Madonna del Ghisallo Pilgrimage

An icon of Italian (World) Cycling and on my To Do List for a long time, the pilgrimage to the patron saint of cycling –  ticked off 🙂

Having seen it so many times on the Lombardia / Giro and read about it in so many books and pored over numerous pictures I still was surprised at how tricky a wee climb this was.  Got a nice wee ferry ride to Bellagio to the start of the climb. You immediately climb out of Bellagio on fairly steep 8-10% ramps until you get out the town and into the climb proper – it was here the unofficial “start” line was painted on the road after a mile of climbing!

The climb is in 3 sections. The first section is about 4.5 miles of steady, steep climbing through trees and rapidly gaining height. Then the road levels off and even goes downhill slightly for the next mile. Time to spin the legs and get the average speed up. Then the final mile is steep again – where you’d make your attack!

It was so familiar as I turned the last corner and could see the summit with the church on the left – all the greats over all ages of cycling have raced up here and it was a privilege to follow them  – albeit half their speed 🙂

The church itself is amazing with memorabilia from Italian World Champions (and a few non Italians) over the years. Spent an age soaking it all in. There is now a museum on site too (5 euro entry for cyclists) which is well worth a visit. You could spend all day looking at the multitude of donated bikes, jerseys, newspapers, books, videos detailing the history of cycling and the riders.

All that was left was the blast back to Bellagio and a gelato by Lake Como to remember all those that have passed this way.

Thoroughly recommend it for everyone and even the non cyclists in my group who drove up enjoyed the history, church and museum.

Some pics which don’t do it justice…

Coppi’s 1 hour record bike

The Garmin stats:

Gran Fondo Stelvio 2016

After last year’s Etape du Tour Heatstroke Hell, the main decision this year was how much winter clothing do we need in June?!

Three of us (Ciaran, Jamie and Graeme C) had signed up for this event sponsored by Santini and Mr Santini himself is there to wave you off and home (if you’re fast enough, he doesn’t hang abut in the snow for too long). Starting in Bormio and taking in the fearsome Motirolo and finishing 2,760 metres up on the Stelvio.

We decided to do a wee warm up climb the day before and so we climbed the Gavia, a mere 25Km climb, topping out at 2,652 metres. As we climbed up and up the weather changed to rain, then the snow comes, lying thick either side of the road. By the time we got to tthe top there was no visibility, it was freezing and you could ski! And tomorrow the Stelvio is 150 metres higher! The descent was awful, absolutely freezing, shivering, hands barely able to break. A real eye opener for tomorrow.

Lovely June day

After thawing out, we went to register and pickup the goodie bag (which was actually pretty good) and then the race briefing. As the 2 hosts chatted and joked away, we were understanding nothing of it at all.Then I realised half was in English, the tannoy was just so bad you couldn’t understand a word 🙂

There was a thousand checks of the weather and lots of decisions what to wear, at least I didn’t have to descend the Stelvio at the end as Lindsay was coming to the finish and would drive me down. Ciaran and Jamie dropped off their clothing bags that they take to the finish so you can change into dry, warm clothes for the descent. We were in different start pens, but as I was in pen 1, Jamie pen 2 and Ciaran in 3 there was every chance we would all meet up as they caught and passed me. Usual hanging about waiting for the off, but the weather was fine.

The first few Kms are neutralised behind the race car, which was “interesting” as people sped up to get behind the car only to then slow down, a concertina start / stop as folks all shouting and brakes screeching. The car peeled off and then all hell broke loose. The pace was stupidly fast (for me) and as it was mainly downhill and with a big day ahead I really took it easy, just spinning and keeping safe.

After about 30 miles you go through Bianzone and hit the first real climb. On the event profile it is a mere blip, in reality it is a 3 mile climb at 9%+ average! After so much descending it was a shock to the legs and I spun up keeping it steady. Half way up is a really steep ramp going through a narrow arch and was a bottleneck but at least nobody in my group had to get off so we made it through and up to the top.This is where Jamie caught me and we stayed together on the descent and the flattish section until you get to Sernio hill (only 2 miles @ 5.1%).

After 50 miles and 2.5 hours we hit the Motirolo – 7 miles @ 11% average. It was, as expected, brutally, unrelentingly tough for the first 5 miles. Some of the ramps are 15-20% and go on for what seems like an eternity. I was managing it okay, trying to keep out the red and just slowly getting there. Jamie had pushed on and disappeared. Then you hit a flattish bit, just enough to get the legs spinning and get ready for the last 1.5 miles. It was around here Ciaran caught and passed me in his usual mountain goat style. Then bang, with a mile to go, you hit a ridiculously steep, rough, cobbled, wet section with ramps 25%+. It is very narrow, very steep and being wet your wheels spun – so almost everybody gets off and walks and you pretty much have no choice with the traffic. Walking was harder than peddaling it! Then get back on for the final push to the summit. It had taken me 1hr 25 to go 7 miles! I filled my water bottles and set off.

The fearsome descent was less so and wasn’t too bad, was expecting worse and even I was passing some folks – unheard of. After 9 miles of downhill, pass through Tialo Basso, a town at 677 metres, and then the realisation you still have 32 miles and 2,000 metres ascent to go and it is all uphill from here.

The next section was a slog, on my own, crawling along and constantly thinking “I still have the Stelvio to climb”. It was nice getting back to Bormio with the crowds cheering and knowing there was just 1 more hill. But what a hill, 21Km and 7.1% average.

Time to engage bottom gear and enjoy it as best I can. After 2 Km I saw Lindsay by the side of the road – it was closed to cars and she couldn’t get to the top! Oh dear, I have to descend at the finish and no warm clothes for me….. I actually enjoyed the climb, it is spectacular,weather was great and views amazing. It did take a longgggg time, but eventually with 2-3Km to go the snow walls start and the scene turns from warm summer to winter again. Finally crossed the line at a crawl and was handed the coveted Finisher’s Cap.

Was worth it for this 🙂

As I put on my summer waterproof the hailstorm started! Quick message to see if Jamie was still at the top (no answer) and I set off. It was bloomin freezing again. After 2-3 Km I saw Jamie coming up – no idea how that happened or where I passed him but the confused look and my frozen brain were struggling to understand! (We reckon it was when he stopped in Bormio for water that I passed him) Thought at 1 point my brake / shifter was broken and then realised it was because 2 fingers were so numb I had no feeling.  After 19K of downhill I met Lindsay where the road closure was and shivering, changed into my warm clothes. Turns out the road closed at 9:3am, but the Police were very nice and even gave Lindsay some of their lunchtime wine while she waited :-0

So that was it – GF Stelvio DONE. Great event, well organised, well marshalled and a very tough iconic route. Highly recommend it, and Bormio is a nice wee town too.

The results for Team Wheelers were:

Ciaran – 7:03 (300th and 56th in age cat)

Graeme – 7:18 (348th and 70th in age cat)

Jamie – 7:31 (464th and 76th in age cat)

The winning time, was a quite frankly ridiculous 5:19 and in total, 3,100 took part.


3 Pistes 2016

So, so much better than last year – it’s all about the weather!

Last year this event was horrible, brutal wind all the way round and soul destroying, so this year had to be better, right? The Italian Mob (Jamie, Ciaran and me) were doing this as a last “social paced” warm up before we head off to Italy next weekend. We were also joined by Guest Rider for The Day Wee Phil. Sky’s looked ominous on the way up, but forecast was dry, sunshine and most importantly – no wind. After the usual faffing about at sign on, dropping bags, getting ready the 4 of us set off at 8:35 – fairly social time for these events.

Nice and steady up over the Moulin Moors and the weather was already fine. We were joined by a wee group, most of whom were too shy to go near the front 🙂 The rolling roads to get to the first Piste of the day are a bit sapping, but we were sticking to our reasonably social paced plan. The climb up to Glenshee was fine, but we had lost Phil so we had a quick pee stop at the summit and then the blast down to Braemar.

Just before Braemar we were passed by a group and latched on to their train, working well on the miles to the next climbing section. From Crathie to Tomintoul is 3 climbs of increasing difficulty! As we climbed the first sharp section, the group split and we agreed we would not chase the faster guys all the way to Aviemore – yeah right! The group did all stay together over the next climb and fast descent and on to Cockbridge for the brute that is The Lecht!

The wall of tarmac that greets you is impressive, as is the noise of everyone changing in to their smallest gear! No two ways about it, it is a grind for the first bit – get up it any way you can. Then it “flattens” out, get your breath back, next ramp, flattens out, one more final steep ramp before the faster section to the ski station. This is where we stopped for water and waited for Wee Phil to get back on.

The descent is nearly worth all the effort, but is over all too quickly. The 4 of us made our way to Tomintoul where the train from earlier caught us and we latched on once again. The pace was now slightly above “social”, but with a good group and a wee tailwind the effort was just about manageable. The blast back after Bridge of Brown all the way to Coylumbridge was a bit fierce and the thought of the last climb was looming large.

As we hit the main drag to the Cairngorm climb our social pace at this point was 95 miles in 5 hours and with 2 of the 3 pistes done! Then there was an almighty bang and much looking around to see who was the unlucky one – it was Ciaran – rotten luck. The group then fractured as the initial steep bit of the climb took its toll and we were all strung out everyone doing their best to get up. It does get slightly easier further up, but legs were bust by then and it was a slow drag to get over the line. A smiling Karen (and Steve) who had set off early, were there to greet us, as was Fiona D waiting for Alan who we had passed before Cockbridge looking like he was having a “fun” day.

Was a cracking day, weather held which made all the difference. Bring on the Wheelers Weekender where we get to do it all again 🙂

Turns out later in the afternoon there were thunderstorms and flash floods and the event was stopped for 45 minutes with 200 riders stranded at Nethy Bridge! So even on a good day in Scotland you’re never far away from winter!

Times for the 4 Wheelers were:
Graeme Carruthers 5:44:55 (13th on the day)
Jamie Costello 5:46:03 (14th)
Ciaran Hannon 5:49:29 (17th, including puncture stop!)
Karen Knight 6:40:20 (1st in category and 4th female overall)

And for our Thistle friends :
Phil Morris 5:59:09
Alan Davidson 6:41:57
Steve Knight (couldn’t find time in the results?)

Garmin info / route etc –

Mallorca 2016

A wee update on the latest annual holiday training camp to Mallorca.

DAY 1 – Travel / Formentor

After the usual no sleep to Pollensa all night travelling, which all went seamlessly thanks to Jamie and Gillian for organising the buses to Edinburgh and Pollensa Park it was the now traditional afternoon leg spin to the lighthouse at Formentor. Weather was fine, run was all good and the goats were in good form. Then it was quick turnaround and the return leg where we split into a couple of groups as the rolling road took its toll. Re group at the top of the last climb for the blast back to Peurto Pollensa and the first (of many) stops at Tolos.

My stats for the day : 28.2 miles and 2,850 feet of climbing –

DAY 2 – The Mountains!

A lovely morning saw us all head out in one group towards the mountains. Over the bumps and on to The Orient. A wee bit of early jostling saw the group split on the first climb, but we regrouped at the bottom, a pattern for the day. Then it was the climb of the Orient / Col d’Honor where the real “fun” started and the descent down to Bunyola for a much needed lunch.  Suitably refuelled and having waved Jerry and Gary off, we headed for the Soller climb, where we had agreed to “keep it sensible”, which we actually did. Got a nice tow from a local club and the climb is one of my favourites and doing at a pace we could talk made it all the more enjoyable. The descent down to Soller town is less enjoyable for me, far too technical, until you get down to the main road and a real blast for the last couple of K’s. 

Then on to the big one, Puig Major, not a favourite, but has to be done. Again we kept it sensible, tapping a pace that wasn’t too taxing, even more sensible given it was now the hottest part of the day. Eventually getting to the top and through the tunnel for the descent to the viaduct, our agreed meeting point. It was a wee while before we were all together as some stopped to take pictures, etc – what do they think this is a holiday 🙂 As the clouds were looking ominous some of us headed back as others recovered, splitting in to 2 groups.

The rolling roads from the viaduct back to Lluc are a real leg sapper, just what you need after 3 big mountains! But we did all manage to get down together and the speedy run in back to Pollensa. A cracking day.

My stats for the day : 84.6 miles and 8,050 feet of climbing

DAY 3 – Wash Out

So the plan was to go to Randa and then swing past Alcudia on the way home for some of us to register for Saturday’s 312 event. Well the best laid plans….

It was raining, hard, and nobody wanted to go out! We waited and waited until it eventually looked like it was stopping. Suitably wrapped up, we all set off for Alcudia. It started raining heavy again. Roads were slippery and Gillian came a cropper, thankfully at slow pace and no major damage done. We decided we would skip Randa and just head to the event registration. Unfortunately that didn’t open until 3pm! So after some shopping and hiding in doorways to get warm, we headed home, gingerly, cold and soaken. A day to forget!

My stats for the day : 16.2 miles and 112 feet of climbing

DAY 4 – Lost!!

Weather better, we decided the best tapering for the 312 would be to do some hills!

So off we all went to Selva and the climb up the beautiful Sa Batalla climb. A fair pace set by the drink fuelled Ciaran was just not what was needed 🙂 Regrouping at the cafe at the petrol station we then headed to the viaduct (except Ciaran who decided having ripped our legs he was heading off). After the viaduct is a sharp climb to then descend Sa Calobra. What a stunning descent it is. Technical and you do have to watch out for cars / riders in both directions so makes sight seeing tricky. Once at the bottom we decided to head straight back up and regroup at the viaduct as I still have painful memories of trying the climb on a full stomach. It was a lovely climb, steady, not too windy or hot and fantastic scenery. At the viaduct some of us decided to head to the Puig and on to Valldemossa. As we started climbing up to the Puig, Ian Anderson turned back as he decided to head home with the rest. This left Jim F, Joe McF, Jamie C and myself to crest the Puig and the best descent on the island, 14K downhill to Soller for some lunch.

After lunch we set off at a social pace to Valldemossa – possibly the best road on the island. As we made our way to Deia we saw what looked like a Wheeler coming towards us?  It was Ian Anderson, but how?? We carried on the climb and it transpired that Ian had changed his mind again, decided to carry on up the Puig to catch us. He then set off up to Valldemossa and turned back as he didn’t know when the climb ended! As we finally got to Valldemossa, Ian said he was about 200 metres from the top when he turned back, oops!

The fast descent and team time trial saw us arrive at Santa Maria after 88 miles for a final coffee stop. After discussion, we agreed Ian’s “it’s only 95 miles” from the previous night was a tad optimistic and we still had 30-35 back home. NOTE – some may dispute this next section and there’s no blame attached as I was just following wheels 😉 Setting off there was a shout from Joe to turn right, this was our first mistake as we headed off towards Sencelles and then towards Sineu where Ian A shouted right (second mistake) and we set off towards Sant Joan and round to Petra and then back to Sineu! It was now dark, we had no food or drink and we found a supermarket for some fuel. Ian A and Joe did now know where we were and we set off on the correct road for Llubi and Sa Pobla. It was then over the bumps in the pitch black, with the helpful drivers honking their horns and shining their full beams at us to remind us we had no lights!

Thankfully the roads are in good condition as god knows what would have happened if we hit a pothole as we made a fast track back to Pollensa and then back to the hotel. It was now 9:30pm, dinner missed! Turns out we did 52 miles to get home from Santa Maria and if we had taken the direct route it was <30, oh well you live and learn. I learned I NEVER want to cycle in the dark with no lights again and that even after 140 miles when you can still hit 25 mph when you’re desperate to get home!

My stats for the day : 140.8 miles and 11,100 feet of climbing

Day 5 – Not the 312!

After yesterday’s 140 mile taper and no dinner, I was up for breakfast at 5am as this was 312 Day. Met Jim B and Oonagh and after seeing the forecast and the fact it was already raining, decided to bail. REALLY didn’t fancy the descent in the wet with 4,500 other riders and the risk of serious damage just too much. So back to bed and then up at 8am for a second breakfast.

We sat about waiting for the rain to go off, which it did around 11am and Ian A and Davie Ross and me set off for an easy, flattish day. Out to Alcudia and then on to Arta and loop round to Manacor where we found what looked like the only open cafe in the town (don’t like Manacor always looks desolate and shut!). Thankfully we had stayed dry but as we pulled in for coffee the rain did start again. Coffee and cake were great and we got chatting to a Finnish former pro ice hockey player who bought us some rocket fuel brandy!

Jackets on we set off home, and quickly had to remove jackets as it turned out nice 🙂 Back to Can Picafort where we were passed by the biggest rally of motorbikes I’ve ever seen – must have taken 15-20 minutes for them all to pass! As the 312 was still going ahead and it was closed roads, there was some fun and games getting back to Alcudia, but the last few miles on empty traffic free roads was great.

As we approached the 312 event village we went off the main road on to the parallel side road, only to find we were actually on the finishing straight. Very sheepish and red faced we crossed the official 312 finish line to cheers and clapping and the official photographer 🙂 We even got tickets for our finishers t-shirt and pasta party!

Back through Alcudia to home the traffic was a nightmare going the other way as the event closed roads caused some major issues! We rolled home in empty roads back to Tolos. Considering the weather and skipping the event, turned out a pretty good day.

My stats for the day : 80 miles and 2,650 feet of climbing

DAY 6 Randa (at last)

We awoke to more wet, unsettled weather and a sombre mood as this was our day to commemorate the passing of Jim Brewster 7 days earlier. We all donned black armbands in memory or Peem as we set off on a cold, wet morning towards Alcudia to pick up Brian and OCD. It was freezing and very wet and we hid in a bike shop trying to get warm, we didn’t. Then off through Alcudia where I was still shivering while cycling even with 4 layers on! Decided that if things were no better once we turned towards Sa Pobla I was heading home! Turned out things did changed and soon the sun was out, and started to get warmer, just as well as we waited for Joe to fix a puncture then another!

Spirits lifted, we did a Brian magical mystery tour to Inca and then somehow we split into 2 groups?!? We all knew where we were heading to eventually so we carried on to Sineu, Montuiri and then Randa for the climb to the monastery – where we met the other group.

After lunch we got a photo of us all, a mark of respect and memory for Peem and set off towards Petra, Sineu and home. Once again, after a miserable start, the day turned out well.

My stats for the day : 100 miles and 3,660 feet of climbing

DAY 7 – Leave it all on the road day!

This year was no different from previous as the various levels of fatigue and desire takes its toll on what everyone plans for the last day. But, as the weather was now the best it had been all week and it was the last day, the plan was to head out flattish and then some can head for the hills or home. We all set off to Selva, where the first split happened with some heading up to Lluc / Sa Calobra and the rest of us heading on to Santa Maria for coffee and cakes. Then the second split happened with everyone bar Jamie and me heading back on a flat run, leaving us to go to Valldemossa.

A cracking run saw is keep it very social over Valldemossa and the descent to Soller for lunch. We then managed to get lost in Soller’s 1 way system, taking 3 miles of back roads / mazes to finally get out and on to the climb. A first for us going the reverse to the usual way. It was another cracking climb, steady, no steep bits and lovely weather. After the technical descent the straight downhill back to Bunyola is a real fast blast, yeeehaaaa.

Now with a lovely tailwind and the sun on us, it was a blast back to Inca and then Selva, where we decided we hadn’t done enough miles and went on to Campanet and Sa Pobla (okay we missed the turn and took a long way home). Back home over the bumps was a bit of a slog as we now had a full on headwind but it didn’t spoil what was a cracking day.

That was it, no more cycling time for beer and ice cream. My stats for the day : 107 miles and 6,100 feet of climbing

So that’s the cycling from my perspective, see Facebook for all the other non cycling shenanigans 🙂 And if anyone wants to get me an alarm clock for Christmas it would come in handy!

Evans Callander Ride It Sportive 2016

What a difference a year makes. Last year we had gales, rain and sleet and even though it’s being held a month earlier, the weather was ideal (for March). Only challenge was deciding what to wear so as to not overheat! There were 4 in Team Wheelers (Robin, Karen, Ciaran, myself) joined by a guest Thistle Steve K for the first timed event of the year for us. The event HQ is the Mclaren Sports Centre in Callander, so parking , changing facilities etc all available. Registration was painless and easy and you get a High 5 Race Pack as a goodie bag too.

The plan was to stick together until the last climb and so we set off as one social bunch. You don’t get much time to warm up as you hit the first hill of the day after a mile (according to Strava is known as Cockhill). It’s a steady climb into what feels like the middle of nowhere before a fast descent to a left turn. Ciaran and myself waited at the bottom as we split up on the hill and regroup at the top / bottom. Just as we thought “they should be here by now” and we set off back to find them, Robin, Karen and Steve came flying down the hill to us. An early mechanical for Karen, but all sorted. We then head off towards Thornhill and another wee rise and descent almost back to the first junction before heading off on some rolling roads towards Doune.

After Doune a left turn and through some flattish sections towards Kippen and on to the busy main road for a blast along to Cambusbarron. Legs all warmed up, it was time to hit the hilly bits….Some tough little climbs takes you out to the Loch Coulter and beautiful views before a descent to Carron Bridge. It was here that Robin had a puncture, which given the state of the roads was not a surprise. What was a surprise was this was the only one we had in the group all day! Just as the midge bites were getting a pain, we set off on the lovely road past Carron Valley Reservoir and then a blast down towards Fintry.

Coming out of Fintry is a drag of a climb to what’s known as The Top of the World, where we regrouped for the descent to Arnprior. On the rolling road along towards Lake of Menteith a couple of hills saw Ciaran and myself a wee bit ahead of the others and with Ciaran’s leg warmers becoming ankle warmers we decided to push on and wait at the feed stop before Aberfoyle while he sorted himself out. Turns out unlike 2 years ago, there was no feed stop before Aberfoyle!

So now all we had left was the climb up Duke’s Pass (couple of miles about 5% average), which starts off steep through some hairpins before becoming more of a drag for the second half. Great descent, not too technical and then a right turn back towards Callander with great views over Loch Achray and then Loch Venachar. We both remembered this as a quick blast back to the HQ, but we had forgotten there were a couple of nasty little rises that test the legs after 75+ miles. Unlike last year we didn’t miss the turn off to the sports centre and so we did avoid having to go through Callander centre!

Cairan and myself then got showered and up to the sports centre cafe for some sugar rush and soon Robin, Karen and Steve joined us for a debrief. All agreed it was a good day, a cracking route, but the elephant in the room once again – the state of the roads was shocking. Steve raced there as a 15 year old in the Tour of Trossachs and we reckon that’s the last time the roads were surfaced! Shame, as it is a great early season event.

Cairan and myself had a moving time of about 4:45 for the 81 miles, so with stops and puncture added a wee bit on. The official times are:

Ciaran (who shows as DNS??) and myself were 5:07:53
Steve K was 5:26:44
Karen was 5:26:47
Robin was 5:27:03

The route from my Garmin:

Kennoway Reliability 2016

After last week’s non starter, this was the first road event of 2016 for most and what a difference a week makes. The weather was much better, a balmy 4 degrees, sunny, but as usual a bit of a gale wind!

There were 7 Wheelers signed on, Jamie, Ciaran and me for the fast group with Ian A, Rob, Davie R and Andy A on the steady group. Bang on 10am we set off on the tailwind fast section! The first hour was a blur as we averaged 24mph out through Colinsburgh and round to Kingsbarns and through St Andrews. Then on to the Guardbridge bypass due to the road closure and it was here a load bang was heard and shout of puncture. So very sportingly, and a first I think, we pulled in at the top of the rise out of Guardbridge to wait. A couple of riders then came up to say the guys tyre was ripped to bits and pointed to me and Cairan and said “one of your guys”! We thought Jamie was missing! Ever the good teammate Cairan said we should turn back but there really was nothing we could do so…..we all set off for Dairsie then Balmullo and drop down to St Mikes to get back on the route.

As usual Gauldrie marked the start of the “race” as the strong boys (and girl) made a break for it. About 6-7 got away with 3 of us trying to chase back on in a headwind – was never going to happen. The descent down from Gauldrie was awful, road really broken up, lots of rubble and just not safe at all, so caution here was the sensible option. There were 4 of us together as we crossed the A92 and could see Rachel C about 30 seconds up the road, with the rest of them out of site now. It took the 4 of us working very hard together to reel Rachel back in on the road to Cupar, but I really think she had sat up and waited for us as she didn’t know where to go! Up the Hill of Tarvit I took it at my own pace, which was about 100 metres behind the others, and managed to get back on at the top as they slowed to let us regroup. There was now 4 of working into the wind on the section towards Kennoway on the way home, bit of a slog. The little downhill section to Windygates was welcome and we were soon back home where we started.

My stats were 64 miles in 3:10, so 20.2 mph average, which given the windy day I can’t complain.

Glad to see Jamie made it back to the hall ahead of me, but surprised to also see Davie R and Ian A too as I couldn’t remember them passing me en route 🙂 Turns out Jamie had been rescued by Ian Stewart (early entry for clubman of the year coming out to rescue him) and Davie and Ian had decided at Dairsie to carry straight on to Cupar, missing out the loop round Gauldrie. Cairan soon arrived and a little later Andy A who had done the full 64 mile loop. That just left Rob out on the road and soon enough he arrived home safely too.

The post event buffet was excellent, soup, stovies, and loads and loads of sandwiches and cakes, well worth the effort.

So one down, 2 to go….


Bealach Mor 2015

I’m a bit of a veteran of this event now (8th time) and it’s usually lashing with rain, gale force winds or more often both. So it was a nice change to have blue sky, dry roads and a breeze (that got stronger as the day went on, but nowhere near previous howlers).

There were 4 Wheelers (Joe, Jim F, Jamie, Graeme) and guest Thistle (Jim OCD) gathered at the start. First Jim OCD disappeared then Joe as we looked for them and we realised they had snuck off for a head start! Jim F then decided he was heading off sharp too as “you two will catch me quick enough”, leaving Jamie and me to do the Mexican stand off watching who was still waiting to go… 🙂

You have to time it so as not to be at the start of the Bealach climb before 11am when the road closes to cars and opens to cycles. Previous Garmin files told me it takes about 1:45 to get there so said to Jamie we’d leave at 9:15, which we did.

Crossing over Ozzy’s Cattle Grid you hit the first climb almost immediately and we settled into a wee group. About 3/4 of the way up there was roadworks and the lights changed to red just as we got there and we then had to stand for a full 2 minutes until we got going again! It did give the chance for a group to form and 7-8 of us then worked out to Achnasheen and turned down to Lochcarron. Making good pace, all working well we made good time without feeling like I was in the red.  The next nasty climb out of Lochacarron was kept sensible and we swept down through Kishorn towards the start of the Bealach. It was just as we started the climb that Jamie and me finally caught Jim F, bang on 11am!

The Bealach climb wasn’t too bad this year, although Jim OCD didn’t look like he was having much fun when I passed him as the ramps kicked up ;-). At the steep section near the end, before the switchbacks, the wind picked up just as the gradient did too. Nothing like a full on headwind blast as you grind up 18-20% ramps!  I didn’t push too hard as the section after the descent to Shieldaig is the killer bit, and reached the top with legs feeling okay. The descent is very technical, and with crosswinds for the first section was the usual brake-fest for me. The view as you turn the corner about halfway down and the Applecross bay opens up below you with views over to Skye and the Cuillins was breathtaking.

At Applecross, I sped up to catch a couple of the original group who had passed me on the descent and the 3 of us worked as we started the undulating / rolling / leg breaking section to Shieldaig.  As we pushed along I could see a larger group ahead and decided to bridge over and as I approached could see it was Joe driving them! It then took me an age to bridge the last bit to them, wasn’t until someone relieved Joe at the front that their pace dropped enough for me to sprint to them.  This group then worked well, but was a war of attrition as legs popped with each of the multitude of short sharp hills. This left 5 of us to drop down to Shieldaig.

Shieldaig is where my fabulous DS (Lindsay) and support crew congregate to cheer everyone on and pass me a bottle / jacket / whatever. I was very mindful I didn’t want to lose the group I was with and with a fantastic 6th sense Lindsay must have known that too and so did a fantastic bottle hand off to me as I sped by without stopping – all felt very pro 🙂

There is then the last couple of hills that we all struggled over before the descent to Torridon and the 10 miles to go sign. Maybe just the legs, but didn’t feel there was a tailwind here that I was hoping for, seemed a struggle at times, but we managed to keep the pace up. With about 8 miles to go one of the group was starting to drop off and his very strong mate was dropping back to bring him back up and then taking a good pull on the front – very strong rider. So it was a wee bit of a shame when they sat up for the last few miles, leaving 3 of us to drive on to the finish. Think we all pretty much emptied the tank in the last few miles.

Then it was time for the usual excellent post event food as all the others started to arrive with varying tales of good, bad and ugly….. It was Jamie’s first time and we weren’t sure if it was better or worse to know how bad the Applecross – Shieldaig section is!?

The times for the Dundee folks, out of about 300 starters are:

Pos Name Club Gender/Age Time
4 Graeme Carruthers Dundee Wheelers CC M48 04:58:03
25 Jamie Costello Dundee Wheelers CC M33 05:28:30
68 Joe Mcfadyen Dundee Wheelers CC M55 05:49:11
94 James Foulis Dundee Wheelers M51 06:00:30
101 Jim Walker Dundee Thistle CC M43 06:05:26

Very well done to everyone, it’s a tough but beautiful route and everyone should do it at least once (preferably in the dry).

Ken Laidlaw 2015

Given the choice I’d rather have cold and wet than warm and windy – just can’t cope with wind! So even though the weather was bright and warm, the brutal wind made it another very tough day.

Thanks to Jamie (and Rob the driver), the Team Wheelers Bus got us to Hawick in nice time for the easy register and get ready for the mass start. There were 7 of us, Ciaran, Jamie, Davie (not Jim OCD) Ross, Jim B, new Rob, another new member Kenny 😉 and myself.

And so at 9am prompt 400+riders did the mass start behind the lead car with the good residents of Hawick having no chance of  Sunday long lie as the highly entertaining (for us anyway) loud hailer was put to full use. After 2.5 miles the lead car peels off, but in a break with tradition all hell didn’t break loose and we kept a steady pace, led by Hawick CC for the next couple of miles. Even had Jamie asking me what was going on as it was all a bit easy…not for long though. As we got to the approach of the first climb, Bonchester Brae, all hell did indeed break loose as the first selection was made and about 25 of us sped off from the rest. Fast descent and then we hit the second climb of Note o the Gate and I was not alone in toiling! Got over the first big lump and as we hit the second part of the climb I just couldn’t keep the wheel in front and about 20 sped off,dropped already. This now left 6-7 of us on to Newcastleton and the sharp dig followed be a very long drag over Holm Hill.

The descent into Langholm is notorious for crashes and unfortunately this year didn’t escape. A few from the lead bunch were being loaded into the broomwagon, all seemed okay, just bumps and broken bikes. Shouldn’t laugh, but it was literally a broomwagon as the van belonged to the local chimney sweep 🙂 Later learned this is where new Rob came a cropper, breaking his top tube and a nice few scrapes on his face – nothing too serious, but a new Bianchi  frame is now required!

So the descent to Langholm was a bit more reserved than usual, and we started the long slog on undulating roads. About the half way mark as we hit yet another hill and yet more headwind I physically and mentally gave up, I just wasn’t enjoying it and had had enough suffering! So I sat up and was dropped for a second time and let them speed off over the horizon.

I now just settled myself to spinning round at my own pace, thinking a group will catch me and I can tag on – it never happened, I cycled the second half solo, enjoying the scenery.

Passing the second feed station after 65 miles, with  40 to go I was still making good time, but that soon changed. There are 4 nasty climbs to go and they were all brutal, with the wind at one point almost bring me to a standstill. I looked down and saw 5.5mph on my Garmin! The lovely folks at the top of The Swire were a life saver with water and jelly beans and then a cracking descent ruined a bit by a ferocious crosswind. It was around here I lost one of my contact lenses, it blew out my right eye, which was a tad disorientating. It made for an interesting run home as I tried to dodge potholes, horrible gravel patches and bits of trees strewn across the road, all while partially sighted and with even worse spatial awareness than usual.

The Leap Lins climb is now a gravel track with the road repairs being a pile of gravel which is pretty thick in places. The descent wasn’t much better and even though there were lots of red flags and warning signs at the bottom, it was still a surprise to hit a 3 inch deep section of gravel. Fortunately not everyone was lucky and there was a guy by the side of it bloody knees and broken bike!. The Hawick Team had been out on Saturday sweeping the worst bits and putting out lots of flags and signs, but the overnight thunderstorms had washed all the crap back on to the road!

One last long drag over the last hill and then with 9 miles to go it is mainly a descent back to Hawick. Having done this event a few times now this is where you blast back home with all you’ve got left. Not this year as the headwind was full on and I was struggling to get above 15mph pedalling hard downhill at some points. With 2 miles to go you still feel you are in the middle of nowhere, and then a left turn takes you along a wood and you finally hit Hawick town center. A dash through the town and on to the home straight for the best site of the day – the finish caravan and the commentary welcoming you all back by name.

Welcome back

My time was unsurprisingly down on last year at a shade under 6 hours, but I was told I was 20th, so happy enough with that.

Other than new Rob, the rest of the Team, all made it back safely with similar tales of struggles and swearing at the wind. Not sure of everyone’s times, but will post them when they are available.

Once again a great event, very well organised and run, very friendly folks and good facilities with showers and hot food at the end.

And as I was partially sighted I was even more happy that we had the Team Bus home and I didn’t need to drive as Driver Rob got us home in good time while we all “recovered”, okay slept. One final note as I was dropped off at the Tay Bridge car park I cycled the 1.5 miles home, in civvies, INTO A HEADWIND, aaaaaarrrrrgghhhhh.

Garmin stats for the day:

Deeside Loop

Copied from Andrea’s post in the Wheelers Facebook page so the non Facebookers can read about our fab day.
Absolutely brilliantly awesome day! Twenty cyclists left Baldovie Toll at an unsociably early time on a Sunday of 8am. The pace was brisk as we flew past Monike, up to Brechin where Fergus joined us and along to Edzell and Fettercairn. It was just past here that the weaker sex decided they needed a pee stop and we also lost Kenny and Fergus as one only had a half day pass and the other remembered he was missing his helmet – either that or they remembered the joys of Cairn O’Mount 😉
Gillian and I took full advantage of this and made quite possibly the greatest breakaway in the history of the club and carried on upward! The guys, trying to hamper our progress feigned concern as to our whereabouts and rang us on our ascent not once, but twice. However it didn’t work and we duly arrived at the top of the hill, breathless, very sweaty and before any one else☺. It wasn’t long before the real QOM, Rachel appeared followed closely by Ciaran, Graeme and Jamie.

Top of Cairn O’Mount

We caught our breath then started the fast descent down into Royal Deeside. My fastest descent ever at a scary 47 mph and still I was dropped! We refuelled at Aboyne where the guys decided the pace had been a bit brisk. Joe kept a brilliant pace on the front and we mostly stayed together along the banks of the Dee and into Braemar. At this point, whilst the rest of us were refuelling, Gillian had insider information of a strong southerly blowing through Glenshee and as her family just happened to be in Braemar she decided to call it a day leaving 18 intrepid cyclists to continue.
Buoyed by the first breakaway success I managed to persuade Robin to leave early and off we went, onward and upward once more. The ascent to the Cairnwell was long and rolling, not helped by the strong wind or Gillian waving to us from the car! Still we managed to get there in time to see the look of pain on Graeme C’s face as he raced Rachel and Ciaran to the top (or what turned out to be not quite the top according to Strava).
Wind cheaters and arm warmers on, and off we went down, down, down. The remaining 40 or 50 miles is a bit of a blur, we had a spell of losing people, but always regrouped and there was a lot of hanging on to the wheel in front. Home via Blairgowrie, Iron Bridge and Pitnappie!
Scenery was stunning, weather was fantastic and company outstanding. A brilliant day and one to remember for a long time!

Here’s my Garmin to show the route etc:


I will post lots of photos of before, during and after when I get back from holiday, here’s the story of my day for now.
This year’s Etape Du Tour is stage 19 of Le Tour, 138K from Saint-Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire with 4,500m of climbing over 5 cols. Six Wheelers were entered (Ciaran, Jerry, Jamie, Jim Foulis, Joe, Graeme C) and Joe’s nephew James (who some will know from Majorca trips).

We were split across 5 start pens so didn’t really get to see everyone before or after, but here’s my adventure.
Ciaran was staying with Lindsay and myself at the top of the Mollard and so at 4am we got up and ate breakfast and got ready in near silence, had a lot on our minds, not least the weather. Ciaran is a part time meteorologist and had kept me updated every hour on the days forecast – which was thunderstorms from midday (oh how we wished for thunderstorms later…). My fabulous DS, Lindsay 🙂 dropped us off near the start and as we got ready met Jerry on his way down from Le Corbier where he was staying. Then it was off to the start pens.

I was in Pen 0, the first to go and was surrounded by mahogany coloured racing snakes, I have never felt more out of place as a pasty Scots bloke! Lindsay had wandered to the start and as we chatted spotted Jamie in Pen 1 – these Wheelers tops make you very visible. At 7am sharp and with the helicopter overhead, we set off at a frantic pace. I had already decided my pacing and no way was I going to even try to stay with the pace setters, just as well as I don’t think I could have stayed on their wheels even if I had tried! After only 3K we hit the first climb of the Col Du Chaussy (16K @ 6.3%) a very rude awakening. Nice steady pace, weather not too warm yet and it was a stunning climb, especially about 10K in when you cycle under an overhanging cliff with the valley below – stunning. Then it was the first descent of the day, and also where the first casualties of the day were to be found – always pays to descend very very carefully, even in the dry.

At the foot was the flat section, a 30K run up the valley and back to almost where you started. I latched onto a big group that grew as we passed others who tagged on and the pace was fast but comfortable as we flew along and back to Saint Etienne Du Cunnes and the big climb of the day.

The Croix de Fer (via the Glandon) is 22.5K @ 6.9% and is brutal. I managed the first steady half in good time, still not pushing hard, but keeping a good tempo with an eye on what was to come. Once past half way the real fun begins and it is mainly 9-10%+ for 9K. By now it was hot and I got the first warning twinges that cramp was coming so really reigned in the effort and took it nice and slow for the last 5K+. I briefly stopped at the top of the Glandon to fill up my bottles and set off for the last 3K to the top of the Croix de Fer, where the cramps hit for real!

I actually enjoyed the descent, helped by already doing half of it the day before, and made up some lost time as I hit the next climb of the Mollard (6.5K @6.1%). Now I got very very very bad cramp and was in agony trying to turn the pedals. I stood up on the pedals to try and stretch as I went, and after a few minutes the agony subsided to just be uncomfortable and I very gingerly made my way to the top. It took all my effort to not take a left turn at the summit and go the 200m to where we were staying! Strangely for me, I enjoyed the descent here too, again helped as I had already been down once on a bike and several times in the car! So again made up some time and hit the bottom after 5:30 or so with “just” the last climb to the finish!

NEVER have I suffered like I did on the climb of La Toussuire (18K @ 6.1%). I knew the cramp would slow me down as I was in and out the saddle trying to stretch as best I could and could only manage a very slow pace to keep the pain at bay. Crawled along for an eternity with the K to go markers taking an age to pass in baking heat praying for a thunderstorm! Then about half way the blurry vision started and as I have been here before knew it was the end game with heatstroke and I better find some shade, quick. As I reached Villarambert (I think) there was a village water trough with cyclists filling their bottles. I almost fell off my bike, barely able to walk as I was so dizzy and disorientated, but at least I still knew I had to get my core temp down! I sunk my head in the trough, filled my bottles and poured them all over me and then I repeated this! I stumbled to some shade, where others were flat out and sat down trying to get back to some normality, repeat trips to the trough to pour water over myself. Only 9K to go, temp down, I set off, knowing I would have to stop again. I crawled at 4mph most of the way and stopped twice more to briefly curb the dizziness and pour water everywhere.

Eventually I made it to the end, with cheering crowds and I limped over the finish. Cannot wait to see the photos as I don’t think I could lift my head, never mind smile. I collapsed in a heap and sat down for 15 minutes, cramps still shooting through me before I hobbled slowly to the pasta party tent in search of liquids.
So, that was my day, bloody awful and borderline dangerous. On the plus side, the event is superbly organised and an amazing experience as you feel pro for a day.

As for the others, they can tell their own tales, but most of us had a trauma or two. Ciaran had heatstroke too and almost quit at the same point I collapsed in Villarambert (now known as the foamy vomit moment). Jerry got round, amazing as he had been very unwell the days before and wasn’t sure he’d start. Joe had foot problems again and the two Jims had long hard days too. Only Jamie seemed to get by without mishaps and ahead of what he planned to do! We all think it was his week of acclimatising that helped, or his magic Rapha cap 🙂

And a final note, as I sat with Lindsay at the finish, I did do the Steve Redgrave speech, “If I ever suggest doing this again, you have my permission to shoot me!” I am now looking for events in cold, wet countries, sod this warm weather stuff it just doesn’t agree with me!

The results, out of 12,092 who started, 9,877 finished, the fastest was a frankly ridiculous 4:52! It was an achievement just getting round, so well done everyone.

Graeme CARRUTHERS 07:31:40
Jamie COSTELLO 07:45:30
Ciaran HANNON 08:10:25
Jerry TOY 08:14:43
Jim FOULIS 09:24:04
James MCFADYEN 09:56:38
Joe MCFADYEN 10:13:05