Craig Hardie (Dunfermline CC) disproved the old adage that; “a good big ‘un, will always beat a good little ‘un,” when the 37 year-old from Dalgety Bay left his much-taller rival Dan Whitehead several lengths back to win the Scottish Cyclo-Cross Championships 2007 on a snowy and technical circuit at Plean Country Park.
There were 70 names on the start sheet and most riders signed on to face a challenging circuit which tested every aspect of a “crossman’s” abilities.
The start straight was on fast gravel, dragging slightly uphill, before a 90 degree right onto a steep, but rideable gravel and mud bank through the trees.
It was mushy grass at the top; despite the snow and cold, the surfaces were very soft and the mud would play havoc with the riders gears as sprockets became clagged.
Off the grass there was a leafy section through the trees with nasty roots just waiting to cause pinch-flats.
Back on the grass, there was a ‘big-dipper’, down to pass close to the finish, before climbing again.
VeloVeritas pulled on the Hunters wellies and decided to walk the course. At this point, the race passed us for the first time, with Hardie having gone out of the trap like the legendary greyhound Mick the Miller – he had already opened a big gap.
With only half a lap gone, the field was blown-apart. The course dropped again on grass, then single track to the most hazardous part of the course – ‘the drop-off’. Perhaps it was one of those ones that look worse than they actually are to ride, but suffice to say that when the race passed us at this point, experienced roadmen, Paul McInally and Jonathan Copp both chose to run, rather than ride down.
Hardie showed no such reserve however, as his charge continued at the head of affairs. Off the ‘death drop’ it was fast gravel track again before a right into the trees and more roots, leaves and mud. Grass followed before more of that fast gravel.
Hardie zoomed by for the third time; but big Dan Whitehead, on the Belgian crossman’s favourite steed – a Ridley – was closing him down; maybe it wasn’t going to be a one man show?
Off the fast stuff, there was a long, long climb on grass – this was a heartbreaker and some of the lesser lights were at walking speed, or were wearing down their shoe plates.
As the leaders passed for the the fourth time, it was Whitehead sitting solid in the saddle and putting the power hard into the tread band of his rear tyre as Hardie struggled, a length adrift – could Dan snap the elastic, had Craig gone out too fast?
Over the top there was a right then a fast drop on gravel before a 90 right into the shrubs – this was David Bellamy country; and we were disappointed that Whitehead didn’t have an ENORMOUS lead – no chance, the little Fifer was tight on the that wheel as they passed for the fifth time.
Once it cleared the shrubbery, there was a tight little bit on wooden decking across a bridge, before a fast drop on tarmac to the finale – a dragging, tightening left-hander on fast gravel with just the shortest of finishing straights on grass.
The winner would have to go early, there was no chance of an “on the line” victory.
We were at the finish when they passed us for the sixth time; Hardie tried to jump Whitehead through a group of stragglers, but big Dan was having none of it, as they vanished up the straight, still joined at the hip.
At the death it was all Hardie, arms high and riding through the tapes at the finish to win by lengths.
What They Said
We asked: the winner Craig Hardie how it was done;
“I won the cyclo-cross series last year, but this year I’ve had some back trouble; so today was shit or bust for a result! That’s why I went out full-on from the start.
“When Dan caught me, I was finding that long drag very hard and had to sit-on; but I knew if he didn’t drop me the last time up there, then there was no-way he would beat me in the sprint.”
As Isaac Hayes would say; “damn right!”
We missed Dan Whitehead for a quote, but caught up with third placed Rab Wardell (Sandy Wallace Cycles);
“I’m quite happy with third, my background is in mountain biking, but I ‘retired’ from the sport last year and my aspiration was just to get fit again, so third here is fine.
“I got held-up on the first lap, two guys locked brake levers going up the start straight and I was stuck behind them.
“I tried not to panic and just worked my way back through the field. At the end I didn’t realise it was the bell lap, but don’t think it would have made any difference – it’s unlikely I would have caught Craig and Dan, the way they were going at it.”