The organisers of the Tour O The Borders, the popular Peeblesshire-based closed road sportive, have labelled a statement from the Scottish Borders Council – which claimed that it was not responsible for the decision to call a halt to the event in 2024 following complaints from unhappy residents – as “utterly ridiculous” and “disingenuous”.
Organisers Hillside Outside say the council’s claim that the decision to bring an end to the decade-old sportive was “entirely avoidable” – a response itself to accusations that the Tour O The Borders’ demise stemmed the authority relenting to residents angry at the event’s road closures – does not provide “an accurate reflection of what has been happening over the past few months, and demonstrates an unwillingness to accept responsibility”.
Earlier this week, we reported that the 2023 edition of the Tour O The Borders, set for 3 September, will still go ahead as planned with a new 120km route designed to by-pass an area where a small group of locals have campaigned against the road closures which form a key part of the event’s appeal.
However, thanks to this local opposition, the long-term future of the event is now extremely uncertain, with Hillside Outside claiming that the Scottish Borders Council decided that the current route cannot be staged on closed roads in 2024, following a consultation with Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council.
The event’s director Neil Dalgleish claimed in a statement that the organising team was left out of these discussions and that the council’s insistence that the sportive’s route and base should be moved elsewhere – a demand that Dalgleish says “proved impossible” to implement – was “unfair and out of balance”.
However, in a statement sent to road.cc, the Scottish Borders Council insisted that the decision not to run the Tour O The Borders in 2024 was not taken by the local authority. The council also criticised the organisers’ decision to announce the demise of next year’s event as “regrettable” and “entirely avoidable”.
“The Council is fully committed to supporting the event and exploring opportunities to grow upon the success of previous events,” the statement said.
“We worked extensively with the organisers, Hillside Outside to consider alternative route options and ensure a fresh and engaging experience for participants and communities.
“SBC is hugely disappointed by the organiser’s decision to announce that there will not be a Tour O the Borders event in 2024.”
The council continued: “Over the past few months, colleagues have taken part in many discussions with the organisers, to enable the TOB to continue in 2024. Throughout the process, we maintained an open line of communication with the organisers, offering our support and exploring alternative formats or options that would meet their requirements.
“We have been consistent encouraging the organiser to avoid making any decision about the 2024 event until after a full evaluation of this year’s event, which showcases a new route for 2023, had been completed.
“The implication was that if this year’s event was well received by participants, business, and communities alike, this could present an opportunity to take forward the planning of the 2024 event. The Council recognises the significance of this event and the positive economic impact that it can bring to the region.
“SBC put forward a number of options in relation to the 2024 event and would be happy to continue to work with the organiser, but unfortunately they have opted to announce that there will not be a 2024 event well in advance of this year’s event on the 3 of September which is regrettable and in our view entirely avoidable.”
(Credit: Ian Linton)
However, that statement has sparked a fresh war of words with the Tour O The Borders’ organising team, with director Dalgleish telling the Peeblesshire News that “it’s utterly ridiculous to suggest that it was our own decision not to run Touro in 2024 or beyond”.
“The event is of fundamental importance to us staying in business,” he said. “This is a sad and disappointing situation.
“The wording coming from the council does not in our opinion give an accurate reflection of what has been happening over the past few months, and demonstrates an unwillingness to accept responsibility in their part in how we’ve arrived here.
“Most sadly, and no matter what they say, it shows no genuine desire to support the event.”
Dalgleish also said that he believes that the council “gave in” to requests from residents for the sportive to be relocated and that, contrary to their statement, they had failed to suggest a workable alternative for the existing route.
“They ignored our warnings that it’s just not as easy as that [to relocate], and to date SBC still haven’t suggested a single viable alternative,” he added. “As an option we offered to organise closed road events in locations of their choice, if they were willing to pay for it – but this was declined.
“So we were expected to move the event – to somewhere, anywhere, in the region – and take all the risk in doing so. Of course, we’ve looked at dozens of possibilities. But when the stats clearly showed nowhere else in the Borders can accommodate enough riders to even make the event viable, we let SBC know immediately.
“It’s worth noting the road closures, police, emergency services, medics, and everything else cost us, scarily, into six figures. Tour O The Borders has received no financial support from SBC since 2016.
“If SBC are now saying that an event in 2024, on either the 2022 or 2023 route, is a realistic option, that seems like a change of position and potentially great news – but that’s not ever been made clear to us.”
This week’s war of words follows years of tensions in some areas over the Tour O The Borders, Scotland’s only closed-road cycle sportive outside the Highlands. The Scottish Borders’ biggest mass-participation sports event, the sportive 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, despite its clear popularity, the event has also been the centre of protests by locals unhappy at the inconvenience caused by the day of road closures.
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.
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.