It might be the middle of crit season, but the organisers of this Sunday’s South Carrick David Bell Memorial in Girvan are delighted to have secured the strongest lineup in the race’s history.
Felix English heads a full Rapha-Condor-Sharp team against Ben Greenwoods’ Vanillabikes.com team and Robbie Hassan’s Herbalife Leisure Lakes squad in the 100mile event.
The action kicks off in Girvan at 11am, where local school children will wave the riders off after a ceremonial lap of the Victory Park criteriums circuit. 100 miles of classic Ayrshire terrain including the ascents of Nic O Balloch, Glenalla, and the Screws serve as a main course before two nail-bitting laps of the Byne to please the spectators.
The Davie Bell is a classic of the Scottish racing calendar – with a list of illustrious winners including Robert Millar, Jason MacIntyre, Evan Oliphant and outgoing champion James McCallum of Rapha Condor Sharp.
For 2012 organisers were delighted to secure National A Status thanks to the backing of a host of local sponsors, including South Ayrshire Council and South Carrick Community Leisure.
A real buzz has surrounded the build up to the race, with former winners describing their victories, local children creating the event artwork, and amatuer riders taking to their bikes as part of the new supporting event, the 100km Highwayman Challenge Audax.
Rapha Condor Sharp will be hoping to make it two in a row, with a team fresh from the Ras. We spoke with rider / mentor James McCallum to share his memories of winning last year, and evaluate this year’s field.
James – you’ve just climbed off your bike after the Colchester Tour Series, how was it?
“Brutal – I managed to avoid the crash and all that jazz, but it’s a long series, with a lot of travel, and the level is higher than ever.
“We’re keen here at Rapha Condor Sharp to consolidate our 2nd place in the team standings and try and make in-roads on Endura, all being well.”
As a crit specialist you’ll be racing the Smithfield Nocture this Saturday, so won’t be able to defend your Davie Bell crown
“Its a shame, I want to be home and to be there.
“The Davie Bell is now the biggest day race in Scotland and I’ve great memories of winning.
“I loved the atmosphere of the race especially the romanticism of the off-road sections [last year’s editions featured 16km of unsealed forest road].”
You’ve become a bit of a specialist in the Roubaix-esque races.
“I had a great ride at the Rutland CiCle event, getting third.
“But I should have got second.
“In fact, I wanted the win of course. It’s different to the Davie Bell, with different sectors all the time, and 200 riders all trying to do the same thing.”
Who do you think is likely to win on Sunday?
“Richard Handley (James’ Rapha-Condor-Sharp teammate).
“He’s fresh from the Ras – just posted a 3hr 40min 100 time; he’s not hanging about.
“All the guys who’ve been at the Ras will be chapping at the door, they’re in their element.
“It’s the ultimate prep, I know how it benefitted me last year.
“It’s a great opportunity for the young guys in the team like Felix… We’ll keep the race in the Rapha house!”
And the others?
“Guys like Ben Greenwood (Vanillabikes .com) are going to be up against it – he’s got real grinta but no Ras!
“He’ll need to get away on his own to pull it off.
“Robbie Hassan? You’ve got to make sure you don’t take him to the finish. He’ll be a factor. But at the same time, he’s been on a heavy Tour Series programme. He’s young but it will take its toll on him.
“Pedal Power Endura Forme will probably admit themselves that their season has been sluggish, but Gary Hand is wise and knows how to play his cards.
“I’m out the loop with most the Scottish riders, but Evan Oliphant (Raleigh GAC) and I were discussing how the racing in Scotland is definitely changing – there’s more info and knowledge now.
“The gap between and Scotland and England is getting smaller.”
Your favourite Davie Bell memory?
“Ripping down Tairlaw with over a minute to spare – I couldn’t believe it when the commissaire confirmed it.
“It was emotional to be on my own in the final ks thinking about stuff. It was also great to dedicate the win to my wife’s grandfather who had just died.
“I almost never win away on my own, so it was really special”.
And if the race gets Premier Calendar status for 2013 you’ll be back?
“Definitely – but you need to bring back the gravel!”
And with that James signed off, but not before betting £200 on Richard Handley to take the win. We’ll need a witness to that, so get down to Girvan on Sunday to see for yourself!
Full event details at the official southcarrickdaviebell website.