Scottish Classics

teacakeThe Scottish Road Racing scene changes significantly every year, races come & go, others seem to have been with us forever. But very few of the multitude of past & present road races are universally accepted as having the ‘Scottish Classic’ label attached to them. It’s probably about time to take a fresh look at some possible reasons why we’re losing these races & what we can do to create races for the modern era, with a sustainable format & room for growth, a true ‘Future Classic’.

Past Classics

I asked a question on Twitter & Facebook, “Which races do you consider to be the Scottish Road Classics, now, and in the past?”

The responses were particularly interesting, most riders viewed the races which influenced them in their ‘form-years’, not necessarily the ones that stood the test of time. A few events were brought up time & again, but if we asked a group of riders of varying ages to name the top 5 Scottish Classic road races, we’d probably end up with a very heated debate, potentially a fight. It appears that we personally determine a ‘Classic’, its predominantly an opinion formed from a generational perspective.

With the small amount of spectators at domestic events, you probably have to be there to experience them, it follows that if you’re there, you’re probably a rider in that particular era, so you’re going to inevitably choose races you actually rode in. Event officials have experienced many events over decades, so in theory may have a better perspective of the answer to the question, but our ‘Classic’ definition isn’t formed from an onlookers point of view, it’s from the battle within the race & how that felt, win or lose. We need think about how we define what we mean by describing a road race as a ‘Scottish Classic’.

Races that cropped up a few times, were the now defunct Glasgow-Dunoon, The Girvan, Tour of the Kingdom, Inverness-Elgin, Tour of Clydeside, while The Drummond Trophy, Davie Bell & Sam Robinson are classics that still exist. This is by no means the full list, just a handful that were mentioned, so don’t go sending me any letters.

Classic Definitions

One particular repeated characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’ is distance, with the 100 mile barrier being mentioned a few times as helping a race become a classic, but distance alone is no measure of monumental status. Over the years the distance of most races has reduced, racing is faster, but potentially less of the endurance test it was for the previous generation of racers. I’m not convinced that distance can define a true future Scottish classic.

Another is ‘point-to-point’, with these events being another example of a classic format. These used to make up a significant part of the calendar, but are now absent. Constraints of crossing regional borders, police permissions, marshalling & the logistics of getting riders back to the start likely stop these taking place. I have suggested a Tour of Scotland in a previous blog, this may be the only viable option for point-to-point racing these days, included within a stage race.

Sporting importance is another key characteristic of a ‘Scottish Classic’, the Girvan & Tour of the Kingdom attracted some of the UK’s finest riders, allowing our home-grown talent to compete on our roads against the best riders we could find in the British Isles. The ability of races to attract a top quality field is important for definition, at the very minimum they have to be open to Elite category riders.

Essentially, a ‘Scottish Classic’ is a completely different beastie to a classic defined in Europe. Continental Classics are seen as culturally significant, part of a country’s sporting mindset, so comparing those with ours isn’t where I’m looking. We need to redefine what we are actually expecting from these events in Scotland.

Sad Loss

There’s many reasons our events disappear, we can probably condense these down to a few simple points.

Manpower is required to run big events, if you consider how clubs have changed over the years, you can imagine that there are a lot fewer individuals likely to give up as much as their time as in previous years. Many club members don’t just cycle, they’re involved in all sorts of sport & non-sport clubs, they have added time committed to their offspring’s growing leisure & social commitments too. Standing at the side of the road all day probably isn’t seen as a good use of time, by them or their families. Race design has to be set against that backdrop, you have to make the time commitment appropriate to the modern way of life. A very long race which demands more manpower (our 100-mile-plus old-time ‘Classic’) would gather a handful of willing helpers, while a morning only event would allow most club people to help out, it doesn’t infringe on their child collection time or Sunday roast dinner. Obviously, unless you can pay your helpers something for their time.

The rise of veteran racing over the years has probably had a detrimental effect on the availability of individuals who would previously have taken over the reigns of club  ‘race organiser’. Rather than being clubmen, there are huge amounts of riders now racing into their 60’s, or later. Don’t get me wrong, the old boys staying at a level of fitness that embarrasses riders half their age is a good thing, I’m just pointing out that this cultural change has also contributed to the lack of experienced riders willing to design races which could meet the ‘Classic’ tag. These riders have the knowhow, potentially the organisation skills from the workplace, and the vision to construct a race of a very high standard, it’s just they they’re all still racing & giving the young men a pasting!

Complications & bureaucracy like risk assessments, insurance, permissions, booking equipment & HQ’s, race convoys & the task which carries most hearsay & negativity, the marshalling, all help to put people off running an event, or increasing the status of their current event. This is all very understandable, it can seem like a daunting task for the newcomer, but often the perception is worse than the reality if the club is supportive, if the club treats the organiser like a leper as soon as they take the job on, well, that’s a different kettle of fish……

Tradition can be a killer for an event, but can also be its saviour, especially in the case of memorial events. If we look at some of our remaining ‘Classics’, they have potentially endured due to a name being attached to them. This can create a commitment from people who may have known the individual on the trophy, by helping to find an organiser or taking an active role themselves. Either way, it creates an emotional attachment to a race, it allows it to endure. In one way a memorial race will struggle to develop beyond a certain point, the title may prevent this by removing the possibility of naming it after that big name sponsor you’ve finally found, or associating its name with a region or council who are willing to fund a major event. So it’s a double-edged sword, a memorial event probably allows endurance, but can impede development. A tricky situation which has to be handled well.

Money. The bigger the event, the bigger the pot of cash that’s required. A Premier Calendar event requires a significant prize fund & has to carry a Temporary Traffic Regulation order as a minimum. The minimum prize fund is currently £2000, which has dropped from a higher sum very recently, you can’t get this from entry fees alone, so to run these types of events you need some cash from sponsorship. Finding this money year after year is a big issue, the Girvan had to move from its traditional location, to Dumfries & become the Tour DoonHame in order to secure regional support. Events can grow to a certain size, attain our coveted & emotional ‘Scottish Classic’ status, then disappear due to funding. For the organisers who’ve made their event reach a certain level, then lose some funding, it’s often not in their nature to drop their event a level & to feel like they’ve taken a step back, so the events disappear. Big events require funding, but more importantly they require a driven team of people, if the funding is reduced through no fault of these people, then it’s understandable that their drive may diminish.

Modern Classics

So we’re looking at our future classic races having some features which help to cement their position on the calendar & hold a place in the racers heart, as a battle worth winning at the top of the domestic race scene. We need these events to have some of the following characteristics.

Prestige: The ability to attract all the top riders from Scotland, or even better, from the whole of the UK. This in turn attracts the much-needed publicity that attracts sponsorship & website or press coverage beyond the live audience.

Sustainability: A model in place which can secure an event for a number of years, whether this is from regional or local council support, a long-term sponsor, or a committed group of individuals who are determined to run the event for a number of years.

Innovation: The organisers of the event need to plan ahead. If you want to create a classic, you need to either have a very good idea, incredible organisational abilities, local support, or all these! Remember that most events on our calendar never attain the ‘Scottish Classic’ status, it requires a plan or incredibly good luck, only one of these can be chosen.

I’d define the 2013 British Road Race as the ultimate Scottish Classic, it will transform into the Commonwealth Games Road Race in 2014, imagine if it continued beyond that? We’d have a pro-level race on a set course, those who witnessed it will discount the various shouts of “it didn’t go over the Crow Road” & such other nonsense. This event was compelling to watch from the side of the road & captured the imagination of the public in vast numbers, it will be even more popular in 2014. As close as we can get to a true continental classic race.

The Jist Of It

We only need a few sustainable & resilient ‘Scottish Classics’, not every event can be a Tunnocks Teacake or Wafer, we also need Rich Tea & Hob Nobs, there’s a place for all events. By experimenting with race formats & moving away from standard events, we can hopefully find our resilient events with the capacity for growth, capable of moving road racing forward by providing headline events which attract the top riders.

What we really need is a well thought out & carefully planned calendar, with a wide cross-section of events, which will allow space for the top-level events to flourish. I attempted to provide a structure to that in a new Road Race League system under the Race Development topic. This in turn would provide the platform for new organisers with fresh ideas to step up & perhaps provide the Classics we all desire at the top rung of the domestic road race scene, along with encouraging our current organisers to continue with their sterling work.

An enduring Scottish Classic for the 21st Century is going to be quite different to the races we enjoyed in the last century. We need to take a step back in Obree-style & redesign them from the ground up, forgetting what we understood them to be in last century. It’s an excellent opportunity to spend some time having a good think about over the winter, who knows what you’ll come up with.

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