Tour o the Borders 2018

On Sunday, I took part in the 2018 Tour o the Borders, a fabulous sportive taking in some of the most stunning (and steep) scenery in southern Scotland.

It was my first chance to use the M5 CHR in anger, which had been through a month of intensive fettling from almost the moment I received it right up until the day before the ride. It’s currently sporting the Sram Force 22 groupset taken off the now sold Cruzbike (50-34, 11-32), and the Pacenti Forza / DT Swiss wheels as well. I put the Nazca lifting tiller stem on to make it more beginner friendly although I kept the tiny M5 bars for the aero benefit. The rear wheel was rebuilt with a rim brake rim to fit the M5 frame (you can fit discs but you will be asked for silly money extra to put disc tabs on the back so I declined).

Up at 4 a.m. to eat and get ready for the day, and down to Peebles before 6. I was off in wave 1 so in the start pen for 6.20 am. Definitely not a late start!

At 6.50 sharp we were off. 100 odd riders in the first wave. Being on a recumbent I pretty much kept out of any groups and ploughed my own furrow. The rolling terrain out of Peebles and up towards Talla meant I was constantly being overtaken on the climbs and then regaining ground on the flats and descents. I held my speed around 19 mph along with many of the other small groups in front and behind.

Coming along Talla reservoir, the climb that awaits at the far end loomed into view, the so-called ‘Talla Wall’. I could see lots of little coloured dots moving up it so slowly they were almost stationary. On a recumbent, it’s an intimidating climb with 2 sections at 20%. I had tried the climb 4 times in the previous month since receiving the CHR. On my first attempt, newbie mistakes abounded and my foot hit the front wheel half way up and I fell. On the second, I kept the bike tracking straight but went out too hard and blew up near the top. On the third attempt, I felt I was going to make it but my glasses steamed up and I couldn’t see where I was going, so I had to stop (no chance of riding one handed at 4 mph, putting out 350-400W and pedalling at 50 RPM!). On my fourth attempt I finally made it. It really isn’t fun on a recumbent when you can’t stand up and mash – complete torture on the quads. You’re down to a very low cadence and you have to concentrate hard to make sure you keep the bike straight to avoid heel strike on the front wheel.


Cresting the steep sections of Talla, looking down to the reservoir below. The pain is clear on my face! (photo by official event photographer)

So I hit Talla knowing that the strategy I had to follow was to 1) take the glasses off before the climb, 2) put out the bare minimum wattage necessary to keep the bike moving on the slightly less steep sections and 3) completely cane it on the two 20% stretches, whilst 4) simultaneously focussing on keeping the bike tracking straight and above 4 mph, all at a cadence of around 50 RPM which does not suit me at all. This all sounded great but on the day there was a roadie in front of me who looked like he was trying to get up in a 39-28 gear or something similar. In any case he was going slower than me so I had to overtake him whilst also being passed by some faster riders, all while negotiating the bumps on the poor road surface near the top. It was nerve wracking but I made it to the top without stopping or crashing – phew!

The good thing about riding recumbents up Talla is that you are so focussed on not crashing (and forever discrediting recumbency in full view of loads of roadies) that you don’t notice how much you are going into the red until you reach the top! Puggled I was.

The descent off Talla is fast, twisty with small blind summits. I nearly crashed a month earlier descending it for the first time, as there is one blind summit where the road sweeps right on the other side without warning, so I was keeping a good distance from the roadie in front of me, who turned out to be an excellent descender and I made it up to 51.9 mph following him down. A new recumbent speed record for me although I know the CHR will go a lot faster if I could find a road to blast it down.

From there, the next section is super fast all the way to the Gordon Arms. I was feeling a bit tired after Talla and didn’t make as much of it as I should have, and before I knew it I was grinding up the long ascent to the top of Berry Bush and then down into the Ettrick Valley. By this point I was feeling better again and I reeled in a lot of riders in the 7 miles down the valley before hitting the third big climb of the day – Witcheyknowe. I tried to stick to medium/upper zone 3 at around 240-250W all the way up the climb, although my legs were starting to feel it by this point.


Climbing Witcheyknowe (photo by official event photographer)

The descent off Witcheyknowe is very steep and dangerous if you’re not careful. I passed a rider sitting in a foil blanket and saw his bike crashed off the road just beyond. I hope he was ok. There is a lot of loose gravel and again it is very thin and twisty. I kept things pretty reined in until I reached the Yarrow valley, then it was full gas back along to the Gordon arms, where I hit the last big climb of the day – Paddy Slacks. I felt like I had some energy still to give so I hit it as hard as I could, reeling in a lot of the riders who had rejoined from the shorter loop at the Gordon arms. Down Paddy Slacks at ludicrous speed, and then there is a 2 mile section of recumbent bliss where you can crank out the power on a gentle descent and leave everybody else in the dust with the superior aerodynamics of a 20 degree seat and high bottom bracket on the M5. The bike was fabulous here, I was passing people like they weren’t moving. Quite a few oohs and aahs from people as I passed them. The last section from Traquair back to Peebles has many similar fast sections, and I was putting out a steady threshold effort knowing that it would be over within 20 minutes or so. I was nervously looking at the clock, having set myself the goal of finishing in under 4 hours and it was looking like a close run thing, but in the end I crossed the finish line with a time of 3:55:07. Not earth shattering by the standards of the fastest riders who were a half hour ahead of me, but for me this marked the achievement of what had been a rather ambitious stretch goal a few months earlier, and next year maybe I can get closer to the 3:30.


Giving everything I had left crossing the finish line (photo by official event photographer)

The M5 was phenomenal to ride throughout. It’s a great bike. I will be writing more about that soon!

On another note, I’d like to put in a shout for Rickey Wray Wilson who has been kicking my butt and getting me into shape in the past few months. I had been training by myself using TrainerRoad in the year prior but seemed to be stuck on a plateau with the limited time I have available for training. Rickey helped change that and has elevated me to a higher level in just a few months. I feel like another year with Rickey and I might be contending at or near the front in some of these events. I have had a blast training with Rickey and look forward to more of the same!

10 thoughts on “Tour o the Borders 2018

  1. That’s a great write up.

    Did really well to get up Talla – loads of people walked it when I was doing the slow 55 mile version.
    You were at the sharp end of course so wouldn’t have the ‘encouragement’ of seeing that!

    Some good images – ToB should be pleased that their ride is open to all formats of bike. Some events aren’t as forward looking!

    Rickey must be pleased too – taking this on with a new bike is never easy but looks like it all worked.


    • I agree – it’s a very well organised event with a great atmosphere. I did ask months ago if recumbents were welcome and the answer was an emphatic yes. There was rumours of funding being cut and perhaps the event not running again next year, I really hope that’s not the case. It’s a highlight of the Scottish sportive calendar and a great advert for what the Borders has to offer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “The good thing about riding recumbents up Talla is that you are so focussed on not crashing (and forever discrediting recumbency in full view of loads of roadies) that you don’t notice how much you are going into the red until you reach the top! Puggled I was.”

    Yes…. 🙂


  3. Well done! Each year since they changed the course to Talla I dreaded that bit as balancing up the steep parts required far more than my sustainable power. Its also hard not to go crazy on the descents, but overall they are a tiny portion of the time on the course.. Did you post this on Strava or want to compare gpx in some other way?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Dave. I am on Strava, but it’s locked down for privacy – if you follow you’ll get access, otherwise I can send you the gpx by email no problem.

      I took a look at one of your TotB rides on Strava from a couple of years ago and it made for sobering viewing – if the man who held off the entire field to win the event in a solo effort under 3:30 goes up the steep parts of Talla at 5 mph, what chance did a mere mortal such as myself have! LOL. I was saying to David G recently that what I really needed was you to ride in front of me all the way round to give me a 74 mile draft 🙂 I at least have the return chain raised on the M5 so I imagine your dropped chain on the High Baron adds a bit more complication when you’re trying to keep the bike straight on the steep parts. Still trying to get used to the heel strike on the M5 as my inset feet cause all sorts of mischief.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I’m not convinced on the whole that the drop chain is worth it, but marginal gains and all that. (Actually, since I only had 5 seconds in hand at the finish line, I could believe that dropping the chain is worth 5 seconds over 3.5 hours, I guess illustrating the principle).

        The main irritation is that you can easily drop the chain if you back pedal, or if you set off in the big ring. Plus on rough roads at speed it does thrash against the fork leg..

        I have thought that it would be fun to ride these kind of events with more than one recumbent for exactly the reason that you’d have a draft. When I rode Etape Caledonia (2016) there was not much advantage for me when I got stuck in the crowds because I could have ridden at that speed anyway. Then there wasn’t enough open terrain in the second half for me to make up lost ground.

        My form is nothing like what it was before the twins though (10kg heavier for a start!) but maybe I’ll get there again…

        Liked by 1 person

      • I have no doubt you’ll get your form back. Tough with young kids – I’m coming out the tail end of that (I have 16 and 10 year olds) and am just rediscovering what it is to have some semblance of your own life again! If I ever get fast enough to keep up with you, it would be great to do a recumbent paceline and see what sort of damage can be done 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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