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Tourist Trophy 2013 // Stages 5b to 5f // Scotland & the Lake District

Stage 5b – Fife: Tayport to St Andrews and back again [flat]

A pleasant, flat 35 mile recovery ride from Tayport to St. Andrews via the Fife Coastal Route through Tentsmuir Forest, Leuchars and Guardbridge. Tea and double Tunnocks at West Sands in St. Andrews before heading back to Tayport.

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Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/53979529

Stage 5c – Angus: Tay Road Bridge & Dundee [city centre criterium]

A very easy day, a short spin over the Tay Road Bridge into Dundee and back again. Then hopped on a train down to Kirkcaldy to catch the opening race of the Tour Series.

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Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/54142526

Stage 5d – Perth & Kinross: Cairngorms [summit finish, in Aberdeenshire]

As I hurtled down the Cairnwell pass I started to wonder if I was doing the right thing. The speed I managed to reach indicating both the steepness and the straightness of the climb that would await me in a couple of hours time.

I’d left the car at the Glenshee ski station for a couple of reasons. Firstly if the car was at the top of the mountain then I had no choice but to ride up it if I wanted to get home. Secondly, as a teenager cycling was all about the grand tours for me, and things didn’t get really going until the summit finishes of mountain stages. My teen cycling hero was Robert Millar and he rode a Peugeot just like me. Well maybe a better Peugeot and a tad faster, but he rode a Peugeot like me. A summit finish on a Scottish mountain seemed highly appropriate.

I rode down the valley along the rolling Old Military Road towards Bridge of Cally. Long straight sections of road were broken by tight bends and sharp inclines. Having driven the road a few days before I was reminded of the words of Ernest Hemmingway, “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and can coast down them. … Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motorcar only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle”

This became thoroughly apparent as I looped back around from Bridge of Cally onto the Old Military Road into a ridiculous headwind. This explained how I had ridden the 20 miles from Glenshee to Bridge of Cally in well under an hour! It was certainly going to take longer to get back up to Glenshee. The wind made hard work of the small climbs up through the valley, even negating the ability to freewheel down any of the easy bits. There was nowhere to hide, the wind just kept on blowing into my face as the road continued to rise back towards the Cairnwell. Every strong gust almost had me a standstill, muttering obscenities as clouds scuttled across the mountainsides and valley, shadows rushing along the road towards me.

Nearing the bottom of the climb back up the Cairnwell the road straightened and the wind seemed to strengthen. The climb probably would have been OK on its own but the wind made it difficult, almost forcing me to trackstand as the pass got steeper. The straightness of the road didn’t help, there was no avoiding the wind. As I got higher the weather worsened, cold rain started to fall – sideways! The wind, rain and cold hit me harder as I crested the pass, a sign notifying me that I was back in Aberdeenshire and the car visible parked up at Glenshee just a few hundred yards away. And I knew I had tactically left a slice of cake in the glovebox.

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Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/54299072

Stage 5e – Cumbria: The Lake District

To break the journey back from Scotland I decided to stop off and camp in the Lake District. The intention was to scope out the Lakes as a possible location for a future Tourist Trophy location. So after pitching my tent on the banks of Ullswater I went and found a trailhead in the Borrowdale Valley to leave the car, whilst I went for a 20 mile lap of Derwent Water via Keswick, Newlands Hause, Buttermere and Honister Pass. Weather was a mixed bag of ominous looking clouds and sunshine, but somehow I managed to completely avoid rain despite seeing it rain around me at various points.

The ride started easy enough as I trundled along Borrowdale Valley into Keswick, before passing over a footbridge over the River Derwent and through woodland towards Swinside. Dropping through farmland and over Newlands Beck, the long climb towards Newlands Hause started, via the steep, tight hairpins at Keskadale then the long straight climb to the summit. This was the easy side but it was steep enough, particularly the 20% section at the top. Once over the top I realized how easy my climb had been compared to the other side! Grabbing both brakes I tentatively rolled down the other side occasionally locking up the back wheel on the rough road. By the time I arrived in Buttermere my hands ached from the constant braking.

Following the banks of Buttermere I headed back towards Borrowdale. I was slightly alarmed that I seemed to be heading towards a wall of mountains. Fortunately a gap did eventually appear, the Honister Pass. However it’s quite a high, steep gap. Into the second lowest gear (leaving myself somewhere to go when it all got too much) I started spinning up the road. The spinning gave way to grinding as the road got steeper and rougher. Then I had to use the lowest gear. Even this wasn’t quite enough as I reached the final section, having to zigzag across the road, tacking into the gradient, before passing through the cutting into the rocks at the summit.

It was well worth the aching legs as a vista of moorland and mountains stretched out in front of me. The moor immediately in front of me in the shadow of clouds. The valley and hills in the distance lit by brilliant sunshine, and that was where I was heading.

Back at camp I sat on the banks of Ullswater supping a bottle of Keswick ale as I watched the sun disappear behind the hills opposite.

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Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/54529505

Stage 6 – Cumbria: The Lake District [intermediate]

This was the last day of the trip so to make the most of it I got up at the crack of dawn for a spin into the hills around Ullswater. Leaving the campsite as the sun was rising, I climbed into the sunshine on top of the hills, mist nestling in the valleys. Thought I was lost at one point when what appeared to be a road on the map was little more than a farm track. After 15-20 minutes I ended up where I wanted to be, but still not sure it was the right road. There’s something lovely about riding at dawn. A mix of the changing light, no one else being around, and wildlife still out and about before it spends the rest of the day hiding from humans. Descending back down to Ullswater I followed the edge of the lake back to camp. Chucking the bike and tent in car, I started the long drive back to the south coast.

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Strava link: http://app.strava.com/activities/54642834

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