Although I’ve never went terribly well at this time of year, I quickly learned that post July is my favourite time of the season. For the second cat and under, there are some ace races at the tail end of the season. Wanlockhead is probably my favourite race I’ve ever competed in. There’s so much that appeals about it, the fact it’s long(ish), it’s one big loop (no mundane circuits), and the Mennock is just awesome. When paired with the private road that leads right out of Wanlockhead to the golfball, although it doesn’t do that in the race, it’s the longest road climb in Great Britain. If that doesn’t peak a racer’s interest, I don’t know what does. Furthermore, I had watched Scotland’s last remaining Premier Calendar The Tour Doon Hame go over it both ways earlier in the year. One day it was pissing rain freezing cold and the next scorching, impressive to see both ways, I couldn’t wait to race up it.
So after the getting my 3rd cat license after the 4th cat race at the crit champs, onto Wanlockhead it was. It’s seriously such a great loop, out from Muirkirk and up the Glentaggart there are always some early attacks, generally brought in on the road round to Sanquhar. That road is great, it’s fast as fuck, and if there’s a chase on you can rattle along it feeling like you’re in the Tour. Going on to the next part you cut through Sanquhar before heading up the Mennock pass. Because they’re roads I train on I always want to do something around there. Heading onto the Mennock pass that day I felt good and got myself near the front, but my relative inexperience caught me out and I was distanced going into Wanlockhead. For anyone that’s done that climb you’ll know that it kicks really harshly out of Wanlockhead. Pretty cruel when you’re just off the back watching the bunch push on over the top, knowing that the run out is so fast you have no chance of getting back in, especially on your own on junior gears.
I can’t remember where I finished that day, but it was a crawl over the line, but I was hooked on that type of racing. A race for the hard men no doubt about it. A guy from ERC, Neil Taylor won that day, solo if I remember correctly. Was pretty impressive. I’m sure he was actually away from before the climb which is something I’ve only ever seen then. In every other edition of the race it’s been won by someone who was still in the bunch at the bottom of the Mennock pass.
The other really great race in that same vein is the Lammermuirs. One of my oldest cycling buddies and now teammate Scott McCrossan won it in 2011 and gained his 1st cat license in the process. He once said thank fuck he managed that because he would never have to ride it again. The race traditionally takes in a few laps of the Gifford circuit before veering out of the town on Gifford into the Lammermuir hills. The first, and hardest, test of the race is the formidable Redstone Rig. It ramps high in to the teens% for prolonged sections, and as it is in moorland the wind can play a big part in the outcome of this climb, and the race as a whole, before doing a loop round the braes of the Lammermuirs, finishing atop the rig from another side. Craig Wallace won that year, beating out the relative newcomer to the sport Steven Lawley. For those in the know, they’ll recognise how good the field was from just those two name, both those chaps have achieved fantastic things in the interim. I finished 31st, but came away from it knowing that one day I would love to win that race.
The last race of the year was one of the best, one of, or maybe the, first edition of the Ballater Falling leaves stage race. Still a one day affair at this point, there was a prologue in the morning and a road race in the afternoon. I travelled up with my team mate at the time John Fox. A long morning in the car and we were greeted by freezing temperatures in the tiny wee town of Ballater. I remember putting on my skinsuit in an attempt at aerodynamics for the prologue TT before piling on the layers just before the start because of how nippy it was. Paul Friel, another Couriers teammate also lent me his pointy hat just before the start, which was a mistake as the medium helmet was just too wee for my massive napper and I felt like I was getting my heid squeezed in a vise for the duration of the TT. The TT was uneventful to say the least, I’ve never been any good at pushing myself in that way, although John who I had travelled up with missed the left turn up to the finish, he was fizzing at the marshall. The road race was a bit more of interest though. Having just done the two 2/3/4 hilly races I’ve just mentioned I had ridden myself into a bit of form and was relishing the uphill finish, with it being a 3/4 race I was in with a shout. The bunch stayed pretty well together and John was looking after me for the sprint. We hadn’t reccied the finish, which turned out to be pivotal. We were going on the distance John’s Garmin was showing him, and it led to him burning out way too quickly. I followed some other wheels but one of the local lads, David Anderson knew exactly where the finish was and went at the perfect time. I’m sure if I’d known where it was I could have had him. I finished 2nd in that stage.
Annoyingly we waited round for a prize that never came, and that was a sort of metaphor for my now finished road season. The cross that followed was better. Next time!