Vanishing Point!

Alistair Speed Memorial 50 (incorporating SVTTA Harry Roberts)

words and images: The Press Room

Ali Speed

It’s every organiser’s nightmare: everything is in place and all the t’s have been crossed…and then a set of roadworks appears. Compound that however with nine different sets of roadworks dropping onto the course, anywhere from two weeks before the event right up to the day before and you begin to understand just some of the problems faced by Mhairi Laffoley and her team at Fife Century.

Just as in the Stuart Turvey Memorial, if the race had been cancelled, we’d all have understood but, again, this was no ordinary time trial. The Fife 50 was changed to the Ali Speed Memorial 50-Mile TT to mark the passing of a man who epitomised all that we’ve come to expect from the bedrocks of our cycling community.

Ali Speed and his nephew Gavin Laffoley, Fife Century RC (image supplied by Mhairi Laffoley)

I never met Ali…but I feel like I did because Mhairi has told me so many stories, and I’ve heard of lots of exploits from others too. There might be those among you who will read this and think that I’ve missed so many important elements of the man but my experiences come from understanding what he meant to those around him.

Like many of us, Ali was introduced to the sport at an early age, by his dad Archie, and pretty soon he’d joined the Fife Century. They were a real cycling family and he grew to find a special place in the cycling community in Fife and beyond. It gave him immense pride to see his nephew Gavin follow his lead into cycling and into the Fife Century. To listen to Mhairi talk about him is to understand just how keenly his loss is still felt by those close to him.

Others though mention him in casual conversation which helps to make the point about how central he was to cycling in this part of the world.

Alan Thomson speeding back towards Auchtermuchty at 47mph!

The course initially seems complicated as it approaches the Melville Lodges roundabout three separate times and from two different directions but it could be summed up by saying “left first time, straight on second time, and right on the third.”

Leaving Freuchie and heading north, the course took the left fork and went through Giffordtown and Kinloch before the left turn onto the main A91 road heading west…and straight into the blustering headwind. As the riders headed down to Milnathort they passed the point where Alistair was killed, on a road that he knew like the back of his hand and this would have been in the minds of those who have ridden this event every year since, in his honour.

Early out, late back! Martin Lawson and David Kirton

Heading back from the turn at Milnathort the riders picked up the incredible tailwind and literally shot back through Gateside and Auchtermuchty on the road to the Melville Lodges for the first time. We spoke to Alan Thomson afterwards and he said he realized he had to back-off when he saw that his speed was sitting at 47mph, scared that he might overcook before turning north.

Up to the Parbroath Junction where Mick Nally was helping see the riders through the sharp left-hander, the riders then made for Lindores before turning south and climbing away from the loch, back over the rolling hills before descending to quite possibly the most difficult junction of all at Trafalgar.

The marshals there, like the rest of the course, did a fantastic job to keep the riders safe as they dealt with competitors coming down the hill and onto the main road while the later starters were still approaching from the west…top marks guys!!

Superb performance by all the marshals on a tricky course!

Onto the roundabout again, straight through and then a left turn just up the road at the Bow of Fife. Nature reserve on both sides before turning left and back to the roundabout for the final time. Now it was into the wind again for the short run back to Trafalgar, turning left and up the short rise…there’s a warning sign for ‘ducks’, probably meant specially for Kyle Gordon on this course!

A run-down to Heatherhall Woods where the riders turned right onto the back road, left at the triangle and then the short final dash for the line.

As is tradition now, there was no number 1, left vacant in Ali’s honour and then proceedings were kicked off by Martin Lawson of the Dundee Thistle. We’d set up just west of Auchtermuchty where we could catch the riders going in both directions and Martin was the first to come past. Second man off, and another to have ridden every running of Ali’s TT, was Dave Kirton (Kennoway RC). We’ve mentioned Dave always shouting “thank you” as he passes but we also realized that he shouts “good morning” to other riders as they pass each other. We were also told of a time when Dave carried a can of beer in his bottle cage and Ali had to intervene to stop him being disqualified…but we’ll save that for another time.

Stuart Ashley passing Scott McCord before illness struck

The fastest rider of the early starters was undoubtedly Stuart Ashley (Loch Leven Cycles RT) as he swept past riders on the way out to Milnathort. He was still looking sleek on the way back but unfortunately illness struck a short time later and he had to retire.

There were a couple of fast riders up early in the proceedings with David Ross (Falkirk BC) being the early pacesetter. He finished in a time of 1:55:09 and held the top spot on the board for the best part of 40 minutes, eventually claiming 5th overall.

Brian Muir speeds to the SVTTA Harry Roberts!

Another early turn of speed came from the Royal Albert’s Brian Muir as he churned a huge gear into the wind. He finished in 1:57:37, good enough for 11th position in the end. Forgetting that this race also incorporated the SVTTA Harry Roberts, Brian had headed off before he was later told he’d won that competition.

Another early starter was Orkney CC’s Olga Hamilton who finished in 2:17:26 and while this saw her finish in 40th spot, she claimed the prize for the best V40 Woman. Running behind her on the road, but ahead on the watch, was another Royal Albert rider, Joanne Clark. Her 2:16:01 put her in 37th position overall but saw finish as 2nd best woman. There was no stopping Patricia Baird (Inverclyde Velo) though as she took just over a minute and a quarter out of Joanne to come home in 2:14:45 and take the top award for best Woman.

Patricia Baird powers to victory

Another early starter was local rider, Kinross CC’s Miriam Rennet, and her time of 2:23:19 saw her win the V50 prize.

(l) Olga Hamilton, V40 winner (r) Miriam Rennet, V50 winner

We were watching for Ali’s lifelong friend Graham Jones (Edinburgh RC) and he came by in his usual superbly aero position. His 2:08:30 would eventually see him take 24th position overall on what must have been quite an emotional ride.

Two riders to have ridden every running of the Ali Speed Memorial: (l) Paul Hornby and (r) Graham Jones, Ali's friend from the age of 8

Ali’s nephew Gavin Laffoley (Fife Century RC) was also off relatively early and we could only feel for him when he passed the place on the road where we lost Ali Speed. Gavin’s 2:17:40 was a decent ride but his day wasn’t really about the time.

Following in the footsteps: Ali's nephew Gavin Laffoley riding for the Fife Century

Special mention to a couple of Fife stalwarts: Sandy Wallace (Fife Century RC) punctured down at Milnathort and was unable to continue while Bioracer-Moriarty Bikes’ Ross Thomson snapped a gear cable and couldn’t give it his best. It was great to see Scottish Cycling's Paul Zarb there wearing his commissaire's hat and representing his Kinross club. He collected Sandy and got him back to the HQ.

Fife regulars: Sandy Wallace (l) and Ross Thomson (r) both suffered mechanicals

We were into the last of the fast riders now and it was a toss-up between Eddie Addis (RT23), Jason Roberts (Bioracer-Moriarty Bikes) and Andrew Underwood (Carse of Gowrie Velo) as to who was going fastest. Watching them speed back in the opposite direction there really wasn’t much in it, Andrew Underwood possibly a shade faster at this point.

Eventual second fastest rider, Andrew Underwood was looking smooth and fast

There was a standout rider at this point though…Alan Thomson (RT23) has ridden this race every year since Ali died and he’s been desperate to do him justice by winning it. And every year he’s come close…seconds and a third stopping him from picking up the trophy. This year though, he was measuring his effort and was looking focused all the way around.

(l) Jason Roberts takes 3rd in his first ever 50 and (r) Eddie Addis shows his all-round skill by coming 4th

We repositioned to the Trafalgar junction and marveled at the way the marshals ensured that the riders coming down the hill were able to track safely onto the main road…a top job from these guys, not to mention the stories they were telling us about Ali.

Alan Thomson approaches the line and victory!

A final set-up at the finish line enabled us to see some of the riders coming home and it was a privilege to see the final starter Alan Thomson come to the timekeepers in the fastest time of the day. Finishing behind him and topping off the rider list were the two riders that had taken to the course at the beginning of the day, Martin Lawson and Dave Kirton.

A delighted Mhairi Laffoley presents her brother's trophy to Alan Thomson

A quick check of the timesheets and the delight from Mhairi Laffoley was evident when we realized that Alan Thomson had taken the victory with a time of 1:49:04. He was baulked a little by some vehicles on his final run-in and but for that he would surely have gone under the 1:49:00 mark…no matter, again, it wasn't the actual time that was important but rather the victory to mark Ali’s loss.

Andrew Underwood took the 2nd spot with his time of 1:51:28 while Jason Roberts, riding his first 50-mile TT, took third in 1:53:31. Eddie Addis was 4th in 1:54:10 while David Ross finished in 5th with 1:55:09.

Patricia Baird takes the prize for fastest woman

The men’s vets prizes were: Andrew Scott (Musselburgh RCC) in 1:55:43 to take the V40, Angus Wilson (Dundee Thistle) in 1:57:34 for the V50 prize, John Newton (Leslie Bike/Bikers Boutique) in 2:23:50 for the V60 and Robert Brown (EH Star Cycling) in a superb 2:16:47 to claim the V70 prize.

In the Harry Roberts, top spot went to Brian Muir in 1:57:37 plus 24:22, second to Angus Wilson in 1:57:34 plus 21:53, third to Eddie Addis in 1:54:10 plus 20:57 and fourth position to David Ross in 1:55:09 plus 20:27. The team prize to EH Star Cycling with Robert Brown and Bill Groves.

One last prize in common with the earlier Stuart Turvey Memorial is a prize for the rider to get closest to Ali Speed’s best time in this event at this distance (2:07:22) and this year it went to Angus Swanson (Stirling BC) who finished in 2:06:22.

Back at the HQ, as the prizes were presented, the emotion in Alan Thomson’s voice was evident and the smile from Mhairi said it all…Ali Speed would have been immensely proud that all these riders had turned out to race in his memory.

Alan Thomson remembers the man

It seems only fitting that we leave the final moment to the man himself...not everyone would have realised that not only did they pass the site where Ali was killed but his ashes are buried at the finish line just outside Freuchie so that he could see all of the riders finish safely. His final race was the evening before he died and his final conversation with Mhairi was only 40 minutes before the accident. His loss is still very raw to all those fortunate enough to have known him and he'll be remembered for a long time in the Kingdom.

Gone but definitely not forgotten!

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