"YOU just cannot beat Scotland,” beams my new cycling buddy. He should know, as Sir Chris Hoy is our most decorated Olympian, with a whopping six cycling gold medals, and he has cycled all over his beloved homeland. 

Our pedal along the bonnie, bonnie banks below glowering Ben Lomond is just the start of a brilliant weekend with LeBlanq that opens up swathes of scenery, world-class cycling and brings further cycling greats. And I learn about Hoy’s favourite place to cycle.

LeBlanq is the brainchild of dynamic ex-professional cyclist Justin Clark. He tells me he wanted to create a “joyful, welcoming and fun experience”, one that lets anyone come along to ride with famous names from the world of cycling as they “joyride together”. Swirl in gastronomy from chefs who’ve run Michelin kitchens and the chance to test-drive a Porsche and it’s quite a package. 

“They say don’t meet your heroes, but we make that happen,” beams Justin, as he casts his eye over the riders getting ready to head off. “Why go abroad when you have such riches here in Scotland?”

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These LeBlanq tours cherry-pick the world’s best cycling locations, famous riders and unique experiences. Ones that strike me include a cycling experience in Ibiza with Pete Tong in the mix and another tackling the wilds of Norway.

Then there are these Scottish adventures.  The first one was at Aberfeldy – it worked so well that LeBlanq returned in 2022 to Dumfries and Galloway. They chose Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park this year and I have it straight from the horse’s mouth they will be back in 2024. 

At the start, another cycling living legend appears – Sean Yates. He is “race director”, with three groups of riders of different speeds matched. He promises “gain and pain” with three days of two-wheeled adventures around the loch, and also deeper into Argyll and the Trossachs.  Professional riders – past and present – are sprinkled around the field, alongside mere mortals from all over the British Isles and as far afield as the US.

The weekend is not all about riding, with the chance to test-drive that sleek top-of the-range electric Porsche and relax at the hotel, which is plush Cameron House. The swimming pool with a hot tub proves handy for easing tired legs.

I catch up with Hoy, who clearly loves LeBlanq.  “What’s not to like? We all ride together and enjoy the remarkable scenery. People are sometimes a little nervous as they don’t know what to expect, but they soon settle into the swing of it. And I always reassure them it’s not racing. If they’re tired, they can hop in one of the support vehicles – there is absolutely no shame in that.”

The National:

Hoy is a huge fan of cycling in Scotland: “When people come here like this it really makes me proud. The last three years have given me a great passion to get back out and explore more of Scotland again. I’d love to get back up the west coast and over to Skye.  “There is nowhere as beautiful as Scotland, whether you’re road biking or mountain biking. The UCI World Championships being held here so successfully earlier this year really highlighted that.”

I’ve always been interested in what inspired this great sportsperson and Hoy’s answer is simple – Graeme Obree. “Graeme seemed to appear out of nowhere, this one Scottish guy who’d put together his own bike and riding style. He took championships and world records by storm until they banned him,” smiles Hoy. “So he simply refashioned his bike and adopted a new riding style and kept on winning. He is a remarkable man in so many ways and I’ve been lucky to get to know him too. He was the guy who made top-level cycling seem attainable to me.”

I ask Hoy whether he misses competitive cycling? “I still have that instinct to compete so yes, I guess I do,” he says. “But it’s also nice to ride for the joy without pressure on the LeBlanq weekends.  “I’ve had some incredible career highlights, but I have different priorities now with my family and also charity work, such as with my wife for Bliss, the UK’s leading charity for babies born premature or sick.”

Our two evenings see riders rewarded with Michelin-star cooking courtesy of Nathan Outlaw. He weaves in Scottish produce, which he describes as “second to none”. The grilled bass with a velvet crab sauce is a signature dish star and the turbot with whisky excels too.

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We’re not done there with whisky as InchDairnie are here with their excellent RyeLaw. I’m a huge whisky fan, but don’t know much about the rye side of things. RyeLaw proves a delicious introduction. Keep an eye out for this Fife distillery as they are going places with innovative distillery manager Scott Sneddon at the helm.

Not many people can say they’ve shared a dram with Sir Chris Hoy, but now I can, so I asked him that question I’d been desperate to ask about his favourite place to ride in the world. I am shocked.

And delighted: “I grew up in Edinburgh and did a lot of pedalling in and around the Pentlands and I just love it.”  I wouldn’t be too surprised if a future instalment of LeBlanq headed to these rugged hills overlooking Edinburgh.

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