This week we introduce another two-time winner of the South Carrick David Bell Memorial. Anyone who has hung around the Scottish racing circuit long enough will have been made to suffer by Mr McGarrity at some point. For your correspondent this was the 2002 David Campbell Memorial in Fife. Charging back along the flats from Cupar the bunch was strung out in a big looooooong line. There were no more gears on anyone’s bikes, and gaps opening towards the back – “to think someones actually at the front pushing this on!”. A few hours later there’s Graham sprinting down the hill into Kennoway, arms aloft…
First up; how are you Graham, and how is the leg after that awful smash in 2010?
Almost fully recovered from the accident. I’ve not had that many crashes on the bike but that one certainly made up for that. Strange thing was the only damage to my bike was that the rear mech hanger was slightly bent and I only had a small tear in my shorts, but my femur was broken in five places. I remember the first doctor who saw me kept saying ‘This is a motorcycle injury; you shouldn’t be this bad coming off a bike.’
Although it was obviously a painful experience one positive of my accident was the number of messages of support I received and the number of people who popped in to see me – mostly from members of the Scottish cycling community, many of whom were people I hadn’t seen or heard from in a long time. That was touching and made me realise that Scottish cycling is a good thing to be part of and it also made me want to return to riding and racing as quickly as possible.
I was back in hospital in October for an operation to get the plate and screws removed from my leg. That went well but meant I was back on the crutches for a month. Jason Roberts from the Glasgow Wheelers did the operation and he’s been great in giving me advice on just how far I can push the training. My leg feels a lot better than it did when I had the metal in so I’m hoping that will be reflected in getting some decent results this year. Last year was frustrating as I felt I just didn’t have the necessary power in my left leg. The training’s been going well this winter so we’ll see how the season pans out. Davie Bell is already marked on the calendar.
You won the Davie Bell twice – let’s talk about 1994 first. Already twice national champion, this granted you a hat-trick. Can you remember much about the race?
I remember going into the race hoping for a top 6 finish. I’d picked up a knee injury earlier in the year and had missed a lot of racing so by the time of the championship I’d only done a handful of races. I’m fairly hazy about the first part of the race. What I do remember is that after the Nic and Tairlaw a break of 6 had been established but we were starting to muck about and it looked like we might get caught. I decided to attack, not thinking I’d stay away, but more to try and galvanise the break into action. I ended up staying away for about 10mls, but it had the desired effect and the chasing group didn’t get across. There were a few attacks in the last few miles, with Neil Cameron particularly strong, but nothing was sticking and it came down to a sprint finish which suited me perfectly. The finish was on the road beside the old racecourse in Ayr and was a finish I knew well from previous editions.
Davie Miller made the break that day but he punctured and didn’t get back on; who knows the result might have been different had he not punctured as Davie was the master of getting the jump on you in the last mile when everyone was setting up for a sprint finish.
You were up against Andy Matheson (1990 winner) and Neil Cameron. What did you do right that they didn’t?
Both Andy and Neil had medalled in numerous previous RR champs but both of them had never won. I reckoned that they would be feeling nervous, whereas I’d already won twice so I was a bit more relaxed. I was also confident in my sprint; I didn’t often get beaten in the gallop (although when Andy won in 1990 he beat me by ½ a wheel in the sprint) so really all the pressure was on Andy and Neil. Coming into the finish things slowed down with the usual cat and mouse tactics, everyone watching each other and nobody wanting to make a move. I think Andy panicked, because he jumped first from quite a way out, I got on his wheel and once I’d done that I knew I’d win and I had time to get both hands up which felt good. What I do remember is seeing Neil Cameron, totally frustrated, throwing his helmet away; something I thought was more funny than he did. Neil did eventually win the RR champs a few years later.
Records show you completed the 96 mile hill fest in just 4hrs, 7mins, 7 secs. An average speed of 23.5mph… there can’t have been much hanging around?
As I said I don’t remember much about the early stages of the race, but yes, there was a lot of attacking and no piano and at any point. I do remember I decided to wear a skinsuit (marginal gains and all that) so I must have been expecting a fast race. A few of the guys were ribbing me about the skinsuit, but it just always made me feel fast when I wore one in a RR. Plus it puts the pressure on you as you look pretty daft going out the back with a skinsuit on.
Five years on and you were back with the Scotoil Aberdeen Multisport team to win for a second time. What are your memories of this event?
Like 1994 I hadn’t done much early season racing. I’d packed in racing the year before as I’d just lost interest, wasn’t getting the results and I was getting guilt trips about leaving the family at weekends. I could justify it (to some extent) if I was getting results but I wasn’t, so about May I stopped and didn’t miss it at all. I didn’t stop riding the bike, though and was still going out with the mid week bundy bunch. The 1999 season started and I still had no intention of racing but come about May I was starting to twitch. I was training with guys who were getting results so I thought I’d do the occasional crit. So obviously that meant I entered the Davie Bell!
Again, like 1994, I can’t remember much about the early stages – I think the Nic must numb my brain – but I’m sure the break went early, just after the Heads of Ayr. On the run in there may have been about 10 of us away. On the climb out of Maybole Gary Paterson put in a savage attack which dumped a few guys. I managed to hang on and when I’d done that I saw that I was as strong as anyone else, I knew then I could win; then the thought process changed from concentrating on not getting dropped to ‘I’m winning this’. There were the usual attacks on the run in past Butlins but they all lacked conviction so it was always going to come down to a sprint. Robbie Hassan’s dad, Liam, had been going well that year and had gained a bit of a reputation as a sprinter. Gary Paterson was riding for Active Office, the local race for the team, and he was looking for the win, so I think everyone was expecting one of those two to win. It was a fast finish. I can’t remember who went first but they went early, I got on their wheel and then launched my sprint and I remember thinking I’m going really fast here, there’s no way anyone’s going to get round me and I ended up winning by quite a few lengths. Neil Cameron was in the break that day too, finishing 4th ; he managed to keep his helmet on that that day!
That was a good day. Nobody expected me to win, I didn’t expect to win, my wife and children were there to see the finish and after the race we spent the rest of the day at the beach. Aye, good day.
Who was on your team, and who were you marking?
Ali Watt and Phil Duncan would have been riding. I wasn’t marking anyone in particular. I knew who was going well and knew where the damage would get done in the race.
What did it mean to win the Davie Bell?
A lot. Both times. I’d been training with guys like Davie Miller and Jim Ferrier since I was 16 and they always spoke in reverent terms about the Davie Bell. They’d talk about The Nic, Glenalla, the Screws and these climbs just sounded surreal almost mythical so the Davie Bell has always had an aura and has always had a reputation as being a race only good guys win and a race you want to say you’ve won. The winners of this race are a who’s who of Scottish racing; it feels good being on that list. I first rode the race in 1983 and I’ve ridden it maybe 20 times since then winning twice, getting 2nd once and a few 3rds, 4ths and 5ths.
In recent years the Davie Bell has fought with the David Campbell Memorial for the ‘toughest’ title. As a winner of both (2002 for DC), can you settle the argument for us?
I’ve won the David Campbell twice, 2002 and in 2004 when I took James McCallum in the gallop. But I have to say I reckon the Davie Bell is the more challenging of the two. The DC has got a lot more difficult now with the extra finishing circuits, but I reckon the Nic is the hardest climb in Scottish RRing. Add in the heavy roads, some daredevil descents and an absence of any real flat and the DB has the upper hand in terms of difficulty. VC Astar’s Anderside classic (I won that in 1993) was on a par with the DB but since it moved from Strathaven it’s not now as difficult and the DB is now the hardest race on the Scottish calendar.
Have you had a chance to see the route for the 2012 Davie Bell, and if so what are your first impressions?
I’ve only seen photos of the off road sections and heard from people who rode last year. I was over the Nic and Glenalla with Stuart MacGregor, Paul Rennie and Jim Murdoch a few weeks ago. The roads haven’t got any smoother and the Nic’s still as horrible. The off road sections certainly look ‘interesting’.
Where do you think the race will be won?
Going by what I heard about last year it’s going to be the off road sections that will decide who won’t win, but it’s Scottish racing so the race could be won anywhere.
Who in Scotland do you think has a chance of lifting the title?
Hopefully it will be somebody wearing a Dooleys’ jersey. I know Paul Rennie would love to win, and we’ve got some new blood in the team and the race will be a target for us. James and Evan will obviously be favourites with Robbie Hassan in with a shout. I reckon young Scott McCrossan will be in the mix too. I’ve done a few rides with him over the winter and he’s going well. He’s a bundy man too so he’s got to carry on from Davie Miller and me.
Finally, we are running an Audax based on the Davie Bell route the day before with a prize for best retro bike. Can you tell us about the bike you rode to win in 1994?
It was a Colnago built with Columbus SL steel tubes and had lots of chrome. Equipment was Campag and I’d just started using Ergo levers. I think I’d given up on tubs by then and would probably have been using Veloflex tyres as the team had sponsorship from them. Would have been 53×39 with an 8 block probably 13 -21.
And a wee video of Graham’s famous sprint skills – the 2008 Billy Warnock
Thanks again to Graham for taking time out to share his experiences and photos, and good luck to him and his Dooley’s team who have confirmed their intention to line up for another lap of Scotland’s Toughest Road Race!