This Sunday is the Sam Robinson Memorial Road Race, promoted by the Glasgow Nightingale CC, is one of the classics of the Scottish calendar. The route skirts around Callander, actually, but the showpiece is the Dukes Pass.
Easily accessible from Stirling, and accessible as part of a longish ride from Glasgow, the Dukes is a meaty climb that you can really get your teeth into.
The Sam Robinson tackles it from the easier northern side. You approach it after a rolling ride along the side of Loch Venachar, past Brig O’Turk (and the Bicycle Tree). The gradient is shallow to begin with, but quite quickly there is a section that kicks up– it’s a place for the very strong or the foolhardy to put in an attack or a dig to test the mettle of their companions or adversaries.
There is still a lot of climbing to be done from there – the road swoops around and the gradient varies, even descending for short spells. Towards the summit it kicks up again, and there is a nasty steep section near the top, shown in these photos by Ian Henderson, taken in 2009 during a TLI pursuit race run by Jimmy Rae:
Above is Arthur Doyle, Dooley’s Cycles, much more stylish– leading the Sam Robinson RR 2011.
From the Aberfoyle side, the gradient is steeper and there are several hairpins to contend with near the bottom. Used in the Tour de Trossachs late-season time trial, these test your legs from the off. This is a stiffer test and although it’s harder, I prefer climbing it from this side. Descending back down this way, into Aberfoyle, at race pace, in the Sam Robinson RR is a pretty hairy experience, doubly so if it’s wet.
After the hairpins, you pass a visitor centre, and then have a tough section that increases in gradient to near 20% as it turns round to the left, before flattening out. Here you can rest up or chase your mates/rivals up the last slopes to the top, where there is a gravel layby with standing stones that is ideal to stop, catch your breath, and gulp down a gel or flapjack.