There was a Facebook post in the days running up to Saturday’s Scottish National Hill Climb Championships, hosted by Stirling Bike Club, at the infamous ‘Up the Kirk’ road just behind the university…and it went something like this, “do youths and juniors have to stick to restricted gears during the hill climb?” Like something out of Jaws, the answer that quickly came back was “you’re going to need something lower.” That was the realisation moment in the film when the scale of the task ahead became all too apparent and walking up the hill on Saturday morning it looked a daunting course for all those taking part.
On paper Logie Kirk shouldn’t strike fear into any competent racing cyclist as it’s just under 1-mile in length and should be over in around 5-minutes…not too bad then surely. Rising away from the carpark the gradient isn’t too bad and the over-enthusiastic would give away too much power on this section. After the ruins of the old kirk, the road kicks up before coming to the first of the sharp turns, but all together not too bad.
However, it’s this middle section that begins to take its toll as the riders climb alongside the gully and up to the double switchback, a fearsome turn which is smooth around the outside but super steep on the apex, before heading around to the right and up to the next hairpin right. Then begins a climb up to the slight left before beginning to break out of the tree line and a more gradual ascent to the top. Those riders that had paced themselves a bit would be changing up here for a final effort to the line while those that had blown further down the climb would be gasping for air and wishing for an end that couldn’t come soon enough.
Stationed at the double hairpin for much of the event it was interesting to see the different lines taken around the steep left-hander. There seemed to be three distinct lines: all the way around the outside which was definitely the easiest but also the slowest, hard in around the apex which was incredibly steep and for those that took it leg-breakingly sore, and a third F1-style of wide approach but then a cut back across the apex just missing the very steepest section.
This last one was the winning line taken by the strongest riders and it’s no surprise that the fastest ascents of the day all took this approach…and most of them had walked the course in advance.
Some of the earlier riders mentioned wheelslip on the steeper sections but the course didn’t change all day as it was mostly under the trees.
First rider off on the shorter course was Rory Thiel of the Discovery Juniors and he was cheered up the hill by the on-lookers. Next up was Callum Reid representing local club Rock and Road Cycles and he rounded the hairpin in style, his white Giro shoes making the first of their two ascents of the hill that day (see later).
These younger riders were sticking to the outside line but Alexander MacRae (Speedflex RT) was the first to tackle the steeper inside path. He wasn’t alone in trying this line as Jamie Johnston (Team Thomsons Cycles) and Innes Johnston (Glasgow Riderz) also tried to take time by going the shorter way. Innes was trying to catch his younger brother Sorley, off a minute ahead of him, but ran out of hill just before the catch.
Rory MacNair of the host club took the win in the Cat D race with a time of 7:30. In the Cat C Boys it was the winning shoes of Callum Reid that took the race in a super time of 4:33 followed by Rory Thiel in 4:45. It may have been the steeper line at the hairpin but Jamie Johnston used it to good effect and won the Cat B Boys race in a time of 3:45 from Oscar Onley (Kelso Wheelers) in 4:06 and Logan McLean (Stirling BC) in 4:07.
In the Cat A Boys Lewis Gray (Peebles CC) would snatch the win from Alexander MacRae by a single second in 3:22 with Innes Johnston taking third spot in 3:31.
In the Youth Girls Eva Barnet (Edinburgh RC) once again showed her class by taking the win in an excellent time of 4:57 followed by Alison Bryce (West Lothian Wheelers) 28-seconds down. Third spot went to Catherine Abbess (Stirling BC) in a time of 7:24.
Onto the full lung-bursting course and the Junior riders came to the fore with Mark McGuire (Mountain Trax RT) setting a great time of 4:32. Harry Johnston (Team Thomsons Cycles) would come close in 4:34 with Calum Magowan (Peebles CC) rounding out the podium in 4:58. All of these riders took the more aggressive F1 approach at the hairpin and set times that would see McGuire and Johnston on the podium in the senior event…but just off the top step. The Gold medal and title of Scottish Hill Climb Champion 2015 went to Walter Hamilton (VC Edinburgh) by a mere 2-seconds over McGuire. He’d taken a slightly less severe line around the hairpin but managed to find those extra seconds in the long run to the line.
He had to wait as there were still some fancied riders to finish but despite an onslaught by the Pro Vision Cycle Clothing team nobody was able to post a faster time. Mention has to be made of David Griffiths who missed his start time…the recent Mur d’Arthur winner posted what would have been the fastest time of the day (and new Strava KOM) but rules are rules and David won’t make that mistake twice. Hamilton was a worthy winner as he’s been up there all season and this time got the better of the Pro Vision guys. Great to see the strength in depth as the podium spots were rounded out by Junior riders…and all of them mountain bikers as well.
In the Women’s race, the junior title went to the always-excellent Erika Allen (Team Thomsons Cycles) in a time of 5:51 from Sarah Bradford, riding her penultimate race for the Johnstone Jets, in 6:49. A good day for Team Thomsons Cycles and Sarah Bradford would have an even better day on the Sunday at Kilmarnock.
In the senior Women’s event it was great to see some big names with Commonwealth Games rider Kerry MacPhee riding for Rock and Road Cycles and Isla Short (Novus OMX Pro Team) making a welcome return to competition after her injury-hit season. Both riders are looking forward to the ‘cross calendar and the onset of competition in that discipline.
Bettering Allen’s time by 2-seconds it was a gutsy ride by the ever-smiling Julianna Rourke (Edinburgh RC) that saw her take third overall. The silver medal position was taken by a smooth powerful ride from multi-TT champion Lynsey Curran (www.Dooleys-Cycles.co.uk) just 1-second ahead of Rourke but the fastest time, and Gold medal ride, came from Genevieve Whitson (WV Avanti) in a scorching time of 5:34.
We mentioned Callum Reid’s shoes having two race attempts on this course…Scottish Cycling’s own Morven Brown, tackling yet another cycling discipline, discovered she’d forgotten her shoes so a desperate search for someone with small enough feet elicited the loan from young Callum. Suitably attired, it was still something to see a cyclocross bike, complete with knobbly tyres, take on this hill.
This course always throws up some excellent performances and this year was no exception. Another top event hosted by Stirling Bike Club as the road season draws to a close…bring on the ‘cross!
Full results here.
Full gallery here.