A 'Brave' Choice Of Wheels

I have lived in Scotland for a while now but am still surprised by just how big the place is, or more precisely, just how long it takes to get anywhere. From Edinburgh, about a quarter of the way up on the right, to Applecross, just over half way up on the left, is about 5½ hours.
This is a stunning drive though, the scenery is absolutely amazing. However, we missed most of it as it was getting dark from Perth onwards, it was around midnight when we arrived and parked the van on the beach (well above the high-water mark, we’ve had enough van incidents at races thank you very much!)
The Applecross Duathlon is a pain to get to but well worth the effort. As well as the stunning location on Applecross bay with views over the sea to Raasay and Skye to the west and Torridon to the north everyone is really friendly, it’s a lovely race to do. It is limited to 150 competitors though and is always full so get your entry in early next year.

View from the camper van in the morning. That's Skye across the water

After breakfasting on the seafront on the Saturday morning we headed over to the village hall to sign in and get our numbers. There we met a couple of people who had been having a van incident all of their own. They had flown up from Portsmouth to Inverness the night before where upon arrival they discovered that their hire-car had been ‘upgraded’ from a sensible hatchback to a silly Mercedes saloon. The trouble with this, as they discovered when they arrived at the bike shop who had stayed open extra late especially for them, is that the bikes they had hired would not fit in it since the rear seats would not fold. They headed over to Applecross regardless, hoping for the best.

As I said, everyone at the race is really friendly and two bikes were found for them in pretty short order, a flat-bar hybrid of some sort, and a Marin cruiser-type bike. The funny handlebars and step-through frame don’t exactly shout ‘Racer’ but it would do. Anyway, having a much more sensible van which would fit many bikes we volunteered to take them round to the transition at Arinacrinachd and this gave us yet more opportunity to admire some views, and also to get up close with some highland cattle and their huge horns.
Turns out they were equally unsuitable...

I spent a while there debating which bike I would use, I was lucky enough to have the choice of two, a standard drop-bar road bike and a proper time-trial bike with tri-bars, disc wheels and everything. The transition area was quite sheltered and this lulled me into a false sense of security and so I opted for the TT bike, which is very, very fast in the right conditions. Not so quick in the wrong ones it turns out.
The start, just outside Applecross village, is at a very civilised 1:30pm, with a 12:30 option for those who view it as more of a challenge than a race.

The nine mile run is mostly on marked trails, a mixture of rock, gravel and grass with a couple of little stream crossings and a few other interesting features, no navigation skill is required to be able to follow it. It is a proper fast run for the guys and girls at the front, there is nothing too technical there so it is pretty rapid, climbing as quickly as you can, descending as quickly as you dare. Apart from my fellow racers and the odd marshal dotted around the hillsides to make sure we didn’t go wandering off into the middle of nowhere I didn’t see a soul, very large birds of prey outnumbered tourists by lots to none.

The sea comes into view as you crest the final hill and head down towards Loch Torridon giving the false impression that you have nearly made it, before the route turns to the left and follows the coast for another couple of miles, Loch Torridon to your right and the hills rising up to your left. The leaders were out of sight by this stage but I was trying as best I could to keep the chasing pack in view, somewhere at the back of the top-20. The sting in the tail of the run is the final mile or so of tarmac, completely unexpected if you haven’t done the race before and a place where the fast guys can stretch their legs and just stroll passed us climbers on the final approach to the transition.

I spotted my bike easily enough, grabbed a Torq gel from the bag I had left with it and got that down my throat while I sat in a cow pat and changed my shoes. The process took about half a minute, thanks to the elasticated laces on my running shoes and the Velcro on my riding shoes, prior to this I had just assumed that the triathletes who used such things were merely the kind of people who couldn’t tie their own laces but I now see why they do it.

The TT bike with it’s fancy wheels was indeed as quick as I had hoped, for about the first two miles. Then we turned the corner at the top of the peninsula and the wind hit and it became less quick. Much less quick. A howling side wind is not at all fun on a disc wheel and a four-spoke and that’s without counting the fact that your arms are about 3 inches apart and you are really just steering with your elbows. This state of affairs didn’t last long before I admitted defeat and began riding sitting much more upright, holding the bars at their (not very!) wide point out by the brake levers. This did unfortunately mean that the shifters were nearly a foot away from where my hands were and there were times when the wind was just so strong that I daren’t take one off to move it to be able to change gear.

At one point I managed to hit 38mph but then at several others also managed to go below 6mph, my average for the 15 miles was 15.5mph, I have averaged a lot more than that in 24hr races, and that includes eating and toilet stops!

The bike section follows the coast road around the peninsula and has a reasonable amount of climbing, I could certainly feel it in my legs after the run! There was a great sense of camaraderie as we all battled into the wind together, the 'no drafting' rule mostly being observed but everyone saying hello as they passed, or were passed by, someone else.

There were a few spectators cheering us on along this more accessible part of the race cheering, a mix of tourists and locals by the look of it, plus the cows and sheep which against all expectations kept well off the racing line.
I had a good race with Peter Gardner from HBT, I had been chasing him in the run but had caught and passed him once we were on our bikes. We swapped places a few times before he  came passed me for good as I was struggling down a hill, trying to keep the bike pointing more or less straight ahead, and I heard him shouting something about a ‘brave choice of wheels’. It’s a bloody daft choice of wheels!  There was one other numpty on tri-spokes but no-one else seemed, erm… is brave the right word? enough to try it.
It’s my own fault though and despite the poor wheel choice I really enjoyed the event. The route really is spectacular, a lovely mixture of hills and coastline. It is long enough to challenge the newbies but short enough that the fast guys can push hard all the way.

Claire Gordon, HBT

The top three had opened up quite a lead over everyone else, Graham Scobie taking the win from Stephen Burns and Drew Sharkey. I was ninth, with which I was pleasantly surprised, one second ahead of David Hurst who I had seen closing inexorably for the last two or three miles. Clair Gordon won the women’s race in fifteenth overall with Megan Mowbray and Natalie Stevenson behind her.
I’ll be back again next year, same time, same place, different bike!

Most pictures shamelessly 'borrowed' from race-organiser Jerry

I would like to say a big thank-you to Torq and Mt Zoom for their help in the race and to Exposure Lights for theirs at the following campfire and whiskey session.

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