This report was first published on the 5th June 2011.
The 46th David Bell Memorial Road Race lived up to its promise as epic, when pre-race favourite James McCallum flew across the gravel roads to win on Sunday. The event, promoted by Ayr Roads Cycling Club / Harry Fairbairn BMW was billed as the hardest single day road race in Scotland, and with only 35 finishers of the 80 strong start sheet no one was going to claim otherwise!
Riders enjoyed good conditions as they signed on at the race headquarters in Straiton, just a dry light breeze from the east. As the convoy rolled out and the race hit the opening circuit around a short nine mile loop to loosen up the legs there was an explosion of activity. The race didn’t dip below 30mph once, as an attack by Matt MacDonald (thebicycleworks .com) and Callum Wilkinson (Endura Racing) looked like a dangerous move.
A good crowd based itself in Straiton to cheer as the riders passed through their village on the way to the D&J Dunlop Hill prime on the Largs climb. Despite featuring so early in the race many top riders were already being spat out the back as the young mountain bike star Grant Fergusson (Boardman Elite) showed off the strength that had netted him a top result at the Offemberg World Cup event the week before.
The convoy had no trouble negotiating the difficult right hand junctions through Dalmellington towards Loch Doon as local Police did a superb job of helping the many marshals with traffic. As the race hit the banks of Loch Doon, event organisers had goosebumps all over – after nine months of organisation the sight of a full peloton racing along under the shadow of the Merrick was breathtaking! Pity the riders who had no chance to admire the scenery; with the countdown to the Forest Road beginning there was attack after attack to ensure the strongest men were on the front and out of trouble. Service vehicles were fully deployed as riders succumbed to a quick succession of punctures – even before the gravel track began!
At full speed past Loch Riecaw and on to Loch Braden, the race was easily recognisable by the big clouds of dust followed the riders. A group of fifteen gained an advantage before returning to the road, just as Kenny Armstrong, the only remaining home rider suffered an ironic puncture just metres before the tarmacadam re-started!
Coming into the Sinclair Scott Sprint at Straiton for the final lap, Callum Wilkinson showed off the skills that marked him out as a pre-race favourite. On the climb a group of four broke away including McCallum, Wilkinson, Peter Murdoch (Team Cyclelane) and Scott MacCrae (Leslie Bike Shop). No one in the diminished 25 rider peloton seemed willing to chase, and the gap quickly established itself at 90 seconds. By the time the race returned to Loch Doon the gap was still growing at over two minutes. Fed up waiting, Gordon Murdoch (Team Cyclelane) made a bold solo bid to counter the attack and had a well established gap of 45 seconds by the time the pack returned to the Forest Drive.
While James McCallum was vying to launch his solo bid to glory at the front, it was local heroes Trevor Wilson (Dales CRT) , Gareth Barnes and Neil Walker (both Walkers CC) who were putting in valiant rides to stick with strong men such as Commonwealth Games runner up George Atkins (Velo Ecosse) and Neil Souter (GS Metro). Climbing up to Loch Braden exhaustion was evident, as riders struggled to keep traction and momentum on the loose gravel. Grant Fergusson reported to have popped as he disappeared from view in the official race car mirrors.
Up front James McCallum was turning a 20metre gap into over a minutes lead as he flew down the descent of Tairlaw. As marshal Paul Torrance observed at the notorious S-bend over Tairlaw bridge ‘That lad McCallum can go round a corner’!
Behind him Peter Murdoch was putting in a courageous effort to rejoin the remains of the break following a puncture, while behind brother Gordon soldiered on alone – now over a minute clear of the bunch.
McCallum turned into Straiton to a huge cheer, time to salute to the sky and dedicate the win to his wife’s late grandfather. A little later Peter pipped MaCrae and Wilkinson for 2nd place, and Gordon got a hero’s welcome for his super fifth place solo effort.
First finisher from the home club was Kenny Armstrong in 29th position, after losing time waiting for service.
Councillor Ann Galbraith was on hand to present the winner with the stunning slate trophy, specially commissioned for the event. A visibly delighted James McCallum was quick to praise the organising team, and more especially Councillor Galbraith for her help and support preparing the race circuit.
Having cited the Davie Bell as the one Scottish race he ‘had to win’, winner McCallum told Ayr Roads to “Keep pushing the boundaries, today was awesome and epic! The trophy is ace too!” – before spraying the organiser Chris Johnson with Champagne
6th place finisher Eddie Addis of Velo Ecosse praised the post race catering as “Awesome! I’ll be back next year”
Walkers Cycling Duo Gareth Barnes and Neil Walker called the course ‘visionary’, both delighted with top 20 results.
The next major event fixture of Ayr Roads Cycling Club is the Scottish Hill Climb Championships on the 23rd October.