When we were asked to support the Scottish Borders’ first ever sportive on traffic-free roads, by supplying backup mechanics and two hire vehicles, we were delighted to oblige.
Having seen the map of what looked like a challenging but do-able route, I decided to give it a bash myself.
A digression – my interesting year on road bikes.
In April, I had my first ever high-end road bike nicked. To their great credit, Police Scotland, amazed and delighted me by recovering it.
You know that old Joni song that goes, Don’t it always seems to go, that you never know what you’ve got till it’s gone?
That’s exactly how I felt when I was reunited with my 4-year old Specialized Roubaix.
I was so happy to get the bike back, I treated it to a long put-off deluxe service and a replacement front wheel (its wear indicator revealed the original rim’s terminal status).
After its service, the bike rode better than ever so I decided to enter my first ever sportive – the 106-mile Wooler Wheel Borderlands ride, which our Newcastle mechanics supported this May.
Now I had done some long rides in my life including a handful of centuries, but they had all been social rides with small groups of friends, involving long stops in pubs and/or cafés.
A sportive was different. I was expected to maintain an average 10-12 MPH – and the clock doesn’t stop when you take a break.
Long-story-short, Borderlands was a brilliant ride over a beautiful route, straddling the Cheviots: half in Northumberland, half in the Scottish Borders.
At the beginning of the ride, groups of serious riders with matching club shirts whistled past in chain gang formation. However, I soon found myself with cyclists who pedalled at a similar pace to myself, slow enough to keep up the chat and banter.
I discovered that riding a steady pace, with only the odd 5-minute water stop, where we were treated to the best homemade flapjacks ever, wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Shorter breaks mean you don’t seize-up, as can be the case if you stop for an hour-long lunch break. Anyway, I completed the ride just inside the 9.5-hour allocated time limit, feeling tired, elated and ready for the post-ride massage (all part of the Wooler Wheel service).
Tour o’ the Borders
On Sunday at dawn, the radio alarm announced a severe weather warning. The message was simple. ‘Don’t go out today unless you really have to?’ And here was me, heading for Peebles for the start of a sportive.
To our pleasant surprise, it started dry, and we got going at a decent pace. When I realised I had ridden 30 miles by 9:30, I began to appreciate the sense of the early 7:30 start. By then, a few showers had rained on us, but there were none heavy enough to tempt me to put on the Gore-Tex I had packed, so my confidence grew that I’d manage the full 77-mile distance.
And that’s a great feature of a well organised sportive such as the Tour o’ the Borders. If you do feel it’s too taxing, you can swing off the full route after 20 miles and take a short cut that reduces the overall distance from 77 to 55 miles (which is what every rider had to do last year when the hills on the long route were flooded – such was the severity of the weather).
The Tour o’ The Borders (AKA TourO’) route was really lovely. Cycling wise, it was stretching but do-able. Sure there were hills but they were interspersed with long fast sections.
Riding closed roads is a revelation. You can take the whole road on downhill bends without any anxiety about oncoming traffic – just like the riders on The Tour.
From start to finish, the TourO’ staff ensured everything ran smoothly, while remaining cheerful and laid back. The army of marshals, the helpers and the staff managing the road closures were helpful and cheerful from beginning to end. Best of all, the riders were a friendly enthusiastic bunch with lots of good chat. Our mechanic Ricardo, who has a long background wrenching at mountain bike events, said it was the friendliest cycling event he had ever been involved in.
After 50 miles riding, just as the hunger started to kick in, we were treated to Forsyth of Peebles’ sublime macaroni pies at Kirkhope Hall, Ettrickbridge. Four days on, TourO’ riders are still tweeting about that astonishing Borders’ culinary delight.
Personally, I am no athlete. I’m just someone who likes to get out on my bike, so I was really pleased to finish the ride in just over 6 hours. To put that time in perspective, the organisers emailed the riders with everyone’s time after the event, and I discovered that the fastest riders completed the TourO’ in 3.5 hours.
Me? I was 1,141st out of 1,215 long-ride finishers. Given that I was the last rider to finish Wooler Wheel Borderlands, my TourO’ time was – in the parlance of the sportive community – a PB (personal best), so I felt I deserved the excellent post-ride BBQ at Kailzie Gardens.
To sum up, I can hugely recommend taking part in a sportive such as the Tour o’ the Borders.
The next sportive we’re supporting is the fantastic Wooler Wheel Classic on 4 October 2014.
A great way to prepare for it would be to ride the Bike Co-op-supported GNBR Great North Bike Ride from Seahouses to Tynemouth next Sunday, 24 August. The GNBR is a charity fun ride rather than a sportive, but it’s still a nice day out on the bike. Just remember that the last date to register online is Tuesday 19th.