The No Fuss team have a long standing reputation for putting on challenging events that also showcase the best of the Scottish Highlands. This weekend was no exception with 345 riders travelling to Fort William to take part in the 2013 Tour De Ben Nevis. The gruelling 67km route, as its title might suggest, circumnavigates Britain tallest mountain on a mixture of road, fire road, single track and built mountain bike trail with a total elevation of 1761m. And as if this massive route through varied terrain wasn’t challenging enough, the event’s enduro format meant that chucked in along the way would be 4 timed stages.
Stage 1- Downhill into Kinlochleven Stage 2- Uphill from Mamore Lodge to Loch Eilde mor
Stage 3 – Hike a bike from the valley floor over the bealach between Meall a Bhuirich and Meal Mor and the descent to the bothy then finally and thankfully Stage 4- on built trail in the Leanachan Forest. The 5th Stage being your total time taken from the start on Fort William High Street to your end point at the Ben Nevis distillery.
I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided this would be a good idea. Having just completed a full on race season some might say I had earned a wee rest but every now and then it feels important that I remind myself where my love of riding a bike originated. Big hill epics. This was most definitely one of them!
At 10am, riders were led by a pipe band along Fort William High Street, some of us still blissfully unaware of what awaited us. The throng of riders soon separated themselves out on the 7km climb up the Lundavra Road with those opting to race the circuit on short travel xc bikes sprinting away from those on bigger travel bikes who hoped to make up their time lost on the overall by smashing the descents. There were also tonnes of folk riding bikes in between including me on a Cannondale Jekyll which felt like the brutish big brother of the Flash 29er I had been racing on all season.
The Jekyll and I nearly fell out on the Lundavra Road but as soon as we began our swooping descent along the West Highland Way to the start of Stage 1, we had forgiven each other completely. I dibbed for Stage 1 and began to nail it to Kinlochleven. It was all going well until I sank my front wheel in a bog and sailed over the bars. With some time lost, I got back into the rhythm of things enjoying the Jekylls ability to soak up the rough ground and it’s forgiveness when my pumped arms could no longer instigate the bunny hops over the cross drains. 4 mins felt a long time.
At the bottom I dibbed out and began the climb up to the lochan completely failing to dib in at the next stage station and not realising until I got to the dib out point 3km uphill later. The views across the loch as I rode the flowing road into the valley below encouraged me to let my mistake go and enjoy the view and that this wasn’t a race. But old habits die hard!
After the river crossing and some patchy single track to the bottom of Stage 3 things were starting to smart a bit. I dug some jelly babies out of my pocket that more resembled slugs after my bog snorkelling on Stage 1 and shovelled them in gratefully.
Stage 3 was type 2 fun (that’s the sort that is hell at the time but great retrospectively). Over 100 vertical metres carrying a Cannondale Jekyll is a character building affair. I emerged over the bealach a better but broken person.
The descent was awesome though! Loose rocks, multiple lines, drops, jumps and a fast flowing land rover track ending in another river crossing to the dib out and mirage of a bothy with a BBQ and home baking. After I ascertained I wasn’t hallucinating (I did this by sampling all I was offered. What else could I do?) I spotted a friend sporting a similar crazed look and long stare and decided we were probably in an equally wasted state to ride the rest of the event together. We set off down the Lairig Leachan together quickly finding flow and basking in the watery eyed speed we had earned. This section made all the pain disappear and fun became of the type 1 variety again.
It didn’t last. The dragging fire road back through the Leanachan Forest took everything I had left in my wobbly legs and Dave and I rode in slow motion to the start of the final stage.
Stage 5 was Blue Crane on the Witches Trails at Anoch Mor that I have raced on many times over the years. However I don’t think I have ever gone into this technical downhill section more ragged before. It was through a combination of luck, muscle memory and a good bike that I got down the last descent and in pretty good time making the cock up on Stage 2 all the harder to bear. But at this point in the day, after over 4 hours of hard riding, my mistake had lost its edge and I was happy just to spin out along the cycle path to the final dib out at the Distillery.
I was the first woman home in 4 hours 26mins. I ate a pie as big as my head from the local butcher, the best I have ever tasted then hoofed it down the road to a friend’s ceilidh in Killen in the hope I could pretend I had been there all day. On arrival I was asked to do a strip the willow. Karma.
The first rider home was my coach at Scottish Cycling, Paul Newnham in a cracking time of 3 hours and 31 mins who took the win overall by also remembering to dib every stage!
The remarkable Helen Gaskill took the overall win in the women’s category.
The last stoic rider home took 8hours and 34 mins which deserves a prize in its own right.