Right then, time for the big one. I haven't hidden my excitement about this and forgive me if I go on a bit but I've been preparing for this opportunity for 30 years. It's a race that starts in the city where I grew up, ends in the city where I spent my student years and passes through the roads and countryside I have lived my life on. The first professional stage race to take place solely in Scotland, and it's a women's race - no piggy backing on the back of a men's event. This is massively important for cycling in Scotland. A country that has a less than desirable health record and could certainly do with getting on its bike. And the green shoots are there. They just need a little nurturing. There are many more middle aged men like me out on the roads at the weekend than there used to be. Damn them MAMILs. More women as well although the numbers are lower. And the kids are on board. I take my eldest to the kids bike club in Dunfermline where stage 1 ends and what I see both at club nights and races are large numbers of highly enthusiastic and talented boys of all ages. The same applies to younger girls but the numbers seem to drop of significantly somewhere in the early teen years. So now we have this race to help inspire them to stay in the sport which is exactly what we need. Brilliant.
Well I rode the route as promised so hopefully I have a few decent insights. My kids are planning to use my Strava file to calculate my virtual GC position each day. They don't seem to have grasped how simple a task this will be yet. I guess time gaps could be interesting. We've had some pretty fantastic weather lately in Scotland. So I guess you know what that means. Showers and a risk of thunderstorms are forecast. But, hey, its only weather. When did that ever stop us? There should be plenty going on at the start and finish of each stage including a variety of family friendly activities being organised by the local bike clubs. Get along if you can. Our own club, the Carnegie Cyclones, will be at the Pittencrieff park finish and they have some fun stuff planned.
Stage 1: Dundee to Dunfermline (Friday 9th August)
For those with long memories the last time a professional bike race visited Dundee was the 1989 Tour of Britain. I was 9 and had just found the sport having followed the epic Lemond/FIgnon Tour de France and I was kept off school to go to my first ever bike race. It was a prologue hill climb TT up the Law Hill which stands over Dundee and can be seen in the 2nd photo below. Malcolm Elliot won but Robert Millar (my then hero) laid the foundation to win the race overall later in the week. We spent the day gradually working our way up the route from the town square to the top of the Law. I was hooked for life and this is the sort of formative experience I hope this race can give to our current generation of young bike riders.
So the day begins at the shiny new V+A museum in Dundee. I will be milling around here before the start so if any of you are around then let me know.
The V+A museum: I have a lunch reservation here for Friday (woohoo)
This is a nice opportunity to showcase Dundee's rejuvenated waterfront which is rather lovely.
The riders will cross the Tay bridge then head along the south shore of the Tay briefly with views across to Broughty Ferry where I grew up.
After a turn the direction of travel is generally to the South West dwars door Fife. This is potentially the most selective stage of the race so I am a little disappointed that the wind looks like it will be Easterly rather than the generally prevailing Westerly. This will make things pretty easy until the finale. The middle portion of this stage is pretty flat with a few rolling hills and will be dominated by views of the twin peaks of the Lomond Hills in the centre of the county. It is unfortunate that the route skips the difficult climb between those peaks and instead skirts around the base.
With the Lomonds behind them the peleton will find the banks of Loch Leven. It was in a castle on an island in Loch Leven that Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned prior to her beheading. At this point there should have been few complications but that changes quickly as they turn away from the Loch and the finale begins.
At this point the road narrows and there will be no good opportunities to move up before the big climb of the day. The road surface here has been significantly improved since this photo which is good as it was badly potholed in places. Still, positioning in the lead up to Hatchbank Rd will be vital.
And so they reach Cleish Hill. This climb is legendary round here. In the grand scheme of things it isn't that hard but it should be plenty long and steep enough to create gaps in this race. It is also close enough to the finish to be crucial. The climb starts and ends with ramps around 10-12 % with a bit of false flat in the middle.
For me the false flat is the worst bit as its like swimming through treacle although there will be a tailwind on Friday. After a slog you reach a hairpin and are rewarded by the view below before things kick up again.
My guess is the first ramp will make a selection and the top ramp is where the big attacks will launch. Anyone with ambitions that was caught down the peleton when the road narrowed earlier will have a hard time moving up on the false flat section. Once over the top there is a bit of flattish riding before the descent starts. The descent is pretty non technical but was terribly potholed until recently. The worst potholes have been filled but the surface is far from perfect. I hope that isn't a factor. It is a fairly long and bitty descent down to Dunfermline from here so gaps could certainly be closed. Presumably the strongest rider will be at the front so may survive but I can see a small group staying together and potentially growing a bit on the run in. That said, in the final few km the direction changes frequently on pretty exposed roads with a few short sharp run ups out of corners so there are launch pads available for a late attack. At the very end there is a bit of a tricky run down and round the back of Pittencrieff park with a sharp left hand corner that is then followed by a narrowing hairpin left into the park just a few hundred metres from the end. Very easy to get wrong and mistakes here will be terminal to stage winning chances.
Stage 2: Glasgow to Perth (Saturday 10th August)
Stage 2 is the longest at around 150km and it felt harder to me than the profile would suggest. Couple that with the likelihood that most of the day will be spent in crosswinds with the final 50km into a headwind and it certainly doesn't look so simple. That said a sprint still seems the most likely outcome (particularly with at least 1 strong sprint team and that final 50km to bring things back together) but it could be quite a reduced peleton. The stage starts in George Square in Glasgow which by now has a tradition for hosting several Tour of Britain starts as well as featuring on the circuit that has been used for the British Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships.
They head North through rolling countryside until they reach Aberfoyle which is a bit of a cyclists café stop town these days. I had nice weather so stopped at a rather fantastic bike hire shop and café with a terrace out the back for a bacon roll and coffee. It's on the main street so easy to find. Sorry, no photo but I do highly recommend it. The Tour was in the Pyrenees when I was there so the chat was on that topic. Aberfoyle is at the foot of the days main obstacle, the Duke's Pass. Probably the toughest climb in the whole race. It is a shame it doesn't arrive in much of a strategic position. The road rises quickly through a series of quick hairpins out of town before a longer traverse towards a summit that undulates for a while before descending to Loch Achray.
By this point they are firmly in the Trossachs. An area of Scotland nicknamed the "highlands in miniature." The area is popular because it is very accessible from the central belt and has most of the charms of the highlands in fairly manageable chunks.
The pointy peak below is Ben A'an. At 450m roughly it is a small mountain even by Scottish standards but it is a nice little climb with spectacular views of Loch Katrine from the top so very popular.
I'm hoping the clouds aren't too low as the helicopter shots should be a real feature around this area.
From here the stage follows a series of glens through the Trossachs. The scenery will be lovely. The racing involves some rolling hills but is mainly on increasingly wide and flat roads with a long run down to the finish. The main complication could be the wind and weather and when they finally arrive in Perth there is another pretty finish location on the banks of the Tay - upriver from where the previous days stage started.
Stage 3: Edinburgh-Edinburgh (Sunday 11th August)
At the moment the weather looks pretty changeable for next weekend but, currently, Sunday looks like there will be a South Westerly breeze with showers and a risk of thunderstorms. So probably a cross/head wind for the first third of the stage before they start to turn back up towards Edinburgh. The distance between the bigger climbs in the middle of the stage (which aren't that hard) and the back loaded finale means, for me, most of the action will be saved for the end. The route takes the riders down into borders country and the Moorfoot Hills. Another area of picturesque countryside with broad glens, round hills and some exposed moorland. Wind can be murder up on those moors. I was virtually standing still in the granny ring on the flat a little to the East of where this stage passes earlier this year trying to get over the Lammerlaws. However, unless things change it looks like the wind may not be such a factors which is a shame.
The longer of the two climbs in the middle of the stage is Glentress and it is a pretty gentle gradient all the way. The second kick up to the Mound is slightly harder but not that long. I see these as leg softeners more than anything.
The ride down to Edinburgh from there takes in some nice single lane farm roads. Lots of little ups and downs and sharp bends. The surface is pretty rough again in places so hopefully that won't be a factor. The race makes its way back into Edinburgh and Holyrood Park where the stage started for 3 laps of Queen's Drive. Now the climb on Queens Drive has some lovely views of Arthur's Seat. It has been pointed out that it isn't that hard and may not be selective. I'm not so sure. The Cauberg isn't that hard either and I see similarities. This climb is a little over 1km. The gradient starts at about 6% but does pitch up to 10-12% for long enough, I believe, to launch a successful attack.
Once at the top there is a windy flat traverse around the back of the hill before a quick descent to the finish line. If things are still close on the GC then the final lap will be crucial and I think it can decide the race.
And this fellow is relevant because he is very close to the finish line. Oor Wullie is a local comic book character (from Dundee actually). There are statues like this all over Scotland dressed in different ways. It works out as a bit of a scavenger hunt for locals and tourists and the aim is to raise money for various sick kids charities.
You'll be pleased to know I don't have a huge amount to say about this yet as the startlist is still pretty sketchy. There are a number of up and coming British riders involved but I'm afraid my knowledge here is lacking so the race itself should be an education. There will be established class in the field coming from a variety of European and American teams that are signed up. The race clashes with the European Championships unfortunately so don't expect any of the huge stars of womens cycling.
Chloe Hoskings is, perhaps, the biggest name currently on the startlist and her rapid sprint coupled with help from the strong Ale Cipollini squad should give her an excellent chance of winning stage 2. Emma White is here as well for Rally UHC though and she can sprint as well.
TIBCO-SVB are bringing a very strong looking team including Brodie Chapman, who won this years Tour of the Gila, and Sharon Malseed, 2nd in the years Joe Martin stage race. They could certainly feature on the GC as could Beate Zanner. A solid German stage racer with several good results in the, always high quality, Thuringen Rundfahrt in her career including a 5th place this year.
I am particularly waiting for the Bigla line up to be announced though for 2 reasons. I have it on apparently good authority that Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig will ride. I thought a rider of her class would be heading for the Euros but her name has dropped off Denmark's start list for that race. Her hilly one day classic skill set should be perfect for this race and I would have her as favourite if she rides. She is also famous for emotional post race interviews which could work out nicely for the race from a promotional perspective. Bigla also have Elizabeth Banks who is the UK rider that won a stage at the Giro Rosa last month. She's on a bit of a career year with 9th overall at the Tour of Yorkshire and 7th at the Women's Tour of Britain. So I'm hopeful that these two will make the start.
I'll try to update this if any other interesting names are announced.
HOW TO WATCH
Ideally get down to the route somewhere and post your photos below. There is going to be live coverage + on demand though on www.voxwomen.com. I have never used this website but as far as I can see you just go on and watch. It's possible you may need to create an account but it does say it's free to view worldwide.
OK, if you have read this far then well done and thanks. Please spread the word.....and enjoy.