THE man on the machine triumphed again as cyclist Neil Walker claimed first place ahead of front-runner David Millar in the annual Cyclists v Harriers Race over Irvine Moor on Sunday.
After what seemed like weeks of torrential rain which would appear to favour the men on foot, a dry, sunny day on Saturday, followed by an overnight frost, made a huge difference to the underfoot conditions and this, the 54th running of the event, turned into a terrific duel in the sun between the best cross country runner and the best cyclocross rider in Ayrshire.
Millar, of Irvine Athletics Club, and Walker of Walker's Cycling Club, are regarded as two of the best in their respective sports and both were keen to add to their previous victories in this unique event.
The race starts and finishes in the Marress Playing Fields with two tough laps of Irvine Moor in between, and the cyclists need to dismount and push or carry their bikes on the tarmac paths which link the two areas, while both disciplines also have to surmount the various natural and man-made obstacles which bar their paths.
By the time the leaders had reached the Burns Monument to start the first lap of the moor Millar, Walker and Scott Kerr of Walkers CC had a clear lead on the rest of the field and all three were looking strong.
However after one circuit of the moor Walker had surged to a commanding lead and Millar had opened up a similar gap on third-placed Kerr.
At the finish back at Marress Walker had extended his advantage over Millar to a full two minutes to take the trophy for the second time in three years with a time of 25 minutes 32 seconds.
However the ever-game Millar kept going to claim second spot in 27.42 with Kerr hanging on for third in 28.29.
Fourth place went to Stuart McLean of Walker's in 28.46, just six seconds ahead of young local runner, Lee Wilson, who competes for Shettleston Harriers.
Behind them an Ayrshire trio of runners made up of Irvine's Billy Richardson, Kilmarnock's Iain Connell and Girvan's Stephen Wyllie, who had fought out a monumental battle within a battle for the entire race, ended their personal squabble with Wyllie finishing sixth in 28.59, Connell seventh in 29.09 and Richardson eighth in 29.24.
Scott Russell of Walker's was ninth in 30.54, just nine seconds ahead of North Ayrshire's Athletic Club's Stephen Daye, with Irvine AC pair Alex Allardyce and the ever-improving Willie Morgan 11th and 12th in 31.11 and 31.23 respectively.
The first female runner home was Kara Tait of Kilmarnock who finished 20th in 33.39 and the first female cyclist was Catherine Logan of Walker's, 28th in 35.15.
Other Irvine AC finishers in the 71-strong field were: Joe McNamee (23rd in 34.12), Colin Miller (24th in 34.35), Gordon Thomson (27th in 35.12), Alastair Macfarlane (30th in 35.31), Jim Sneddon (31st in 35.41), Tom Begley (33rd in 35.51), Jim White (36th in 37.05) and Stevie Connell (40th in 37.51).
See Page 83 for the full list of finishing times.
The next event for Irvine AC runners is the Christmas Handicap on Tuesday, December 27 with a 1pm start at Marress.