We rOde it so you know what’s in store!
The profile of the opening 29km is a daunting one, we’re straight uphill the moment we cross the start line. It’s easy enough on tarmac, but after 600m the gradient ramps up and you turn left onto gravel to climb Fuffock Hill.
The gravel is firm and even getting the power down is easy enough all the way to the peak 6.5km in. At 281 metres this is the race’s highest point and with no plateau you’re descending immediately.
Descending through trees there are a few short sharp digs to keep the heart rate up, before you drop onto tarmac for about 100m, take a left over a bridge back onto gravel and a right onto another longer climb. This is Kenick Hill and though the 3% gradient over its 3km isn’t too challenging, the surface is a bit more gnarly, pick your line carefully on the descent, the gravel is chunky, even deep in places.
At the bottom you turn right onto a beautifully smooth, fast 5km tarmac section, if you’re working together you’ll quickly be at the first feed station.
Off road again you’ll descend on more excellent, predictable gravel. I say descending, there’s a daunting looking one kilometre kicker with a maximum of around 8% which will take the wind out of your sails, but generally this is a joyously fast section.
There’s a right hander at the bottom and you’ll ride with the forest on your left and the marshy shore of Loch Skerrow on your right, but this is the time to make progress. Yes, there are a couple of steep ascents but a group will do well along here, past Lochs Stroan and Ken before you hit Tannoch Flow.
This is hard, no doubt, and most will need to manage their effort. It levels out in the middle but the chunky gravel won’t help, and the descent is technical too, especially with a tight right hander at the bottom.
Nothing could look more Scottish than the Raiders Road section which runs parallel to the River Dee and, though there are some nasty drags you slow you down, stock up at the feed zone. And stick together, you’ll need the company later.
*Track repair work along Loch Skerrow is taking place this month. Please avoid this area on any pre-event route recces.
After an 80m tarmac section you turn south, retracing your wheel tracks along the opposite river bank. Don’t be fooled, you might be over half way and have certainly reached the furthest point, but it’s not all over.
There’s no flat here, every short descent precedes another short sharp ascent until, long after you’ve left the river behind, you start a series of sapping drags. Keep your spirits up and focus, the gravel is more challenging than earlier and the word relentless begins to creep into your consciousness
At the top of one of those long drags you’ll find the day’s final feed station, and beyond that perhaps the best view of the day, the gravel trail high above Loch Grannoch. n the views are spectacular and very Scottish, as is the road surface to start, but this is a fabulous bit of road. It’s never too steep, but it’s often exposed and if the wind blows this could be very tough. That open countryside gives you a good view of who’s ahead though, and committed rouleurs working together will have plenty to get back to the front and contest the win, though there are a couple of decent uphill digs.
After the super-fast descent into Blairgowrie - another good spectator spot - it’s wide roads all the way home, but positioning will be key in the last kilometre.
Now’s the time to start thinking about your end game. Are you hoping to hang onto your group, or drop them? Are you winning or surviving?
Still on rough gravel you’re on a plateau now, though with a series of persistent short undulations you might not notice, then, with 91km under your wheels you’ll find the day’s most taxing descent.
Over four kilometres you’ll lose 150m on chunky, loose gravel and you’ll need to look out for big stones which could send you somewhere you don’t want to be. At the bottom the surface is back to its best, the countryside opens out and you’re on the overlap heading for home.
Remember how fast this bit was on the way out? Well now you’re going the other way, but 10% pitches are made easier by the great surface. If you can’t sprint now’s your time, and if you can? Hang on. Five kilometres from the line you finally leave the gravel behind and it’s down hill almost all the way to the line. This is rural Scotland, watchout for the odd pothole and ignorant sheep, and take care on the tight bend half way down.
Pass the golf club on the left and it’s flat and time to plan your sprint. And a well deserved beer.