“The Dick”, previously an E,1,2,3 road race, had been downgraded this year to a 2,3,4, much to the understandable dismay of several 1st Cat riders. This year, however, was my first time at the event (I’m not sure why I hadn’t raced it before, but I intend to again!).
After a lengthy drive up from the Kingdom, I arrived at the Race HQ – an out door centre “Wester Knockhill” just East of the wee village of Strachan, close to Banchory. The sun was shining, and although the wind was not especially strong, it was certainly fresh. Signed on, booted and suited, I warmed up and prepared to do battle.
We had a strong turnout from the team, and I was joined by Craig Adams, Craig Kidd, Andy Auld, Andrew Hood, Alan Lamont, and Franco Porco.
The neutralised section ran from the race HQ Westwards towards Strachan, and I was glad I’d kept my arm and leg warmers on, along with my gilet – it was pretty chilly!
The 118km race was on a relatively short, triangular course. It would take us Westwards along the rolling terrain of the B976 for a few kilometres until we reached a fairly sharp left turn onto the Old Military road. With a bit more undulations before we hit the main climb of the day – a rather nasty 8% (?) rise, in two parts with a very brief false flat halfway up. This rise would take us to the finish line, then, a few hundred metres later, we would turn left onto the B974 that rolled along to a sharp, corkscrew descent before starting back along the B976 once more. Ten laps in all.
With the red and white chequered flag pulled in, the race was on.
I’m not sure if it was immediate or not, but David Griffiths (ProVision Clothing and general nutter – in a good way!) was off on what is becoming one of his trademark do-or-die attacks, and was joined by Callum Sharp (Pedal Power, and showing some excellent early season form).
The pair got a gap, and continued to ride strongly away while the bunch collectively shrugged, deciding that it was a bit too early in the morning to work that hard…
The peloton rode on, with sporadic attacks getting launched, but relatively quickly shut down.
As expected, the first couple of times up the climb were hard – everyone was fresh, and riders were willing to have a dig on the climb and see who cracks. It appeared that nobody did, and the bunch rolled, puffing and panting (some more than others) across the finish line as we started the next lap.
The gradual descent to the ‘Corkscrew’ was rapid, and the Corkscrew itself was fast and technical. I quickly realised that there was free speed to be had if I could get to the front just before the twisting drop – by lap four, I was blasting down the drop and getting a good gap of twenty or more meters from the bunch by doing nothing other than descending the Corkscrew faster than other riders were willing to go. I needed to try and capitalise on this advantage, so on lap five I attacked.
Down the drop, up to the B976, and round the corner, and away.
I was hoping that a small number of riders would see the opportunity and work to bridge across. Unfortunately, nobody did, and I found myself dangling out on my own for a few kilometres. This was how it remained until a little after the southward turn down the Old Military Road and into the headwind. I decided that enough was enough, and I soft-pedalled until the bunch finally caught up and swept me along.
Up the climb (the pace was a good bit more sensible) and over the finish line to start the next lap.
Next to attack was my teammate Craig Adams. We had traversed the Corkscrew and turned onto the B976 when he went. Callum and David were in sight, though a good thirty seconds (or more) out, and it looked like bridging across would be a great move for Craig.
Nobody chased, so I moved to the front of the peloton and tried to control the pace to give Craig every advantage.
Only briefly was the peloton happy to oblige, but about half way along the B976 other riders decided to push the pace a bit. I became a passenger again!
Craig eventually suffered the same fate that befell me – halfway down the Old Military Road, he was reabsorbed into the bunch, and that was that.
Another lap down.
While the gap between the bunch and the escapees yo-yoed somewhat, the pair was, once again, within striking range on the following lap. This time, however, I could see David, in the distance, raising his hand looking for assistance. A puncture, I decided – what rotten luck (I later discovered it was actually a broken spoke – no less damaging though). With neutral service nowhere in sight, David had the frustration of sitting up, and dropping back until service found him – that was his break for the day over, and Callum was on his own.
With about 55km still to go, it was an extremely longshot for Callum to stay out, but, to his credit, that was exactly what he was doing.
Around Lap 7, Callum finally ran out of power and was cruelly caught by the bunch just before the climb on the Old Military Road…
Lap 8 – a stealth attack. Scott Wardlaw (VeloClub Edinburgh) decided to ease away from the bunch just after the climb. Off he rode along the B974, getting a sizeable gap from the rest of us. Nobody chased.
As we approached the Corkscrew, I worked my way to the front again. With just under three laps to go, bridging across to Scott would be a handy move. Just behind me was Matthew Cockerell (Aberdeen Wheelers CC).
We flew down the Corkscrew, and Matt and I had a clear gap fro m the bunch. With a quick word, we agreed to push on, so we did – up to the junction, and round onto the B976 once again. “Let’s see if we can bridge across to Scott…”, I suggested. Matt agreed, so we worked hard, bit ‘n’ bit and slowly reeled in Scott, as the bunch dropped further and further back.
Scott must have been putting out the watts as it took almost the full length of the B976 to make the junction. He sounded pretty pleased to see us, as we reorganised and got the chain working. I was feeling the effort in my legs and wondered how hard my companions would be pulling – too hard, and I’ll be kicked out of the group and drifting back to the hungry bunch behind us.
As it turned out, it was clear that Scott was suffering as much as me, but Matt seemed to be the most capable for the moment.
We charged on down the Old Military Road, but there was a large group of riders hot on our heels – I could see that it was not the full peloton – this was a good thing – but it was a larger group than I would like.
Up the climb and round the corner onto the B974, and the chasers were less than fifteen seconds behind. They were going to close the gap very soon. About 2km along the road, they bridged and our escape grew from three riders to about fifteen or so.
We managed to form a pace line, and roughly two thirds of the group started to work. I really wanted to stay away from the bunch now, with less than two laps to go. If our group messed around, we’d likely get caught and all the efforts would have been for nothing…
There were a good number of riders sitting on at the back. I wasn’t sure if they were just sandbagging, or if they were genuinely struggling to hold on. Unfortunately, there was not much I could do, so we continued round the course to complete the penultimate lap.
Finally, one more lap to go.
Some riders were tiring, and our group was stringing out a little. Once we’d cleared the Corkscrew for the last time, I was watching my Garmin as it counted down the kilometres to the finish. Each time I went to the front, I increased the pace a little, trying to stress any weaker riders – if they weren’t going to roll through to the front, I’d try to shake them out the back. With luck, we’d whittle down our group before things got serious at the climb to the finish.
With 4km to go, one rider came alongside and exclaimed, “Look what you’re doing! You’re splitting the group!”. I think he was wanting me to ease up in order to keep the group together… I just smiled…
Into the headwind down the Old Military Road for the last time, and the Cat ‘n’ Mouse antics began. A couple of riders tried an attack, and closing them down took an effort – my legs were already complaining, and we still had the final push to go.
Our group had whittled down as I’d hoped, and we arrived at the bottom of the climb, and I’d miscalculated positioning and was at the front.
In hindsight, I should probably have had a poke at the bottom of the climb – treat it as an all-out power-climb and blast it to the top, but I suspected that I would simply have blown at the halfway point.
As it was, at the halfway point where the first ramp of the climb eases off and goes almost flat before the second ramp, Lewis Oliphant (VeloClub Edinburgh) burst from the back of our now small group with a surprising acceleration. Five riders were in tow, and I accelerated as best I could given the state of my legs.
Unfortunately, it was too little too late and it was clear I was not going to catch the attack.
The fifth rider (Charles Fletcher – Cairngorm CC) started to blow, and I realised that if I dug just a little deeper, I’d be able to catch him before the finish line. Despite their protests, my legs kicked again and pushed harder, over the crown of the climb and I sailed past Charles, but the other four riders were untouchable.
Finally, with about fifty metres to go, nobody to catch up to, and nobody to catch me, I coasted, easing over the line in a satisfactory 5th place.
The first three riders across the line were Lewis Oliphant (VeloClub Edinburgh), Zak Loney (Edinburgh RC), and Struan Pryde (HMT with JLT Condor).