“The Girvan” stage race, based in beautiful Ayrshire and Galloway and held over the Easter weekend, has the reputation of being one of the toughest races in Britain, and it certainly does deserve it.

This year the 39th edition is again being run over 3 days and 4 stages, with the 3 road stages taking the riders into wild and remote terrain, most likely in less than ideal weather, which has been deteriorating ominously during the week and with foul conditions including snow predicted to arrive at the weekend, together with over 100 of the UK’s top cyclists, it should be an interesting race…

Stage 1 : Stage 2 : Stage 3 : Stage 4

Stage 1 – 65 Miles, Saturday 22nd March, 2008

With a superb lead-out from Malcolm Elliot launching him across the line, Russ Downing (Pinarello RT) won today’s first stage of “The Girvan” ahead of his brother Dean (Rapha Condor Recycling), in a 4-up sprint with Evan Oliphant (Plowman Craven) and last year’s overall winner, Ian Wilkinson (S.I.S.), just ahead of a fractured bunch, which despite the high winds managed to average over 25mph today for the 65 miles.

Stage 1 winner, Russ Downing.
Stage 1 winner, Russ Downing.

The course today took the riders south away from Girvan up the first KoM prime on Byne Hill, then north east to Kirkmichael for two loops and two Hot Spot sprints, before retracing southwards and through Girvan and Hot Sprint #3, before another climb of Byne Hill for the second KoM, and back to the town for the finish.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Deano Downing.

A very animated stage saw several riders go clear but unable to build much of a lead in such hard conditions, and in addition the mix of teams was never quite right. With a handful of miles to go, the two Plowman Craven Simons, Gaywood and Richardson, had dropped Halfords Bikehut rider Tom Southam and were starting to think of which of them would win the stage, but with the Pinarello and Rapha squads driving the bunch along behind them, their maximum lead of around 50 seconds was never going to be enough, and they were reeled in within the last two miles, setting the scene for a bunch gallop in Victory Park.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 – Day Stage Race – Stage 1 Result
1. Russell Downing (Pinarello RT) in 2:34:57
2. Dean Downing (Rapha Condor recycling) @2″
3. Evan Oliphant (Plowman Craven) st.
4. Ian Wilkinson (SIS) st.

Carrick Gazette King of the Mountains
1. Gary Hand (PedalPower) 8
2. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven) 5
3. Simon Gaywood (Plowman Craven) 4

Endura Hot Spot Sprints
1. Peter Williams (Pinarello RT) 7
2. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven) 4
3. James McCallum (Plowman Craven) 4

Team Competition
1. Rapha Condor recycling
2. Plowman Craven @3″
3. Pinarello RT @4″

Stage 2 – 16.5 Miles, Saturday 22nd March, 2008

The 2nd stage of “The Girvan” took place this evening with a Criterium around Victory Park. Russell Downing, Pinarello RT bagged his second stage win of this year’s race to extend his race lead.

With the roads closed the remaining riders set off for the 15 laps which would see them cover 16.5 miles on a cold Ayrshire evening. We spoke to Richard Chapman to find out how the race developed. After puncturing this morning and spending the rest of the stage chasing, surely tonight had to get better.

Phil briefs his troops.
Phil briefs his troops.

On lap four, however the field split in two with riders being dispatched out the back during whole stage, many were later lapped. Richard, caught in the second group, tried to jump over to the first group on his own but a stiff head wind on the back of the course and his efforts earlier in the day put paid to that idea.

Following Russell Downing accross the line were Simon Gaywood (Plowman Craven) and Graham Briggs (Rapha Condor) finishing in under 39 minutes.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
James MacCallum.

On the home front,among the Scots in the lead group were Evan Oliphant, who finished fifth – keeping him in contention after his third place earlier in the day, Jack Woodward, James MacCallum and Gary Hand – currently resplendent in the KOM jersey.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Malcolm Elliot and Russ Downing before the start.

However an air of animosity is now hanging over the event with some riders behaviour on the road leaving a lot to be desired, as well as others voicing their grievances after the stage finishes the heat is certainly on for the remainder of the race. VeloVeritas understands that the rivalry between the ‘big’ teams has taken a downward shift in mood, and in an effort to resolve this some of the managers were going to “have words” tonight.

So, still all to fight for, and with the top twenty still within thirty-odd seconds of the lead and the prospect of a home win still possible, join us tomorrow to see how the longest stage of this years race turns out. Given tonight’s weather forecast it may be a very hard day in the saddle!

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 – Day Stage Race – Stage 2 Result
1. Russ Downing (Pinarello RT) in 38m 54s
2. Simon Gaywood (Plowman Craven RT) @ st
3. Graham Briggs (Rapha Condor Recycling) @ st

Overall Classification
1. Russ Downing (Pinarello RT) in 3h 13m 26s
2. Dean Downing (Rapha Condor Recycling) @ 18s
3. Evan Oliphant (Plowman Craven RT) @ 23s

Carrick Gazette King of the Mountains (unchanged)
1. Gary Hand (PedalPower) 8
2. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven) 5
3. Simon Gaywood (Plowman Craven) 4

Endura Hot Spot Sprints
1. Peter Williams (Pinarello RT) 15
2. Tom Barras (Plowman Craven RT) 6
3. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven RT) 4

Team Competition
1. Rapha Condor Recycling in 9h 41m 43s
2. Plowman Craven RT @ 02s
3. Pinarello RT @ 04s

Stage 3 – 89 Miles, Sunday 23rd March, 2008

The longest stage of the race would have been so much worse had the snow which had fallen overnight actually lain – whilst the rest of the country contended with “severe weather warnings”, snow and hailstones, the Galloway countryside was enjoying a blue sky and there was even a little sunshine at the start in Newton Stewart.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Stage Winner Rob Partridge (right).

The Rapha Condor team continued to have a good race as Rob Partridge grabbed the stage win in an exciting sprint victory over Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven RT) and Matt Cronshaw (Team Kinesis UK).

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
The race heads up Pibble Hill.

Right from the start, the three big teams in the race, Pinarello RT (with the race leader Russ Downing); Plowman Craven RT (with Evan Oliphant lying 3rd overall); and Rapha Condor (with Dean Downing in 2nd), were all active on the front of the bunch, ensuring that whatever went up the road had at least one of their men in it.

Halfway through the stage, a lead group of 21 riders had formed from several splintered attacks off the front of the bunch, and by 51 miles gone they were timed at nearly a minute up. By that time, Gary Hand (Pedalpower.org.uk) had ensured he was going to wear the KOM jersey again tomorrow by winning one of the hill primes and placing fourth in the second.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Rapha on the front of the break.

Russ Downing (Pinarello RT) had made the move together with teammate Malcolm Elliot, the “Plowmen” had Simon Richardson, Tony Gibb, Simon Gaywood, and Evan Oliphant, and Rapha were well represented with 5 men (Dean Downing, Briggs, Kristian House, Rob Partridge and Dale Appleby). Also making the break was last year’s winner Ian Wilkinson (SIS) with teammates Ian Bibby and Dave Collins.

Race leader Russ Downing was doing a lot of work himself, pulling attacks back, but decided to leave a solo effort by Tony Gibb to ferment at around 20-25 seconds for several miles, which was a good tactic; when Gibb was reeled back he was immediately spat out the back of the break – one less sprinter for Downing to worry about at the finish. With around 30 miles to go the bunch were resigned to their fate at 4 minutes down, eventually to finish at over 5 minutes in arrears.

Tony Gibb.
Tony Gibb.

The lead group stayed together until the finish, with a hectic run-in claiming Dale Appleby and Matthew Higgins in a bad crash when they touched wheels, with Appleby coming off worst with a suspected broken collarbone. Rob Partridge’s win lifted him into 2nd place overall, with Simon Richardson’s second on the stage pushing Evan Oliphant out of the top three overall.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 – Day Stage Race – Stage 3 Result
1. Rob Partridge (Rapha Condor Recycling)
2. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven RT)
3. Matt Cronshaw (Team Kinesis UK)

Overall Classification
1. Russ Downing (Pinarello RT)
2. Rob Partridge (Rapha Condor Recycling)
3. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven RT)

Carrick Gazette King of the Mountains
1. Gary Hand (PedalPower)

Endura Hot Spot Sprints
1. Peter Williams (Pinarello RT)

Team Competition
1. Rapha Condor Recycling
2. Plowman Craven RT
3. Pinarello RT

Stage 4 – 72 Miles, Monday 24th March, 2008

“I was a little concerned that he had no support at the death, but he’s a seasoned pro, isn’t he?”

Pinarello boss Phil Griffiths’s reaction to me asking if he was worried that Kristian House of Rapha might steal the overall victor from his boy, Russell Downing at the eleventh hour.Downing won stages one and two; had a little bit of a hard time on the hills on stage three but defended his jersey impeccably on the stage four run in to Girvan to make it another fallow year for Scotland.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Scottish hope Evan Oliphant.

Evan Oliphant of PCA was our best chance in years and before stage four he was optimistic that he could do enough to wrest the yellow jersey from Downing. But snow on the Nick of Balloch and Tairlaw climbs meant a route change – over the same distance but with less savage ascents.

Despite going on the offensive with team mate Simon Richardson on the Hadyard Climb, Oliphant couldn’t shake the terrier-like Downing.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Kristian House.

Classy ex-Navigator, House made it look easy as he took the last sprint of the race in Girvan’s Victory Park on Monday afternoon. House’s win made it two stage wins each for Pinarello (courtesy of Downing) and Rapha – Rob Partridge having won Sunday’s stage three.

It was a bright but freezing day at Girvan as the chittering field lined-up to face 72 miles around Ayrshire.

We’d had a roll and a coffee in the Minerva Café to fuel us for the day, but ‘passed’ on the Buckfast fritters from the chipper next door.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Quality.

Bikeline two day winner, Dean Downing (Rapha) told us that brother Russell was going well; “His team isn’t so strong, but Malc (Elliott) lead him out to win stage one and he was two seconds clear at the line!”

The last time we spoke to Kristian House was at the Three Days of De Panne last year, he was with the now defunct Navigators; “Rapha is a good set up, with good opportunities for the future, I could have had a ride with an American team but I just didn’t fancy it.”

Evan seemed serious about the day’s work, witnessed by the Lightweight wheels on his blue and pink Pinnacle. Earlier, his team mate and fellow Scot, James McCallum had told us that PCA were going to take the offensive against the men riding the Princes.

Byne Hill is always a brutal start to the day, and there were men out of the back as Plowman Craven attacked from the gun.

We headed across country to catch the race at the hill out of Straiton.

‘Golden Oldie’ Mark Lovatt (Team Anglo Scott) was away with Scot Gordon Murdoch (Pedalpower.org.uk), they held their advantage for two laps of this circuit, but the bunch was being lined-out by Kinesis and it was apparent that the duo weren’t going far.

Mark Lovatt still going strong.
Mark Lovatt still going strong.

Our next stop was the Hadyard Hill prime, if Evan was going to do it – it had to be here.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Hadyard Hill Prime.

The sheep munched, the wind turbines swished and we shivered as the lead group of 14 or 15 thrashed past. Evan was there with team mate Simon Richardson – but so was the little fellow in yellow.

Russ Downing can win Belgian kermesses – he knows how to suffer. It was noticeable that he was isolated, his wingman for the previous three stages, Malcolm Elliott was suffering with a chest complaint and well back down the hill. So were the ex- breakaways Lovatt and Murdoch – Girvan isn’t a forgiving race.

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
It’s hard up Hadyard Hill.

There was no bunch now, just knots of riders spread over the tarmac strip that wiggles across the moors.

Back to Girvan and Ailsa looked like it was floating in the sky on this lovely day – as long as you didn’t get out the car, that is.

House had dragged three clear by the time they reached Girvan for one lap of the finish circuit. The quartet’s lead built steadily and it was beginning to look like House could grab his second Girvan GC win, as the lead went to 48 seconds – with a 15 second bonus on offer, that made 1-03 if House won the stage and he was only 1-08 in arrears on GC.

But behind, Griffiths was on the radio to his boy and as Russell Downing explained;

“I had it in my mind how much space I could give Kristian and when Phil told me it was 48 seconds, I went to the front and just drove. I was on my own, but I had no choice, I had to do it and I did!”

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 - Day Stage Race
Kristian House takes the final stage.

Kristian House was pleased with his stage win, but philosophical about not winning overall;

“I made the split on Hadyard Hill then got away from them on the descent of The Screws. I did it to take the pressure off my team mates in the group. I didn’t know if we’d stay away but I was trying to keep the guys in the break motivated in the last three miles to get as much time as we could. I didn’t know if I could win overall, but I certainly wanted to get the stage!”

:

Kristian House.
Kristian House.

Evan Oliphant was philosophical too;

“Me and Simon Richardson got away over the top of Hadyard, we stayed clear down the other side and along the valley but were caught. I was going to attack on The Screws but it was a block headwind. I tried to get clear in the finalé but I was being marked by about a dozen guys.”

It was time to for the photo opportunies and the road home – maybe after next year’s Girvan we’ll be able to stop quoting Andy Ferry’s 1987 win as “the last Scottish victory.”

Scottish Power Renewables Girvan 3 – Day Stage Race – Stage 4 Result
1. Kristian House (Rapha Condor Recycling) in 3h 07m 44s
2. Liam Holohan (Pearl Izumi RT) @ st
3. Roy Chamberlain (Team Corley Cycles) @ 03s

Final Overall Classification
1. Russ Downing (Pinarello RT) in 10:10:11
2. Rob Partridge (Rapha Condor Recycling) @ 0:04
3. Simon Richardson (Plowman Craven) @ 0:11
4. Kristian House (Rapha Condor Recycling) @ 0:14
5. Dean Downing (Rapha Condor Recycling) @ 0:18
6. Evan Oliphant (Plowman Craven) @ 0:23
7. Mathew Higgins (Corley Cycles) @ 0:26
8. Ian Wilkinson (ScienceinSport) @ 0:28
9. Ian Bibby (ScienceinSport) @ 0:40
10. Roy Chamberlain (Corley Cycles) @ 0:52

Carrick Gazette King of the Mountains
1. Ian Bibby (ScienceinSport – Trek) 28 points

Endura Hot Spot Sprints
1. Peter Williams (Pinarello RT) 20 points

Team Competition
1. Rapha Condor Recycling in 30h 30m 59s
2. Team Kinesis UK @ 1m 36s
3. Plowman Craven RT @ 5m 21s

Highest Placed 2nd Category Rider Overall
Scott Macrae (Pedalpower.org.uk – Endura)

Highest Placed Under 23 Rider Overall
Ian Bibby (ScienceinSport – Trek)

Don't let Russ tell you that was easy.
Don’t let Russ tell you that was easy.