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Tour O The Borders sportive faces cancellation after residents complain about event’s road closures

The organisers of the closed road event, which has been marred by protests from unhappy locals in the past, say the council’s decision to scrap it for 2024 is “out of balance and unfair”

September’s tenth edition of the Tour O The Borders, the popular cycle sportive that attracts thousands of cyclists each year to Peeblesshire, may prove the final one, after the local council decided to call a halt to running the event on closed roads in 2024 following a request from a group of unhappy residents.

The 2023 Tour O The Borders will still go ahead as planned on 3 September, using a partly new 120km route designed to by-pass the area at the centre of the controversy, Ettrick and Yarrow, but the long-term future of the event is now extremely uncertain, the organisers announced today.

Scotland’s only closed-road sportive outside the Highlands, and the Scottish Borders’ biggest mass-participation sports event, the Tour O The Borders was first held in 2012 – before moving to a closed-road setup two years later – attracting 2,000 participants from across the UK keen to tackle the area’s scenic and challenging hills in traffic-free conditions.

However, the event has also been the centre of protests by locals unhappy at the inconvenience caused by the day of road closures.

Tour o The Borders start

> Farmer who stopped Borders sportive says the event is "a waste of police time"

At the 2017 edition, two men were charged after a number of cyclists taking part said they were confronted by a small group of protesters – believed to be angry at the closure of the roads during harvest season – who allegedly blocked the road and hit some riders with sticks.

A farmer at the centre of the protest told a newspaper that motorists are “held up every day of the year” by cyclists and that he believed that the road closures for the sportive were an added insult.

“We’ve been getting more and more abuse from them when we’re just trying to go about our daily lives, and for the cyclists to suddenly shut off the road is a bit of an indignity as they get the police to monitor the event and it’s basically a waste of police time,” John Marshall said at the time.

Though the charges against the farmers were eventually dropped, the event’s director Neil Dalgleish said the protesters had “learned their lesson” and that the lack of prosecution should not be seen as a “green light for violence towards cyclists”.

> Tour o' the Borders organiser says decision to drop charges against 'stick-gate' farmers not a "green light" to attack cyclists

However, this year it appears that a community group has succeeded in potentially bringing down the shutters on the Tour O The Borders, with the Scottish Borders Council deciding that the current route cannot be staged on closed roads in 2024.

Hillside Outside, the organisers of the Peebles-based event, have claimed that the council’s decision follows a consultation with Ettrick and 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,” the organisers said today. “We also asked for a new working group to be formed to address the issues, but both these requests were unsuccessful.”

Hillside Outside also claimed that the opposition to the event appears to stem from a vocal minority and that recent local surveys carried out by the council have found that 87 percent of respondents were either “supportive or very supportive” of the Tour O The Borders taking place, compared to just under 12 percent who were not supportive.

Tour O The Borders (credit: Richard Turley)

(Credit: Richard Turley)

According to the organisers, Scottish Borders Council has said that a closed-road event could be held in 2024 and beyond in another area, though Hillside Outside has noted that “it’s proved impossible for anyone to find a suitable, workable alternative route” and that “moving the whole event to another town as the council hoped is not possible either” due to accommodation issues.

“Obviously it’s a big disappointment,” Dalgleish said in a statement today. “This event has played a huge part in putting the South of Scotland on the map as a quality road cycling destination, and it brings a lot of revenue to the region.

“The decision seems out of balance to us – the roads are re-opened as soon as the event has passed through, so it’s only a few hours of road closures once a year.

“We appreciate that any road closure can cause inconvenience, and we constantly review the event with that in mind. We’ve already moved the route twice and changed the date twice to mitigate any problems caused.”

> RideLondon: Cyclists claim they were assaulted by motorist with drawing pins on sportive route

A statement on the event’s website continued: “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.”

One regular participant added: “It seems ridiculous that in a year when Scotland is hosting the Cycling World Championships and presenting itself as a cycling nation, that a successful home-grown event like this should be told it’s being shut down. Scotland needs more safe cycling – not less.”

Dalgleish concluded: “This year’s event will be a bittersweet experience as the route is the best ever, and in my opinion there’s more need than ever for closed road events to encourage people into cycling. Given a decent day it will be an absolute joy.”

Scottish Borders Council has been contacted for comment.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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31 comments

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The Acolyte | 8 months ago
0 likes

motorists are “held up every day of the year” by cyclists.

And motorists never get held up by Farmers on their oversized equipment. Perhaps it's time for the farmers to travel across their own land rather than further wrecking the UK roads.  
 

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joules1975 | 8 months ago
1 like

I live in the borders, the Ettrick and Yarrow roads in question are only a handful of miles from my house and I ride some or part of them pretty much every time I'm on the bike.

Closing the roads is a huge problem for locals, as a detour could be 50+ miles if the destination is the other side. Meanwhile, farmers and others are effectively prevented from working if access to their fields is prevented.

The majority of the roads on the route are extremely quiet anyway (I can do a 40 miles ride and see half a dozen vehicles max on some days), and the traffic could and perhaps should have been managed differently (ban on lorries etc for the day, and polite education for anyone driving onto the course by the marshalls/police that are presumably on site anyway.

The actions of those that protested, and particularly those that go physical with participants are unacceptable and stupid - protest to the council and organisers, not those taking part - however, from the moment I heard this event was being created, I thought 'Why close all the roads?'. Closing the roads on the whole route is a massive overkill and should have been kept to a few kew busier areas in and near towns.

 

 

 

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Paul J | 8 months ago
4 likes

I'll be honest, having roads closed in a rural area would be a huge pain for locals. Especially in rural Scotland, well away from the central belt. There are very few roads around those parts. Especially for farmers in the summer - there's various things in farming that hinge on waiting for the right weather, and to find your one and only road connecting two fields is shut just on the day when the weather (that day, or /previously/, in combination with other stuff you have to get done) is right would be annoying.

Further, I don't really see what is so special about sportives. Yes, it's kind of nice as a cyclist to have the roads to yourself, but... do a bunch of sunday warriors really /need/ to have the roads shut for them, so they can all have a big group ride? Is it really achieving much, given the level of disruption to daily life of residents?

I'm kind of on the side of the locals who complained really.

Disclaimer: I cycle every day pretty much, drive rarely. I do have a dislike of sportives though.

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Off the back replied to Paul J | 8 months ago
6 likes

Its one day. SAme as the people who bemoan the roads being closed for ride London. The inconvenience of being prisoners in their own homes - even though the London Marathon does pretty much the same thing and for longer. 

There is a distinct lack of community spirit about Britian nowadays. Too many people want to bleat on about being inconvenienced as though they are the centre of the universe. What ever happened to compromising? 

Farmers will have a genuine justification for not having roads closed, livestock to feed etc but they would be far better talking to the organisers and coming to an agreement that helps all concerned than just complaining and demanding the event is cancelled. 

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hawkinspeter replied to Off the back | 8 months ago
5 likes
Off the back wrote:

Its one day. SAme as the people who bemoan the roads being closed for ride London. The inconvenience of being prisoners in their own homes - even though the London Marathon does pretty much the same thing and for longer. 

There is a distinct lack of community spirit about Britian nowadays. Too many people want to bleat on about being inconvenienced as though they are the centre of the universe. What ever happened to compromising? 

Farmers will have a genuine justification for not having roads closed, livestock to feed etc but they would be far better talking to the organisers and coming to an agreement that helps all concerned than just complaining and demanding the event is cancelled. 

I think our community spirit has just been split into separate tribes. They wouldn't mind the inconvenience if they saw it as helping/supporting whatever tribe they feel part of e.g. closing roads for the coronation was accepted by royalists (whilst I just enjoy the closing of roads to motor traffic for any reason).

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Simon E replied to Off the back | 8 months ago
3 likes
Off the back wrote:

Its one day.

It isn't even a whole day. The website post says

"Roads are re-opened as soon as the last cyclist is past, and almost always ahead of schedule."

"we’re talking about a few hours of road closures, once a year, for an event that generates millions of pounds in visitor income"

The route is out in the sticks south of Peebles. The only settlement on the route is Moffat (pop. 2,500).

But it's bloody cyclists invading OUR countryside, we don't want their money.

Does Paul J actually know anything about living and working in a rural community?

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OldRidgeback replied to Paul J | 8 months ago
6 likes

The farmers in the Scottish borders are used to having roads closed for car rallies. Where my brother lives, near Duns, the roads are closed every year for rallying. The farmers round there are remarkably tolerant of cyclists too as I've found out when cycling with my brother. Granted, he knows a few of them but all the same.

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jaymack replied to Paul J | 8 months ago
4 likes

I much prefer an audax. I've done one closed road event and that was the the Ride London just gone. Yes it was nice to neither worry about navigation nor drivers trying to kill me but all those deep section wheels, aero bikes and their riders pretending it was a race was wearisome. I've done one, and one's enough as it confirmed just too many of my prejudices!

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bikes replied to Paul J | 8 months ago
3 likes

The article says it's for just a few hours. I get farming can be time critical, but is it really in such a narrow window? And what volume of farming are we talking about, could it be a tiny financial loss that they could be compensated for? And is there anything positive for the farmers to gain from the event?

The quoted farmer seems more bothered about evening up the score having been held up by cyclists throughout the year, perhaps the event has no effect on him but is just protesting to make a point.

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mark1a replied to bikes | 8 months ago
4 likes

I don't know about the narrow window for farming, but I did the 2021 Etape Caledonia. It was moved from its usual May time to September, due to Pitlochry being turned into a vaccine centre for Perthshire. The consequence of moving to September was that the route direction was reversed in order to allow farmers access to a particular area of the course at a particular time of day for harvesting purposes. Aside from that, from what I saw of Pitlochry over the weekend, they seemed most welcoming for the 5000 people descending on and adding to their 3000 population. There were 4 of us who certainly contributed to the local economy with camping, food, drink, distillery tour, etc. 

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tigersnapper replied to Paul J | 8 months ago
2 likes

I've ridden a few closed road sportives here and abroad.  My experience is that most villages that you ride through turn out in droves and cheer you through.  They seem to make a family occasion of it.  Their have been a few times people needed access to the closed roads in motor vehicles and they were escorted through by stewards on motorbikes.  I think there is usually a solution to these problems as they can be looked at as an exception.

It looks like the organisers are trying to work with the community to find a comprimise.  I don't know the numbers involved in the 'request' but many times these issues are the minority overriding the majority.

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Off the back | 8 months ago
6 likes

A farmer at the centre of the protest told a newspaper that motorists are “held up every day of the year” by cyclists

Mmmm, I wonder if I can complain about the amount of times I have been stuck behind a tractor on the narrow winding roads around Scotland. I was stuck behind one just north of Loch Lomond last week and although they had plenty of oppertunities to pull over they didn't bother once. The queue of traffic behind was insane, F**k farmers and their totally illogical arguments. They are some of the worst for terrible driving in 4x4s with trailers getting extremely close to you. 

 

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chrisonabike replied to Off the back | 8 months ago
5 likes
Off the back wrote:

A farmer at the centre of the protest told a newspaper that motorists are “held up every day of the year” by cyclists

BMX bandits, presumably? Or the Chain Gang?

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Off the back replied to chrisonabike | 8 months ago
1 like

But we all know farmers are poor and have no money. 

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brooksby replied to Off the back | 8 months ago
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Off the back wrote:

But we all know farmers are poor and have no money. 

IAF many of them really are.

They might not be the landowner, actually owning the farm - that would be some millionaire newspaper magnate who was told land was a good investment - but are renting it to try and make a living.

That being said, there probably are many farmers who do own their farm (well, the bank owns it, but that's true for most property) and who are relatively well-off...

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Rendel Harris | 8 months ago
3 likes

But why would a council pander to a vociferous minority of just 12%? Checks Scottish Border Council makeup, no overall control, coalition between Conservatives and Independents. Oh, that'll be why then.

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kingleo | 8 months ago
2 likes

Run the event on open roads - I've done a lot of running races with hundreds of runners on roads that were not closed to traffic.

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Flâneur replied to kingleo | 8 months ago
1 like
kingleo wrote:

Run the event on open roads - I've done a lot of running races with hundreds of runners on roads that were not closed to traffic.

 

I don't think they could - some of the roads, including some of the descents, are single track.

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brooksby replied to Flâneur | 8 months ago
0 likes
Flâneur wrote:
kingleo wrote:

Run the event on open roads - I've done a lot of running races with hundreds of runners on roads that were not closed to traffic.

I don't think they could - some of the roads, including some of the descents, are single track.

Why not?  If La Tour Féminin des Pyrénées can be run on open roads then surely it's good enough for a sportive in Scotland...  3

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mattw replied to brooksby | 8 months ago
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You trust rural drivers not to harrass and potentially cripple / kill?

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Rendel Harris replied to kingleo | 8 months ago
2 likes
kingleo wrote:

Run the event on open roads - I've done a lot of running races with hundreds of runners on roads that were not closed to traffic.

Apart from the safety aspects – runners don't tend to descend at 50 mph – the organisers would still need council and police permission for such a large event on open roads, which presumably would not be forthcoming.

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HoarseMann | 8 months ago
2 likes

spoilsports

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absolute right | 8 months ago
8 likes

Yet the motor car event in Duns, on closed public roads and about as ecologically unfriendly as one could imagine, goes ahead irrespective. how odd. 

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OldRidgeback replied to absolute right | 8 months ago
2 likes

I just commented on that too. My brother lives near Duns. But bear in mind that a lot of the local farmers participate in rallying and one of their own was  two times F1 champion Jim Clark no less. He cut his teeth on the racetracks built on old airbases in the area, racing with someone called AN Other at one point (points if you know who that was), as well as rallying in his MKI Lotus Cortina. My brother's neighbour is a farmer and a member of the extended Clark family.

I've cycled round the Duns area with my brother several times and those country roads are great. In my experience, the drivers are fairly considerate of cyclists round there.

 

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Flâneur replied to OldRidgeback | 8 months ago
0 likes

"the drivers are fairly considerate of cyclists round there"

Having been on an audax around there on the same day as one of the Borders rallies, I can confirm that's not true of the rally spectators 

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SteeveB | 8 months ago
3 likes

Shame  I've done that one twice and it is a great day out.

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Daclu Trelub | 8 months ago
5 likes

Initially, I thought closing roads during harvest season is a bit awkward and inconvenient, but then I read that the closure is only for a few hours one day of the year.

That seems like a workable situation to me.

Anyway, I've no doubt there are many in the region who'd welcome the influx of spectator and tourist money, and they haven't been asked.

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Browsie replied to Daclu Trelub | 8 months ago
10 likes

They have been asked as apparently 87 percent on people are supportive of the event, it's just the very vocal minority as per usual, I think the council should grow a pair!

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dubwise | 8 months ago
2 likes

Welcome to Scotland, where a tiny minority always gets its way no matter what the issue is.

Scotland... a fkn joke.

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Off the back replied to dubwise | 8 months ago
3 likes

I dont think thats fair, they are no better or worse than the rest of the UK on that part. I've lived here for a few years and its actually a better place to ride than many parts of England I could think of. Go to the New Forest and you're treated with such disdain you'd be more welcome if you were a child molesting serial killer than a cyclist. 

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