On a gloriously sunny Sunday afternoon in North East Scotland, Herbalife-Leisure Lakes Bikes’ Gary Hand finally took the Scottish Road Race Championship after a blistering attack on the main climb of the day took him clear of 2012 champion, James McCallum (Rapha Condor JLT) and Davie Lines (MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling) over the top of the hill.
Despite a desperate pursuit from McCallum over the fast and technical final miles, it was Hand raising his hands at the death with Lines grabbing silver and a disappointed McCallum taking bronze.
The 85 mile parcours involved two laps of a big circuit taking in Alford, Auchleven, Insch, Kennethmont, Rhynie and Mossat – effectively a loop of the Correen Hills.
With a smaller finishing loop into the hills through the village of Leslie and a savage late climb as the sting in the tail.
Our first sight of the race on a grey morning was at Auchleven with Dooleys topping and tailing the compatto peloton, Arthur Doyle at the front, Stuart McGregor at the back.
We cut across the circuit to catch the race for a second time at Rhynie – we can recommend the Sinclairs of Rhynie syrup cookies – and unusually for a Scottish race, it was still compatto.
Big favourites, reigning champion McCallum and Hand were safely tucked in – keeping their powder dry for the finale.
With our cookies, the mild North East air, bird song and Martin with his Sunday Times, it was tempting just to stay put and wait for them to come round on lap two – but our professional instincts told us that you readers would suss that we’d taken all the pictures from the same spot.
Driving the circuit the ‘wrong’ way let us see why no break had crept away – no hills, just gently rolling country, nice for training or a club run, but not for smashing a race up.
The long drag up from Alford is a big ring job and with a 10% drop off the top, it’s possible for strong stragglers to battle back on the descent.
Insch, our third sighting and the peloton on it’s second lap.
Still compatto, although lead car driver, Norman Skene told us that six had been away but been brought back and everyone was saving it for the nasty late climb – the one with the little ‘steep gradient’ arrows on our map – on the wee circuit.
‘Oldie but goody’ Graeme McGarrity at the head of affairs for Dooleys was looking the part, but on that long straight out of Insch the elastic wasn’t going to snap.
And Stuart McGregor, No. 31, was ensuring the men in black had both ends of the race covered.
We continued on our way around the circuit ‘against’ the race – along the banks of the beautiful River Don and through silver birch woods.
We should have brought our bikes…
And the sun even came out as we waited for our fourth sighting, near Lumsden – and we have a race.
Six clear by 15/20 seconds with Gary Hand in there, with Scott McCrossan of Rock & Road and a Dooleys, David Griffiths of Glasgow Wheelers and Tim Blathwayt (VC Edinburgh).
A wee bit dissent in there though as someone missed a spell; ‘come oan tae f**k boys!‘ echoing across the quiet fields as TheBicycleWorks.com lead the charge in the bunch.
We headed back to Rhynie to cut over to Clatt and the finishing circuit – no time for syrup cookies this time, though.
The wee roads inside the main loop are cracking training and touring country – lush, rolling with beautiful views to the hills and hardly any traffic.
The hill on the finish loop – a belter; and now easy to see why the big hitters were waiting.
Slicing straight up the hillside, long and steep but levelling out over the top.
Stunning views across to the hills over pine woods and ancient standing stones with the sun out and the air sweet.
We like the parcours – many times in Scotland there’s some death climb on the lap and before the race has properly started it’s over.
With the big circuit here not being too savage it means there are more riders actually in the race until the finale – and that’s no bad thing.
It’d be nice to ‘take it to the people’ a bit more – but we do understand that the police have to be kept happy.
Martin dropped me off at the top whilst he headed for the finish…
…a lone rider, going strongly, green and white jersey, red bike – Gary Hand!
He’s looking good, out of the saddle, lifting it over the top – he looks a winner to me…
Jamesie next with a rider in pale blue, then Callum Wilkinson (TheBicycleWorks.com).
But Jamesie’s panting like a dog and you can see that he doesn’t have Hand’s momentum.
It’ll be a hell of a pursuit match down the technical descent to Alford; Gary can’t let the Rapha man back – not with a sprint that can win him the British Criterium Championship.
One’s, two’s, sixes and sevens…