Tour Of Ben Nevis

This should be a great finish to the glorious summer of 2012. No, I’m not being sarcastic, ever since I had arrived in Lochaber the locals had been telling me what a fantastic summer they had had and how they couldn’t understand why everyone else was making such a fuss about the rain. Nice to know one bit of Britain had stayed dry anyway.

The start of the race was in the centre of Fort William, the 338 riders assembling on the High Street. We were lead off, slowly, behind the pipe band and then more quickly behind the motocross bikes, out of the town and up towards the old military road to Blarmachfoldach. We were riding along in a fairly relaxed group, a nice gentle pace. No-one seemed to want to be the first to make a move, so I took it upon myself to do so. Cresting a hill I went for the big ring and gave it full beans, everyone else immediately joined in and two or three dozen riders made a break for it at the front.

We joined the West Highland Way and headed passed Blara’ Chaorainn towards Kinlochleven. The ground here was mainly LandRover tracks, fast but very rocky with quite a loose surface.

The race was actually a stage race, there were four timed sections on the lap, with the entire lap counting as the fifth.  The first timed section was the descent from The WHW into Kinlochleven itself. This was a fairly tricky descent, plenty of large rock and of course the rainwater gullies, deep trenches across the track which almost seemed designed to catch the front wheel and send one shooting off the quick way down. Those of us on lightweight XC bikes lost out quite a bit here, riders on big travel trail bikes flying passed on both sides.

However, the tables were soon turned on the climb from the town to Mamore Lodge. From there we climbed further, the second timed stage climbing a further 737ft to end at Loch Eilde Mor. This was my strongest section and was able to make up quite a few places here.

The track along the side of the loch was very fast, more LandRover tracks, but a much harder surface allowing us to get some speed up. This was followed by the obligatory river crossing at Alit Coire Easain (a proper river, not like the little streams which crop up in race tracks down south) Fortunately due to the lovely summer the water lever was quite low and it was rideable (for most, some came a cropper on the rocks on the bottom and got a dunking)

The final climbing stage was much tougher than the previous, although the climbing wasn’t much greater, 894ft in the 3.51miles. It was the ground which made it such hard work, straight across the moors, in the shadow of Meall Mor to our right Ben Nevis itself to our left, some snow visible on the top. I had my one and only crash of the day here, seeing a lot of people off the bikes and pushing I decided that I could make up time easily here, I rode passed several at some speed before digging my font wheel into the marsh and launching myself over the front as the bike came to a rather abrupt halt a couple of feet below where I was expecting it to be.  That’ll teach me to try and be clever.

We eventually made our way to the Puggy Line trail in Leachanan Forrest and over to the ski centre, a fast section shooting along under the gondolas. We joined the Witches Trail and climbed up to the top of the Blue Crane and the final timed section. I still have the scar from this section, the first descent on the first lap of the British XC Championships way back in 2004. I managed somewhat better this time, arriving at the bottom still attached to my bike. There was a short fast fireroad section to the top of Nessie, over the boardwalks and down the hill to Nessie itself. I still have the scar from this section, a practice session from the Scottish Championships in 2005. I managed somewhat better this time, arriving at the bottom still attached to my bike. Bit of a theme there, that is a tough course!

The final section from here back was very flat, and very, very fast, a blast through Torlundy to finish by the distillery at Lochybridge. I had a fight on my hands here, I could see a rider in front of me, Stuart Gilfillan, and was gaining on him all through the closing stages but just couldn’t quite catch him.

I was the 16th person to cross the line, in 4hr50m55s, although when the points had been totted up I found myself down in 49th. I don’t mind though, it was a really good race, nice to get some riding in some proper mountains, nothing down south can quite compare. Can’t wait for next year.

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