Scottish Road Race Mens Championship 2016 – Magnificent Seven for Evan Oliphant
This year's road race championships promoted by Pedal Power and organised by Alan Maxwell, with the start and finish in West Calder perhaps lacked some of the glamour you would hope to see at a national championship. The result had a familiar ring to it though, if you were to look at the past ten years of results, with Evan Oliphant taking his seventh victory in the Championship. Don't however, be deceived into thinking this was anything other than a very well organised race on a very demanding circuit.
Whilst at least one rider was looking for something harder - more on that later - what was lacking in glamour was more than made up for in grit shown by the riders on a day of mixed weather on bleak moorland roads.
Eighty riders pinned numbers on and this was no sportive "race". Four laps of a 21 mile circuit looked like a hard day out that only the strongest will "enjoy."
With Ed on a flight to Italy to report on the last week of the Giro and Martin also otherwise engaged abroad, I made the trip to West Lothian not sure what I would find but Main Street was already set up with the finish line, barriers and banners in place.
I managed to get a quick photo of women's champion, Eileen Roe, back for a few weeks from Belgium and winning at will it appears.
Dad Brendon was coaxed into the photo, whilst telling me he now tries to avoid training with Championship winning daughter these days.
So the inevitable search for a start sheet commenced. Nothing on the High Street or in Pedal Power's cavernous shop which, on a side note, is mighty impressive. I think I spotted Gary Hand in there, riding today for Planet X these days.
Still no start sheet. There is a programme but I think I'm too late, all having been nabbed when the women's race was on. No luck either at the sign-on but that changed when a friend texted me the pdf. Turns out it's 16 pages of quality digital programme, how times have changed.
I left before the race rolled out, stopping briefly for a word with Dominic Hinds, VC Edinburgh who is looking lean, fit and ready to race. No retro steed today, German engineering from Storck the order of the day. I asked him what he thought of the course, "no idea, haven't been round it". I guess he'll know soon enough.
As I head out west the heavens open as I spot the sign for Dreich, sorry that's Breich, although the former seems more appropriate somehow.
So, first stop five miles in, is at the end of a long gradual unrelenting climb, where the first riders through are a group of nine, working hard and already some faces being pulled.
The bunch is not that far behind and pretty much compacto. Dominic looks like he is on ticket collecting duties sitting last man in the bunch. That's not a smile, methinks.
Next lap, thirty miles done and I've moved on a bit but the climbing continues, not super-steep but power climbing nonetheless,which will hurt.
Me and the cows spot the first group approaching. The break is now eleven-strong but the mix has changed. They are one minute twenty six clear.
Chasing hard are Raleigh riders Evan Oliphant and Craig Wallace, with defending champion Steven Lawley and one of the pre-race favourites Davie Lines (Wheelbase Altura) sitting close to the front.
The pressure has split the bunch with Raleigh pulling a dozen clear from the remainder of the bunch. I spot Martin Lonie, a former McCartney rider if I recall correctly, taking over ticket collecting duties as last man in the bunch.
Lap Three and this time round, the break is forty six miles into the race and the make-up has changed again, with still two Raleighs in there, Evan and Craig, but no Steve Lawley or Davie Lines.
There are however two Dooleys riders, Alistair McNicol and Aidan Quinn. VC Edinburgh are also represented by Tim Blaithwayt. Kieran Brady (Richardsons Trek) is also there and destined for a high placing.
Pro vision have strength in numbers with four in the break, clearly looking to get something from the day.
I'm not sure if the bunch has the firepower to bring the break back, there is work being done -but hold the phone, who's the York Cycleways rider? Alistair Kay, still looking young and riding strong and about to take his turn pulling. Hmm, there are certainly enough riders with the legs, if they can get organised.
I head back to West Calder to catch the riders complete their third lap and it's no surprise to see Raleigh’s Evan Oliphant and Craig Wallace still pressing on. Peter Anderson (The Nab Racing) and John Archibald (Pro Vision) also adding their strength to the cause.
The two Bikehaus by Ridley riders in the break also look comfortable, with Philip Trodden and Ryan Fenwick anticipating the fireworks on the final lap.
Next up a solo rider and it's defending champ Steve Lawley, smooth and powerful, he's not far off the front of the bunch but they will have to get it together quick to bring him back. It also looks like a bit of an ask to get across to the break solo but if anyone can…
The bunch is once again led by Wilson Fenwick (Parentini Test) team who is not shirking his turns.
The gaps between the wheels and the long line suggests the last lap is going to sort a few people out. I head back into town to await the outcome of the inevitable fireworks.
Strangely, the final ninety degree left hander is no more than 100 meters from the line. There are marshalls aplenty and I spot Keith Mailler in a high vis jacket.
Who he, you ask? Back in the day, 21 years ago to be precise, he was winning this very Championship, and in so doing he denied one William Gibb another Scottish Championship, a feat that took some doing in any race never mind a championship. Keith also won the Davie Bell Memorial and the Sam Robinson, both classic Scottish races. A quality rider.
After leaving Keith I seek a position on the barriers before the rush, not entirely necessary an hour early, but I'm pleased with myself for bagging a prime spot when one, then another spectator appears.
This guy next to me looks familiar too and low and behold it's another former Scottish road race champion, 1981 this time.
Alan Gray of the now defunct Bonnyrigg CC. He tells me his son Calum is riding today; if the apple doesn't fall far from the tree young Calum will be worth watching.
Not long now. Soon the motorbikes appear followed shortly by two lone Raleigh GAC riders, Evan and Craig.
A clean sprint and Evan bags win number seven.
That's his seventh Scottish senior road race championship win. I suspect it wasn’t coincidence that he was assigned number 7 as his race number today, a nice touch.
The Raleigh GAC one-two is completed with Craig following Evan home.
The sprint for third is won by John Archibald (Pro Vision) cycle clothing, from Keeran Brady (Richardsons Trek RT) who narrowly avoided dropping his bike in a Roberto Ferrari style left turn in the final fifty metres. This manoeuvre more unsettling for him than John who was on his right when it happened.
The remains of the break were brought home by defending champion Steven Lawley (Metaltek Kuota) having crossed the gap single handed.
Sixth was Phil Trodden, seventh Jason Roberts, eighth Tim Blaithwayt. The top ten was rounded out by Davie Lines in ninth and Andrew Scorey in tenth.
The bunch fight it out for the minor places and I am delighted to see Dominic Hinds bringing up the rear of the sprinting bunch. My hat comes off to you, Sir.
And a word from the winner, Evan Oliphant;
"I punctured on the first lap and it was a fight to get back.
"When we were in the break Craig jumped first and I went across to him. That's my seventh win at the Scottish, with the first in 2005.
"That was a tough day, harder than a Premier."
And the defending champ, Steve Lawley, had this to say;
"I was a marked man, as you would expect and with no team-mates it was tough.
"I got across to the break on the final lap but got caught out when the final split went. The course was fast and rolling and could have been tougher.
"It was a disappointing day, although it was still harder than the Lincoln.
"I'm looking forward to a hard week’s training with the team in preparation for the Rydal and the Welsh GP."
So the day closes with another victory for the most prolific winner in this race’s history.
The organisation was impressive, marshalls, motorbike guys, fans, officials and a liberal sprinkling of former champions.... great job, hard racing and a worthy winner.
And an honorary mention to Andrew Brierley who soldiered on to finish a lap down.