East Lothian in springtime should be an idyllic setting for a bike race; but today she showed her spiteful side for the traditional east coast season-opening Musselburgh 3-Up, with a freezing, grey day which granted no favours to the weak – John Anderson’s Bicycleworks ‘tester trio’ of Sharkey, Dale and Caesar proving strongest on the day.
But one must remember that Scotland’s notorious cannibal, Sawney Bean was born in East Lothian – perhaps on a day like this…
The Musselburgh 3-Up used to be run on the roads around Ballencrieff Farm, taking in the Forth coast road but the organisers have now opted for three laps of an eight mile circuit on the quieter roads around East Saltoun and Bolton; further inland and much safer.
But the trade off is that the lanes receive even less TLC from the council than the main roads and are in a dreadful state with pot holes and huge puddles all round the circuit, making a tough day even harder.
Those carbon rims don’t half ‘clack!’ when they hit a pothole…
The entry was a respectable 27 teams, ranging from those treating it as a day’s training on their road bike, to those on low profiles with rear discs and front composites.
Our first sight of the race was on the drag up through the village of East Saltoun which comes not long after the start.
A blackbird was singing his heart out to add a wee bit of joy to a horrible day – meanwhile the Fife Cycling 2000 trio were looking the part and would eventually finish the day in fifth spot.
In search of photo-ops we headed off round the course, through Bolton and stopped at the left-hander where the route heads back toward the finish.
Even the snowdrops looked wabbit among the giant puddles, with the Glasgow United team riding the course the ‘wrong way’ for a warm up.
But bare legs, guys? – muscles don’t like the cold.
One of the promoting club’s teams was taking a relaxed approach to the race; ‘take it easy for Jack’ was the team order as they dodged the puddles.
Back when we used to ride TTT’s it was more like, ‘lift it!’ or ‘get through!’
At Begbie – no, not the one from ‘Train Spotting‘ – the first blooms had struggled through, adding just a wee bit of colour to the afternoon.
The Bicycleworks team looked on top of the job but some teams were finding it difficult to keep tight formation on the tricky bends on this stretch of the circuit.
As the afternoon progressed and all the teams were on the road, it became difficult to keep track of who was doing what, with teams on different laps.
We completed a lap then stopped up at the Fletcher Memorial Fountain back in East Saltoun; the Fletchers being the local land owners with roots going way back into Scottish history.
We like the fountain – and the bonnie kirk – and of course, the hens, who seemed unimpressed by the expensive hardware trundling past them.
But impressive bicycles or not, it’s a long drag up through the village and teams were falling apart with weaker members tailed off – some of them on bikes which most pros would be happy to ride.
It’s always been the case that the less experienced teams don’t understand that the idea is to nurse your weakest guy through the hard parts – not ‘get stuck right in to him!’
Andy Matheson and his Musselburgh men had it just about right though, all three close together and gauging their effort nicely.
Most journalist being wimps – and us being no exception – we couldn’t stay in the one spot too long for fear of frostbite, so set off round the course again to get a ‘heat in the car‘.
Our next photo-op was at the old East Lothian County Council sign on the bend approaching Bolton.
Martin was in the gutter on the other side of the road on the bend when one of the Edinburgh Road Club teams whistled down the brae; ‘oot the road, oot the road, f**k sake!’ hollered their point-man as he lead his teammates round on the wrong side of the road.
Back ‘when I were lad’ if the commissaire had spotted that, our ERC man would have been DQ-ed for crossing the white line – and the sweary words.
But we’ve all done it, ‘heat of the moment’ and all that…