On Sunday, 9th August the Tour o’ the Borders sportive will be back, for it’s 4th edition. For 2015 this firm favourite Borders biking event has (in Tesco Bank) a new headline sponsor and a new route.
The old course was something of a challenge. I’d heard rumour that the new update was better (i.e. tougher) and wanted to find out what the event’s 2,000 participants were in for.
As usual, the route starts and finishes in Peebles, the small market town that’s become synonymous with two-wheeled pursuits. I headed south, over the Tweed, following a small back road that climbed the Manor valley, a gentle introduction to a route packed with ascents.
The scenery was already distracting, all around me that Borders tartan of purple heather, blue sky and water, silver-grey scree and vibrant-green grass.
A brief stretch on the main road and I swooped down passed Stobo before a right turn up the Dreva. My climbing was rewarded with a fast descent and jaw-dropping views along the upper Tweed valley. Like any Borders ride I could have spent my entire time gawping at the horizon, shouting (to the sheep; there was no on else): “look at the view!”
The single-track road soon delivered me onto a junction with the A701, where a sign tempted with a right turn to the Laurel Bank Tea Room. I resisted and turned left, along the valley to Moffat.
Riding solo into the wind, I tried to maintain a decent pace but was anxious of the toil to come. During the Tour, that would be a good point to join a group and share the wind-breaking effort.
I settled in to a rhythm, soaked up the sun and soon enough the rolling road delivered me to the turn to Talla. The reservoir’s vast body of dark, sparkling, water provided a heavy, calming presence off my right shoulder. And I needed a little sedation.
The Talla Wall is new to the Tour route. I could see it from miles distant, a thin scar at the head of the valley, angled unrealistically upward. Just near its foot a motorbike roared passed, then came the sound of its engine struggling. I was out the saddle the whole way (through necessity more than choice), wrestling bike and gradient. Talla is amongst Scotland’s best climbs, better suited to the Italian Alps and a sadistic corsa rosa, one Tour veterans won’t forget in a hurry.
The Wall’s top brought oxygen debt, lactate overload, cool air, views to rival the last lot and one heck of a descent. Gilet zipped up, bidon half-emptied and I was off. Once again the Tour will be ridden on roads closed to other traffic, leaving riders free to take racing lines, providing speeds to compensate for the Wall crawl.
I turned onto the main road at St Mary’s Loch, the tailwind welcome, down time in which to eat, drink and spin out the legs. Just as well: the next climb was approaching fast.
A left over the Yarrow Water at the Gordon Arms (there’ll be a feed station there during the Tour) and onto the Berry Bush. It’s one of those ascents where you think: the top must be round the next corner. Except it’s not; same goes for the next corner, and the one after. See that road, far in the distance, right up by the top treeline?
I got there, eventually, glad of the next descent, the turn at Crosslee and another tailwind. I raced along the Ettrick Valley and then onto the Witchyknowe, another Borders legend climb, and one that’s featured in previous Tour routes. I’d ridden it a few times before, usually fresher. With all the day’s hills and miles in my legs it matched its reputation.
Over the top and Newton’s Law of Cycling was back in play: what goes up must go down — a descent that makes like a blast down the Seven Stanes’ Spooky Wood (minus the berms).
Back over the Yarrow, along the undulating valley road and another right at the Gordon Arms — this time up the Paddock Slacks. I knew it would be my day’s last serious ascent and my stiffening legs were glad. Make it over and I’d be (almost) home and dry.
Make it I did, rushing down passed Traquair and onto the Cardrona road, Peebles in my sights. A touch of cramp on that little rise passed Kailzie and it was over.
74 miles covered, sufficient climbing (approaching 5000 feet) and descending for a decent Tour de France stage, plus scenery to rival any on the planet; the new Tour o’ the Borders route is even better than the last, and that’s saying something.
Tesco Bank Tour 0’ the Borders
Sunday 9th August 2015
Entry cost: £58