Event Review

REVIEW: Evans Cycles RideIt! Scotland 2014

by Caven O'Hara

Distances: 12, 25, 54 & 81 miles
Participants: 340 
Start: McLaren Leisure Centre, Callander
Transport: Stirling Station - 17 miles
Feedstops: 3
Timed: Yes
Signs: Black arrows on a pink background
Road: Stunning scenery on largely quiet roads made for a terrific ride through the Scottish countryside. 

After last year's cancellation of the Callander Evans Cycles RideIt! event, it was with some relief for Dean and his team that the weather relented to allow the 2014 edition to take place. The sportive had been sold out for a number of weeks despite the early season scheduling. A road ride this far north in March can always present 'weather' issues, but this year the build-up had been of the milder variety. That isn't to say the wind didn't blow or the rain and sleet stayed away, but amongst it all we were treated to a good dose of sunshine. 

Eager riders ready for the off

The event centre is based at the McLaren Leisure Centre, on the outskirts of the Town. Besides the spectacular setting of the town against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains, it is famous for being the location for the original Dr Finlay's Casebook TV series. Considered by many to be the gateway to the Highlands, it was hard not to be drawn to the stunning back drop of mountains. 

Sunday dawned bright and sunny, but with a heavy frost there were patches of ice which led to some initial route alterations. One of the planned highlights - Duke's Pass - was originally closed, but eventually re-opened once the rising sun and temperature removed any residual ice. 

Sign-on for the 340 or so riders was brief and hassle free. Those who had signed up prior to the event had the option of collecting their free 'High5' race pack at this stage, or doing so on their return. With timing strip attached to your helmet and map tucked away in a jersey pocket it was time to line-up with the other eager riders. The final dilemma was the exact amount of clothing layers. Rain had been mentioned and the wind was likely to gust, so long sleeve base layer, jersey and gilet were selected, with a plan B of a rain jacket in the back pocket just in case. 

About to head down fron Torrie Wood

Beyond Callander

Heading away from the centre, we were immediately out into countryside and it was only a few pedal strokes more before we were climbing into the Torrie Forest, surrounded by huge swathes of trees both growing and logged.

The opening miles were characterised by undulating roads offering broad views of the area. There was a reasonable amount of 'up', but this was rewarded with some very nice descents. Some of the roads, as was the case throughout the day, were weather-battered but not dangerous, you just had to avoid your teeth chattering on occasions. The most stunning of these were the distant snow-topped Highlands, resplendent in their white caps bathed in sunlight.

With the field comprising only 340 or so riders, anyone riding the medium or long routes quickly found themselvse with very little company. However, with your view alternating between mountains, fast flowing rivers and open countryside, there was plenty to occupy your mind. Soon enough the first of three feed stations came into view. After a brief chat and refuel it was back on the bike. It wasn't long after leaving the feed station that the long and medium routes divided. 

The road just travelled

More stunning scenery

Taking a left turn at the roundabout onto the A811, riders on the long route were treated to particularly nice, long - almost straight - road with the wind at your back. Having made the turn onto the long route it was probably a good hour before I saw another rider. This was after climbing into Milburn Wood and riding through the village of Cambusbarron. Skirting the M9, we turned west, passing Lochs and heading towards Carron Valley. By this stage we had turned 180 degrees and were now battling into the wind. Up and down through the woods, one section had the Garmin displaying a 25% incline which came as something of a shock. After scaling this little climb, it was a case of head down into the gusting wind and grinding my way to the second feed stop. 

From here it was 20 miles to the third and final feed stop, but over some quite lumpy terrain. Through Fintry and then around the Lake of Menteith, which has quite a history. The loch has several islands of which Inchmahome is the largest. The island is home to Inchmahome Priory, an ancient monastery. The Priory served as refuge to Mary, Queen of Scots in 1547. She was only four years old at the time, and stayed for three weeks after the disastrous Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in September of that year. 

Carron Valley reservoir

River Teith, Callander

The route returned to the A81 and back to Aberfoyle via the day's last food stop. Having passed through the town, a right hand turn deposited you on the lower slopes of the final big climb - Duke's Pass. It comes complete with switchbacks and long gradual inclines through the woods. Averaging close to 10%, you are afforded a great view of the valley behind if you get the chance to look up! Cresting the top, the view is then obscured behind you by the dense wooded area but there is plenty up front to take in.

The swooping road down the other side is in good nick, making for a fun descent which eventually flattened out on the western side of Loch Achray. We were now at the western most point of the route so it was time to head east along the northern side of Loch Venachar and back to Callander to escape the wind and enjoy a well-earned cuppa.

Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 8 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 9 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 9 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 9 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 7 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 8 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 9 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 8 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 84.4%

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