Words: Press Room
Images: Press Room
The defending champion’s preparation for this year’s Scottish National Road Race has not been perfect but Mark Robertson (Army Cycling Union) had a quiet confidence about him…things were coming right and, crucially, he’d recce’d the finishing straight and realized that a headwind could make a real difference.
And he used that knowledge to open up the sprint early on, secure in the knowledge that he could hold it all the way to the line. It’s was a close-run thing though as Grant Martin (Vitus Pro Cycling) pushed him all the way.
In the Women’s race there was always going to be a new champion as last year’s winner Julie Erskine wasn’t there to defend. It was a race-long break that set the scene for the race and it also came down to a sprint, with Torelli-Brother rider Jennifer George taking on former champion Chloe Fraser (Racing Chance Foundation) and Kerry MacPhee (BikeLove-Genesis) and taking the title by a bike length.
The ink had hardly dried on the report from the Youth TT at Methlick before we headed to the beautiful Cromarty peninsula and a truly savage course provided by the Moray Firth CC with organizer Eric Davidson having everything in place for the start of the day…including the weather.
Cyclists had virtually taken over the conservation village of Cromarty and the whole of the esplanade had been barriered up for the start and finish of the races. Heading out on the shore road along the coast and through the hamlet of Jemimaville it was an easy start to the circuit. Turning left this is where it began to get difficult as the road started to rise, steep to begin with but then settling down into a steady climb.
Passing tattie fields the road then climbed through the trees with two long and steep ramps to contend with. The riders were sheltered from any breeze here by the trees but this meant that insects were quite a nuisance. Finally they were over the top before plunging down to a left hand turn and another short, sharp climb. Once over this the going should have been easier but the road continued to rise until they would eventually pass the trail centre and begin the long descent back to the village. With a breeze in their faces, the riders still had to work before the steeper drop into the village.
And then it was a technical run-through…first of all a sharp left-hander, the turn marshaled by Scottish cycling legend James Millar. At the end an easy left back onto the circuit but for the finish the riders would go sharp right and head up the finishing straight.
To the casual observer, it might not have looked too demanding but the climbs were long and three laps for the women, six for the men would take its toll. The men’s race was 100 miles long and some riders thought five laps would have better but as eventual winner Mark Robertson said, “the final lap was where it all happened.
In the Women’s race it was the first climb that did all the damage. We’d positioned ourselves at the second climb for the first lap and it was five riders that came up the hill first, having made the break on the long drag across the peninsula. Jennifer George, Chloe Fraser and Kerry MacPhee also had local rider Natalie Munro from the host club Moray Firth CC and Beth Harley-Jepson (Edinburgh RC) with them in the break.
They were followed first by Helen Wyld (Edinburgh RC) and Emma Smith (Deeside Thistle CC) and then by Louise Woolrich (Velo Sport Jersey) and Ingrid Kidd (Angus Bike Chain) in pursuit.
Then came what was left of the bunch as Laura Nicolson (Dooleys Cycles), Charlotte Anderson (Ronde Cycle Club) chased with the Glasgow Nightingale duo of Anna Anderson and Katie Priester. One name was missing and she must surely have been a pre-race favourite…but then she came into view chasing hard on her own. Joanne Thom (Sandy Wallace Cycles) had suffered a couple of dropped chains and lost contact but she was determined to get back on.
Next time around the lead five were still going well and behind, the chasing riders had all come together, Joanne Thom making it back to this bunch…but the race was gone. With the strongest riders pushing up front, there was no way this second bunch was ever going to pull them back and the gap was going out.
Thoughts now turned to the race win and how to get away from the sprinters. Chloe Fraser attacked on the run back to Cromarty but she couldn’t make it stick and the only result was that Natalie Munro was tailed off. Into the village and Beth Harley-Jepson was first into the finishing straight turn but she went wide and the others came underneath her.
Now it was a sprint to the line with Chloe Fraser taking one side of the road, Jennifer George in the middle with Kerry MacPhee on her wheel. They were all pushing hard but the superior speed of the Torelli-Brother rider won out, Jennifer George taking the win ahead of Chloe Fraser with Kerry MacPhee in third, Beth Harley-Jepson in fourth and Natalie Munro coming home in fifth. Jennifer George just had time to raise one hand in victory and was clearly delighted as she hugged teammate Georgia Mansfield who had pulled out after a lap, still suffering from her recent crash.
Several minutes went by before the bunch came onto the esplanade and Helen Wyld looked to have the sprint won but Joanne Thom was determined to salvage something from her day and shot past her just before the line, claiming the final prize as she did so.
It was a hard race with the lead five putting on a great performance and Jennifer George proving to be a worthy winner.
Onto the Men’s and we’d asked some of the riders who the main challenge would come from…almost all of them agreed that Grant Ferguson (CST American Eagle) would be the man to beat. Others names were mentioned and some riders like Mark Robertson were remaining tight-lipped as is their way before a big race.
Led away from the start by a piper the attacks would begin on the first main climb and it proved to be the springboard for attacks once again with a trio of riders forming ahead of the main bunch. Greig Brown (Bioracer-Project GO), Ryan Fenwick (Wheelbase Castelli MGD) and Jon Woolrich (Velo Sport Jersey) made the break with another trio of riders in between them and the main bunch.
Martin Lonie (Nuun-Sigma Sports-London), Tim Blathwayt (VC Edinburgh) and Andy Brown (Metaltek-Kuota) RT were trying to bridge the gap but next time around, the leaders were still away and the chasers had been brought back to the bunch.
Coming up the long drag, the bunch had split in two with Mark Robertson, Grant Martin and Finn Crockett (Wheelbase Castelli MGD) all in the front group. Grant Ferguson was in the second group a little way behind with Davie Lines and most of the other big names also present…no danger then for the spectators as we waited for the fireworks to start. The climb was taking its toll though as riders began to be shelled out the back.
Third time around and things had changed again. The lead trio had been caught by the first group but that group now had some of the riders from the second bunch also in board. With Greig Brown in the bunch, Jason Roberts had come up to support his teammate and Richard McDonald was chasing across. Grant Ferguson was still sitting in the second group and looked to be playing a waiting game, no bad plan as the sun was out now and things were heating up.
As riders came to the fore and pushed, attacks going and being brought back, one name was heard almost constantly on race radio. Greig Brown was on sparkling form and this would earn him the combativity award when the race was run.
Back to the climb once again and Finn Crockett was still leading the way, Grant Ferguson still biding his time. Down into the village and Jason Roberts led Greig Brown round the sharp left-hander, the main names all still in contention. At this point Kyle Gordon decided to call it a day as he prepares for next weekend’s Scottish National 100-Mile TT Championships and with another 80 miles in the legs he’s looking good.
Next time through the village it was Alastair McNicol (Dooleys Cycles) leading the charge followed by three Bioracer-Project Go riders, this time Greig Brown, Thomas Gelati and Richard McDonald. Mark Robertson was being very attentive and knew that the longer he stayed at the head of the race, the better his chances would be. Shadowing him was last year’s runner-up Fraser Martin (St Pirin) and he was watching the Army man like a hawk. As the race sped through, one name was missing…Grant Ferguson had suffered some sort of mechanical and decided to call it a day. All bets were off as we waited to see how the final run-in would play out.
We were later told that all sorts of attacks were going on round the back of the circuit but it was Greig Brown who led the bunch around the technical turns in the village for the last time. Once he hit the long straight though, his legs finally gave out as the sprinters came past him.
And this is where Mark Robertson’s recce came good. The day before had seen a tailwind running but today there was a headwind and he knew that if he took it on early, he had the strength to hold it all the way to the line. It was sprinter’s race and there were four riders in it: Mark Robertson, Fraser Martin, Grant Martin and Finn Crockett. We’d spoken to the Martin brothers before the race and they said that if it came to a sprint then younger brother Grant would have the edge between them…but Mark Robertson was keen to show that last year’s win was no fluke.
He set off hard, him and Grant sprinting side by side. Finn Crockett and Fraser Martin were just on their wheels but it came down to a matched sprint between Grant Martin and Mark Robertson. And it was Mark Robertson who held on the longest and took the win by a wheel, delight written all over his face and his mother cheering from the sideline.
It was dream come true for Mark Robertson and even an hour later he could hardly believe he’d defended the title and won the Jersey again, and a new trophy donated by Glasgow United, the Ian Steel trophy, to be awarded to the road race winner from now on.
Finn Crockett pipped Fraser Martin to the line for fourth, Richard McDonald besting Neil Scott (Deeside Thistle CC) for fifth and sixth places and a very worthy Greig Brown taking seventh. Rounding out the top ten were Cameron Richardson (Synergy Cycles), Thomas Gelati and Tim Blathwayt. And a special mention to the 11th placed rider Dave Duggan, more normally seen on a mountain bike but finishing only 20 seconds down on the winner in the Scottish National Road Race.
And so it was back to the hall for the sumptuous spread laid on by Moray Firth CC and the medals and prizes presented by another Scottish cycling legend, Roddy Riddle.
It was a fantastic running of the event and we’re sure many riders will be back to race on the beautiful Cromarty peninsula in the future.