Ready for another Scottish cycling tour

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The annual Tour of Britain is an exciting event for professional and amateur riders. In less than a month’s time, the Tour Ride Scotland stage kicks off. FionaOutdoors looks at the Tour ­– and reveals some of the other great Scottish bike rides/sportives

The Tour of Britain returned to the UK’s roads 10 years ago. And since 2009, amateur cyclists have had the chance to follow in the wheels of the pros and take on a choice of challenging routes inspired by one of the UK’s top pro races. In 2013, The Tour Rides are heading for the Scottish Borders and Stoke-on-Trent with two distances to ride at both venue. The “Pro” route is a tough 100 miles while the “Challenge” is an easier-going 50 miles. However, both present their own challenges.

Scotland’s Tour Ride

The Tour Ride Scotland forms part of The Tour of Britain’s Grand Depart weekend, with the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway providing the stage for Britain’s biggest professional cycle race. Peebles and Drumlanrig Castle will be the two venues for The Tour Ride Scotland, with the 100-mile Pro Ride starting from the 7Stanes mountain biking centre at Glentress and finishing at Drumlanrig Castle, while the 50-mile Challenge Ride will be a circulate route, starting and finishing in front of the famous castle.

Riding a Tour of Britain stage

I experienced an eye-opening tour stage exactly one decade ago. Back then I was working at The Herald  newspaper as editor of the Weekend Living lifestyle magazine. The newspaper editor decided that it would be a great idea to send me off to try the first stage of the new Tour of Britain cycle event. I would then write it up as a feature.

There was not a Tour Ride for amateurs that year and so I simply followed the same route as the pros would take a week or so later. The first stage in 2003 was from Glasgow to Castle Douglas and was the furthest I had ever been on a bike. I recall the total at being well over 100 miles and I rode it on a hybrid bike. The weather on the day was foul. There was a head wind, rain and seemingly endless hills.

I expect that if I rode the course now I would be better equipped in terms of a good road bike and cycling fitness. However, the experience all those years ago taught me a clear lesson: The pro cyclists have legs and minds of steel. I rode only one stage of the race and ended up (literally) falling asleep in my dinner that evening. The pro riders will get up day after day in a stage race and complete arduous rides. I was hardly able to walk the next day and only just managed a short cycle to the railway station to get a return train to Glasgow.

But that experience did fire an interest in road cycling for me. Since that first mammoth bike ride on a hybrid bike I have become a huge fan of road cycling. I started with a second-hand Pinarello road bike on which I completed a couple of shorter cycling sportives in Scotland.

I then progressed to a carbon fibre Giant, a superlight aluminium Canyon and a pink carbon fibre Planet X road bike. I have cycled the 110-mile pedal for Scotland, the infamously tough Bealach Mor sportive and taken part in the Tour o’ the Borders.

The rise and rise of cycling sportives

One of the fastest growing mass participation events in the UK is cycle sportives. These amateur bike rides are not competitive – although they are timed – and take place across the country. In Scotland, theses events often sell out within days of entries opening.

The events are usually up-beat and friendly. There is often a choice of route distances to suit all abilities and you can ride solo or join a group of same-speed riders for all or part of the route. These sportives also take in some of Scotland’s most spectacular scenery, from the north-west of Scotland to the rolling countryside of the Borders.

One keen sportive rider Graham Huston says: “Sportives are a great day out. I could go out for a bike ride myself – and I do this pretty much every weekend – but a sportive brings new elements to a bike ride. You meet new people, see new places and get to challenge yourself on a set route. Many people come back year after year to see if they can go faster or just because they loved the landscape or route.”

Six of the best  cycle sportives in Scotland

Bealach Mor, north-west Scotland, in September.

Pedal for Scotland, in September, includes 47-mile and 110-mile Glasgow to Edinburgh sportives.

Women-only Cycletta Scotland of 20km, 40km or 80km in September.

Lord of the Lochs, 185km and 165km sportives, in October.

Tour o’ the Borders, spring 2016.

Etape Caledonia in May as part of the Highland Perthshire Cycling Festival.

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