The end of the road for Tour O The Borders?

Our tenth closed-road edition of Touro on 3 September will be a bittersweet affair. On one hand it promises to be the best route ever, but on the other we now know the event will not take place in 2024 – and its future remains very unclear beyond that.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) have called a halt to running the event on closed roads next year in response to requests from a group of residents unhappy about the Tour’s road closures.

We know the event causes inconvenience around the route, and we’re very grateful that most people accept that it’s only once a year and adopt a ‘live and let live’ attitude. After all, the event brings many positives with it too.

Over the years we’ve tried very hard to mitigate problems where they exist – we have already changed both the route and the date twice to address local concerns. Roads are re-opened as soon as the last cyclist is past, and almost always ahead of schedule.

SBC’s decision follows consultation between themselves and Ettrick & Yarrow Community Council. We’ve been aware of event-related inconvenience issues in this area for several years, so of course we asked to be part of this new consultation. We also asked for a new working group to be formed to address the issues, but both these requests were unsuccessful.

We also know there is, conversely, some strong support for the event in this area – it’s plain from the number of local people who cheer the riders as they pass their homes, and the residents who have let us know in person. It’s a beautiful part of the world and we’ve happily helped showcase why it’s a magnet for cycling.

At this point we have no data on the level of discontent our event causes in this area, and have only heard from a small number of individuals. It’s worth noting that the last survey carried out in the community (2016) showed majority support for Touro amongst the local population.

In a wider context, SBC’s own public survey (2021) asked if the public were supportive of the event: 87% were ‘very supportive or supportive’. Only 11.6% were ‘not supportive’.

But the decision has been made, and from our perspective, it seems out of balance and unfair. We understand SBC want to keep all communities happy, but in the real world it’s a hard challenge. Some people in Ettrick and Yarrow may be pleased with this outcome, but for us the reality is actual job losses and a threat to our entire events programme. For local hotels and tourism businesses around the area it also means loss of income – not only for the event weekend, but for the repeat or pre-event visits we know many riders make.

Remember, we’re talking about a few hours of road closures, once a year, for an event that generates millions of pounds in visitor income and has done much to put the Scottish Borders on the road cycling map.

To be fair, SBC have said they will potentially allow a closed-road event in another area (perhaps in 2024 or beyond), but it’s proved impossible for anyone to find a suitable, workable alternative route from the Peebles area. Moving the whole event to another town as the council hoped is not possible either. Nowhere outside the Tweed Valley has anything like the overnight capacity we have here, and then there’s the challenge of getting 2000 people to the same start line from their accommodation (avoiding road closures) at roughly the same time. And anyway, we want to provide a beautiful event in classic cycling terrain – that’s the whole point of the event. Just because the council are willing to allow a closed road sportive somewhere deemed more convenient (if such a thing could ever be found) does not mean cyclists will want to take part in it. The Borders should proudly make the most of its considerable cycling assets – not dumb itself down for the sake of convenience.

Worse still is the implied message that perhaps the Scottish Borders does not actually care too much about cycling or cyclists. This would certainly be at odds with the council’s own cycling and event strategies (prioritising authentic, home-grown events which employ local people). It certainly does not, in our opinion, represent local attitudes; the vast majority of us regard our homeland as a very cycling-friendly region.

We’re not going to lie – this is a huge disappointment. Tour O The Borders has played a key role in putting the south of Scotland on the map as a road cycling destination over the last decade. It has been the Scottish Borders’ biggest mass-participation sports event for several years, regularly attracting around 2000 participants and providing an economic boost for many hospitality businesses in our region.

All this is happening in a year that sees us welcome the 2023 UCI Cycling World Championships to Scotland. We should collectively be celebrating the power of the bike. We should be encouraging more people to experience the joy of cycling in a safe environment – not taking away these opportunities.

Right now, we don’t know what the longer term future holds for Tour O The Borders. But we do know that we’ll do everything to make our 2023 event something special. We have accommodated Scottish Borders Council’s and Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council’s request to stage the event on a partly new route and what a cracker it’s going to be.

The amended 120km route will take riders into the wilder reaches of southern Scotland, with highlights including the Devil’s Beeftub, the historic town of Moffat, Grey Mare’s Tail, Loch of the Lowes and St Mary’s Loch. The famous climb of Talla Wall features in the shorter 88km version of the route, but there are some epic climbs in both. Scotland’s most beautiful closed-road sportive just got even more beautiful.

We will keep you updated on future plans but in the meantime, we hope you can join us and let’s make it a big peloton for what could be the final closed-road outing of Le Touro.

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This post was written by HO_Lindsay