The Tour De Ben Nevis is a 60km mountain bike lap around trails and tracks which circumnavigate Britain's tallest mountain. The format of the race is similar to an enduro, with riders tackling a variety of stages. The full loop from start to finish counts as a stage too.
To determine the final result, a riders finishing position on each stage contributes points, and the rider with the most points wins. Kind of like golf, but the opposite and with mountain bikes and not golf carts... Get it?
You must also be self-sufficient for the race and carry a first aid kit, whistle and all supplies you might need in the mountains. There are no support crews so this is a real mountain race.
The Tour De Ben Nevis will also be taking a break for a few years while renewable energy works are completed in the area. Needless to say I didn't want to miss this one!
I decided to head up to Fort William on Friday evening after work to make sure I was ready to ride nice and early. Unfortunately there was an accident on the road outside Crainlarich. I arrived at Nevis Range at around 1:30am and set up camp in the back of the van, ready to rise at 7:00am.
I registered at Nevis Range before cycling to Fort William for the start in the high street. It was a cold autumn morning and thankfully the heavy rain had passed. However, the weather was forecast for rain showers and the trails would already be wet. I decided to roll some MTR lightweight waterproofs for the race and had plenty of warm kit in my trail bag too, as well as my food and water for the day. It was going to be heavy riding with a trail bag, but it gave me confidence to be fully prepared. My goal was to complete the distance. It was me versus the mountains!
At 9:45am, 200+ hardy souls and I left the high street to the sound of the bag pipes in pursuit of the lead moto-trials riders. As we left the town and started climbing the pace was unreal! Kyle Beattie and Gary MacDonald hit out hard and my body was cold and in shock. It only took a few minutes for me to realise that I needed to settle into my own rhythm and let them go. After 20 minutes of climbing my legs warmed up, just in time to hit the West Highland Way towards Kinlochleven.
I was puzzling about pacing during the race - I didn't know how hard to ride having never ridden this event before. I decided to ride within myself at a pace I thought I could sustain for 4 hours +.
I had a few mishaps on course,. I lost my water bottle on the downhill into Kinlochleven, dropped my chain on the timed hill climb section and even thought I had missed a turning just before the river crossing.
I saw Gary on the other side of the river and caught sight of the flat markers to my right as I followed the path in the other direction! I stopped, turned around, and rode for 100 meters or so trying to spot where I had gone wrong!? I was close to carrying my bike across the bog towards the river when I came to my senses and followed the path I had previously been on. It turns out it was simply a case of riding to the end of the trail and taking a hard right along the river on one side, crossing, and then riding back in the direction I had come from on the opposite bank of the river.
When the river crossing was completed it was then onto the hike-a-bike section. Another reason I was keen to ride the Tour De Ben Nevis was that in just over 1 week later I would be riding my first ever Three Peaks Cyclocross. It's no secret that I'm nervous about this, especially with carrying my bike over the peaks! The Tour De Ben' was a good warm up for this for sure with a 20 minute hike a bike to tackle.
Once I was over the hills it was time to drop back into the valley. This section was super high speed and mega fun! I felt good and pushed on all the way back to Nevis Range. Once I saw the gondola I knew I was nearly done and I had a fun time on the jumps and berms down to the finish. I was really happy to finish 2nd on the loop in 3 hours and 12 minutes as I had had 4 hours in my mind for a finishing time. You can check out my ride on Strava.
When all the results were in and the scores added up I was disappointed to slip off the podium and into 4th for the 4th time in as many weeks! However, I was satisfied with my riding, a great day in the outdoors and an awesome event with great people! There will be plenty of more chances for podiums this season.
If the Tour De Ben Nevis is back in future then I'm sure I will be too. Thanks to No Fuss Events for another awesome event and to all of my partners for getting me onto the start line.
'Til next time...
Over and out.