As you’ve no doubt heard me mention before, I was delighted to be sponsoring the first Ayrshire Alps Classic (also the 48th David Bell Memorial Race) in my hometown.
The race had run last year in beautiful sunshine but this year fate was determined to give the racers a taste of the awful conditions suffered on last year’s audax. There had been concerns in the lead up to the festival that there wouldn’t be enough entries to warrant running the race. As I’m not a racer (yet) I don’t know why this is, but I find it absolutely astounding that people wouldn’t want to race against the best Scotland has to offer, especially when you consider the course, rider support and prize fund.
I headed along nice and early to get a feel for how things were shaping up. While waiting patiently at the start line I got chatting to an amazing older gentleman who used to ride with David Bell himself. He had great tales of adventures in the Ayrshire Alps, the stuff that made Bell famous. He was a real inspiration, especially when I found out he still regularly rides his Flying Scot in his mid eighties!
It was good to see some big names on the domestic scene lining up at the start, with Scottish champion Gary Hand (Herbalife Leisure Lakes Bikes) and Premier Calendar champion Evan Oliphant (Raleigh) the favourites.
At the end of the first lap David Lines (MG-Maxifuel) came through solo ahead of the pack. The few hardy souls who had braved the torrential downpour and strong winds gave him a hearty cheer as he made his way through Girvan. Hand was in the last group on the road, having suffered two punctures, and his race was already over. Oliphant was safely in the main bunch and looking strong.
Lines was still ahead on the next lap, but his lead had been cut to less than twenty seconds. A few more riders had dropped out, with a combination of awful weather, tough racing and multiple punctures making it a difficult day in the saddle. It sounds like the Carleton climb had surprised a few riders with it’s steep slopes so early in the race. It’s a gem!
I fully expected Lines to be back in the pack by the next lap so it was great to see him joined by Paisley Velo’s Peter Murdoch, having stretched their lead to almost a minute. Could it stick? No. By the bell lap the breakaway had been eaten up by a small pack of around 20, including Oliphant and Ben Greenwood and it was clear that there would be fireworks over the next half hour.
While we waited patiently at Victory Park for the riders to return I got chatting to some friends I’d grown up with in Girvan, who it turned out were there to support their cousin – Gary Hand! It’s a small world.
From reports out on the course it sounds like Herbalife did some great work on the final climb of the Byne, neutralising every attempt to break the race up, and kept it steady round the rest of the lap. Back at Victory Park, we were greeted by the incredibly rare site of a group of fourteen fighting out a bunch sprint to end one of Scotland’s hardest races. Oliphant pipped Herbalife’s Andrew Hawdon on the line, with Scott McCrossan (Rock2Roll) coming in third.
With the racing over, it was my turn for thirty seconds of infamy, as I got on stage to present the winner of the Digital My Way King of the Mountains competition. While the new parcours doesn’t have classic climbs like Glenalla and Nic o’the Balloch, it’s safe to say that Carleton, the Byne and the Screws can only be conquered by a strong rider. So it was fitting that Scotland’s form rider, Evan Oliphant took the prize while winning the race for the fourth time.
I had a fantastic day out watching some great racing, and I hope to be able to support the race again next year. I want to say a personal thank you to Christopher Johnson, who has organised the event for the last couple of years and who has really captured my imagination with his enthusiasm for cycling in Ayrshire and for everything he’s done to make the race a success. Cheers Chris!