A very wet and windy Tour o’ The Borders
I can’t decide if it’s cyclists or Brits, but I was amazed by the upbeat atmosphere in the face of adversity at the Tour o’ the Borders cycle sportive on Sunday. Despite truly horrendous weather conditions (the worst I have ever encountered on a bike), most riders that I spoke to, or saw, managed to smile and joke during – and after – the event.
The gale force winds and driving rain really did seem too unfair given the relatively dry and calm weather we have experienced in previous weeks. It might have been cold in Scotland recently but there hasn’t been a lot of wind or rain.
However, on Saturday night and through most of Sunday the country was blasted by a freak storm that sadly chose to vent its full force on riders taking part in the Tour o the Borders sportive.
Amazingly, there has been no severe weather warnings from the met office and organiser Neil Dalgleish commented: “I think it was a bit of a Michael Fish moment!.”
Neil’s wry sense of humour when considering the outcome of the freakily rain-drenched and wind-battered cycle sportive was the same as all the organisers. As well as being very concerned about everyone’s health and safety, the steadfastly smiling organisers quipped about riders having “great stories to tell” and “being amazingly brave”. I appreciated this up-beat atmosphere a great deal more than a doom and gloom “why us?” outlook.
Brave riders turn out for sportive
In truth, I am surprised that so many people turned out to start the sportive. These events are not meant to be extreme, and most people sign up because they are looking for an atmospheric challenge on a new cycle route. Having cycled in the Borders area before I know how stunning this route can be.
For many riders, the option of cutting short the longer 70-mile sportive route to the 50-mile route offered a good alternative on the day. Indeed, the 70-mile route had to be closed mid-morning when parts of the road became flooded. For others, like myself and my cycling pals Skinny H and Jolly Green Giant (always take a bike mechanic with you if you can!), the 50-mile option was a challenge too far. This is the first time I have ever ducked out of an event – but I had to turn back.
Setting out from Peebles High school (this is the school I attended in 4th, 5th and 6th years!), the bonkers weather at first seemed more like a fun challenge. Cycling against the forces of nature had a good feel to it and although I’d already decided that 70 miles would be to far, I thought the 50-mile route would be possible. Riding, at first, the lower valley along the River Tweed and from Peebles to Innerleithen was windy but manageable.
I started at a steady pace and had the chance to chat to several other riders, including Adam and Sam from Edinburgh. We talked variously about chamois cream, returning to riding in your 30s and 40s and the fact that Adam had been gifted this “mad sportive ride” for his 40th birthday.
But then, as we turned towards St Mary’s Loch we were faced with the full force of a headwind and driving rain. The road became more of a river and the steady climb upwards became tougher and tougher. The chat stopped and the grimaces began. Massive gusts of wind threatened to knock me off my bike and I could barely see because the rain was pelting my eyeballs. Further up, the rain became harder and my eyeballs were agonisingly stabbed by hard rain and almost-hail.
Having stopped to wipe rain from my eyes about half a dozen times I regrouped with Skinny H and we made the decision that to carry on would be dangerous. I couldn’t see more than about 2 metres ahead and I could hardly keep the bike upright. (Jolly Green had struggled on but also turned back some 26k into the ride).
I was hugely disappointed to find myself unable to carry on. Many others managed to do so and I have huge respect for them. One of my other cycling friends, The Boy, completed the full 70-mile route (before it was shut) in a stunning 4hrs and 18 mins. He wasn’t the fastest on the day but only a few others recorded better times. After the sportive, The Boy said: “I quite like a challenge. I’m kind of used to bad weather in Scotland and I just got my head down and cycled. I didn’t see much of the scenery though and the conditions were horrendous. But I enjoyed it!”
The road back to the start
Turning around on our bikes, Skinny H and I were greeted by a superb tailwind! Although I was still muttering about continuing forwards, the tailwind felt so amazing and I knew Skinny was right when he said: “You couldn’t see ahead, you were being blown across the road. There’s no point in risking a fall that could end your triathlon season, just because of bloody mindedness.” He was right.
Soaked through but still smiling we returned to Peebles High School to tell organisers we had given up. They couldn’t have been more empathetic – and also concerned for our health. They checked we were okay and laughed with us at our gruelling tales and agreed that turning back had been the right idea. And, oh, that they hoped to see us next year. Which they will.
That afternoon the sun came out. The winds have continued since then but there has not been a day that offered such difficult conditions since. I felt very sorry for the people who had put so much effort into organising this amazing event – and despite the weather conditions I would thoroughly recommend entering next year. The 2014 Tour o’ the Borders will be on closed roads. Let’s just hope the closed roads are less river and more tarmac next year!
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