We went down to Llanwrtyd Wells for the first round of the Gore Bike Wear road sportive series, and we had a fantastic time on some of the most scenic roads in the country, as well as being sternly tested over the Devil's Staircase! It's only a little more than a week now before the 2nd round of the 2009 series, in the Scottish border town of Selkirk so we thought we'd give you a little taster of what's on offer on 1 August. And it looks like a great weekend of riding, with three road routes available for sportive fans on the Saturday, and the option of some great off-roading on the Sunday too.
A new year, a new challenge
Last year's ride followed an 80 mile loop that followed quiet roads in the Tweed, Yarrow and Ettrick Valleys; a fairly easy route that featured only two major climbs. But the organisers clearly felt that everyone needs a stiffer test for 2009, and this year there's three courses to choose from, including a monster 120-miler with 3,600m of climbing. Each route makes the most of the network of narrow hill roads that the Scottish Borders is so famous for. The shortest circuit, at 47 miles, features four climbs; there's eight ascents in the 95 mile route and ten on the longest loop.
None of the climbs are Alpine in scale but even when you're not on a big climb the terrain is far from flat, so the ascent total soon builds up. The clockwise direction of each route means that the outward leg will be into the prevailing wind and, unlike last year, there are no busy main roads included; in fact on some sections you’ll be lucky to see a car. The new courses are going to be a challenge for most but choose a distance that suits your current level of fitness, get some miles in well before the big day and the reward will be some of the best sportive riding to be experienced anywhere in Britain.
There's camping available from Friday night to Monday morning if you want to make a weekend of it, and it's included in the entry fee of £25 which also gets you a post-event meal and a finishing present. And if you fancy a bit of fat-tyred fun then chuck the MTB in the back and you can take part in the Merida MTB marathon on the Sunday: there's a tenner off the entry fee if you do both.
Everyone will head out of Selkirk along the picturesque Ettrick Valley, with 2 miles of easy spinning before hitting a narrow climb that snakes its way up onto the Woll Rig. After a fast descent to the village of Ashkirk, you start a lovely undulating moorland road that takes you to the first feed stop at Tushie Law in Ettrick Valley. Here the 47’s turn east and take on two of the best climbs in the Borders, The Berry Bush and Witchie Knowe before an easy run back to Selkirk along the valley floor. Everyone else turns left and makes for the wilds of Eskdalemuir.
Given a calm day, it’s a big-ring churn up to the source of the Tima Water on past Samie Ling Tibetan Monastery. Stop for tea and contemplation if you want. At Eskdalemuir village (two houses and a tree) it’s a right turn and a tough schlep over to Boreland through the endless Spruce plantations of Castle O’er Forest. Look for a well-stocked feed table at the village.
After a marvellous 10 mile climb alongside Moffat Water the Dumfries/Selkirkshire border marks the return to civilisation and the start of a 45 minute rolling descent past the Borders’ best known beauty spot, St Mary’s Loch. Feed stop numner three soon comes into view at The Gordon Arms Hotel. Next up is The Witchie Knowe, 167 vertical metres of hell for tired legs and the last climb of the day for the 95 milers who turn left on reaching the Ettrick Valley road and follow the same return route as the 47 milers. The full distance boys and girls have to go in the opposite direction and tackle another 30 miles and two fair sized climbs before a lumpy run back to Selkirk by a leafy back road along the south bank of the river.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.