Chris Smart (GTR) made it a hat trick of wins in the classic Tour de Trossachs 2017 time trial over 24.5 beautiful but demanding miles on a calm, mild and dry autumn Sunday morning, adding to his 2014 and 2015 victories – the race was cancelled last year due to roadworks.
Smart recorded 58:55 for the shortened course which went over the ‘Big’ Braes of Greenock rather than the usual ‘Wee’ Braes, reducing the distance by some three miles and cutting out the tough ‘Ruskie’ hamlet section of the course.
Pro Vision Cycle Clothing’s Robert Friel was the only other man under the hour with a fine 59:30.
In third place was Tyneside Vagabond, Adam Wild with 1:00:24.
Fourth was Scottish Hill Climb Champion, David Griffiths (Pro Vision), fifth was his teammate, Jason Roberts and sixth, former winner, Arthur Doyle.
Fastest lady, again was Lynsey Currie (Dooleys RT).
When the 06:30 alarm went off, my immediate thought was; ‘where am I ?’
I went to see ‘Blade Runner 2049’ last night and Deckard and his Replicant chums were still birling round my mind.
The clear air at the top of the Dukes Pass soon cleared my head though as Martin and I took up snapping positions.
I secured the coveted 200 metres to prime line spot but we were both a wee tad off our game with the photography due to light being a bit poor for the early starters, so forgive us if the first pics aren’t our best.
First over the Braes was tandem number one of Mark Leadbetter and Donald McLean (Stirling bike club) – respect to anyone taking a tandem round that course.
But even more respect to Mike Thomas (West Lothian Clarion) who took his H3 class ‘hand cycle’ around the course.
But a piece of cake to a man who recently cranked the beast over one of Mallorca’s biggest climbs, Sa Calobra.
We followed a rider down The Dukes to the Loch Katrine road end, the descent was wet in places and the surface much gnarlier than we remembered from two years ago.
Loch Achray is the heart of Wordsworth country but there wasn’t much romance, just damp roads and impatient motorists – albeit the Loch looked amazing, still as a mill pond.
Carlos Riise had made the long pilgrimage down from Shetland to ride and was looking the part, if not quite as quick as when he used to win all those Scottish titles.
We followed ladies winner, Lynsey Curran along Loch Achray side for a spell and she was handling this technical section with it’s twists and turns very well.
Our next park up was on the ‘snap’ at Brig o’ Turk, perhaps not the best choice because motor traffic finds it hard to pass on the Achray road so many riders have impatient motorists breathing down their necks which rather spoils the pictures.
We captured old campaigner Jim Cusick then Chris Smart and Adam Wild on this section giving it ‘max’ – but an old chap on a mountain bike was coming up at a similar rate.
Impressive – ‘til we saw the electric motor…
Venachar side and we passed the same two podium riders with Smart ‘tout a droit’ as they say in France, ‘everything to the right’ – top gear in other words, with every sinew straining.
The Invertrossachs road gave us palpitations; held up behind a rider and with both of the aforementioned flyers bearing down on us we had to pull in to let them pass.
The long straight out of Callander saw us pass them both again to take up station at the top of the ‘Big’ Braes of Greenock; roadworks on the Thornhill to Aberfoyle road meant a shorter race – but a tougher climb.
Over the top Smart was in full effect with Wild not too far behind him and only a few more riders to come.
Jon Entwistle (GTR) was clearly not enjoying his day out in the Trossachs – just on visual he was slower than then rampaging ex-marine, Smart.
David Griffiths certainly has the aero tuck right but his high cadence progress over the top of the Braes was visibly slower than the big geared winner’s.
We had Smart, Wild and Griffiths as the top three, but had overlooked Friel who put in an excellent ride for second spot.
We caught up with Smart after his ride:
Great ride Chris, congratulations – how big a deal is The Trossachs to you?
“With no disrespect to anyone else’s events it’s one of my biggest targets of the year – such a great race.”
What did you think of the shorter course?
“I actually think it’s harder, the ‘Big’ Braes is a tougher climb than the usual route and I wasn’t familiar with the descent so I was a bit more cautious than usual.
“I had a crash a few weeks ago so I was wary.
“Some folks might have liked that the leg from Thornhill to the bottom of The Braes was cut out but that’s actually my favourite part of the course!”
What was the toughest part of the race for you?
“The descent of The Dukes, it was wet today and that surface is very scabby – but it wasn’t too big an issue, I never force The Dukes, I always say that my race begins at the Loch Katrine road end.”
Was having Wild in front a good ‘pull out?’
“Yes but I was surprised I caught him as quickly as I did, he’s a good rider with strong results down in the North East, I’d thought it’d be much later in the day before I caught him.”
And is that you for the year?
“Yeah, I had thought about riding the hill climb champs but changed my mind somewhere near the top of the Braes of Greenock!”
So is it back into the garage and the turbo now?
“It is – but I’m looking forward to next season already, the team is joining up with Stevie Blom’s charity so we’ll be GTR-Return To Life for 2018.”
And before we leave you in peace, how does it feel to be a 49 minute man?
“That course in Wales isn’t what you might expect it to be, you have to work hard for the time.
“The weather is better but the traffic count isn’t high, it’s not like you’re getting sucked along.
“But the ‘gift’ hill start does give you a good start, after a few miles your average speed is ridiculously high but like I said, you have to work hard for the time…”
With congratulations to Chris and Lynsey on fine wins in one of the few Scottish races which can still bear the title, ‘Classic.’