MICK BENNETT apologises needlessly for his lack of Scottish heritage but the Ovo Energy Tour of Britain race director always has a spring in his step whenever he sets foot on Caledonian soil.

He will do so again this week when the 2019 edition of the tour makes its Grand Depart from George Square in Glasgow on Saturday, before heading to the Borders the following day for a stage that starts and begins in Kelso. It is the first time in the modern era of the race that Scotland has hosted two complete stages.

Bennett believes that is only right “when you think that 8 per cent of the UK population and around 30 per cent of its land mass are in Scotland” but he has emotive as well as rational reasons for doing so.

“I can remember the start of one of the previous formats of the Tour and we had arranged for the pipes and drums of the Black Watch to march up to the start at George Square,” recalls the former cyclist, who won a pair of Olympic bronze medals in the 1970s.

“It was the most incredible moment of my life. I’ve loved the pipes and drums ever since. It was quite emotional. There must been about 50 or 60 of them just behind the City Chambers tuning up before the march and it was incredible. I’ll never forget that.”

There will be no bagpipes on this occasion but Bennett has promised another spectacular opening. The riders will start with a processionary ride through Glasgow city centre, giving those lining the streets the chance to watch “Olympic, world and Commonwealth champions” up close in the flesh.

“There seems to be a real passion for cycling among the Scottish public,” he says. “For this one we have a 6km neutralised section through the streets of Glasgow and back up through Glasgow Green.

“That section through the city centre has always been well supported and it’s on a Saturday this time so we might see even greater numbers. It’s more of a procession start rather than racing at that point but there’s still plenty of excitement and colour with 64 motorbikes escorting the riders. It’s a big old beast moving through the city.

“And the great thing is you don’t have to be a cycling fan to appreciate it. If people are heading to Glasgow for a shopping spree they can bring their kids along just to witness this spectacle. Maybe a budding champion of the future emerges next weekend because their parents took them out to watch and they got the cycling bug.”

The people of Kelso are making the most of their day in the spotlight. An entire weekend of cycling-themed events have been planned to coincide with the race passing through the Borders village and Bennett believes those supplementary activities are just as important as the tour itself.

“That’s what it’s all about – taking cycling to the masses,” says the 70 year-old. “Anyone can organise a bike race on a moorland or a heath somewhere that’s far from the public gaze and all you’ve got is a shepherd and a sheep watching you.

“We want as many people as possible to get involved in whatever way and learn more about this wonderful sport. We want people to feel inspired, maybe change their lifestyles and become healthier. That’s a great message to give out.”

The only regret from a Scottish perspective is that there will be no local talent on the start line.

“We like to encourage Scottish cyclists to take part but of course there’s a selection process,” adds Bennett. “And if there is no elite rider that qualifies at this particular moment then it’s not because of a lack of trying. We’ve taken city centre racing to Motherwell, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen in the recent past so we’re always trying to put elite racing in front of Scottish audiences. And hopefully more riders will be inspired by this event, too.”

Organising an eight-stage tour of this nature this takes a lot of planning and Bennett is grateful for the support of the people around him.

“We have a full-time team of 22 people at our head office in Weybridge and they’re experienced, professional people which helps as I tend to wake up early worrying about the tiniest of little things,” he admits. “But being back in Scotland always makes me relaxed.”