Most criteriums are fast-paced races around a short circuit with maybe the addition of a steep climb, tackled over and over again…and the rider gets used to turning in the same direction for just over an hour. Well, that’s the way it used to be and anyone who remembers the races around George Square in Glasgow would recognise that description.
But times have changed and Scottish cities are mixing up the old formula. We recently had the hugely popular Squirrel Crit in Dunfermline show us what it can do for a second year and on Sunday we were treated to the second running of the Crit Under the Castle in Stirling, and again for a second time, incorporating the Scottish National Criterium Championships. This is an event where Stirling Bike Club gets to run through the format practiced at the Crit on the Campus but with all the corporate help of the city of Stirling itself.
It’s no small feat to close the streets of a popular destination such as Stirling for a complete day but Stirling District Council has wholeheartedly supported the event and the Lord Provost was in attendance for the elite race finishes and presentations.
Scottish Cycling had been posting Facebook and Twitter updates throughout the early races and we arrived in time for the Youth A race. This is always a hotly contested grouping with several talented riders vying for supremacy. The course comprised a twisting route through the larger mansions behind Allan Park before shooting into the pedestrian precinct and then hitting the cobbles on the climb up King Street, cresting the hill and shooting back down and passed the Albert Halls and on through the line.
The Youth A race stayed pretty much together although Struan Pryde (Deeside Thistle) tried to string the group out in an attempt to distance race-favourite Joe Nally (www.Hardie-Bikes.com). As expected it came down to a mass sprint with Nally leading out from the front and never looking in danger but it was close for the silver spot with the silver position going to Stephen Dent (Nevis Cycles RT) and bronze to Alexander MacRae (Speedflex RT).
Mixed in with the bunch sprint the hugely impressive Rhona Callander took the win for the Girl’s race from her Stirling Bike Club teammates Amber King in second and Jenny Holl in third…these riders are getting used to locking out podiums with only the finishing order changing around.
Next up was the Junior Men’s race and as impressive as Nally is in the Youth A grouping, Team Thomsons Cycles’ Harry Johnston knows how to dominate a race having won at senior level already. From the gun he was off with only Edinburgh RC’s Calum Kennedy able to go with him. Eventually though, even Kennedy couldn’t hold his wheel and continued to chase on his own before being overtaken by the group. Johnston was gone and on his way to another victory which he took easily with Danny Hedley (Moray Cycle RT) winning the bunch romp from Calum Johnston of East Kilbride RC.
Hardie Bikes had come prepared for a day of racing and Craig Hardie himself was to be seen at different points of the course cheering on his riders and they achieved some success in the two 4th Cat support races. The first one went to Simon Woodliff of Ayr Roads CC from Svetozar Hristov (Bulvelo CC) with Paul Sharp of Hardies-Cycles.com in third.
The second went to Fergus Brown with Stewart Burke of Hardies-Cycles.com getting second and Keith Greenwood of Pedal Power RT finishing in third. These races were hard-fought affairs made all the more difficult as the sun had finally arrived and was set to stay for the rest of the day.
Next up was the Elite Women’s race and although defending champion Kayleigh Brogan was not riding, last year’s winning club was well represented by Erika Allen and Peggy Series of Team Thomsons Cycles. There was stiff completion though in the form of Lorna Feguson (Glasgow Green CC) and Ellen McDermott (Team Watt Cycle) not to mention the Borthwick sisters among others.
Throughout the race it was Lorna Ferguson who was pushing and making it difficult for some of the riders at the back. With the first Elite race we were now treated to the sting in the tail of this event…a final lap climb all the way up St John Street and onto the castle esplanade with most of the final sector being over cobbles.
The leaders were together as they came up the climb and we waited to see who would appear around the final bend. The three racers appeared together with Allen only a wheel ahead of the others and as they ground up the final section it looked as if it could go to any one of them. As it was, Allen held on and took the win with just a bike’s length to spare over McDermott and Ferguson. Riders continued to struggle towards the finish line and pretty soon the esplanade was littered with collapsed bodies as they sought to get their breath back after such a horrendous finale.
As we made our way back down the Elite Men’s race had started and after a lap of sizing everyone up defending champion Steven Lawley (Neon-Velo Cycling Team) and Evan Oliphant (Raleigh GAC) set about destroying the field. They rode off the front and stayed away for a few laps before eventually being reeled back in. Pretty soon though they were off the front again with Lawley pushing hard, intent on continuing his winning streak of late. They were being chased by the group led by Phil Trodden (Team Moda-Anon) and containing all the major players such as David Lines (Velosure Starley Primal), Gavin Alexander (Team Novo Nordisk) and Ruari Yeoman (Spokes Cycles) to name but a few.
It was time to relocate to the finish so we missed the final circuits but we gather that Lawley and Oliphant were reeled back in only to see Lines take off for the win but he was caught by the former leaders on the climb and as we waited at the top it was Oliphant who appeared first followed by Lawley. Oliphant wasn’t troubled and took one of the wins that has eluded him. He can now add Scottish Criterium Champion to his four road titles. Steven Lawley didn’t appear too disheartened to have taken silver on this occasion as he made it an excellent race.
There was still the bronze medal to decide and Lines had been overtaken by the superbly talented junior Ruari Yeoman of Spokes Cycles but Lines dug deep and took the position back before crossing the line and promptly collapsing from the effort. Yeoman lay down right beside him and it was several minutes before either could raise the energy to congratulate each other. A show of defiance from the experienced professional on the part of Lines and a fantastic performance from the promising talent that is Yeoman.
All that was left was the ritual soaking from the champagne of race-sponsor Cono Sur and Oliphant could relax knowing he’s chalked up yet another title to add to his long list of impressive wins.
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