It was the last of the road-based Scottish National Championships on Sunday when 28 riders lined up at the foot of the climb out of the Borders town of Stow to fight it out for the Hill Climb honours. And some of them had been putting in some serious preparation.
We spoke to defending champion David Griffiths of Pro Vision Scotland and he revealed that he’d been following the efforts of other riders through their Strava profiles…and he’d clocked a fastest time although he had stopped short of posting it. Let the psychological warfare begin.
It’s a beautiful climb out of Stow with the start right outside the town hall and Gala CC had everything in place…shame that it wasn’t as sunny as the last time the championship was held here. The steepest bit is just after the start; a couple of tricky turns with one made a bit more technical because of the overnight rain, and then it’s a climb through the s’s with the trees on one side before clearing the tree line and the ‘big ring’ section to the top.
First to come up the hill was the Youth rider Oscar Onley (Speedflex RT) and he was looking good, going on to finish in a time of 6:21.36 and this put him straight into the hot seat. Although this would give him the Youth win it was more remarkable that it would also place 7th overall when the times where all collated by ace timekeeper Mhairi Laffoley.
Starting two minutes behind Onley was Dunfermline CC’s Ross Thomson and the tall teenager would displace Oscar with a time of 6:04.25, just 3 seconds off the course record and good enough to take the Junior win and place 5th overall.
The next clutch of riders formed the Women’s race and Michelle Highfield (Berwick Wheelers CC) posted the first benchmark in 9:39.61. However, riding two minutes behind her was Spokes RT’s Anna Fairweather and the smart money said that the title would be fought out between Fairweather, Lynsey Curran (www.Dooleys-Cycles.co.uk) and Glasgow Nightingale CC’s Emily Palmer.
The Spokes rider has been getting stronger and stronger all season and crossed the line in a time of 7:28.54. Chasing one minute behind was Lynsey Curran and it was close all the way up with the Dooleys rider finishing just under 10 seconds in arrears. Again, one minute later it was defending champion Emily Palmer who had taken last year’s title by a mere 0.21 sec over Fairweather but this year she had to be content with third spot, finishing less than 2 seconds behind Lynsey Curran. The win was Anna Fairweather’s and made up for missing out at the Crit Champs!
With two younger riders holding high positions it was going to be a scamble to get on the podium and the first counter was Dundee Thistle RC’s Ali Merry who was looking super smooth and super light. We’re reliably informed that his headset was no longer rusty and he came to the finish in 5:59.28, first to go under 6 minutes and a new course record, beating the time set by Grant Ferguson in 2012.
It was to be another mid-field starter who would prove to be the dark horse and Liam Beaty (Hawick CC) had shed over a stone in weight in preparation for this event. Blasting up the climb four minutes after Merry he would reduce the course record to 5:44.43 and this would put him into the hot seat while he waited for the others to finish.
Best race-face of the day undoubtedly went to the host club’s Nathan Beard who grimaced from start to finish but his time of 6:32.17 would help Gala CC take the team award at their own event. The team was completed by Neil Shepherd (7:10.64) and Jeremy Weston (7:48.11) in a combined time of 21:30.92. Nathan Beard’s effort also secured the Vets title.
Second last man off was Edinburgh RC’s Joe Agnew, just happy to be here as less than a month ago he’d been hit by a car while training. Putting it all behind him he would finish in a time of 6:01.06 but this put him just off the podium in an eventual 4th spot. Some might say “not good enough” but we think it was a remarkable achievement considering where he was a month ago!
So this left one rider and Pro Vision Scotland’s David Griffiths was keen to make it two-in-row. We’d seen last year’s winner practicing in full aero gear but he decided to go with a more conventional helmet as the wind when the riders came out of the tree line was more or less behind.
Riding fast, and breathing harder than we’re used to, he was determined to do well…it was a great performance and he came home in yet another new course record of 5:41.46. A fantastic ride but one that served to emphasize just how well Liam Beaty had ridden. Three excellent performances by Griffiths, Beaty and Merry to round out this year’s Hill Climb Championships.
Sandy Gilchrist may have been concerned that the times were well ahead of his from years gone by but as Scottish Cycling’s Kathy Gilchrist pointed out, there was a bit of wind blowing this year!
All that remains is to thank organiser David Johnson and his team from Gala CC and it’s into the velodrome now for the Scottish National Senior Track Championships before one last play in the mud in December with the Scottish National Cyclocross Championships at Knockburn Loch!