Tour O the Borders 2013 – blustery spin cycle……

Like cycling through a washing machine during its wash cycle……..for 4 hours…..

And it had been so lovely on Saturday 13th when I went into Peebles High School to register too. Blue skies and sunshine – it seemed that Springtime had arrived at last!!

The Registration and preparation.

Buoyed by this, I had dared to change my route from the 73km (short) route to the 112km (long) route. Ooh how very dare you. 

I was, I thought, very well prepared – all my kit had been checked – the bike had been dis-assembled and cleaned (see photo) and clothing, accessories , spares and tools laid out for the morning. I had even loaded up with carbohydrates the night before, and had a lovely penne carbonara (thank you Superfry in Gullane!) lined up for my breakfast. It was all good. The event organisation was impecable – The school venue was capacious, and could easily cope with the numbers of riders. The banners and flags were all up and looked great, the starting area was apropriately cordoned off and start line marked. On registration – all the riders got a little goody bag with udder creme, hi energy bar, T-shirt, Cyclist magazine, timing chip, handlebar participant number and maps and instructions. All very good.


Mother Nature, it seems,  had other plans for the day.

I had agreed to meet up with a good friend ,Anna Henley, and her friends Angie and Lynn from the Edinburgh Triathlon Club at the start line. Anna had very kindly offered to run me down to Peebles for the event so I was to meet her at the Cameron Toll Car Park early AM.

I woke to the sound of rain….that wasn’t so good but not a huge problem eh?

Having got ready, I cycled to the meet point. It was dreich and blustery. That wasn’t so good then.

By the time we drove to Peebles it was 8.20am – many cyclists had already set-off by then but we weren’t due to start until 9.15am. By this time, the rain was sheeting down, the wind had picked up and the banners and flags were flapping quite strongly.This, as they say, wasn’t a good sign – it looked like it was going to be a long day, and I was already beginning to rue the choice to “go long”. In for a penny, in for a pound I thought and at the very least I’d keep Anna, Angie and Lynn company. I couldn’t, after all, let the girls get all the bragging rights without at least trying to tag along…….

The event

The event was very well organised and we were in our group at the start line almost on time after Angie had a last minute problem with her brake lever. The on site mechanics had sorted her out in no time though. The starter gave us a heads-up briefing about the course and the weather, and we started with the words “water sheeting across the roads in places” and “cut the route short and return to base if necessary” ringing in my ears. Not a great omen. Again – to be fair to the organisers – it was a very well run event – 1000 riders is a lot of people to process and sending off in batches of 100 cyclists over a longer period of time was a good strategy. It had all run smoothly.They also had motorcycle riders patrolling the route and several support vans to cater for any problems.

It started innocuously enough therefore …just a bit blustery and wet. Hey – you can’t cycle in Scotland without being prepared for a bit of blustery and wet can you?

We headed out along the B7062 towards Cardrona with a few members of the public waving as we passed. Most, however were safely indoors, like most sensible people were doing.

Anna had warned me that my pace might be faster than the Triathlete group and to cycle on if I wanted. I hadn’t planned on doing that – but by the 2nd small upward incline I had detected that the girls were happiest at their own pace and slowed considerably on uphill sections, so we naturally started to drift apart. Okay, so time to get a move on then. I was familiar enough with the route going round the valley past Cardrona and over the hills to St Mary’s Loch – I’ve done it often enough myself previously. So I moved on at my own pace. I was a bit damp from the rain and had chatted to a few cyclists so it was okay when we started the early slopes of the 1st hill – over the top of Mountbenger and down to the Gordon Arms on the B7009. That ‘s where the fun and games started.

It had been noticable for the last few miles that a large number of cyclists were travelling in the opposite direction back to the start line. It was still too early in the event for these guys to be completing the course, even the short one, so I did start to think at this point that perhaps it was rougher up ahead.  As we climbed the lower parts of Mountbenger, it was clear that the wind had picked up considerably. Gusts were now pushing and pulling quite a bit and you really had to concentrate to keep a good line. As we moved further up the B709, the wind blasts became constantly in your face and buffetting from all sides – it was a fair effort to keep grinding along. The water was by now sheeting off the hillsides and streaming down both sides of the road. In places, the water had filled up both edges of the road almost up the middle and you had to follow the centre line to get through. I ground on – passing quite a few cyclists all head down. I was averaging about 7mph on a shallow uphill gradient, such was the force and ever constant struggle with the buffeting winds.

Going over the top

Going over the top of Mountbenger reveals a valley that snakes down around the shoulder of the hill to the east – the wind was battering up it with such gusto that my 7mph uphill speed turned into a 7mph downhill speed. I was having to push hard to go downhill!!

Comng over the top
Comng over the top

Water was dribbling out of the hillside and sheeting across the road. The wind was shoving the water backwards and uphill past me……creating a spray of water from the road surface. I was by now soaked all over from the waste down. My upper body was fine however with my waterproof jacket.

It took me ages to push down the hill into the relative shelter of the base of the hill adjacent. The sudden lessening of the wind allowed me to pick up speed – 20mph suddenly felt like I was sprinting. I toned it down however when I realised that I couldn’t stop very quickly as my brakes were less effective with all of the water on the rims. As I rounded the corner for the final descent to the Gordon Arms my speed dropped with the  sudden resurgence of the wind. The pressure was back on, and my head and shoulders dropped automatically as I sought to reduce my aerodynamic profile. I pushed past the Gordon Arms , noting as I did so that many cyclists had dropped their bikes there and were taking shelter inside… sensible people, I thought.

I had a grim thought  – 1 hill down, only five more to go.

Moving on from the Gordon Arms

Pushing up the 2nd hill was again, hard work, facing into the wind. I caught up with and passed a veritable queue of cyclists all struggling – I would draft behind them for a while and then leapfrog past in a huge blast of energy…..erm …at about 7mph. Yup still going reaaaaally slow.

I eventually crested the 2nd hill and started the decline. Amazingly, the road  slipped behind the shoulder of another hill and down below the treeline – the blustery wind dropped and my speed instantly increased exponentially!! I nearly came a cropper at the 1st corner as my back wheel slipped  sideways in a stream of water. Bloody brakes!!

Tour o the Borders

Down at the bottom of the valley, I slowed down as I approached the Crosslee junction where the short route splits away from the long route…..oh oh a yellow vested marshall was blocking the long route and was pointing me towards the short route.

“I’m on the long route” I shouted …

“No –  you’re not” – she replied – “it’s two feet under water – the roads flooded”.

I got diverted down the short route.

It followed the valley floor with minor inclines and declines so I enjoyed blasting along at 20mph feeling very energised with the wind behind me.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t getting to do the long route – but secretly glad too. It was still chucking it down.

(See the following link to see some other photographs of the road closure)

Tour o’ the Borders – the UK’s most extreme sportive? – BikeRadar Magazines

After driving through a large puddle that soaked my feet and rose up above my bottom bracket – I arrived at Kirkhope Hall at Ettrick Bridge and cheerfully abandoned the bike amongst 30 to 40 others to chase after the legendary macaroni cheese pies on offer.

Hot food and kind words

I have to offer a huge thank you to the very kind folk of Kirkhope Hall – their cheerful generousity did as much to revive my spirits as much as the food did. I noticed that with about 50-60 very wet cyclists in the hall, the temperature and humidity noticably rose as body heat and  lycra led to a lot of slightly steaming people !! Literally steaming – not drunk. The hall was becoming a low temperature steam room – so much so that the smoke alarms went off several times.

Here’s another link to photographs of the event:-

After the warmth of the Hall – it seemed to be freezing outside. I knew I needed to get moving quickly and thankfully it was uphill from the Kirkhope Hall. I was quietly amazed at the heat that built up in my legs as I tapped out a slow but regular rythm climbing up the biggest incline of the day. I was quickly warmed. After cresting the hill, there was a really long run downhill for about 2 miles. I was going unfeasibly fast and wore out a sizable chunk of my brake blocks on the descent. Wheee!!!

Slightly scarey moment on one bend – wobbly on approach with sharp braking to loose excessive speed, shifting my weight back off the saddle as I manhandled the bike to steer around.

The adreneline rush hit in just a half second later and I couldn’ t help grinning manicly.

The last hill before getting back to Peebles was the same as the first hill – heading back from the Gordon Arms to Cardrona. Amazingly – as I headed up and over this hill, marvelling at how much in spate the adjacent streams had become, the sky cleared and became blue and the clouds parted and became white and fluffy.

As I pulled into Peebles, my clothes had dried completely and I marvelled at how normal the streetscene had become…people were out walking their dogs, going shopping, walking in the park.

This was so utterly incongruous with the previous 4 hours of windy watery mayhem that the end of the cycle run took on an almost surreal quality to it.

A quick burst of the last bit of energy took me over the line 4hrs 38 mins and 28 seconds after I had started.

It was over.

And I’ll tell you now – I’d do it all again in a heartbeat….but hopefully in better weather.

A well organised event that had to deal with a large droopout rate and unfeasibly horrible weather – they closed the long route when the roads became dangerous and then patrolled the route to ensure the safety of the riders. Very well done.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. It was a crazy day. I went off at 8am so just made it through the part of the long route before the water flooded the road. Took about 5 1/2 hours to do the 70 miles, in comparison the 82 miles of the Etape on Sunday took an hour less in still and mostly dry weather. Tour o’ Borders on closed roads in 2014 so looks like a must on the schedule. They even do a good t-shirt in the goodie bag!


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