Brave hearts, sore heads: the Conquista guide to surviving The Braveheart

Band of Brothers
Band of Brothers
Irish nectar
Irish nectar

Saturday 25th October 2014 saw the 12th Annual Braveheart Fund Dinner & Auction take place in Kilmarnock, just outside Glasgow in Scotland.  The fund was established by former British Road Race Champion Brian Smith and his friend Alan Miller, to raise much-needed funds for young Scottish cyclists who fall outside of the British Cycling official programme.  You can read more details about the good work of the fund and the riders they support here.   There is little doubt of the effectiveness of the fund in supporting talented young riders achieve their ambition and fulfill their potential.  Conquista were once again this year delighted to be able to support in our own small way.

Our weekend started on Friday lunchtime with the four hour drive up to Scotland.  It really was a case of Planes, Trains, Automobiles….and Bikes.  The majority of our party travelled in a two car convoy from Liverpool, other’s arrived on the train, or plane from London.  We were all put to shame however by winner of a stage of the Women’s Tour de France Tanja Slater, who cycled the 188 miles to Kilmarnock from her home in Preston.  The Great and the Good, Bad and Ugly of UK cycling all converging on this little corner of Ayrshire for a weekend of riding, eating, drinking, fun and fundraising.


After a couple of pints of Guinness in the hotel bar, the Friday night calm before the storm is traditionally a fairly quiet meal in the excellent McChristies Restaurant.  Here we were again treated to a delicious three course meal, and possibly the funniest tale I’ve ever heard.  Our guest Nathan Haas @NathanPeterHaas entertained us with a tale of how he was staying with a friend in London and awoke one morning to find an urban fox actually inside their kitchen.  Being a resourceful sort, and an animal lover, he took to “the twitter” for advice on how to humanely remove the uninvited visitor.  The edited highlights are that young GB Pro Tao Geoghegan Hart @taogeoghegan had the inspiration to tweet beardy Namibian Pro Dan Craven @DanFromNam.  Dan was soon on the scene and equipped with protective motorcycle gauntlets he attempted to man-handle the beast from out of the kitchen cupboard – where they had trapped it before running out and locking the door behind.  The fox was eventually evicted, but not before it had taken the opportunity to make a special kind of deposit all over the pots and pans, leaving Nathan to spend the rest of the day scrubbing fox pee from the kitchen.  The whole escapade sounded distinctly like the Crackfox episode of the Mighty Boosh except featuring pro cyclists instead of Noel Fielding.  The rest of Friday passed off without incident and we were all in bed more or less by Midnight as we had an early start and a tough morning ahead.


At 44 miles, the “long” route does not sound especially challenging.  However, factor in the Scottish weather, some of the grippiest roads in Europe, and the requisite hangover, and the Braveheart Ride can be as formidable as any you might attempt.  A decent breakfast inside us, and changed into kit at the hotel we confidently poked our noses out the front door of the hotel.  Yikes, that wind’s a bit stiff.  There is little point in worrying about what kit to wear for the Braveheart Ride.  Essentially, whatever you wear, it won’t be right.  You can get four seasons in a morning in this part of the world, and very often you do.  Still, it was hats off to the brave souls who ventured out in short bibs and sleeves.  Mad Men!

We congregated in the hotel car park, ready to make the short ride to the event start line.  For the second year running we waited while ‘The King’ Kelly wrestled with a puncture.  At least last year we had actually started the event before he flatted.  After a good deal of faffing by ‘too many cooks’, we eventually made our way to the start, despite the annual ‘does anyone remember the way?’.

Sean 'The King' Kelly - Legend
Sean ‘The King’ Kelly – Legend

After signing-in we gathered at the start line and this mix of Team Bioracer and Liverpool Century riders set off with an almighty tail wind pushing us along at a fair old pace.  The wind seemed to have blown the rain away, for a time at least, so we took advantage to press on.  However, it was not long before the conditions detriorated and the rain started.  Just a shower at first, but getting progressively worse.  By the time we had turned for home at the midpoint, the relief of getting most of the climbing out of the way was tempered by needing to battle in to a fierce headwind.

Sean is great fun to ride with and he’s lost none of his race nouse.  If anyone dared to come past our group he never missed the chance of a free ride and immediately leapt on to the passing wheel.  This meant we all had to go with him or risk being left to fend for ourselves.  The man is a machine – still.  As the horizontal hail stung our faces at about two-thirds distance there were some very disillusioned souls and tired bodies in our group.  By now we’d picked-up retiring pro rider Dave Millar @MillarMind, who had been stood patiently at the side of the road, as if he were waiting for a bus or a taxi.  He jumped on the back of our little posse and rode with us a while.  At this moment the weather was probably at its worst.  In these truly testing conditions Dave was heard to exclaim “Sweet Jesus!” as the wind and rain tested even the most experienced pro riders in these otherwise quiet Scottish lanes.  We pressed on and eventually made it back to base in a little over two and a half hours.  We didn’t hang about in our wet kit either, it was straight back to the hotel for a hot bath and a feed.  And perhaps a couple of pints of the black stuff.  Here’s a link to the list of those that finished the event and their times.

Image by Gordon Goldie - Millar thumbs a lift
Image by Gordon Goldie – Millar thumbs a lift

By now the evening was almost upon us.  A quick change into smart attire then back to the bar for a little more of the Irish nectar.  Dinner guests were already gathering in anticipation of a top evening of entertainment.  The remainder of our guests arrived and we took a quick look at the auction items.  By far the most intriguing were a pair of donkeys donated by Sean Kelly.  Although I had been assured previously that Sean was a donkey breeder of some repute, I’d refused to believe it.  Word has it so too is Tom Boonen.  Apparently donkeys are a ‘thing’ in Belgium.  I had no idea.  Upon seeing the donkeys for sale, our resident donkey expert Joe Earley @joeearley put in a call to his old man and former Tour de France rider Martin Earley.  “There’s a couple of donkeys in the auction” Joe told his dad.  “Very good” came the uninspired reply.  “They are Sean’s” continued Joe. “Oooh, Sean’s donkey’s are exceptionally beautiful, go to £300 for the pair” was the reply.  We did put a bid in, but we were soon overtaken by a man who really loved shouting the word “DONKEY“.  We remain more hopeful than confident that “Lizzie” and “Marieanne” have found good new homes.


Things start to get a bit hazy about now.  I remember someone on our table winning a bottle of prosecco in the raffle, which was duly dispatched.  I also remember someone else winning a bottle of port.  Step forward Holly Blades @LifeofHolly.  She quietly slipped away from the table only to return a few minutes later with several bottles of blue WKD and a load of glasses.  She proceeded to mix the port with the offensive alcopop to make what can only be described as the most delicious drink ever.  It apparently goes by the name “cheeky vimto“.  This pretty much signalled the end of the evening for me – at least the end of anything I can actually remember cleary.

I’m not sure how but suddenly Nathan Haas was on stage holding a microphone and a jersey he had brought, signed by the entire Garmin Sharp team.  “I’ve watched a lot of Auction Hunters on the Discovery Channel, and I’ve always wanted to auction something” he shouts.  He then launches enthusiastically into some rapid fire auctioneering which, if I’m not mistaken, involved a lot of him literally shouting “blah, blah, blah” and, to coin a technical term, taking bids off the wall.  Some poor woman at the front got told she’d bid £450 and the jersey was ‘sold’. She seemed happy enough.

The remainder of the auction remains a blur.  Indeed it may have already ended by then, I have no clue.  I remember that Soul Train featuring self-styled ‘King of Disco’ Brutus Gold @BrutusGold took over and the place was rocking.  Former GB National Road Race Champion and Eurosport Commentator Matt Stephens @RealStephens made no impression this year in the Dance-Off, much to our disappointment. My recollection of the rest of the evening will be delivered in the style of Auctioneer Haas, “blah blah beer, blah wine, blah blah whisky, blah bed”.  No clue who took the coveted “last man standing” crown this year – I didn’t even make it ’till “Killie Pie” time.  A shocking display. I’m reliably informed however that Mr Fitz demolished four of the delicious local meat delicacies, citing a national pie shortage in Switzerland as his justification for gluttony.

Wine for my men
Wine for my men

The next morning at breakfast (most of us made it to breakfast), we began piecing together the evening’s events through especially foggy memories.  Slowly, bit-by-bit it all came back.  Nathan recalled the man who introduced himself as “The Shark Daddy” and told us how when upon realising that the Tyler Farrar jersey ‘TSD’ had just bought in the auction was not signed, he asked Nathan would he sign it…. “if I can get it out of the glass frame“.  “Sure” said Nathan.  Instead of opening the back of the frame the guy then punched the glass front with his bare hand, smashing the glass and freeing the jersey.  A stunned Nathan duly signed the jersey as concerned hotel staff surrounded the pair.  The “Shark Daddy” appeared baffled by the attention as if he’d just done what anyone else would have done.  There was also an incident that involved the touching of hobnobs. I can’t go in to more detail because, despite the nature of all you have read above, this one is just too weird.

Here's tae us
Here’s tae us

The morning after ritual of flicking-through-last-night’s-photos-taken-on-phones generated more questions than answers.  Some things are just better left where they lie.

And so we all separated to wind our weary ways home, heading off to various cars, trains and planes, destined for our different corners of the UK and beyond.  On the long drive home we had plenty of time to contemplate the previous whirlwind 48 hours of mayhem.  Our hostess for the evening was that Jill Douglas from off of the telly.  She’d introduced proceedings as “cycling’s biggest piss-up“.  Whilst that is almost certainly true, Braveheart-fest remains so much more than a bunch of middle aged skinny white blokes consuming more ale than they can handle. Last year the fund aided Junior European and World Champions. The £30,000 that was raised in a single night this year will go a long way to delivering more of the same through 2015.  The Braveheart has to be experienced to be believed and is something any discerning bike rider should experience at least once.

So here is our definitive Conquista Guide to Surviving the Braveheart:

  1. Warm-up properly. We went out the Thursday before and had six pints.  And about the same on Friday. That eased our bodies in, so that the full impact of Saturday was less of a shock to our systems.
  2. Blag your way in to the Friday night meal. McChristies Restaurant at the Portland Arms is a hidden gem and a great supporter of the fund. They always put on a superb menu, with a wee taste of haggis for the uninitiated southern interlopers. Don’t be put off by the local bar dwellers- despite their accents, they are not “pirates”. (Please see our US and Aussie guests for explanation of that one).
  3. Do the ride. All profits go to the fund and it’s EPIC. Also, the pain and suffering inflicted by the Scottish roads and weather will take your mind off the monumental hangover that is turning your skull inside out.
  4. Follow Kelly everywhere. The man is a true legend and great company on and off the bike. He’ll keep you out of trouble on the ride, and get you in trouble after.
  5. Enter the raffle. The prizes are completely random, crazy and there are many winners. Without the raffle, we would not have discovered Cheeky Vimto.  Enough said.
  6. Bring £10 notes. This is your chance to win a signed jersey from a top pro for only £10. The tenners go into a draw and there are three winners. We might have won, we are not sure. See reference to cheeky vimto above.
  7. Enter the silent auction. Through the magical gift of SMS you can text your bid, which then pops up on the big screen for all to see. This is more about sending abusive messages to people in other parts of the room, but a happy side effect is you might win something.
  8. Bid on something.  Bidding is a lot of fun, bid on something, anything. This auction room is full of unusual characters. Your bid may not be successful, but it may still lead to unexpected and unusual outcomes, we can vouch for that. Just do it.
  9. Pace yourself. This night seems to never end, especially as it’s the one when the clocks go back and you gain an extra bonus hour of partying. Those that manage to not crash and burn before midnight are treated to Killie Pie and a second wind. However, pacing yourself does not mean buying rounds of whisky shots for everyone else and shots of apple juice for yourself. You know who you are, does cheating run in your family?
  10. Have Sunday breakfast. Even if you can’t actually face eating anything, the sight of everyone else struggling will raise your spirits and between you and the rest you may eventually be able to piece together what the hall actually happened last night.

So that’s it for another twelve months. Whilst I’m kind of glad this event only happens once a year, I’m strangely already looking forward to the next one.  See you there.

Crackfox: “I’ll be back”

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