“If I hadn’t been wearing that number one on my back I don’t think I’d have got over that climb those last three times.“
The words of Scottish Road Race Championships 2018, Mark Robertson (Army CU) who had just successfully defended his 2017 title, confirming that he’s ‘not just a sprinter’ and giving lie to suggestions that his win last season was a ‘fluke.’
VeloVeritas hasn’t been to the Scottish Road Race Championship for a year or two but when we heard it was in Cromarty, one of favourite places on the globe there could be no excuse for absence.
Whilst Central Scotland suffered a wet and miserable Sunday, The Black Isle was bathed in sunshine as the women lined up for their race.
And I must mention that we had an email from a gentleman the other day telling us that we mustn’t call female cyclists ‘girls’ or ‘ladies’ – it’s demeaning and could be responsible for losing women to the sport.
As Terry Wogan used to say; ‘is it me?’
[Interestingly, for over a decade we’ve variously referred to male riders, pro and amateur, as ‘lads’, ‘laddies’, ‘boys’, ‘blokes’, etc. … we have had the sum total of zero complaints or emails. Editor]
We’d expected maybe three or four riders to be clear the first time up the heart breaker Mount High climb on the first of three 16 mile circuits – there were five; Jennifer George (Torelli-Brother), Chloe Fraser (The Racing Chance Foundation), MTB-er Kerry McPhee – who former multiple champion, Evan Oliphant had told us to look out for – Beth Hanley-Jepson (Edinburgh Road Club) and Natalie Munroe (Moray Firth CC).
And it was Evan’s tip at the head of affairs on Mount High.
The climb wasn’t steep but dragged up and up, with those long straights that are hard on the head.
The rest of the field was in ones, two’s and fours – a bit of a sprachle, as we say in Fife.
Lap two at the start of the second, much less savage ascent of the day, which came straight off the big descent off the main climb and the ‘famous five’ were well clear and were obviously going to be the first five finishers.
Behind them the rest had organised themselves but the gap was too big to close and the five girls up front were too good on the big climb for any successful chase to be organised.
At the line it was Jennifer from Chloe and MTB-er Kerry, with Beth in fourth spot and local, Natalie in fifth place.
It was a beautiful day for a race – just a pity about those oil platforms out there in the Firth… still, it gives us a different, ‘modern world’ backdrop.
The men lined up for the 2:00 pm start with defending champion, Robertson looking relaxed and MTB star Grant Ferguson bringing some continental colour to the race in his American Eagle strip.
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t recognise the tune the piper played the peloton off to, but it was a nice touch.
Lap one, Mount High and three away, Messrs. Greig Brown (Bioracer Project GO), Ryan Fenwick (Wheelbase Castelli) and Jon Woolrich (Velo Sport Jersey) – just a tad optimistic over 100 miles and six times up Mount High but it gave guys like me something to write about.
The peloton was tranquillo; with the next five ascents well to the front of their minds.
Time for my shorts as we headed further down the hill in search of fresh backdrop – and still our three outlaws were on the run.
The peloton had split behind but there was still no real sense of urgency with a little bit of chatter audible – always a sign that things aren’t too ‘rouge,’ as they say in France.
We headed down to the side of the Firth for lap three and those three were still grafting.
But their tea would soon ‘be oot’ with Brown leading the bunch home for seventh, Fenwick DNF and Woolrich coming home in eventual 24th spot.
There was more urgency behind with Mark well to the fore.
You can’t visit Cromarty and not pay your respects to it’s most famous son, Hugh Miller who, along with James Hutton – another Scot – is one of the fathers of modern geology.
The weeds round his monument could do with a trim though.
Back to the Firth, the break has gone and Grant Ferguson leads the second half of a split peloton through Jemimaville on lap four.
And was Mark looking to see what flavour his gel was, or checking his text messages, I forgot to ask him…
Back to Mount High for lap five and Stuarty McGregor (Pro-AM Racing Club) was just a tad off the pace as we waited for the leaders; he’d be credited with 34th place at the death.
A solo leader, Alastair McNichol (Dooleys) takes a bottle from Fin Young with Tim Brathwayt (Velo Club Edinburgh) in hot pursuit and thirsty too.
This was your last chance to take a bottle – no feeds on lap six.
We headed down to the foot of the big climb for lap six, conscious that we perhaps wouldn’t be able to pass the race on the run in but could head back along the Firth to catch the finish.
All change – with Thomas Gelati (Bioracer Project GO) ‘en seule’ – behind him McNichol had the thankless task of towing another two Bioracers; could this be the winning move?
Mark was well back and looking like there would be no defence of his title.
But there were a lot of mergers on that last lap and a group of nine contested the sea front finish with the Army man easily fastest, ahead of Grant Martin (Vitus Pro Cycling) and Finn Crockett (Wheelbase Castelli).
We caught up with man of the moment as he glugged water like a man just in from the Sahara; ‘I didn’t get a drink that last lap,’ he explained.
“It was a tough course, grippy and 100 miles is a long way with six times up that climb.
“Someone kept shouting to me on every lap; “be patient Mark.”
“In the last kilometre I knew Fraser Martin would lead out his brother, Grant so I was watching for that but we were all fatigued, I was fourth wheel into the last corner and as soon as we came out of it I just went for it in the 12.
“I don’t think that anyone believed I could win on such a tough course and that I’m just sprinter, but I was still marked pretty tightly throughout the race.
“To defend the title is really special, I’ve proved that last year was no fluke.
“Next up is the Army Championship on September 5th and to ride that as Scottish Champion again will be pretty special after what’s been a rough old season.
“After that it’s the Inter-Services Championship and I might just ride the Hill Climb Champs – or maybe not…”
Congratulations to Mark, all the medallists, riders who braved a tough parcours and to Eric Davidson and his Moray Firth CC team who staged a very professional event.