The Scottish Borders sits as a boundary between the rolling hills of England’s Northumberland and the bony knuckle of the Scottish Highlands. Blending the best of both and blessed with quiet rural roads, it’s Scotland hidden gem, a slice of riding nirvana between two lands. We join the 120 km Tesco Bank Tour O The Borders and strike gold.
Historically, the Scottish Borders has always stood as Scotland’s first and last bastion, a green and beautiful land punctuated with castles and forts to repel the marauding English. For centuries the lands stood between two warring nations, forcing Border’s families to take the law into their own hands to survive. Bands of horse-backed men would raid the lands of both sides, stealing cattle and food to survive and prosper. These Border Reivers were fierce in intent and mercenaries for hire. Queen Elizabeth famously quoted “with ten thousand such men, James VI could shake any throne in Europe.” However, it was not horseback riders that were raiding the land today, but over 2000 cyclists taking part in the Tesco Bank Tour O The Borders Sportive.
The Tesco Bank Tour O The Borders is now in its 5th year, a closed road sportive that winds through 120 km of Scotland’s most beautiful roads in the Tweed Valley. Starting from Peebles the route travels along lochs, through green and verdant glens and has two formidable climbs that force even fit riders to smash through the gears and slump over the bars. Anyone who has climbed the steep wall of Talla before will have the memory etched into the muscles of their thighs. On this day, the weather was being kind and an encouraging tail wind spurred the large lead-out group up the climb and over the top in record time, those with a more recreational approach were able to savour the views over Talla reservoir during their walk.
After the brutality of Talla, riders were rewarded with a hedonistic descent down the flowing single lane road to Megget Reservoir, the strong tailwind made tired riders feel like super heroes, fanning out over the road to make full use of nature’s finest EPO. A closed road is something beautiful to a road rider, endless rolling pavé, no longer vulnerable but Kings of the road. Freed from the worry of a vehicle hiding round the corner riders could explore new apexes and carve through turns making use of the full stretch of tarmac like legends of the tour – or ride shoulder to shoulder across the road for some good old fashioned gossiping and selfies.
After the high speed passage over sweeping views of Megget and St Mary’s Loch, riders dug deep to climb the Berrybush incline into Yarrow, the change of direction brought the wind onto the beam and riders huddled into groups to find shelter, a group of domestiques against the weather. The Witchyknowe climb strung out the field a little further, an iconic climb with a visible summit over the beautiful remote Yarrow Valley hills, then the short and sweet Paddy Slacks ascent before the long descent back to the home stretch along the banks of the River Tweed.
As the km’s counted down, it was sure to be of great relief to some to see the ‘10km to go’ signs, for some it was a chance to really open up and red-line the legs and for others the hope of battling the cramp just that little bit further. Rolling into the quaint town of Peebles, the streets were lined with spectators and children cheering each and every valliant rider home. Peebles is the beating heart of the ‘Valley of the bike people’ and each participant, from the first to the last, was received with a heroes welcome. There are sure to be many tired legs under desks this morning, but many a tale will be being told over coffee breaks.
The Tesco Bank Tour O The Borders is certainly one of Scotland’s finest Sportives, blending beautiful riding with friendly marshalls, a welcoming community and seamless organisation. If you have ever wanted to experience the hidden charms of the Tweed Valley with the freedom of a closed road then pop it on the calendar for 2017.
For more information and results from the Tesco Bank Tour O The Borders check out their website for all the details you could ever need. Chapeau from GRAN FONDO Magazine to all the riders and thanks to Shimano for tech support, Cannondale with their 2017 demo bikes and ENDURA for the popular official kit – and, of course, all the amazing marshalls who helped make the event what it was.
Words: Trev Worsey Photos: Trevor Worsey and Catherine Worsey