It was a Super Saturday at the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships, with Fin Graham and the tandem of Jenny Holl and Sophie Unwin claiming more medals as the Para-Road events in Dumfries come to a close; while Cameron Mason and Isla Short were flying the saltire in the Elite Cross Country events at Glentress Forest.
Fin Graham battled the horrific conditions that Saturday morning brought to Dumfries, with torrential rain and a blustery wind, it was tough going for the entire Men’s C3 peloton.
Great Britian teammate Ben Watson and French rider Peyroton had a sizeable advantage on the chasers halfway through the 64km course, but Graham managed to attack and bridge the 45 seconds gap to the leaders.
The Strathpeffer rider, and his fellow two escapees gained an advantage of over 90 seconds on the chasing peloton with 15km to go, which set up an exciting finish with the three each giving it their all to claim the rainbow jersey.
Graham countered an attack by the Frenchman on the climbs, with Watson attacking several times, but none of the moves were able to stick.
It came down to the sprint as they entered the Crichton Estate for the final time with Graham powering away from Peyroton and retaining his title as the men’s C3 road race World Champion.
On retaining his title, the Scot said:
“It’s really special, after missing out by such a close margin in the time trial on Thursday, which was devastating. To be able to come here and take the title and defend the jersey from last year, it means so much and its typical Scottish conditions for it as well. To come across the line and have my hands up in the air was so nice.”
Jenny Holl and Sophie Unwin were in action once again in the Women’s B Road Race, with the duo looking to add to their medal haul, with three gold medals on the track and a silver in the time trial already won.
An early attack from the Polish tandem proved to stick as the peloton struggled to control the racing, with many tired legs from the previous week’s efforts. The Irish tandem also attacked on the penultimate lap, after recovering from a puncture, with Holl and Unwin in the much-reduced bunch.
It would come down to the bunch sprint into the Estate, with the afternoon bringing much more pleasant conditions for the riders, Holl and Unwin led the sprint out from the front and were not overtaken to claim bronze. A fifth medal of these Championships for the tandem, and perhaps more importantly an additional Champs Coo to join the herd.
Isla Short capped a fine week of mountain bike action with a strong ride in the Elite Women’s XCO, feeding off her huge local fan base to move through the field the whole way.
Having already contested the MTB Marathon last weekend, and the Short Track (XCC) on Thursday – in the latter she rode to a career best 13th place – she knew what to expect from the track and the support.
Having learnt to ride on the trails of Glentress, and being able to see the course from her window, this was a special week for the pocket rocket, admitting afterwards that she was emotional and physically exhausted. But she left it all out there and could be proud of her performance.
Gridded 52nd, Short picked riders off the whole way, to flip that number around and come home in 25th place. 37th after the first full loop, she slowly chipped away before a super strong last two laps saw her move up, firstly to 30th and then on the last lap into the top 25.
Of her efforts, she said:
“I’m really happy with how I approached this week. I knew it was going to be big emotionally, and I just had to balance that and manage it, and I feel like I did the best I could – the whole crowd was just mental! To race three different disciplines in front of a home crowd, I’ll never get to do that again – it’s been so special.”
On her ride in the Short Track, she added:
“I didn’t think I was going to race it and I signed on last minute – I’m honestly so excited about that and it was definitely the highlight of my week!”
A few hours later it was Cameron Mason’s turn to take to the start line in the Elite Men’s race, but unfortunately lady luck wasn’t on his side, as he came down in a crash on the start straight.
On the back foot from that point onwards, Cameron kept his composure but had to expend a lot of energy to catch the back of the field and start to move up. Fuelled by the cacophony of noise that echoed around Glentress Forest, Mason moved up over the first four of his eight laps, to occupy 53rd by the halfway mark.
Despite digging deep, he paid for his early efforts to chase back on, ultimately crossing the line in 65th position. Reflecting on his race, he said:
“I got caught up in the start line crash and someone’s pedal went in my spokes and my head went down a little bit – I’ve prepared so well for this race – this was the one where I just wanted to smash it – all week I was feeling so good in practice.
“From that point I didn’t let my head drop too much and just tried to push forward. I got up to about 50th but clearly didn’t have the legs today.”
Asked what his biggest takeaway from the week was, Mason added:
“The power of sport in Scotland. There’s so many people and so much passion involved in putting on something like this. We [the athletes] are the final cherry on top, as before we even get to the start line there are thousands of people to thank for putting something like this on, and the fans who’ve come out to support us. It doesn’t happen by accident.
“The sport will come back to Scotland – there is no denying that everyone is so impressed with what Scotland has put on and I can’t wait for World Cups to be back here in the future.”