Keith McRae visits the Crit on the Campus

KM2_05Once upon a time in a land far far away… well, not that far away, just a couple of hours drive, in the shadow of the Wallace monument sits the beautiful Stirling University.

Having never been there before, it took me by surprise: normally, an edge of town uni consists of some halls for students and some bland, boring buildings where you go to learn.

This is not the case with Stirling, it sits in acres of green land, with a loch, some smaller ponds, wildlife everywhere. I recall seeing swans, geese, lots of little birds that I have no idea on and a squirrel.

After arriving on the Saturday night, I ended up driving the course twice, not by intention, but the fact the campus is so large, I got lost.

I eventually found the British Cycling truck and thought I would be safe enough parked up near it, so had some munch and settled in for a night in the van, half past ten came and there was a knock at the window, a large torch shining in and a guy in hi-vis. “Oh no, the police,” I thought, “what have I done?” I need not have worried: it was campus security asking me to move along and after I’d explained why I was there and they explained they just wanted to block off the car park I switched location to the public car park for the rest of the night. Apart from a student relieving himself against my van wheel, the rest of the night passedpeacefully enough.

KM2_045am came, my alarms were sounding, so I got up and moved the van to the warm-up area knowing full well I would be blocked in for the rest of the day, but I needed the van there to have my tools and shelter close to hand had any riders required them.

I went round to the start/finish straight for six o’clock to see what I could do to help set up, got the timing mat and shelter put up, then I was put to work with some tape, to get parts of the course taped off that shouldn’t be accessed during the racing. Then it was on to the podium. It’s not everyday you get your hands on a Commonwealth Games podium and not everyday you wish to do that either – it was quite a weight, if beautifully crafted and a nice touch to the day.

After that I retired back to the van for breakfast and some much needed coffee. It was then some of the youngsters started using the warm up circuit, so I got out and chatted to the parents, bigging up the Women’s Cycling Support Fund that we have going for women in cycling and chatting about the races, the venue and their children.

Before I knew it, the Under 8s were off. I stayed down in the warm up area, because I thought it rude just to march off in mid-conversation. I saw them coming round the course, not many tactics at that age, just flat out from start to finish, no groups formed – solo efforts seemed to be the order of the day in that race.

Next off were the Under 10s, pretty similar, mainly solo efforts with a couple of groups of two or three.

KM2_03The Under 12s were a bit more tactical, with small groups forming and different riders taking turns, you could see as the day went on, where the tactics really start to come into play.

In the Under 14sa decent sized peloton formed with everyone trying to hang in there for as long as possible. Some of the parents told me this is the norma – the older ones go out hard, the younger ones try and form a group behind.

I rarely get to see so many age groups racing, so it was great to see so many young kids getting out of bed on a Sunday morning to slog round a course with the aim of just finishing the race.

Final youth race of the day was the Under 16s. I know quite a few of the riders in these races, having seen their progress from the Under 14 category, so there were a few names I could pick out and cheer for.

Firstly, the winner of the boys under 16. Joe Nally, he’s been on my rader for quite a while. He’ll be one to watch in a couple of years when he starts in the mens races, there’s nothing to him in terms of size, but boy does he have the skill and power you expect for a top rider. He currently rides for Hardie Bikes under Craig Hardie, himself not a bad cyclist. If he laid off the Jaffa Cakes, haha.

KM2_02The winner of the girls under 16 was Rhona Callander, a Stirling local, who did well to hang in with the boys most of the race, as she normally does – in fact in a couple of races, she’s beaten a lot of the field of boys. Another one to stick on your watch list if you follow riders from a young age right through.

After all the youths had raced, it was the turn of the Cat. 4 riders. Split into two races because of the sheer number that had entered, it is great to see so many entering races and another race put on to provide for them. I’m not up on my cat 4 riders, but the races were won by Douglas Ferguson, in a sprint with Paul Sharp (Hardie Bikes). Race two, Steven Bunting (Aberdeen Wheelers CC) came second by the smallest of margins to Richard Warnock (Glasgow Green CC).

Then it was time for the main event. Well at least it was in my schedule – the women’s race, the whole reason I went to Stirling. The biggest field to take to a startline in Scotland since the Commonwealth Games and only second to the field that started the British Championships – 45 riders were on the startlist, with 36 of those lining up to take the start.

KM2_01The pace was high from the beginning. Kayleigh Brogan (Aprire/HSS Hire) and Louise Borthwick (Project 51) took turns on the front, which shed quite a few riders out the back. Leaving some big names to take turns at keeping the pace high, Eileen Roe (Wiggle Honda), the current British crit champion, Charline Joiner (Team WNT) and Claire Martin (Team 22) all kept a close eye at the front of the race and continued to do so for a number of laps with various other riders also involved. Flora Gillies (Project 51) and Ellen McDermott (Team WattCycle) hung in a few wheels back, but remained very much in contention.

As soon as the 40 minute time was up and the lap board showing 5 laps to go went out, the pace dropped a lot and everything began to get very tactical with no-one willing to hold the front for very long at all as everyone wanted to keep a close eye on Roe. This drop in pace allowed a number of riders who had formed a group off the back of the main bunch to close and eventually join up, making one large peloton. This had a knock-on effect, with some less experienced riders trying to get to the front of the group and have a turn.

With two laps to go, the pace went back in, with everyone trying to vie for that one line into a corner. This, unfortunately, caused an accident in the final corner when Roe came round and her tyres let go, leaving Borthwich and Brogan nowhere to go and putting all three out of contention – a pity, as they’d all been at the forefront of the race from the start. Joiner came through the chaos to take the win, followed by Gillies and McDermott, with Claire Martin fourth.

KM2_06Roe, Borthwick and Brogan got up following the crash to come home 15th, 16th and 17th – not the outcome any of them would have wanted and emotions ran high because of this.

The men’s race was fast and furious. Four riders got away at the start and stayed away, despite strong riders from Arthur Doyle (Dooleys Cycles) and Davie Lines (Velosure Starley Primal) to reel them back in. The win would go to Evan Oliphant (Raleigh GAC) in a sprint with Peter Murdoch (Neon-Velo), closey followed by their breakaway compatriots Fraser Martin (Spokes Racing) and Steven Lawley (Neon-Velo).

The day was rounded off with some podiums, which I was stood 30 foot from. A safe distance, I thought, so I could take some good snaps and avoid the champage spray. I was right about that because not a drop reached me, but I wasn’t quite far enough away to avoid the cork that Joiner fired out of her bottle straight into my head!

A great days racing, and I thouroughly enjoyed my journey down and back. If you can, keep 14th June clear in your diary, another great even hosted by Stirling Bike Club,Crit Under The Castle. It forms part of Scottish Cycling’s Alba race series and is also the Scottish Crit Championships.

Come along and cheer on the riders, better still, get over to British Cycling and sign yourself up for the race, I was there spectating last year and enjoyed the event very much.

Women’s results here

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Text and photos © Keith McRae