Foregoing my usual Saturday night at the movies I set the alarm for 05:00 am, reminded myself how much I like being in the Trossachs of a Sunday morning, sighed and switched off the light. Davie thought we were leaving his house at 06:45 am not 05:45 am – but we were soon on our way along the Hill Foots en route the Gran Fondo Scotland – Summer Edition.
The guy on the entrance to Stirling Castle wasn’t impressed with my press pass and we had to park down the road to abandon the van but the view from the castle esplanade over to the Wallace Monument made the walk worthwhile, even if the light wasn’t the best.
Gary and Laura Hand could hardly have provided a more impressive start for their event.
And the piper to pipe the groups off under the watchful eye of The Bruce was a great touch.
‘Scotland the Brave,’ the King would have approved.
The first wave lined up for the 07:15 depart with ex-Scottish Champion, Davie Lines on the front row.
Recently crowned Scottish Veteran’s Road Race Champion, Andy Bruce was in smiley mood.
And Christina McKenzie rolled out to add another 75 miles to the 212 she did yesterday as preparation for her forthcoming Lands End to John O Groats record bid.
Christina is current British ladies veteran 24 hour record holder and is preparing fastidiously for her ride, including trialling feeding in the dark and how it feels to catch short sleeps then get back on the bike.
And, if you’re into ‘ultra-distance’ we have an interview coming up soon on VeloVeritas soon with Lands End to John O Groats AND BACK record holder, James MacDonald who’s attacking the world 24 hour record on Newport Velodrome within the next week.
Wave two rolled out some five minutes later with our piper still blowing hard – I hope he got his customary dram?
Or maybe it was too early for that?
Gary was keeping a watchful eye on proceedings as they rattled down over the same cobbles over which Chris Boardman beat George Hincapie by a single second to win the 4.2 kilometre prologue of the 1998 Prutour.
We caught up with affairs at Cambusbarron, passing what was once the largest tweed mill in Scotland, re-joined the main Kippen Flats road and hung a left up to Kippen – no pictures, we wanted to get up to the first group, which we didn’t manage until the road across to Port of Menteith.
A pleasure to drive on safe, quiet, leafy roads past the Lake of Menteith, whose Inchmahome Priory provided refuge for a young Mary Queen of Scots.
We parked up at one of our favourite Tour of the Trossachs, VeloVeritas photo opp. spots – the drag up from the Lake.
An Andrew Allan man was stringing them out but Andy Bruce didn’t seem too troubled.
‘King of the Mountains’ start – a nice touch just before Aberfoyle Village Hall, race HQ for the Tour de Trossachs.
There was a wee bit of a habble on The Dukes Pass with the ‘prime line’ a tad before the ‘official’ Tour de Trossachs one.
Habble or nae, nice to get a greeting from my old GS Modena club mate and ex-Scottish Road Race Champion, Graeme McGarrity.
Former Scottish international rider Maurice Laing is on the comeback trail and has qualified for the Worlds Fondo for his age group in Poland, later this year – but the Santa Devil seemed unimpressed by this…
We’re not sure how this sign got past Gary and Laura’s ‘morals committee’ – it was probably that Santa Devil character’s work.
One of my favourite views in Scotland comes off the descent of the Dukes Pass, the hard to access but beautiful Loch Drunkie.
Just one of the spectacular lochs this Fondo takes in.
One of the advantages of a Fondo, unlike a road race, is that you can wait for your buddies if they get dropped…
We were sorry we missed the garden party on Venachar side last night, another of the lovely lochs the event passes.
The Invertrossachs Road to by-pass Callander always gives us palpitations in the Tour de Trossachs – focussed riders on twitchy TT bikes over poor and inevitably wet surfaces don’t mix well with Sunday drivers.
But today was a much more sedate affair, Christina leads her gruppo over the stone bridge at the entrance to the road.
‘Imagine our surprise’ when we came upon a ‘feeding station’ complete with bananas, cookies and all the water and sports drinks a rider could wish for.
Another of the nice touches.
I saw someone on social media ask; ‘why ride a fondo, just go out and do it yourself!’
I can answer that; there’s zero chance of me getting up to ride 75 miles at that time on a Sunday so I can have the rest of the day to myself, less chance of anyone to actually ride with, no sense of occasion riding up Windmill Road to head up the Dundee Road to roads which I’ve ridden a hundred times before, no wheels to hang if needs be and definitely no piper, feeding station or post-ride pasta and chats with old friends.
Hang a right at the end of the Invertrossachs Road and the long straight leads you to the bottom of the Braes of Greenock.
The Tour de Trossachs used to go up the ‘big’ Braes but now goes over the ‘wee’ Braes.
Another of the VeloVeritas favourite picture spots is at the top of ‘wee’ Braes looking north back toward Callander and Callander Craig, the view never disappoints.
And if anyone can tell us how the Braes of Greenock got their name, we’d be very interested.
At the foot of the Braes lies Thornhill with the ‘Medio’ Fondo heading straight on to the Kippen Flats and the road to Stirling but with the ‘Gran’ taking a left and then a left again just at the edge of the village.
The Gran route then described a big loop round by Doune and along the River Teith to pick up the ‘big’ Braes then back to Thornhill via Ruskie,
Back at Thornhill the marshal was asking; ‘the short or long route?’ with this young lady saying definitely; ‘short!’
We took the ‘short’ route back across the 2,000 acres of Flanders Moss, an 8,000 years-old peat bog then turned left along the Kippen Flats to the finish and event village at Stirling Park & Ride where many riders were already finished and changed.
The Perth boys were lined up for their picture – I liked the old Perth United ‘Czech’ jersey better guys, sorry.
Former Scottish ‘cross, Criterium and MTB champion, Davie Lines didn’t look like he’d just done a brisk 75 miles as he chatted to us about the Espresso Coaching company which he and Gary Hand run; ‘Zwift’ – ‘power files’ – ‘smart trainers’ zoomed over our dinosaur heads.
All that remained was for us to blag our pasta from Gary and thank him and wife Laura for a great day out – we might even ride it, next year.
But ‘medio,’ you understand…
And if you like the idea of a Fondo then don’t despair, the ‘Autumn Classic’ on 29th September is still to come:
“Starting at the Kelpies, riders can enjoy the scenic route out towards Stirling before heading west where the road begins to climb around the Carron Valley Reservoir.
We chose this part of the course after being inspired by the lakes of Italy.
Riders will then take on the challenging Crow Road with characteristics of the shallow yet long, lower French Alpine slopes.
This road is also where Britain’s only Tour de France King of the Mountains jersey winner formerly known as Robert Millar previously trained.
En route, stop off at our feed station to refuel before taking on the Tak-Ma-Doon climb then afterwards, the peaceful winding roads will take you back into Falkirk where you can finish your day with true “Italian Panache” at our Pasta Party Celebration, a Gran Fondo favourite, at The Falkirk Stadium.”
For more information check out the official website.