How to Finish a Road Race
In 1987 I did not finish any road race I entered. It’s quite amazing this sport because unless you have a bucket of talent the whole thing about racing to begin with is just to finish the race. And not finish about half an hour back all on your Jack Jones with your only company being some old man leaning on a stick at a remote corner every lap grunting “Dig in...” In comparison marathons are easy business - so long as you’ve done the distance in training chances are you’ll at least complete the race. Cycling is different - chances are as an amateur that you’ll always have done more distance in a single day in training at some time than in any race you’ll do ... some idiot would have suggested taking your boily-up cans to an unknown glen somewhere and you got roped in. But a bike race is first and foremost about keeping up with the pack or at least being in a respectable group not far behind, working hard with heads held high, all “digging in” and finally enthusiastically sprinting for 40th place.
Yeah, if you go off the back in a bike race early on then the chances are it’s going to be wise to “chuck it”. Alan “Bomber” Anderson used to offer such wisdom from the road side to aspiring youngsters that trailed the pack. He was the antidote to all the old ‘dig in’ men. He was probably just being honest.
Anyway after the clocks changed in 1988 I was as ever glad to be free of charging around the town in the pitch black with the squad.
Another Broughty Velo climbing day. A beautiful and warm day and Andy Brewster, Dave Milne and Jon Fenwick were there and I was riding well. But something had changed since last year. Yeah, despite the most likely much more interesting route we did, I deeply regretted not going with the training group from the gates. You know with the big boys. Whereas earlier the route and the company of my mates was most important, increasingly it was about the glory and the battle, and beating Andy and Dave up a hill didn’t cut it anymore. I ‘won’ all the hills with the exception of Pitlowie that Dave won yet again.
I’d be back out with Dave and Andy the very next day and the next it was the Kettins circuit APR. A group of about ten of us hit the bottom of the dreaded Tullybaccart hill and I was able to stick in okay. When the useful Tony Hastie attacked near the top, I was able much to my surprise to counter him. I still remember my back wheel jumping all over the place, seemingly out of contact with the road about 50% of the time. Later analysis with the guys said that my stem might be too short, or the back end of my Reynolds 501 frame too light. Yeah sure, more likely my style had not yet caught up with my strength. Anyhow, back down the Boulevard it was a high speed bit and bit run with Tony, Phil Brown, Jim Brewster and Andy Brewster. I was feeling great.
So after four hard days in a row what better an idea than to go out again. Back in 1988 over training had not been invented so there were always other suckers to head out with. A fair size group consisting of me, Andy, Tony, Eric Schlordt, Eddie Flynn, Dave McCallum and Ian Cavin got away going up the Forfar Road to the Lumley Den turn-off. But I was beginning to feel bad now and on Pitnapie hill after Newtyle I was dropped along with Dave and Ian. Something was wrong with me and I was shattered.
So, must not be enough training, eh? Thursday evening the group headed out to Glencarse on the main dual carriageway (can you imagine this now on what is effectively a motorway now? Back in ‘88 at 7pm people were at home and there was nowhere much to drive to). I was dropped halfway out and cut down to Errol., but the writing was on the wall. I was sick with the cold. But on Sunday there was the Crombie Classic time trial!
Why it was called a ‘classic’ I don’t know, because I think this edition was the first and last. Shame because it was a cracker of a route, in the Broughty Velo’s backyard starting at the top of Monikie hill and plummeting down to Newbigging before heading back towards Dundee, but then turning north to Kellas, then right up the south face of Carrot Hill, then right to Lucky Slap, before heading back down to Dundee and then left turn retracing the route back to Monikie. Good mix of climbs, flats and drops. I really admire organisers for putting on such daring and different routes. I wish I could have been in better condition for this. I was out of breath just climbing on my bike. At the end of the race I’d gotten exactly the same time as Jon Fenwick, but Dave Milne had done a cracker of a ride taking five minutes out of me and winning a much deserved prize.
By mid-week I was back into the swing of things even if a badly timed puncture ruined a good evening ride on the Thursday. On the Sunday would be my first road race of the year at Thornton if Fife. I sensibly or perhaps coincidentally stayed off the bike on the Saturday. Friday ominously saw some snow. Saturday I remember going to the now defunct Omolov Restaurant in Dundee and I can still remember the two shirts my mum got me later.
Thornton Road Race was a mixed junior and senior race and I struggled in the tail wind sections, really spinning my knees off. I hadn’t wanted to go and Brewster really needed to persuade me. Though I was dropped on the second lap I was still glad to have gone and it rekindled a bit of the spark I had just a week and a half and a few hundred miles earlier when I’d taken on Tony Hastie. At Thornton, Tony finished 3rd. And I mean I stayed with his attacks on Tullybaccart. Must be promising...
Barry Hoban woz here
Still wasn’t 100% yet the next week and in the evening APR around Kettins on the Wednesday night I got shelled on Tullybaccart and rode back with Andy Brewster (also not going so well?) and Victor Polanski. Vic was a rare character with bags of strength but perhaps lacking in speed and climbing ability, fair enough when you consider he was focussed on the grass track. Back at the finish line there was a special surprise. British Tour de France legend (8 stage wins) Barry Hoban was there! Just kind of standing there and not really talking to anyone other than Jim Brewster the bike shop owner with whom he was staying. Twenty years later I read a lovely article about Barry and his wife Helen in a Dutch newspaper. Helen had been married to the late Tom Simpson who famously died on Mont Ventoux. The article bordered on the magical as they described how Tom was still a part of their life and how they sometimes have dreams that Tom turns up and they pretend not to be married. Quite surreal. But when I think of Barry I see him standing on the road near Dundee watching the young and lacking in talent, the low sun and chill wind on his face, a thousand stories on his tongue, but not a word is said.
It’s pretty clear from this vantage point some 21 years later that I was suffering from burnout exacerbated by the cold. Despite a second place in an APR later rides in April all report stinging legs. I’d still manage okay rides but my legs hurt nearly all the time. The good rides only meant I got put in faster groups in the APRs. Here’s some raw data from the training diary:
Monday 9 May, 1988: Abernyte, Kettins. Go with Jon Fenwick and Derek McFadden out with training group. Stay on front with Eric Schlordt on climb. Have to chase down Langmans glen [could have been Ballo - I always mixed them up]. Struggle on Kettins road. Recover by top of Pitnapie and start working again.
Tuesday 10 May, 1988: Wheelers APR - Glencarse [an APR on a motorway effectively!]: In 3rd group with Phil Brown, Steve Cassels, Matt Hastie, Denny Curran, JT (Jimmy Thomson?) and Dave McGowan. Very fast to Glencarse. Catch and drop loads. Denny dropped. Dave McGowan dropped in Glencarse. Catch Lionel Wylie [why was he ahead?] and Andy Thomson. Hard into wind. Andy Thomson attacks but Lionel just beats him. Legs hurt [you don’t say].
Wednesday 11 May, 1988: Kettins APR. In group [with heros of yesterday] Lionel Wylie, Andy Thomson and Dave McGowan. Can’t keep going to front. Dave storming. Catch Jon Carter etc on Tullybaccart, all dropped and Dave McGowan [could never climb]. Three of us work [on descent]. Dave catches us! Dave dropped up last climb. Come 2nd. Dave Milne 6th. Jon Carter way back. Rain on way home.
Thursday 12 May, 1988: Knapp with Andy Brewster, Phil Brown, Derek McFadden, Eddie Flynn, Steve Crowe and wee guy. Stay on up climb. Cold, very windy and cloudy.
Friday 13 May, 1988: Craigowl [one of the hardest climbs in Scotland!] with Jon Carter, Dave Milne, Andy Brewster and Craig Whittet. Very hard. Stick in 42x19!!! Jon falls off twice. Andy gives up. Cloud and drizzle at top. [why anyone would do this after such a week and two days before a 25m TT is anyone’s guess - completely mad. Coaches are useful and this is proof!]
Sunday 15 May, 1988.
This day is too important to be quickly summarized from diary. Yeah, I learned a few things today, about me, my bike, winning, racing, and officialdom. It was the Dundee Wheelers 25m time trial. Starts just west of Dundee and runs out to the turn in Perth and back again. Was one of the fastest courses in Scotland. I did a 1:07:01 on this warm and breezy day. It was hard in both directions. My time was good enough to win a fiver in the ‘E’ group. I liked this system of split prizes as it meant everyone had a chance, not just the same old boys every week. Anyway I felt I could have done better. Steve Cassels did 1:03:56 and Jim Brewster only did a 1:06:07, but somehow Bob Kilhooley broke the hour and may have won the event. Bob was also a Dundee Wheelers man. He did not ride with the group very often, mostly trained alone. He must have been in his 50s, was quite frail looking, very laid back and pedaled easy gears. But he was fast.
What did I do wrong?
- No embrocation
- Gears slipping
- Overgeared at turn and became bogged down
- Lack of concentration
- Better bike
- Better style
First one was easily solved. 2nd, 5th and 6th would most likely be helped by the Campagnolo Chorus equipped Raleigh 653 I was building in the dining room. I was lucky to ride back to Dundee with Bob and he offered some sound advice. He said that to break the hour for 25 miles, you first have to be able to ride 25 x 1 mile with a break between each mile, at 25mph. Pretty obvious but very few think of this. Ideally he said you need to ride these separate miles at 28mph. Quality, not quantity. I kept his words close to heart and began to follow this program and come August it really paid off.
We’re not quite finished with 15 May, 1988. A chap called Andy Fenwick from the Dundee Wheelers was helping out with the event, doing the pushing off for the 120 riders. After the race there was the usual melee at the bottom of the Knapp road and Andy like hundreds of others had placed his new Raleigh Pursuit bike on the grass verge. One of the Dundee Wheelers officials called Pat Baigrie for some reason reversed his car up on to the verge and went right over it and mangled the bike completely. A massive argument broke out between Pat and Andy who was supported by the dozens of riders who’d witnessed it. During all the this Jonny Fenwick (no relationship to Andy), one of the funniest guys in Dundee cycling, pronounced, “Well now you’ve got a Raleigh Banana!” (Banana being the co-sponsor of the Raleigh bike team in the 80s).
Bike Alchemy: Before Pat Baigrie’s car drove over it...
Pat naturally enough offered to pay for the a new bike but bike the next day he’d changed his mind and exonerated himself of all blame saying Andy shouldn't have left it on the grass verge! The pompous official even wrote a letter to the Scottish Cyclists Union blaming Andy for the incident!! Andy kept on bringing up the incident at the Wheelers club meeting every week under general business but he wouldn't admit he was in the wrong and refused to do anything about it. Peem Brewster the bike shop owner would also assist Andy in his case, most likely seeing a future sale for himself.
So after another unsuccessful attempt as they were leaving the hall Andy blew his top and closed the iron gates on a surprised Pat and refused to let him out until he gave some cash. The strategy worked and a week or so later he gave £150. As a further surreal footnote to the story, Pat had just ‘earned’ the 150 quid for appearing on a kids Saturday morning TV show hosted my Timmy Mallet in Dundee one week.
Andy repaid Peem’s support by heading straight up the Lochee Road to the shop there and purchasing a Peugeot 531 Professional frame that he’d been admiring for months in the window. Andy kept the Raleigh ‘Banana’ for a few months longer to let some of the Dundee cycling fraternity view the mangled bike which he’d only had for a few weeks; let them see what Pat Baigrie was capable of. (later the same year Pat tried to disqualify me from a time trial! - see September 1988)
It was an incredible and memorable ride by Bob Kilhooley which was marred at the end because of a puffed up chief commissaire named Pat Baigrie.
Lost in Paradise
The next day, the Monday evening, a good size bunch headed west to Perth: Jon Fenwick, Derek McFadden, Tony Hastie, Eddie Flynn, Phil Brown and Dave McGowan. It was breezy and cool but the sunlight was fantastic. We made Perth quickly and climbed out of the fair city towards the south. At the top of the hill, Tony Hastie suggested we take a ‘short cut’ to Newburgh. Some people muttered that there was no through road, no bridge that way across the River Earn, but Tony was adamant. I guess some of the older riders would have probably known there was no way through but Dave McGowan was the oldest and he said nothing. I knew from studying maps that there was no route but I secretly hoped I was wrong and being such a beautiful evening, it was a good chance to take in some very rarely visited roads. We climbed and dropped, rose and fell and Newburgh loomed closer and closer. “There it is!” said Tony, “See!” “Yeah but there is no way across the water,” came the reply. The light and countryside was achingly beautiful and even though there was no through road, no mystery bridge, it did not matter because it only meant we were out in this landscape longer. The road curved back inland towards Bridge of Earn and we’d gone about 10 miles instead of one mile on the main road. The Fife coast road along the Tay was as glorious as ever, perhaps more so with the red, fading light bathing the wooded slopes. We rolled up and down, one comfortable smooth bunch.
Back in Wormit, Dave McGowan punctured. He waved us on, told us not to wait, because it was getting dark. It was 9:55pm when I got home. A neat and unforgettable 65 miles under the belt. How lucky to live this life.
Earle Wilson and I have this phrase we use every so often when we talk about cycling: “Stupid sport.” Why? Well it is. It’s epic and larger than life. It blends technology with human potential and character to create something beautiful and fascinating. I recall in those early years of riding for me when a large bunch of hungry riders swarmed over the top of Loch Na Craige and descended on the small town of Aberfeldy below, “like Demons.” It’s a good descent, wide open road and the bends are shallow and don’t need much use of the brakes providing you have the nerve. We’d been relatively gentle with each other on the gradual climb, but on the descent all hell broke loose and attacks went left and right. Guys tried to dive into the slipstreams of cars and overtook each other like motorbikes, facing off oncoming traffic with the confidence of a juggernaut driver.
At the cafe we were all hyper, buzzing with endorphins and rare mixes of body chemicals that arise from the heady mix of physical effort, fine-grain skill and death defiance. Dave McCallum, the governor, the shameless elder statesmen of Dundee bike men, strolled in the door, beaming a smile belying his 50 years, and proudly pronounced, “We were like demons coming down there, gentlemen, we were like demons!”
Indeed we were!