Mark Atkinson successfully avoided that fate to take his third Scottish 50 Mile Time Trial Championship title; leading Sandy Wallace team mates, second placed Jonathan Copp and fifth placed Ian Black, to take a double championship win on a bright but cool and windy Sunday morning on the A9 near Invergordon.
“Given my record of bad luck in 50’s, when I heard that the course had been changed, I expected to end up in the Cromarty Firth at the turn, checking out the dolphins!”
Copp’s ride for silver was out of the top drawer and it was only Atkinson’s ability to drag the last vestiges of energy from deep inside himself that kept the title safe from his team mate.
In third place was defending champion, perenial Jim Cusick; unfortunately his Glasgow Courier’s bid for the team foundered when Chris Smart – author of rapid rides in the 10 and 25 championships – was a non starter due to a bad cold.
There were a few spots of rain as the first riders hauled up from the start at Invergordon to the main A9, for the long headwind grind to the Ardullie roundabout at the end of the Cromarty Bridge.
VeloVeritas set up shop on the A9 a couple of miles into the race and started the watch.
In the absence of number 20 Smart, first favourite was his team mate, Stevie Blom with his trade mark, “peching like a dug” breathing method.
Ian Black (30) was the first man whose tyres were making the right noise as he powered past.
Number 35, Dave Gibson, was a ‘no-show’ maybe it was because his fellow Dooleys greyhounds, Arthur Doyle and Gary Robson didn’t fancy 50 miles ‘alone and unpaced’ and there was slim chance of a team medal.
Black’s roadman team mate, Ray Wilson was focused and several seconds up on his northern club mate – it was early days though.
Jonathan Copp was next up, a tad down on Black and Wilson as the wind speed accelerated, but it was already apparent that barring disaster, the team medals were going to Inverkeithing.
Carlos Riise (Shetland) was down on them all, but having won the title on this course on a day like this before, he knows all about pace judgement.
The ladies were coming back from the turn by now, flying with the tail wind.
Reigning champion Cusick pedalled past looking smooth having already caught Caithness stalwart, Al Washington – on a shiny new Cervelo – for a minute.
Steve Beech (Sandy Wallace) was a top roadman when I started cycling in the early 70’s and he’s still out there – I wonder what happened to all those Russians you rode against in the Milk Race, Steve?
Last man, Atkinson was already up on all comers and the pain was there to see on his face.
The early starters from the men’s race were now whistling past at what was around half distance.
Ian Black was compact and on top of the job as he made full use of that tail wind.
There we’re big gaps in the field before Ray Wilson came past, 10 seconds up on Black, but the third SWC man, Copp was going even quicker; 1-15 up on Wilson. Copp was doing a good job – Riise was a minute down, Cusick 30 seconds down and only Atkinson was up – 30 seconds.
Instead of the dog leg along the old A9 back to Invergordon – omitted because of road planing work – the course was extended east, out past the Nigg roundabout.
Into the beautiful Pict heartland of the Fearn Peninsula, but the road surface wasn’t beautiful – like a ‘shed roof’ according to the new champion – nor was the extended slog back into the stiffening wind. Those long fast, swooping 11 and 12 tooth stretches were now brutal tests of will.
With around five to go; all of it into the teeth of the westerly, Black was still slogging purposefully – he’d caught and dropped Stevie Blom for five minutes.
Ray Wilson pedalled past with a nod, but the lack of a helmet on his head explained that he’d thrown in the towel.
Copp was flying; Riise hadn’t found a rabbit in the hat; Cusick was smooth but off the pace and Atkinson was hurting. The Fort William man wasn’t giving us any lessons in style, he was just pummeling a ‘big one’ into the wind; he was getting it round, but the sweat streaming from his nose and gritted teeth were self explanatory.
At the line, my amateur time keeping looked about right – Atkinson 1-50-45, Copp 1-52-02, Cusick 1-53-21, Riise 1-54-07, Black 1-54-09.
What they said
Jonathan was satisfied with his ride:
“I’ve come on a lot since the 10, I was disappointed there. In the 25 I was happy with my ride, even though there wasn’t a medal, but I’m very pleased today.
“I haven’t raced so much this year, this is only my fifth or sixth event. It was very fast with the tail wind today, I was in 53 x 11 and thinking that I could have done with 55 x 11, but I suppose that would have meant I’d have burned up a lot of extra energy which is needed for the head wind section. I’ve been trying to replicate race efort in training, now I’ll have to try and get some miles in for the 100.
“It was good to win the team today, that was one of the reasons I joined Sandy Wallace, so it’s nice to get my first time trial team medal. I’m really looking forward to the TTT, it’ll be hard fought, with us, Dooleys, Pedal Power and The Couriers all in the frame.”
Talking of The Couriers, Jim Cusick had;
“..no complaints, it was a tough shift, I was ready for that stretch of rough road out at Nigg, I know it from the 12, but that finish stretch was very hard. It’s just a pity Chris Smart has the cold or I think we could have been in contention for the team. It was a well organised championship and like I said – no complaints.”
Mark Atkinson was happy too;
“I’ve not really done the training to do a 50 justice, so I’m just pleased to have won. I’ve been doing up to a max of one-and-a-half hours training, but you have to try and strike a balance, I have a full time job where I work overtime and I’ve got a young family to think about too.
“This is my first 50 for 13 months, the last one I rode was in Fife, at the start of last year. I’ve had a lot of misfortunes in 50’s but I’ve always regarded them as my speciality, so I’m happy with the win. I hadn’t seen that new bit of road out to Hill of Fearn before, it was very rough.
“On a day like today, with that surface and the wind, time doesn’t matter, it’s just down to doing the job and winning. My time today is actually the same as my 50 split when I broke the 100 record here, a couple of years ago. I won’t be doing the 100 this year, not when I see the state I’m in today, at the finish of a 50!”
VeloVeritas tip for the 100? Copp.