The Wild Hills

The biggest race in South West Scotland, The Wild Hills, organised by the TLI and Dumfries CC, takes place this Saturday 13th April – Now in its tenth year, The Clubman caught up with race organiser, Dave Moss for his thoughts on the event’s continuing success and some advice for staying in contention on the road. (This blog post will be updated with photos from the race after the 13th)

Wild Hills 1994 - Whisky in the bidons?

Wild Hills 2004 – Whisky in the bidons?

Clubman – How long have you been organising the Wild Hills race?

Dave Moss – Well the oldest file I can find is from 2004, so it’s being going at least that long( 9yrs). It seems we had sponsorship from Scottish Leader Whiskey that year ! 30 finishers. This year we have over 75 riders competing.

Sprint for the 1995 winner

Sprint for the 2005 winner

Clubman – Why do you think the race has become so popular with riders?

Dave Moss – I suppose it’s because it encourages participation from all ages and abilities. Perhaps it’s the chaotic organisation that prevents it being taken too seriously and helps maintain a friendly atmosphere! Another factor might be that word has gotten around that Moniaive is actually not in the back of beyond, but fairly easy to get to from Ayrshire and Glasgow. The fact that it’s one big circuit rather than laps ( so you have to keep going if dropped ) and the long downhill finish seems to make everyone forget the pain they endured to get there.

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Some Dumfries CC riders all smiles at the start 2009

Clubman – What memories of the Wild Hills do you have from over the years?

Dave Moss – Having to ask the riders who won! The large number of riders for whom it’s been their first race is a special satisfaction. The fact that some of Scotland’s top amateur riders return year after year is another plus.

Climb out of Moniaive - dig in!

Climb out of Moniaive – dig in!

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Descent down towards Carsphairn

Clubman – What advice would you give to riders on the road?

Dave Moss – Well there’s three crucial things to keep in mind. Number 1 There’s no point in attacking on the first climb as you will need the bigger, power riders to help you on the next 16 miles. If you are intending to attack do it from Dalry. There you will need to build up a substantial gap on the series of climbs if you’re going to hold it on the final downhill/ flat run in.

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Ready to attack on the climb out of Dalry?

Get to the top of Corriedo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Get to the top of Corriedoo and then a 4 mile downhill back into Moniaive

Dave Moss – Secondly  – If you get dropped from one of the first groups, don’t ride it like a time trial, recover so you will be ready to get on the back of a faster group when they catch you.

And finally never give up! The course splits the field and there’s always riders to catch or ones who catch you who can race to the finish, and the prizes are distributed randomly, you might get one for 50th place!
UPDATE – The Race
The 13th turned out to be a dry day with good conditions for the route. One or to little scrapes aside, the route was as challenging as ever. The scratch group caught forward groups in smart time and as in many past encounters, the decisive attacks came on the climb out of Dalry. Congratulations to all the riders for providing an excellent race day.
Below is a little video with some interviews and photos.

Into The Valley

In the shortest days of the winter our fifth long winter run took us to Scotland‘s highest village, Wanlockhead via 3868 feet of climbing. I won’t even pretend the scenery was magnificent but on the other hand, after a week of immersion in Quality Street this ride was a welcome relief from decadent over-indulgence.DSC00608I was doubtful for this run all week. On Boxing Day I joined the club for some post turkey miles and pulled a spoke through the rim of my back wheel. No readers I don’t think there was a connection…they were very old rims!

I got myself some decent open pros as a replacement and fitted them just as the stormy weather was gathering on Friday, stoking up the crumpled leaves about my garage door. I set the alarm for 8 a.m. and listened to the wind and rain outside. At the last minute it was the bike or more Quality Street. I went to meet the guys for 9.

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind...

Elvanfoot in a hostile headwind…

Low cloud hung over the hills and the valleys all day except for the last 20 miles. As much as I love the scenery in the South-west of Scotland, these conditions were grim. We were blown up the Dalveen and once over the top we rode at 25 mph average. However we knew what was coming…turning onto Elvanfoot, heading for the Leadhills, we went from 25 to about 9 mph.

In the absence of splendid scenery (the hills around Durisdeer excepted) there was plenty of interest in the 12 man peleton. There were two guys riding the route in the big chain-wheel and highest gears as part of their training regime. Andrew our route-master told me he broke his front-mech and found a replacement in the drawer of his kitchen (that’s quite something)!

When I said to Ian, a young Doctor at the Hospital, that I had a medical question he replied ‘Oh is it your prostrate?’ The guys thought this was hilarious.

waiting for the grub!

waiting for the grub!

Highlight of the run was our cafe stop at the local pub just before descending the Mennock pass. Mein Hostess single-handledly fed and watered 12 hungry cyclists, most of whom were huddled round a small fire with steam rising off their wet clothes.

fireside chat

fireside chat

waiting for the burgers

waiting for the burgers

Since the food would be a while I wandered round and took some snaps. I found myself in what looked like a play area and nearly jumped out of my longs. On a shelf was a human head…that’s what it seemed like in the gloom of the mid-afternoon.

yep...strange but true

yep…strange but true

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by...watching a programme about food..

the boys pass the time until the food arrives by…watching a programme about food..

We left the pub in a downpour and descended Mennock with its huge valleys of mist and nothingness. The truth is I’d rather climb this brute any day than descend it –  the Tour of Britain ventured up here a few years back and we went as a club to watch them grind up. Everyone suffers on that climb, the great leveller.

The wind chill and surface water on the Mennock were potent hazards but not the greatest danger – that was left to the Taliban ambushing sheep who’d launch themselves sporadically at your bike. I was glad when it flattened out and we wove our way through the Drumlanrig estate. By the time we were on the Clone Hill, the murky clouds were gone and the winter sun was nestling in the hills.

With so much climbing there were tired legs at the end but I think the general view was that everyone felt glad they’d done it. I certainly was and it was good to make contact again with the bike and the weather and the wild…when I got home the Quality Street were finished.

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Mossy perks up on Dunscore Hill for a photo!

Preludes and Interludes

'...nothing better than a wandering cloud,I cannot miss my way...' Wordsworth

‘…nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way…’ Wordsworth

When I started cycling, I joined some club members for a ride round The Lakes. If you haven’t been, try it sometime…your legs will forgive you, eventually!

Our recent icy blast has meant less road cycling for me. In years gone by I would be checking every forecast even the sky itself, for the beginnings of a thaw and when it didn’t appear, I’d ride nonetheless, worried my fitness would suffer.

Not so nowadays. Why go out on minus zero days when your body temperature rarely rises higher than the thermometer and with every blind bend on a country road you’re wondering if a thoughtless farmer has let his field flood onto the icy road? At those moments shivering hands want to clutch at the shifters but your cycling brain says keep rolling straight. For 3 hours your nose is cold. If there’s ice and snow so be it. I’ll enjoy the break and the rest.

It happened that during our cold snap, my wife had organised a hotel deal for a weekend break down at the Lakes. Great – a chance to immerse myself in the unique landscape of the Lakes National Park, laze about in the cafes and perhaps a bike shop or two.

A mile from Kendal

A mile from Kendal – ‘The world is too much with us…getting and spending, we lay waste our powers…’

We had a lovely time so well done for the plan Mrs McG. A word for our wives and partners, or as I call them – cycling widows, before I move on to the heart of this post. They put up with a lot from we cyclists, getting used to our disappearances for 3-6 hours and then sitting patiently as we say things like – ‘I was thinking it’s time I got a new frame..’

The trip down to the Lakes brought back some fond memories for me. One of my first cycling trips away was in the Lakes. Also I’ve had a few journeys down with cycling buddies wandering round the great cycle shops in the area, spending the day debating shimano versus campag..or carbon over titanium.

Keswick at sunset. here you can do two shop or outdoor shop

Keswick at sunset. here you can do two things…coffee shop or outdoor shop

Although it’s only 60 miles approximately from South West Scotland you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Lakes are the same in terms of landscape. Actually they’re subtly different especially colour and contours. The lakes are darker with their brooding, impossible hills and passes. It was here Wordsworth wrote his greatest poetry and no wonder, the enigmas in the hills and sky are like another planet. The towns and villages seem tiny, sunken places, humbled by the neighbouring giants.

Colossus and leg breaker

Colossus and leg breaker

It must be 8 – 9 years since I rode in the Lakes. Some of the boys from Dumfries CC and myself made the journey south to take on some of the passes. I hadn’t been cycling seriously for long (in fact I was sporting a baseball hat under my cycling helmet instead of a proper cycling cap – newbie)! I think I went down there as though it were just another route. I couldn’t be more wrong. Cycling in the Lakes is a special experience. Ask the guys who’ve bravely entered the famous Fred Whitton Challenge. Some of the boys from our club have tried it and survived…just.

The Lakeland Pedlar - our rendezvous

The Lakeland Pedlar – our rendezvous

As usual for The Lakes, it was pouring rain the day of our ride. As it was so relentless we decided to cut the route to about 40 miles. The route included Honister and, as I remember, Newlands. One of the guys said to me as we approached Honister ‘Get it into the Granny, easiest cog. If you survive till the grid you’ll be alright.’

I wasn’t sure at this point if he was psyching me out. No. He was giving good advice. The foot of Honister is really brutal. I immediately found the granny next to useless and wished I’d had a great granny instead. We were weaving all over the road at about two or three mph, grinding the cranks like they were made of concrete. I got to the grid then fell over. It was a relief. I think someone was lying beside me. We got back on and then slowly wove up the remainder of the climb.

going up is brutal and coming down, terrifying!

going up is brutal and coming down, terrifying!

The reward at the top of Honister is a Slate Museum then a downhill of terrifying proportions! Downhills are my achilles heals on normal runs but this one was more like sky-diving! I remember being so terrified I unclipped half way down and used my cycling shoes as extra brakes.

Newlands was tough but not quite as brutal as I recall. Soaked to the skin we never made it to Hard Knott and Wrynose. Along with Kirkstone and Whinlatter these are the iconic names of the Lakes.

I was stopping the car every mile trying to capture it all

I was stopping the car every mile trying to capture it all

We rode back to our cars. Legs in bits but spirit unbowed, I had done something a little special and even years on the memories are vivid. Since that time I’ve been back a few times but hanging out in cycle shops is not too arduous.

In Arragon Cycles Penrith, obsessing on the Van Nicholas

In Arragon Cycles Penrith, obsessing on the Van Nicholas

Proof that a great bike like a Scott can be ruined by a hideous paint job!

Proof that a great bike like a Scott can be ruined by a hideous paint job!

The Lake District is legendary amongst cyclists and rightly so. Its passes are exacting tests of your legs and your will power – you’ll need to dig deep to survive. Oh and the great cycle shops will drain your wallet. One day I’ll go back again to cycle and reclaim those hills.

Postscript – One of the boys on our Forum just reminded me about the Lakeland Loop 2013…that could be the day to end my lengthy interlude from Wordsworth’s dark, exciting landscapes!

Crossing The Winter

Today at mile 93 of our Club’s 3rd long run I drowned in a dark, lactic ocean. The winter is upon us and the road to full fitness will be long and lonely.

After a tanking cafe stop at the Clachan Inn, Dalry – 17.11.12

As I have said in previous posts, the Winter is not the end of cycling. The cycling continues but these cold, wet months are about training to maintain fitness, to rest a little and to prepare for next year. Also they are about weight. You might put on a few pounds or  take the opportunity to lose a kilo or two. Non cyclists are usually surprised when you say that the winter is a good time to lose weight.

Hunger but in a good way…and of course the caffeine!

Filling our boots before the slog over to Corriedoo

The common view is that weight can be lost in the summer when you’re more actively outdoors. But if you’re a cyclist trying to lose weight in the summer, you’re probably behind the rest of the riders in the club. The winter gives you control and a plan and a regime as does early spring. The summer is too busy a time for that kind of focus.

However the focus comes at a price since even with the social side of long club runs, your winter regime is essentially a lonely pursuit. The challenges are only for you and are only set by you. You can’t lie to yourself. Everything must be true and accurate.

our winter bikes – a means to an end…but what end?

On today’s long run which took us along the Solway coast, followed by the spectacular Loch Ken then over to St John’s of Dalry, I spoke to a few guys about their winter. Everyone does it differently but whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it solo. My personal preference is to cross train. This means running, turbo, club run and core. Like all my club mates I have a plan for the winter. I don’t share my targets with them. Why would I? Why would they? But isn’t it amazing how we pursue those targets religiously? There isn’t a cyclist who lies about their winter regime. Well…why lie to yourself?

Many years ago my old cycling mucker Ian handed me a tattered thick booklet. It was called ‘The Blue Book‘ by Peter Read. Here’s what a fellow cycling blogger said about it-

‘When I started turbo training I bought Peter Read’s “The Blue Book”. Peter is well known in cycling circles as a guru of turbo training and his books have been used for many years to good effect. I have only read The Blue Book and can vouch for the effectiveness of the sessions. As well as helping you plan your sessions there are specific sessions to help overcome your weanesses, be it top end speed, power, endurance, etc etc.’

He goes on to add some pretty good advice about the book, saying…

‘…keep the steady rides for the road and use the turbo for interval training, easy recovery sessions or for when the weather is really bad. For interval training, the turbo becomes a different beast, an instrument of torture known in some cycling circles as “The Rack”, but it is fabulously effective as such and if you have the means of measuring power output then you can accurately repeat sessions and measure progress. Boring? Never, especially when the figures tell you you are improving…’

Ian always impressed on me the positive aspects of turboing which has meant I still enjoy it. Lots of guys don’t (yet they still do as much as me). When you’re on your turbo it’s sad but true, even though it is a chariot of pain, it is without doubt, the bike of truth. Those intervals are measured to the exact second as are the pyramids. Cutting corners or poor efforts on the turbo do you no good.

sharing a joke with my cycling buddy Ian Harkness, the man who introduced me to the systematic torture of the body a.k.a the turbo!

Yet the turbo also means loneliness. Perhaps this is why a lot of guys buy themselves ipods or imagic turbos; there’s some company in music or a little animated cyclist smashing you on a simulation of the Galibier! I stopped using my ipod recently. My only company is the whirr of the back wheel and the digital clock crushing me relentlessly. The garage is a lonely place, killing yourself between the lawnmower and some old tiles. But it is also a place of self-determination and ambitions.

As I said at the top of this post, lactic got me today but as the boys pulled away, something made me keep on turning those pedals even though getting back on the group was futile. I’m not sure what it was: trying to reach towards something or was it keeping something at bay, the body’s pain? Irrespective of what it was, there’s no crisis, no plan changing. The lonely crossing of the winter will continue and who knows, next time I may well pull clear of the lactic kill zone!

One Day in a Hundred

Every now and again you have a day on the bike which turns out to be the opposite of what you expected.

Criffel brooding in the distance

Alert! This morning started with a change in the weather forecast. Not admittedly on a par with Michael Fish and the great storms in 1987. But wrong enough for you to think twice about cycling. It was supposed to be dry and cold but this was undermined by the torrential hale storms battering the roofs as I toasted my bagel. The weatherman was saying things like ‘this thick cloud is snow’ and ‘long icy stretches in the south-west’ as though he was surprised. One day I am going to take those guys to court for the amount of times they’ve made my heart sink an hour before a ride.

A quick rethink of cycling clothes and I made my way down the road for early miles with some of the boys. The Bankend road was different from what I was expecting. Huge floods from the fields left the road submerged. I was wishing my bike had a persicope! As well as the standing water which made our route resemble a drowned world, there was fast running water everywhere and riding parallel with the swollen Nith, it was hard to tell where land ended and river began.

The watery flatlands of the Solway

I had a feeling in my creeking knees that somehow today was going to be different. We then had two punctures in quick succession. As always, puncture repair always brings out the best repartee from cyclists and this morning we were blessed. We had one cyclist who worked on the nearby Caerlaverock wildlife Reserve and the other a Farmer. Plenty of conflicting comments on wild life. I tried to chip in by telling them I could do a great Hooper Swan call.

Hooper or Whooper?

The problem was…no such bird exists but the Whooper swan does! These elegant birds were then described by the farmer as ‘huge footed vermin…’ So it went on.

With the double puncture blow, we missed the main club run by over 15 minutes. Was the next 3 hours going to be spent exchanging wildlife insults? I suggested we rode the route sensibly as cycling can be a funny old sport and you never know what’s up the road. Perhaps the main group were having similar problems (with punctures and flooding as opposed to Autumn Watch trade-offs).

Having coped with the deluge around Bankend we then headed over to Beeswing ( a quiet road punctuated by a serene loch on our right). No deluge but unbelievably we encountered snow. We could see the main group’s tyre tracks woven ahead of us as we rode in single file. This bitter enemy of the cyclist helps improve your butt clenching muscles. Luckily it was turning to slush when we arrived.

What? flooding, snow, sun and then a massive flock of oncoming sheep…are you making this up?

Then the sun came out triumphantly. I said to the boys we’ve seen it all today and one replied ‘Except fire.’ Let’s not tempt it. Trying to stuff a flapjack in mouth at the time I noticed red markings round the foil. My mouth had started bleeding. I know I’m a glutton but I didn’t realise I needed my jaws re-configured.

We met up with some of the Club near Corsock including my old cycling mucker, Harky who told me he’d ordered his new Cervelo. I was pleased for him but readers please also see one of my previous posts on Bike Envy.

We rode down Corsock Moor. I don’t dislike anything in cycling apart from the descent off that moor. Why? Well the bike busting cattle grid, the stones, leaves, blind corners and creeping verges are reason enough but the biggest source of dislike must be that in the many years I have cycled over that descent, the road has NEVER been dry.

after the sheep attack…Brian and Ian

Just as we reached the bottom we were met by a bizarre sight; a huge flock of sheep funneling up the narrow road towards us. We jumped up onto the high verges. Our journey was nearly over. I said it was not so much Three Men in Boat as Four Men on a Bike except that one of us was missing. Colin had got ahead of the sheep attack. We battered along Irongray to catch him but he had literally disappeared! Missing poster needed.

Cycling into town, the dark clouds were gathering again for another ration of rain. I got home before the afternoon showers arrived. Over a bowl of homemade soup I could only laugh. Every one in a hundred days do you get a ride like this – all the seasons rolled into one, punctures, a bloodied mouth and wildlife up close – an entertaining way to cycle those winter miles. We’ll be on time for the next Club Run!

Grinning on the way home through the lens flare – John, Alex, Brian and Ian

What Would Buddha Say?

We started our longer runs for the Autumn and Winter with club favourite – Samye Ling in Eskdalemuir. A great ride in which I inadvertently clocked up another Centurion.

Re-fuelled with cake and coffee beneath the Victory Stupa

Just because the summer has ended (much like it began with torrential showers) doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your bike. As always with a cycle run over to Eskdalemuir, the scenery and company make for a great day.

Including some early extra miles and the club run itself, I spent six hours on my bike. I’d say whole heartedly that was six hours of pure unbroken, enjoyment. You can’t say that about every sporting activity…or about many activities for that matter.

My cycling buddy, John Andrew and I decided to go for a spin in the early morning round Caerlaverock and Bankend. Initially this seemed a little mad as it was pretty cold. However the winds were very light and this meant areas of pure white mist shrouded the Nith as it opened out into the Solway. This with the soundtrack of wintering birds above us made the early rise seem worth it.

Early light with mist across the low road at Bankend

As I said earlier the Samye Ling run is a popular long run for our club and as I expected there was a great turn out for the start. The sun was beginning to warm us but was still low in the sky which made riding in a bunch of 30 quite tricky at times.

meeting point for the run to where east meets west

Blinking in the sun we hit the hills just outside Lockerbie and myself and a fellow cyclist managed to get ourselves detached from the group (always ask the patron of the peleton for permission to pee). Re-grouping is essential on longer runs and no one is trying to rip anyone’s legs off.

It was not far from here where we hit a minor directional hitch, namely getting from the Langholm road onto the roads for Eskdalemuir. To cut a long story short, it involved a small place called Corrie. We ended up on the long, undulating but nonetheless spectacular road into Langholm. Someone joked that had we taken any further detours we might end up in the actual Corrie, the fictional one in Weatherfield, Manchester!

Following the road from Langholm to Eskdalemuir brought back some great memories of the excellent Ken Laidlaw Sportive which travels through that area. Our detour quickly became irrelevant amongst the hills and rivers which surround you as you cycle and chat.

With a mile or so to the Samye Ling centre I tried a cheeky jump on the group claiming I wanted my soup first. I was quickly chased down – never kid a cyclist about his soup and cake.

As I’ve said in a previous blog, Samye Ling is a fascinating incongruity. It’s brightly painted stupas, cloutie tree and flags sit bravely in the Scottish countryside. It all seems to work together somehow.

Gary and Brian – taking a break with a coffee

Back on the road we swept down through Boreland and then onwards towards Lockerbie. After the lumpy hills around Banks Hill, getting the chance to spin your legs freely for 10 miles was a great feeling.

Murray (centre) looking a little like a Mafia Cycling Don with the shades

By the time we reached Millhousebridge a couple of guys had cramped up a little but being close to home on roads you know well, lifts the morale and we managed to keep a steady pace in the sunshine as we rolled through Templand.

Birthday boy Gordon, his wife Gill and my old cycling mucker, Ian Harkness – great to see him back into the long miles and at the centre of the micky taking!

It always amazes me with club cyclists how after 80 – 90 miles in their legs they’re still game for a 30. There were several of these as we neared Dumfries, so we finished the ride with some leading out and sprinting shenanigans.

Alison and Jim with Mikey (big miles) in the background

Sprinting into Locharbriggs on the outskirts of Dumfries meant the day was drawing to a close. The detour meant I’d completed 104 miles. I wasn’t complaining. It won’t be long till winter (will it be snow or storms this year?) so I would easily have cycled another six hours that day for the pleasure it brought.

My early morning buddy, John A. with Andrew beside him thinking about more caffeine perhaps?

Cycling and Recycling

Sportives have lost a little of their allure for me but the 102 mile Galloway Recycle event certainly helped restore some of my enthusiasm.

Firstly I liked the title of this sportive – not so much the play on words but the fact that it reflected a clear focus, the use of re-cylced bikes for youngsters through the KilliCanCycle charity. We cyclists sometimes just think about the route for 100 miles or the weather but many sportives do a lot of good work for charities and the ambition of the Galloway Recycle organisers deserves credit. It was also a plus for the organisers with their speedy feedback on timings for riders. The use of transponders was pretty cool.

Living in Dumfries I knew the various parts of the route but had never ridden it as a complete route. Thinking about it in advance I calculated the lumpy ascent towards Gatehouse from Creetown would be a low point for the morale – I wasn’t disappointed. However I was looking forward to the Clatteringshaws section of the route…more of this later.

I intended taking my Tommasini for a bit class and comfort. I’d told some of the boys I’d be riding with a cravat and smoking a pipe. Unfortunately I’d spent the week trying to index my upper class Italian machine only to realise too late that it needed some new cabling. I took the carbon Felt instead which was untested for comfort over 100 miles. Either I’d be fine or spend half the ride with a fossilised back-side and numbed fingers.

One thing I really look forward to on Audaxes and Sportives is seeing the vast array of bikes on show. I would have to say that this has become less exciting in recent years. At the start point in Kirkcudbright there was a vast amount of colourful machines but I was struck by how similar bikes are now looking (my Felt included). Has the road bike market narrowed so much that we ride with much the same spec…the same finishing touches? What about some cool forks? Some striking lugs? To people out there who are new to cycling – don’t go looking for a Sportive bike because they don’t really exist! A good bike will do everything you want of it including sportives.

On the road I spotted one bike of note, an old de rosa, sparkling blue in the summer heat. The rider had a huge hole in his shorts and a pair of trainers on with SPDs. He was a strong cyclist without a doubt but please respect that de rosa with decent kit!

Sportives mean riding with different cyclists. This isn’t too daunting as road cyclists are of much the same mind and the conversation follows the usual topics; bikes, route, weather. On the Recycle Sportive I did hear two new phrases unknown to me. One cyclist in our group referring to the run along the Queen’s Way said ‘That was a chew-on.’ I nodded in agreement but what was I agreeing to? I don’t have a clue. Was it a re-working of chewing the handlebars? I heard another say  ‘I just about lost ma tattie…’ Eh? Come again?

One downside of riding with different cyclists is that in larger groups things can get a little nervy. A couple of our boys had a little spill on the Gelston section of the route – nothing serious – but no doubt it was the slightly different conditions of riding in an unfamiliar group which had an impact. I saw the same thing happen back in 2006 during the Cumberland Challenge and again this was early. Nerves like these are something we might share with pro riders in Big Tours where there are a lot of crashes in the opening days. I think it’s a good idea to take things a little bit easier for the first half of the route and get myself acclimatised.

What about the route itself? Well whoever planned this route had one eye on its challenges and the other on the natural beauty of the area – a stimulating combination. Also the weather was incredible – sunny and warm for the whole day (freakishly unusual for this summer). Everything looked glorious in the sunshine. Yet nothing looked more glorious nor more spectacular than the fast ride from Clatteringshaws Loch along The Queen’s Way to Creetown. I think at one point I forgot all about the road as I craned my neck left and right in pure wonderment. All those dismal winter runs, the turbo sessions in my freezing garage, the hill repeats…all of it was worth it to ride my bike through such majesty.

Add to this the rolling climb over to Laurieston and the moment you rejoin the coast road for Kirkcudbright and you’ve got a feast for the eyes and great work-out for the legs.

Sportives are collective events but really they are also individual challenges. No matter the route my hard section is always between mile 55 and mile 75. It is the time of doom for me. My morale is usually in my cycling shoes till I get to mile 76 and then the legs get a new shot of energy. By a cruel twist of fate my time of doom came just as we turned into a nagging headwind at Creetown and started to push our way up towards the feed station near Gatehouse.

Luckily I was in good company with Gordon and John from Dumfries CC and another strong rider. Following the road biker’s code we shared the work and got to the feed station. I noticed on this sportive how supportive the volunteers were and how well stocked the tables were with cyclist essentials: water, bananas, flapjacks and some words of friendly encouragement. At Gatehouse the marshals assured us we had several miles of downhill which definitely made my roll go down easier. They also supplied tunnocks tea cakes which I would’ve devoured had it not been for the possibility of them melting in my pockets. A tea cake at a feed station? I would never have guessed on that option.

We climbed up over Laurieston Moor in the baking heat. The abundant scenery made the lactic seem secondary. At this stage we were joined by another group and the nervy feel came to me on the descent and I lost contact before Castle Douglas. Getting isolated on a sportive is not too clever but until I start working on my descending it’s always going to happen.

However I knew I was fit and motivated enough to ride the last 25 miles at a decent tempo. I kept an eye on my average speed as a way of maintaining my momentum and rode steadily towards the tranquil seas at Auchencairn. I was glad the organisers had placed a feed station 10-12 miles before the end. I was desperate for some hydration and I was beginning to experience that hollow signal in my stomach (the signal = the knock is coming). One of the volunteers asked me if I needed anything. I summoned all my eloquence and shouted ‘WATER! FLAPJACK!’ That man saved me from slipping into deficit.

Flapjack! Suck yer puddings in!

My mouth crammed with flapjack, I hit the climb which begins in Auchencairn and climbs up towards Dundrennan. A photographer had positioned himself on one of the bends. Damn! 90 miles of biking, try sucking in your stomach with a mouth full of biscuit so you don’t look hellish in a photo! By good fortune we caught some tail wind which eased the struggle for the last 15k.

Near Dundrennan I saw one of my original group from Creetown up ahead. Just as I had nearly bridged the gap he caught a suped-up tractor and drafted it away from me. Chapeau to a rider who can jump onto a tractor draft after 95 miles.

The ride into the finish was uplifting. Tired legs and stiff upper body immediately gave way to the warmth of the crowd and the MC welcoming you back to Kirkcudbright. And of course your cycling buddies who finished before you give you a wave of encouragement. Long after the stiff legs and the gripping of the bars I’ll remember the Recycle sportive for its great organisation, friendly atmosphere and immense, endless scenery.

Cycling photographs provided by Novantae Photography ( I recommend this young man’s photography site for tremendous images of cycling across a range of events and some eye watering scenery).