Tour of East Lothian Audax

You will have heard of the Tour de France, and likely even the Tour of Britain. It seems everywhere has a cycling tour these days, and East Lothian is no exception, although with just a little difference from the general competitiveness of the major sporting events.

Having run for about 20 years the Tour of East Lothian ‘audax’ has obtained almost mythical status, climbing inland from Musselburgh up the Redstone Rigg, before descending back towards Dunbar, where the ride turns round to wind its way back to Musselburgh via Haddington and the coast. An audax is basically a long distance ride (anything from 50km up to the ridiculously insane 1400km of the London-Edinburgh-London ride), gettign its name from the Latin for ‘Audacious’. And in these parts the ToEL is a traditional season opener, a chance for those who haven’t turned over the pedals too much over winter to see just how far their fitness has fallen, as they tackle the 105km route. For me the main worry came from my only training being my daily 10 mile round trip to work.

Milling at the start

2008 saw the first year the event was cancelled, and despite an unofficial running of the route, the grand return in 2009 was greeted with a field of well over a hundred riders. The really curious thing about the ToEL is the mix of riders it attracts. Audaxes are normally seen as quite reserved affairs, tackled by people with beards and sandles and steel-framed bikes. I might have the bike, but the lack of facial growth and open-toed footwear never really stopped me taking part – but at this event the true ‘roadies’ come out to play on their fast machines. Getting themselves organised into long lines to cut though the wind and record a time.

Many of them even forego the almost mandatory cake stop at the halfway-ish point so as not to put too much of a dent into the time. But there seems to be a happy co-existence here between the disciplines, and at one point in the ride I was happy to latch onto the back of a group that went past marginally more quickly, after we had turned into a deceptively strong headwind.

And this had come after the announcement that the Rigg had been closed to the event (apparently the surface had been cut up too much by snowploughs in the week before) and so the ride was to be slightly longer, but marginally flatter, to allow for a detour. There was a certain sense of disappointment amongst many, myself included, that the climb had to be omitted, but at the same time a wave of relief that the first ride maybe wouldn’t be quite so hard as anticipated.

However there were quite enough hills to keep us occupied, as we climbed out of Gifford, and through East Saltoun. I’ll never quite understand why I manage to breeze up some hills, then find others where my legs feel as if they’re about to drop off, but I’m sure it must be linked to the amount of malt loaf (or lack thereof) in my system… Heading out to the Dunbar turn, at around the 65km (40ish mile) mark, we had a slight tailwaind for the majority (save the one time I latched onto the train that went past me), and as we rolled down to the main street, and onto the cafe stop where our control cards would be stamped (there are roughly 3 to 4 controls per 100km) the thought kept going through my head that the return was really going to hurt.

The Dunbar stop

It was this thought that struck me again as it really did start to hurt on a gentle roll of a climb away from our turn. And the road kept going steadily, but relentlessly, upwards. Then came a saving grace. For some reason the route seemed to find itself sheltered from the wind. Whether there was a bank of trees in the way, or a wall, or the remains of a hill up which you had mostly climbed. We found the going slightly easier than should necessarily have been the case, and were able to chat as we rode along. And this for me is the essence of audax. A chance to test yourself for sure, but also to have a sociable and friendly ride.

This was certainly the case on the few audaxes I’d run before this, and then on this particular day everything seemed to click. The weather was dry, the wind not as bad as promised, and the hills flowed for the most part. I was truly starting to enjoy myself on the climb out of Haddington, away from our last control before the finsih, knowing that a mile or two on the road would start to drop again, then flatten out after hitting the shoreline below Longniddry.

Of course I should have realised that the wind here would be as strong as anywhere else, and that last ten miles became a slog to make it home, to the Musselburgh town hall, with a car park awash with expensive metal and carbon fibre, and a table laid out with cakes and cups of coffee and tea (another staple of the audax, a good spread at the end). A 15 minute rest and chat after handing in our ‘brevet’ cards (those that are stamped at the controls) and a lot of smiling and tired faces around. 5 hours 30 in the saddle, an hour longer in total with stops for cake and controls, with times varying by two hours either side of that. A competitive nature curtailed, and a thorough enjoyment of a day out and the surrounding scenery.

East Lothian is the perfect place for such an introduction to the cycling season. Audacious maybe, but not nearly as much as my plans for the rest of the year now.

Audax sun

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Anthony Robson Anthony is the editor of online cycling magazine Enjoying most forms of cycling he does his daily work commute by bike, mountain bikes at the weekend, and fills other spare time renovating old bikes. Anthony is 30 and lives with his girlfriend Mel in Edinburgh, where he also works, but enjoys getting out of the city, especially by bike, but also in his pride and joy, a fun red Mini. At last check Anthony had three bikes (mountain bike, road bike, fixed wheel commuter), but this number is expected to increase with the addition of a garage to the household.

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