This race had it all: sun, wind, muddy roads, hills, super-fast descents running into tight hairpins, stunning scenery, happy but exhausted cyclists, angry voices and finally, and possibly crucial to the outcome of the race, an appearance from the Four Horsemen (or women) of the Apocalypse.
Heading to Kinross for the Kinross CC Ochil Hills Road Race, this year hosting the Scottish National Junior Road Race Championships, we passed a Jaguar in full Team Sky colours about 10 miles south of the race venue…could they be talent spotting or were they just taking in the sights ahead of the Tour of Britain? During the race itself there was no sight of them but they should have stayed around as there were some top performances from some of our best juniors.
Racing with the vet riders certainly helped to shake things up but two of the teams had turned up en masse…Glasgow Cycle Team and Spokes Racing Team and there was good representation from others such as Glasgow Nightingales CC and Edinburgh Road Club to name a couple.
The Glenfarg course is tough! Constant ups and downs, twists and turns making it hard to recover. Any breakaway groups can be seen on the long straight climbs at the back of the course making it difficult to stay away but top and bottom of the loop lend themselves to breaks as the road switches around bends.
First time into the hairpin left and climb of Church Brae in Glenfarg and Ryan Glasgow of the Nightingales was away on his own, but not by too much. Waiting for the race to come round again we were surprised to see a group clear as they tackled the climb for the second time. Leading the young guns up the hill was Alister Watt of Granite City RT and he was being trailed by Andy Bruce of Kinross CC and John Gartland (GJS Cruise Racing). Another group was also coming up with Gary McCrae of Leslie Bike Shop and Scottish Vet Champion Graeme Cross (The Bicycle Works). Some of the top juniors were present within these various groups: Andy Brown (Glasgow Cycle Team), Calum Kennedy (ERC), Danny Hedley (Moray CRT) and Grant Martin (Spokes RT) to name but a few.
In the next group we had Lewis Mulholland (Glasgow Cycle Team) and Harry Johnston (Team Thomsons Cycles) with the first woman Julie Erskine (IKON-Mazda) holding her own.
We relocated to the top of the long climb on the back of the circuit for the next pass and Johnston was now in the front group which had built quite a margin. Trailing in their wake was a trio of riders with Cross, Calum Johnston (East Kilbride RC) and one of the Spokes riders. This trio was riding off the front of the next big group on the road and as they crested the hill Lewis Mulholland was hanging onto the Chief Coms car having a heated discussion.
We asked at the end of the race and we were given various different interpretations of what occurred. From what we can understand, approaching Glenfarg on either the second or third lap, the lead group passed some horses and riders on the road. It was clear straight away that one of the horses became quite distressed, as did the rider, and the decision was taken to slow the approaching bunch in order to get by safely. This meant that the group in front managed to build on their lead and it was felt by some that the race should have been neutralised and the original time gaps reinstated. The coms took the decision not to do this and while most accepted that anyone who was going to contest the race would have been up there already, not everyone agreed and there were some dissenting voices at the finish.
As it was, Spokes RT started to employ attacks to get one of their riders over the line first. Approaching the sharp left at the bottom of the course on the 3rd last lap Matthias Barnet was off the front being chased by Alister Watt and the rest of the group.
Coming through the finish line to take the bell though it was that class act Grant Martin who was holding a lead of about 40 seconds over Harry Johnston and Tom Chandler (Sherwood Pines Cycles SRAM RT) with Danny Hedley leading the others another 10 seconds back. Could he hold out for another lap? The smart money said yes!
A short time later and another lap done as we all waited to see who would come into view first. And was Martin still at the head of affairs and holding off the chasers as they covered the long finishing straight. He looked to have about 20 seconds in hand but once he knew he’d done enough, and while the chasers fought out the minor placings, this gap eventually closed to 7 seconds. He was chased home by Chandler who had fought valiantly to close the gap but it just hadn’t been enough. Andy Brown (Glasgow Cycle Team) had also managed to gap the group behind and came home in 3rd spot with recent Auld Yins winner Andy Bruce wining the bunch sprint.
Julie Erskine once again proved to be head and shoulders above her competitors coming home in a group 10:43 behind the winner but 4 and a half minutes ahead of second-placed woman Rachel Crighton (Dundee Thistle RC). Crighton is improving with each race she does and looks a real prospect but Erskine is on a winning streak and enjoying her victories.
It may have been a difficult day for many but the racing was superb and it was a triumph for the host club Kinross CC.
Team Sky should have stuck around!
Full results here.