Scottish borders with Evan Oliphant
DISTANCE 50 miles (80km)
MAIN CLIMB Fans Law
TOTAL CLIMB 720 metres
ACHTUNG! Don’t ride off the road looking at the scenery
In 2007 I said that Jason McIntyre’s Glenuig loop was the best bike ride in the country. Well, Scotland has just weighed in with another, and in a fitting tribute to McIntyre the author of this one was a close friend.
“I was in Australia when Jason was killed and I really wanted to come home. We had been in the Velo Ecosse team together and I often went over to stay with him in Fort William. I liked to train with Jason because it was like having a mini-training camp just to do his normal week. He was so strong and so dedicated,” says Evan Oliphant, recalling the Scottish cycling legend.
“What Jason did in his career, with all the obstacles in his way, was amazing. He was so disappointed after last year’s Time Trial Championships when he’d been up on Millar and punctured. He told me he didn’t sleep for three nights after it. I think Jason would have done something very special this year. I’ll never forget riding with him at what I called Jason’s pace. Not flat out but really uncomfortable. I don‘t think he ever rode slower than that. I don’t think he knew how.”
From the same mould
Oliphant has a similar made in Scotland from girders background to McIntyre. He was born in Wick, right up at the top of the country in a world of long summer days, long winter nights and constant wind. His introduction to cycling was through the Highland Games.
“My dad did the caber toss. He was good too. People don’t realise how much technique is involved and how the cabers vary. My dad preferred the longer, thinner ones. He works as a telephone engineer and used to train with the old telephone poles.
“I ran at school. I even represented Scotland. My best event was the 800 metres and I ran two minutes four seconds when I was 14 or 15. But I really wanted to have a go at the grass-track cycling I saw at the Highland Games. Eventually my dad got hold of an old track bike and I started winning.
“I joined the local cycling club but I just had that one bike, so when I did time trials I put in another pair of wheels and stuck a front brake on. You should see the time trial course in Wick, it’s really hard because you are either pushing into the wind or it’s blowing you along. A couple of years ago I did a 10 up there and came back from the five mile turn in eight minutes.”
Oliphant quickly gained a reputation in Scottish cycling. He then ventured south of the border to have a go at the British titles races. “That’s where I first met the Downing brothers and a bit of a rivalry built up. We had some great fights on the grass- track and I ended up winning both the 800 metres and the eight-kilometre titles.”
Before that, though, Oliphant moved to Edinburgh to study and his cycling horizons began to broaden. “I started road racing, I raced on Meadowbank track and I started training on the roads we’re on now. I used to ride a lot with the Edinburgh RC, who always came out this way, south of the city and into the Borders. Now I always ride in this area, even though it means extra miles to get here from where I live. I enjoy the peace of it. You won‘t see a car for a lot of this ride.”
The ride is roughly square-shaped, which starts in Peebles with two sides following the Tweed Valley, while the other two traverse higher country on the edge of Ettrick Forrest. The high country starts at the steely-surfaced Talla reservoir, which precedes the steepest climb of the ride, Fans Law. “It’s so bad that my arms go lactic every time I climb it,” says Oliphant at the summit.
A long descent takes the route past two further reservoirs, and from there along another peaceful stretch of road to the mountain bike paradise of Innerleithen and Glentress, back in the Tweed valley. The ride is over but for a couple of miles, so Oliphant stops at the Hub cafe in Glentress for lunch and to talk about how his season has gone.
“It’s been up and down. I crashed in Australia, where I go every winter, so I had a bad January. I still wanted to win the Girvan, especially because of what happened to Jason, but everyone knew that and I really got sat on. After I got third to the Downings on the first stage we started to send Simon Richardson up the road.
“It’s been a funny year, and to be honest Plowman Craven have found ourselves on the end of a bit of negativity from the other riders. It’s been like they’d rather have anyone from Rapha or Pinarello win than one of us. And they’ll deny it, but sometimes Rapha and Pinarello have ridden like one 16-man team.
“We showed more what we are capable of in the Ras, where we were better than Rapha, and we had some good wins in America. I think we’ll do better as the year goes on. I’m aiming for a good ride at the Nationals and Simon will start winning when he’s got a bit more road experience. He’s been trying to ride the road like a mountain bike race, where you just go full on from the start. He just needs to hold it back for the right moment and he’ll get a big win.”
Once the British season is over Oliphant will head back to Australia, where he’s a popular figure on the carnival track circuit because the meetings share his Highland Games heritage. “They have wood chopping, lifting and throwing competitions, plus the wheel races on the track, which are handicap events like the ones in Scotland. I’ve done well in them, even though I’m really there to get a base in for the summer. The organisers pay my fare and I can win enough cash to cover my stay. But I think the real reason they like me is because I wear my kilt, the Oliphant tartan, and play the bagpipes at the races. The crowds love it.”
YOUR GUIDE: EVAN OLIPHANT
- Age 26, single, lives in Edinburgh
- A full-time racer
- Holds a degree in mechanical engineering
- Twice Scottish road race champion, 1st Rydale GP Premier Calendar race 2005, British under-23 Road Race Series winner 2003.
- He plays the bagpipes
Start in Peebles and head west on the A72. Turn left (TL) onto the B712. TL onto the A701. TL onto unclassified at Tweedsmuir, pass Talla Reservoir and climb Fans Law. TL onto A708 at St Mary’s Loch. TL on B709 and TL on the A72 at Innerleithen and return to Peebles.