As you Lycra it
It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I travelled to luxury hotel Cameron House on the shores of Loch Lomond on a sunny but chilly autumn Saturday morning. As a cycling fan who loves getting out on two wheels I was eagerly awaiting my introduction to Scottish riding legend Sir Chris Hoy. But I was worried my skills might not be up to a weekend of riding in the company of the six-times Olympic champion.
But my fears dissipated when I arrived at the five-star resort to join up with a group of other riders of all levels enjoying a break with LeBlanq, a London-headquartered travel business that organises cycling trips in Scotland and other destinations including Ibiza, Norway and Cape Town.LeBlanq’s overall package is a winning combination of cycling and fine dining in carefully chosen locations, washed down with wine, champagne and whisky. The Scotch we enjoyed at Cameron House over the weekend - apres cycling - came from LeBlanq’s relatively new event partner InchDairnie Distillery in Fife which launched its first whisky, RyeLaw, this year.LeBlanq was founded by Justin Clarke, another former pro cyclist who went on to run global food festivals. He put his culinary and sporting contacts to use by teaming up with co-creators top chef Ashley Palmer-Watts, LeBlanq’s ‘directeur culinaire’, and former English former pro cyclist Sean Yates as ‘directeur sportif’ (DS). The latter had worn the leader’s Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France and was Team Sky’s DS when Bradley Wiggins triumphed in the Tour in 2012. Yates is known as ‘the boss’, which explains the catchline ‘The Boss’s Domestique’ on the classy LeBlanq-branded Rapha gear we were provided with as part of the package.Among other big hitters from the LaBlanq crew joining us for our Scottish cycling adventure were Matt Stephens, a former British National Road Champion and now commentator, and current pro rider Damien Clayton.I met my fellow guests - a friendly bunch with varying degrees of cycling experience - at LeBlanq’s Michelin Service Course in front of Cameron House. The group of 40 included a couple of women with electric bikes and some senior business executives who like to de-stress and pick up a bit of pace on their road bikes when they don their Lycra. Also in our peloton was Tom Rowlands, half of electronic duo Chemical Brothers, who is a keen rider and counts Hoy among his fanbase.Rather than having to lug along my 10-year old road bike, LeBlanq gave me a top-of-the range Bianchi Specialissima for the weekend. Its lightweight frame made the hills around Loch Lomond and the Trossachs that little bit easier. And as was becoming clear, attention to detail was a theme of the weekend, with each of our bikes fitted with a small posy of dried flowers and sheaves of rye - handpicked from the same fields as that was used to create RyeLaw.The other guests had been at Cameron House since the previous afternoon and had completed a prologue ride and enjoyed a slap-up dinner at the hotel’s Tamburrini & Wishart restaurant. The prologue also helped decide whether guests were best suited to the green, white or black routes which had ascending degrees of difficulty in terms of speed and endurance. I played it safe and opted to go green. It wasn’t long before we headed out for our Saturday morning ride, escorted by Porsche support cars and Yates as our trusted DS. Also coming along with us was a van from the Artisan Coffee Co - co-founded by Ashley-Watts - which provided caffeine boosts along the way.Our green route took us to picturesque Aberfoyle - where we enjoyed coffee and sandwiches and were presented with our InchDairnie hip flask for sustenance. There and back covered a distance of about 74km, with plenty of climbs to challenge us, along with fast downhills. It was great fun and lived up to the LeBlanq strapline of ‘Legendary Joyriding’. The quiet roads, stunning scenery and green landscape certainly impressed people visiting the area for the first time, including two couples who had come all the way from Colorado in the US for the LeBlanq Scottish experience.A few hours later, after having filled up on some soup and wraps in the Cameron Grill, I sat down for a chat with Hoy and Clarke, who had raced together in the 1990s. Hoy said: “I had heard a little about LeBlanq and it really appealed to me. It hits that sweet spot of getting out and pushing yourself, while balancing it with eating nice food in good company in great parts of the world. It’s about having fun, getting the most out of the weekend in a place you might not have ridden before and leaving with the feeling you’ve made new friends.”With a steady stream of cyclists from the white and black groups now arriving back at the hotel, I decided to check out the pool at Cameron House Leisure Club, although that meant missing out on the Porsche test drives on offer to LeBlanq guests. It was lovely to ease my muscles in the Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna before heading back to my spacious room to get ready for our evening ‘Tour de Feast’.The LeBlanq group had exclusive access to the hotel’s Clubhouse to tuck into a Michelin star quality meal created by chef Nathan Outlaw, known as the ‘king of fish’. But first, on arrival, InchDairnie had set us a ‘sniff test’ to identify the aromas of RyeLaw - from spiciness to vanilla - before we sipped one of their whisky cocktails. Each food course, from crab scones to cured salmon and baked turbot to chocolate tart, was paired with drinks chosen by LeBlanq’s master of wine David Hesketh, including Laurent-Perrier and pinot noir.As we gathered for our fireside chat with our drams of RyeLaw, InchDairnie distillery manager Scott Sneddon explained how its focus is on innovation in the ‘three Ms’ of material, method and maturation. Our evening then drew to a close with Hoy sharing ‘Tales of a Rainbow Jersey’ with Stephens. The 11-times World Champion told us how he was inspired to start riding as a young child when he watched the classic film ET and saw everyone’s favourite alien fly through the sky on a BMX. His family supported his cycling ambitions and the rest, as they say, is history.After a comfortable night’s sleep and a cooked breakfast in the Cameron Grill, it was time for my final cycle of the weekend on a misty and damp, but atmospheric, Scottish morning. Our green group did a ride of just over 30km of mainly climbing on a largely traffic-free road towards Gareloch for our coffee stop before a fast downhill stretch back to Cameron House. The other groups challenged themselves on the Kilcreggan loop of about 70km.The weekend finished off with a barbecue lunch in Cameron House’s Boat House before a cooper demonstrated the craftsmanship that goes into putting an InchDairnie whisky cask together. There were hugs all round as the guests and their hosts bade farewell. I heard many conversations among guests planning their next LeBlanq trip, and I can’t say I’m surprised given my experience of the sociable, action-packed weekend.LeBlanq will be back in Scotland next year, with the dates and location still to be revealed.https://www.leblanq.com/The Loch Lomond experience would cost £2,495https://www.leblanq.com/products/loch-lomond-2023-09-22(Not included in the price: travel to and from your destination; personal ride insurance; any pre or post trip accommodation; beverages outside the drinks list)