race.

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Mountain biking - downhill

This is by far the fastest growing branch of cycle sport. And the scariest. Downhill courses vary in length from under a minute to around ten minutes, though obviously that depends on how fearless you are. Often the downhill races are run through forests, which means there can be plenty of close encounters, and crashes, as the riders weave their way around a variety of obstacles.

The fashions of downhilling borrow heavily from snowboarding, and there are plenty who combine the two sports. Again, the Scottish events are organised by Clockwork, and there is a vibrant scene in Scotland. In fact, Scotland has two of the world's leading exponents of this discipline in Emma Guy and Crawford Carrick-Anderson.

Track racing

Like athletics, track racing includes a massive variety of disciplines, from the 200m sprint to 20km bunch race. In between there is the pursuit, team pursuit, Olympic sprint, points race, and many others. Since there are no climbs in a velodrome, trackies tend to be bulkier and more muscular than road and mountain bike riders.

Andy McCandlish Photos

And again, there is a good scene in Scotland. Meadowbank velodrome, in Edinburgh, was built for the 1970 Commonwealth Games and it plays host to a weekly track league (Tuesday evenings) as well as other events and championships. Manchester indoor velodrome, meanwhile, is one of the best cycling facilities in the world and the Scottish Cyclists' Union organises regular training and introductory sessions there, often with transport provided.

Scotland has produced a number of British champions over the years, and in Chris Hoy and Craig MacLean, we now have world class riders in with a great chance of winning Olympic medals later this year. With Englishman Jason Queally they won silver, behind the French, in the Olympic sprint at last year's world championship.

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