So, the day of reckoning had arrived. Could anyone beat Sky? Was Cav able to cope with the course? Would the course be good? Would the weather hold? Would the people come out to support the race?
There had been a lot of questions raised about the race coming to Glasgow, with many fans and some riders not entirely chuffed about a “really long crit” as the Nationals. I’d heard the route called everything from “flat and boring” to dangerous. As it turned out, it was just savage.
The 14.2km loop included around 150m of climbing. Doesn’t sound like much, but the women would do 8 laps, the men 14. That’s like an alpine climb, with 36 corners on each lap. This, along with the constant up and down, meant that it would be as mentally tiring as it was physically. It’s an old cliché but a course like this really would produce a worthy champion.
Callum and I took our bikes into the city centre from my flat to watch the women’s race. It meant we could get there early for a look around the team areas (public transport in Scotland is still practically non-existant on Sundays, although the Subway did open early). We could also, depending on traffic, get around the course a bit.
We started off watching the roll out in Glasgow Green. I expected an attacking race, but was amused and impressed in equal measure when Anda-Jay Burgess (Sandy Wallace Cycles) had managed to get a few bike lengths clear by the first corner. She managed to stay away for a couple of laps which was great to see as it gave us a home rider to cheer for right from the start. We headed to the bottom of Montrose Street, one of the nastiest climbs in the city.
We had a fantastic view of the bunch coming down George Street before the sharp left hander onto the climb.
We then decided against riding up North Portland Street (if you’ve ever seen it I’m sure you’ll understand why!) and instead went round to Collins Street, to a technical downhill cobbled section with turns at top and bottom.
Our next stop was at the top of Montrose Street, where we’d get to see just how bad the hill really was. It was bad.
We stayed for a couple of laps here to see just how bad the damage would be. Amy Roberts from Wiggle Honda had broken away solo and was looking really strong, but on such a tough course it was never going to stick. Sure enough, Emma Trott joined her and soon Lizzie Armitstead, Dani King and Laura Trott were there too. Job done, Roberts dropped back later on and by the time we’d made it up to Blytheswood Square it was clear that nobody was going to catch the leaders.
In the end it was Lizzie Armitstead, who’ll be used to the short sharp climbs being an Otley lass, who made a solo break and ended up winning by over a minute from Laura Trott and Dani King.
I don’t know how much they will have enjoyed it at the time, but it was great to see the top Scottish talent racing with girls you’d normally only see on the tv. Races like this are how they’ll learn to improve and step up to the next level, and we have the talent to do so if we can only find the investment to help them.
The next hour or so should probably never be spoken of again. Two and a half miles into a block headwind, a puncture and an unscheduled trip (almost) to the airport made for a fairly eventful lunch break, but afterwards we headed to the west end to watch the men’s race.
The race came hurtling past as we emerged from the depths of Hillhead subway station and into the light. We only caught the tail end of the peloton but it was already broken up. Going to Byers Road was a stroke of genius. We got a window seat in the Curler’s Rest, right on the course, If you’ve never been before, you really should go. The food is fantastic and there’s a wide range of good beers. If the same course is used for the Commonwealth Games I know where I’ll be sitting!
Ian Stannard and Andy Fenn were out on their own the next time the race came by, followed by a group including David Millar and Mark Cavendish, along with a couple more Sky riders. It was almost race over already!
I’m a big fan of both Cavendish and Millar, but I have a special love for our domestic pros, so it was a shame to see them blown away so early on. After lunch we headed up Great George Street, and the atmosphere was fantastic, with crowds two and three deep all the way up. There was clapping, there was cheering and there were lots of shouts of encouragement. There were even people with pots and pans to hit together.
Turning into Hillhead Street it was like we’d been transported to another world. There was not a single soul there. On Gibson Street the crowds were out again. I’m not in the west end often and had forgotten just how steep and narrow Gibson Street is. The riders were flying down the hill at speeds I can only guess at. It was fast.
We continued around the course, walking up to Park Circus and down to Lynedoch Street to see the most feared cobbled section. The weather had been pretty kind, so the cobbles were mercifully dry, but it’s a tight corner at the bottom and a good crowd was waiting for any mishaps. The front two groups had joined forces by this point, and then Fenn and Swift had been dropped, leaving Cavendish, Millar, Stannard and Peter Kennaugh out front.
By the time we made it to Sauchiehall Street it was clear that we’d either missed a massive crash that had taken out half of the field, or the broom wagon was busier than a number 9 bus on a Friday night.
I was really keen to see how the pros would cope with the tight chicane around St George’s Tron church at the bottom of West George Street. It’s a fast descent into the corners, and the road narrows considerably. They barely batted an eyelid.
Next we made a quick stop at the bottom of Montrose Street, just to see how the men coped compared to the women. It looked like it hurt them just as much!
At the Tollbooth steeple the final four were starting to test each other out and the pace was still incredibly high. We wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss the end of the men’s race, so headed straight to Glasgow Green with two laps to go. I expected it to be busy, but what we arrived to was nothing short of spectacular.
Although we couldn’t see anything particularly clearly, we did have the benefit of a commentary from out on the course. It was from the guy next to me who was checking Twitter. The information was much more accurate and interesting than what we were hearing from Hugh Porter!
You could feel the tension as it was announced that Stannard had punctured, and then when Cavendish attacked there was shock all around. It was quite amusing to see different people’s reactions. When David Millar made his attach with a kilometre to go the crowd was electric, ready to cheer on a home winner. Sadly it wasn’t to be, as Stannard brought him back and inevitable Cavendish took the sprint with ease.
This was the fifth time I’d seen Cavendish win a sprint, but with my restricted side-on view it was the first time I’ve got a true sense of just how fast he is. It was like a motorbike going past at full tilt. He’s an incredible athlete and I hope that his performance here will help dispel the myth that he’s somehow a lesser rider who only pops up for the last 500m of races. It’s nonsense.
The cheers for David Millar when he came on the podium were something else, I hope it made up for some of the disappointment of not winning.
For me the race lived up to all my expectations. It exceeded them in many ways. I had never dreamt that so many people would come out to support the race, or that we’d get to see such a display of dominance. I’ve seen a lot of negativity from fans about the domestic riders, but from reading interviews with Millar after the race it sounds like the World Tour guys were so afraid of the domestic teams that they employed Copenhagen tactics. It may not have been the most exciting race for 10 or 12 laps, but it was a hell of a spectacle, and I can’t wait for more next summer!