It’s been three months since I last blogged and the hiatus is largely because I’d totally fallen out of love with cycling and was even considering quitting the sport altogether. Too much negativity and disappointment.

But I’m not very good at quitting. Whilst others have climbed off in races with a volley of excuses (too windy, not at my FTP today, too slow at the turn, couldn’t clip in properly, chain fell off, wrong start position, etc), I never quit. I guess that’s why at this checkpoint in time I have the unique honour of being a Scottish champion at all the standard distances (CTT 10 and 25 miles, SC 50 and 100 miles) along with the middle distance BAR (Best All Rounder – average speed over 25, 50 and 100 miles). All of them have been attritional victories with the exception of 100 miles which contrarily was the easiest race of my my brief career. I also hold the same number of Scottish records – Vet 25 miles, Vet 50 miles, Vet and Senior 100 miles and the fastest ever Scottish BAR (28.297 mph), though oddly Scottish Cycling honour the latter, but not officially the record, so I’ll guess I’ll unofficially make it my own, whilst I can. No, winners don’t quit and don’t make excuses when they don’t perform.

My love affair with cycling was beginning to turn sour for a couple of reasons. The first was the consequence and the accumulative behaviour of various individuals and even groups (I know who they are even if they don’t) whose attitude towards me was becoming increasingly disrespectful and even downright nasty. I just about tolerate being forgotten (though it happens a lot), I seem to have somehow created a habit of being ignored (perhaps it’s because I just let my wheels do the talking), but being subject to devious lies and deceit is simply unacceptable.

I wonder if it’s because I’m short, “nice”, generous and smile a lot, people think I’m a naive little simpleton who’s desperate to please and give away his time and resources for free? Little do they know the real me. You don’t win 27 races and stand on the podium 42 times in 3 years of contiguous racing just by being “nice”. Nope, you need to be a calculating, uncompromising, nocuous, tenacious individual with a core of hardened steel and a diamond centre. Impenetrable, hardened, both mentally and physically. That’s the real me. Being “nice”, takes up a lot of effort and energy. Not any more. No more Mr Nice Guy. Polite will suffice. “The smiling assassin” as my one of my close pals calls me.

My interior is the antithesis of my exterior. Back in late November my partner and I humanely as possible terminated a deer that had been badly damaged and hit by a car. Rather than see it die a slow and painful death in serious sub-zero temperatures, we tried to end its life quickly and with dignity rather than leaving it to be savaged by predators or crunched by more cars (causing more damage and possibly even more accidents on treacherously icy roads). It was a case of lots of fur, blood and lobster gloves and when the poor creature eventually gave up the fight we got back on our bikes and rode home in silence. It wasn’t nice. We tried to make the best of a bad situation. There were no smiles, but it had to be done. Tillydrine bump will never be the same again, nor take 20 minutes to climb.

But I digress. 2017 was also very frustrating season which was centred on a race that got postponed three times and eventually merged with the 100 mile national TT (meaning I had to lose one title or compromise on winning both) before eventually being cancelled. The disappointment took the wind out of my disc wheel. Every race in 2017 had some ridiculous impediment to deal with, the best one being the UCI amateur TT finals where not only wouldn’t the non-English speaking/French listening Commissaire allow (incorrectly) any saddle tilt (thus drastically changing my position that I’d spent all season optimising and adapting), but the race itself on closed roads nearly ended in a DNF when an ambulance passed me, then slowed me down and then tried to run me into a 6 foot trench as I passed (since I still achieved my objective, it’s a reason and not an excuse). So I took my best ever 50/100 miles form out on the Tour of the Trossachs TT (which will be a future post) and whilst the result and the report didn’t tell the true story, I didn’t care. The performance certainly proved that I had found the holy grail of training techniques that will have me competing for podiums in my fifties should I decide to return to racing.

The point I’m trying to make is, appearances can be very deceptive. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. A great example of this was NE Scotland cycling stalwart and commissaire extraordinaire Isobel Smith who sadly passed away at the end of December. I sat this morning in the chapel next to Amanda (we later had a farewell cake each as you can see in the photo) and between the brilliant and touching eulogy and her coffin being taken away to her final resting place we had a moment to reflect. I thought about the day I raced the last 100 mile Scottish TT and the trouble I got into with Isobel for using the disabled toilet. I made my apologies as a walking stick was waved inches from my face. A raging Isobel who in my mind was not so much acerbic, but quite simply a straight talker. She suffered no fools and made no exceptions. A fine role model. She accepted my explanation and contrition (I was desperate and on the verge of a DNS), still telling me off at the same time and then congratulating me later when I signed the piece of paper that details the fastest ever 100 miles in Scotland.

When you first saw Isobel you would immediately think, frail, little old lady who bakes nice cakes and has nothing better to do with her time than volunteer herself for the sake of cycling sport. Quite contrary. We didn’t take Isobel for granted nor did we underestimate her either. She was too sharp for us in more ways than one. Without Isobel a lot of races would have never started. She would turn the tallest, swaggering preening peacock with an ego the size of Dundee into nothing but bubbling rubble if you crossed her or broke the rules (and then hand you a piece of cake). The unsmiling assassin. An incredible lady in more ways than one and the reason why during that moment for reflection at her funeral I fell back in love with cycling. I’ve always lead by example, now it’s time to be lead by example. Isobel Smith your spirit lives on in others.

Time for a change. I have my cycling mojo back. Thank you Isobel!