The result may have been predictable, but Evan Oliphant (DFL) only took home the gold medal in a sodden Scottish Road Race Championships 2007 after an incident-packed four hours.
Taking a well-deserved silver medal and ‘moral victor’ of the championship was pre-race favourite Raymond Wilson (Dunfermline CC).
The Irishman displayed great strength of character against Oliphant and the Velo Ecosse duo of Phil Brown and Stuart MacGregor; these four riders dominated the finale with Brown taking his first ever road race medal, leaving MacGregor with just the â‚¬30 fourth prize as consolation.
The race took in two laps of a large circuit which included the brutal Nick o’ Balloch climb; then two laps of a small finishing circuit near Straiton.
By the end of the first lap of the main circuit around half of the field had succumbed to the dismal conditions, hills and gravel-strewn surfaces.
Gary Hand (KFS) meanwhile, had flown the nest and was on a gallant – or over-optimistic, depending on your point of view – solo off the front.
As Hand, and then the survivors of the bunch, left Straiton to start their second lap they were mis-directed and it took the organisers a little time to sort things out.
Paul Rennie (Edge RT) didn’t hang around to see what the outcome would be, he popped a u-turn and headed for the strip.
It was a wet, cold and de-motivated group of riders who eventually re-started 39 seconds behind Hand – albeit he did get away right behind a well-timed truck; as pre-race favourite but eventual non-finisher, Gordon Murdoch (East Kilbride RC) succinctly put it; ‘he’s jumped a f**king juggernaut!’
The only happy riders were those souls who had been dropped but caught-up again at the enforced halt.
Indeed, Oliphant had to be persuaded to continue.
On the Nick for the second time MacGregor, Brown and Hand lead by a handful of seconds from Wilson, Arthur Doyle (Ivy CC), Oliphant and a surprising Michael Mallen (GS Metro).
The two groups merged before the top and the race was over for all but these seven riders; Brown took the prime as the weather conditions went from bad to grim.
On the long, winding ascent of Tairlaw, which follows the descent from the Davie Bell memorial cairn Brown danced clear as Hand succumbed to the cold, wet and gravity.
The descent to Straiton saw Brown consolidate his lead but the rolling, twisting finishing circuit saw pursuit and short-distance specialist, Doyle run out of gas and Mallen succumb to cramp.
This left just four riders in the finale; Oliphant, Wilson and MacGregor behind Brown, alone in the lead and looking like a winner until Wilson decided that the only thing he could do was chase.
MacGregor was not going to chase-down a team mate and it was unlikely that Oliphant – a long-term Velo Ecosse member before he turned pro would do much to aid the chase.
It was a dour pursuit beneath skies heavy with clouds which poured out driving rain, but eventually Wilson hauled Brown back with one lap of the finishing circuit to go.
MacGregor and Brown took it in turns to attack the man who won last weeks Grand Prix if Fife, but he was too strong; responding to everything that the Velo Ecosse men could through at him.
An impassive Oliphant meanwhile ‘rode shotgun’ facing the dilemma of the big fish in the little pond – win and get criticised or loose and get crucified.
MacGregor fell on one of the tight bends which abound on the finishing circuit but the others sportingly waited for him.
Under the canopy of lush, green trees which arch-across the road approaching the uphill finish, it was Brown on the attack again.
Wilson showed bull-like strength in bringing him back and then it was down to track-stand speeds as the chequered flag could be seen fluttering at the top of the drag.
MacGregor launched the sprint and Wilson responded immediately but Oliphant doesn’t have a contract with a pro continental squad because he’s not quick, and those ripped legs were too quick for strong-man Wilson.
The winner’s bike.
Brown took bronze with a tired MacGregor in fourth after having given his all. Mallen took fifth, Hand sixth and Doyle seventh.
What they said
“I got up to the early break but no one was riding so I put in an effort and went clear but no one came across. I had 30 seconds over the Nick the first time and I felt good.
“It was brutal when we were stopped though, I know it’s the same for everyone but the cold and wet eats into you – I just seized-up I had a bad patch just as I was caught and rode the last 35 miles on my own or in the company of one other rider – I was suffering like a dog!”
“I’m too old I I don’t have a jump any more!”
“It was maybe a bit early for me to go but there was stalemate in the group and I decided to take advantage of it. I believe that Raymond brought me back single-handed; he was very strong today.
“If I had to ride the race over I would adopt the same tactic – there was a chance and I took it. It’s my first medal in the road race so I’m quite pleased.”
“Ask me if I felt I was the strongest rider today and I would say, ‘yes’. Ask me if I’m taking the gold medal home and I have to say, ‘no’. No matter how it panned-out today I was up-against it in the last 35 miles.
“I work full-time and have to make a lot of sacrifices to race at the level I do – it’s difficult to compete against guys who are full-time.
“For a while, I thought ‘just let Phil win’ but then the best I could have done was bronze. I came here to win and decided to chase and keep myself in with a chance. Guys have had bad luck today with punctures and crashes so I can’t complain.
“The ‘stop’ was comical more than anything, we’re in the biggest race in Scotland and nobody knows what’s happening – all standing there in the rain! All-in-all, it was good day out though!”
“Tell you about the race? Wet, cold, we got lost and I nearly went home!
“Ray was very strong today but I was just making up for last week when he beat me after I punctured and I had to ride on the rim for five miles.
“I wasn’t putting everything into it today because I fly out tomorrow at 06.30 for the Tour of Luxembourg.”
Well done to you all guys!