Neil Taylor wins Stirling Bike Club’s Battle of the Braes Road Race

I had a spring in my step as I left my wife at home with two grizzling children (thanks Mrs P- again) to cover my club’s Battle of the Braes Road Race. Cruising along the A811, ‘Kippen Flats’ TT course, behind a tractor to the sounds of De La Soul’s Stakes is High was a relaxed way to start.

The race, which started in Callander and was run over a 57 mile course, took in four ascents of the “Braes of Greenock” climb. In this, the race’s 2nd year, the course had been altered to finish at the top of the Braes of Greenock, rather than on the “Mini Braes” near Thornhill, meaning only the strongest would be victorious. Open to 2nd, 3rd and 4th category riders, and with a generous prize fund supported by Stirling Bike Club, it was sure to be a keenly contested.

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A heavyweight course: not to be messed with!

I skipped the roll-out and headed straight for the Arnprior-Port of Menteith section of road to get some pictures of the early action. No KOM here this year, but still a stiff little brae by Nick Nairn’s Cook School would test the riders, not to mention the heavy surface of the Lake road. I was getting excited about haring round the course the wrong way and seeing it all unfold. Time for some more energetic music, and on went Supergrass’ I Should Coco.

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Nick Nairn is a keen cyclist himself

A break of five riders got away early in the race, taking a lead of 20 seconds where I saw them on the Lake of Menteith road. Two Endura/Pedal Power riders, Jordan Stokes and Dougie Young, were joined by Jason Roberts of Glasgow Wheelers, Craig Holmes of Glasgow Nightingale and Lindsay Gordon of thebicycleworks.com. I’d like to know where the break got away- Thornhill to Port of Menteith is rolling, with a few short shallow climbs.

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Endura/PP have been physically and tactically strong this year, getting guys in breaks and attacking at good moments. But it seemed rather soon to be pushing on, with three and a half laps of the Braes circuit to go. However there were KOM points to be claimed and Scott McCrossan sitting pretty in the bunch.

The escapees led the race during the first long loop around Port of Menteith, Arnprior and Thornhill, and began the first of three and a half shorter laps with some 30 seconds advantage. These short laps took in four ascents of the Braes of Greenock’ and ‘Mini Braes’ climbs and it would be a stiff test to stay out in front to the finish.

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Mansize Rooster Rich Semple leading the chase

The first time up the Mini Braes saw points on offer for the King of the Mountains competition, with Jordan Stokes taking 4, and Jason Roberts and Dougie Young also scoring. But behind the bunch, several riders were already sitting up straight at the back of the bus. The course and the pace- higher than last year- already proving too much.

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After the first climb up the Braes of Greenock, the breakaway riders were already being reeled in. I had turned back to the corner at the bottom of the Braes, and arrived with only a few seconds to spare before the riders flew past. A thrilling way to see the race.

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The break is almost caught (but not by the fuzz)

I continued on up the Braes of Greenock and had time to stop, take some notes and chat to race supremo Eddie Cowle. The Granite City soigneurs were also there, cheering on their men and taking photo and video footage. Thanks to Mrs Ali Watt whose pictures I have used on this blog before.

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The second time up this climb saw more King Of The Mountains points available. Veli-Matti Raikkonen of Granite City RT took 4 points, followed by Tom McDonald of Lomond Roads, with ex-escapee Jason Roberts adding to his tally.

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With the KOM prime coming only two thirds of the way up the climb, other riders put the pressure on to try to establish a split and Neil Taylor of ERC got an advantage. Leading solo at the summit he eased back slightly, but was joined by Richard MacDonald of Stirling Bike Club, and the pair began to work together. They stayed in front for a further lap, establishing a lead of 1 minute 25 seconds at one point. At the KOM prime on lap 3, Taylor took 4 points and with them the overall King of the Mountains prize.

Taylor and MacDonald: Image by Ian Henderson

After 3 full laps of the Braes circuit, the breakaway pair began the Mini Braes climb for the fourth and final time, ahead of the summit finish on the Braes of Greenock. At this point MacDonald was running out of gas and urged his breakaway companion to go for the win. The gap was down to 25 seconds and it was now do-or-die for Taylor, who had to press on alone. The Edinburgh rider had recently returned from a stay in the Pyrenees where he had secured a start in a local race up Superbagn√®res. He hoped that this Hors Categorie climbing would pay off in the hills of Stirlingshire. Don’t lose it now, he must have been telling himself.

Lap 3 chasing bunch

Behind, the 2010 winner, Ali McNicol of thebicycleworks.com attacked the chasers, stringing out the remainder of the bunch, but was not able to maintain a gap and bridge to the leader. MacDonald was caught and ahead Neil Taylor held on for victory, but with his advantage crumbling he crossed the line only a few seconds in front of Tom MacDonald of Lomond Roads who took 2nd. Veli-Matti Raikkonen of Granite City RT completed the podium.

Neil Taylor ERC

After the prizegiving it was time to go. There were some tired riders who, after racing hard today and for several months, could do with having a lie down on the sofa (of my lethargy). But there was still the Scottish Crit Champs to come on the Sunday, and a few other big races to come like the Lammermuirs and the Tour de Trossachs- the season’s not over yet!

Top 10
1. Neil Taylor Edinburgh Road Club 2nd 2:25:04
2. Tom McDonald Lomond Roads CC V3
3. Veli-Matti Raikkonen Granite City RT 2nd
4. Tim Blathwayt Veloclub Edinburgh 3rd
5. Andrew Whitehall Glasgow Wheelers 3rd
6. Scott McCrossan Endura/Pedal Power 2nd
7. Alastair McNicol www.thebicycleworks.com 2nd
8. Roman Bardzik Granite City RT 3rd
9. Tommy Murray Glasgow Wheelers 2nd
10. Jordan Stokes Endura/Pedal Power 2nd

KOM Neil Taylor
-full results to follow

More pictures by Rob Wilkins
Ian Henderson’s pictures