Let me start by saying that I used to have a really great name for this piece. I was going to call it Confessions of a 3rd cat, because of my aptitude for getting kicked back down to 3rd cat every year I gain a 2nd cat license. However at the time of writing I just got my best result ever probably and have bumped my way back up again, so I’ve signed myself up for 2 more years at 2nd cat and that means I’ve probably spent more time at 2nd than 3rd, so that was that.
I’ve been considering the idea of documenting my bike racing days for a while for a few reasons: Firstly, I’ve never been great at keeping a diary even though I’ve always been told to. I’ve been given a few diaries over the year, my aunt gave me a cracking wee book called Cycling Notes, you could keep note of every day you went out, what you did, document the routes you used, it was so easy. I didn’t do it. Even worse my sister gave me a wee diary called One Line a Day. Even that was too much. Secondly, I want to remember my years on the bike, because what’s happened on the bike really has been a major constant, and one of the biggest factors of my existence since I started. My youth racing days have already merged into what seems like these long Ingliston and Bellahouston crits, dirt crits at Glentress and the odd foray into ‘cross near the end. I think I smashed my youth memories out of my head falling off the mountain bike so much, I really wasn’t great at keeping it upright, hence the move to road racing as a junior. A pretty memorable one was at the SXC at Comrie Croft trying to overtake a much better rider by taking the A line down a wee descent. Over I went onto my dome and out went the past few years of racing bikes. Not to say I didn’t have some memorable moments though, finishing third behind the Wilcox brothers (there’s a name that’ll strike fear into the hearts of any youth MTB racers born in the mid 90’s!) at the Peebles Stage Race, and giving the bunch the slip with Aidan Quinn at Bellahouston to come the closest I ever got to a youth road win was nice too.
Anyway onto the first ever road race. The year was 2012 and the very first race was actually a stage race, the Dundee thistle 2 day for that matter. I believe the race had a bit of an illustrious past, having been an E/1/2/3 the year prior, but due to some dodgy riding the year prior (or so I hear) the decision was made to take it down to a 3/4. It was quite a special occasion looking back, as it was one of the few times I actually got to race alongside my dad. You understand that prior to taking up racing I had no idea that there was anyone else quicker than my dad that wasn’t in the Tour de France. Turns out there’s a gulf there, and my dad wasn’t that quick at all, he was what gets described in cycling as a ‘diesel engine’ – a term I always thought was quite patronising, and something I never wanted to be described as. To me it was a way to describe a rider who could power for miles but when it got sticky often didn’t have the goods. Which I still believe to be true, but not necessarily a bad thing. I digress.
On the Saturday morning we packed up the car and it was off to Dundee. The race started with a short prologue up to Dundee law (Check this out! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agRLRYZER6o) and being there pretty early I headed out for a spin up it. Seemed well doable, I went up with the lad that had parked next to us at the strip, Dan Halliday, he won the prologue later that morning.
After bluffing my way through the prologue it was onto the first road stage. All very new to me, races over 40 minutes, I was talked through it and told it was a flat day that finished up a hill, sounded simple enough. Round this route we went, pretty fast but I hung in fine on my junior gears. Then the single funniest incident I’ve encountered in a road race to date. I don’t know precisely what happened, and maybe the man in question will be able to give us a fuller account, but there was a bit of a stramash in the bunch behind me and glancing over my shoulder all I saw was a body flying off the top of this grass verge on the left hand side of the road into a dank muddy river on the other side. Hilarious. I found out a few years later that body was John Gartland, and apparently his chain had broke forcing him off the road and into the burn. Apparently the banter over the race radio was class. The driver of the first following car couldn’t get a message to the first aid for laughing. Dad was also caught up in the crash, minor scuffs but he couldn’t get back on and that was the problem on a 2 day race, I’m pretty sure he DNF’d. Anyway, other than that it was a rather uneventful day, spinning round the lanes, until we hit the hill. Having not done a recon I wasn’t sure of the finish, but someone mentioned a bridge about 200 metres from the line. Calum Foster one of my mates from the mountain bike scene and fellow junior popped off the front as soon as we hit the climb and no one followed. Calum soloed to a pretty impressive win, as I watched from behind, suddenly we were on a bridge. Oh shit. I finished 11th that day, not bad for my first RR, I would say. It was the second day that mattered anyway.
Dan Halliday that had won the prologue carried the leaders jersey into the second day and I suppose it was assumed that he would take it all the way. The third stage really was a monster, up this steep climb 3 or 4 times, finishing at the top. I think I held in for 2 ascents and then got dropped on the descent. Junior gears never do anyone a favour on the descents. Plus I was burst, two days racing like I never had before. Just before the 3rd time up the climb Stevie Robertson came up to me and gave it “Too much too soon!”. Smarmy bastard, I thought. He was right though. I’d killed myself early that day. WE pedalled up to the finish and sat in the sunshine and watched the race unfold. Some dude from down south had decimated the field and won by over two minutes, whilst Dan Halliday had had a puncture and couldn’t get back. He was fizzing coming over the line. That was the first time I saw passion like that for a race lost, that’s when I started to see what bike races could mean to someone. Legs cooked, it was home time.