And the silence came #TourDeBenNevis2017
And the silence came #TourDeBenNevis2017
“It seems like rain” were the words echoing in my ears all day. My Norwegian friend had come for a weekend away to Scotland racing the Tour De Ben Nevis. The forecast looked pretty horrendous – rain all day Saturday but as most of you know the Highlands has its own weather system and it can change minute by minute.
It would be Hans Kruger’s first time to the Highlands and what better way to see it by entering one of the toughest mile for mile mountain bike races. Our home for the weekend would be Berkeley House, a fabulous B&B that I have come to know well over the years.
I would be riding with Hans and Rob who were both looking fit so we would most likely be at the same level.
Our pre ride “faffing of kit” was funny as Rob decided he would do a fashion show as he wasn’t sure what to wear due to the weather but looking at the temperature it was going to be mild 14c with some rain. I had a base layer, cycle jersey and my Ghost 4 pocket cycling top, which can fit the whole contents of your kitchen food cupboard as the pockets, are deep and a good design.
The bike for this event would be my much-loved Salsa Spearfish full suspension with RS1 forks. Hans would be on his new Yeti SB 4.5 and Rob riding the ever-reliable Orange Five. (About time someone bought Rob a new bike please).
As we approached the start line just before 9.20am there were a few folk kicking about, but I think the weather had probably put a few off as it would normally have been busier by now.
I was feeling great and placed myself at the front with the i-cycle boys Keith, Mike and Angus – Hans and Rob were with me too.
The controlled start was steady along Fort William High Street with about 200 riders all loving the thought of a day in the Highlands but some were obviously a bit anxious. For me it was my 6th time of doing this event and over the years I’ve had all weather types except snow. I have experienced the event on a rigid, hard tail, singlespeed and fatbike.
As the motorbikes gave way, the front 10 riders were off and I was just behind with the next bunch – feeling good on the first road climb George approached me. We had a quick chat and he pressed on as last year he did podium in the 50+ category. I was hoping Hans and Rob weren’t that far behind. After the first 2 miles of road the trail then places you on the West Highland Way to Kinlochleven, a challenging ride that the Spearfish made easy work of.
I loved it, as today I felt great and the spearfish was the best choice for this event. I waited for Hans and Rob at the first feed station hoping that we would be able to ride some of the TDBN together but neither of them showed up so I pressed on feeling fantastic. From the first feed through the Mamore estates is a long fire road/stony stretch overlooking the valley below. The climb is gentle but effort is required as the ground is wet. My new Morsa Vittoria tyre at the front was the right choice finding grip and control without any bother. The specialized slaughter at the back was doing its job.
Once I had reached the top of the climb I looked back towards Kinlochleven for the view and was rewarded with a pretty picture. The weather was holding out, the occasional bit of light rain for a minute or so but with a tail wind it was ok. The next section to the river crossing along the Loch was as wet as last year and every puddle was quite deep. I was getting soaked and everything felt heavy. The conditions under tyre from just before the river crossing were now tough and the river was knee deep and fast flowing. Having crossed it safely to the other side the trail was swamp deep in mud and the route had become hardly rideable so the “hike a bike” started and this would continue for 2 miles with the occasional bit of riding. I don’t think “hike a bike” is anyone’s favourite past time but needs must to ensure the Loop is completed and Ben Nevis is circumnavigated. I pressed on steady away pausing taking pictures and hoping my 2 friends would catch me up so we could share the ride and swap stories of our day. Instead I was on my own singing to myself enjoying the Highlands.
As I approached the bothy for the final food stop, I’d remembered Frazer had said that he had catered for me with some veggie sausages so there I was in the bothy filling my boots with a sausage sandwich enjoying every moment of the warmth as the heavens had just opened outside and I wasn’t about to get my sausage wet!!!!!!!. Having enjoyed a 10 minute refuel, I pressed on now with a very annoying head wind and serious effort was required along the trail to keep going at a good pace. From here there are now a few quick miles with a long fire road descent that spits you out into the forest aiming you into the direction of the Nevis range but there was still some climbing to do and the legs were tiring. The final climb would have us up to the Puggy line and descending a tricky wet bit of rocky single track, which finishes the event. Although tiredness can catch you out and a dropper would not have gone amiss on that section as my shorts were caught in the seat post. It’s probably the only time I’ve needed a dropper and really i should have lowered the saddle. The finish line was now in sight as you exit the Nevis range and head towards the distillery for your last dib of the timer. Another memorable ride even though gallons and gallons of water had drowned the trails and made it hard work but never took the enjoyment away. I returned back at about 3.30pm having left at 9.45 that morning thoroughly wet through ready for my soup and roll. I bumped into George and congratulated him on his ride. I’m not sure where Hans and Rob were but I was cold and wet so headed to our B&B ready for a shower and clean the bike. I did all the bits I needed to do and headed back to the finish line to hopefully catch my friends. As I approached I saw Hans who looked far from happy. He was wet, tired and hungry so I grabbed his bike while he made his way to hand in his dibber and have some soup. Hans first words were “that is the toughest event he has ever done”. The hike a bike had broken him but as we discussed later this was more down to lack of nutrition, energy gels, Bars and drink. I was cleaning his bike and not far behind Hans, Rob had also finished looking fresh and not broken so that was great to see that his training had helped him through this event. My Norwegian friend had struggled with his nutrition and not having an energy drink in his camelback made it so much tougher for him and the water logged trails were sapping his energy which his body needed refueling and a few wine gums weren’t going to do that. My flapjack, gel and torq energy drink worked a treat feeling fresh till the end with the odd bit of tiredness but nothing major. It was a shame I didn’t get to ride with my buddies. I did wait where I could, but the feet and body were getting cold and I needed to keep moving. It was great to see Keith and Mike win the vets and George podium for super vets. Well done boys.
I hope my good friend Breakers will join me next year as I will ride with him to ensure he achieves one of the best mtb events out there and I’m sure Hans will be back for some unfinished business but as for Rob I’m not too sure about him.
Thanks to all involved you make this one of the most enjoyable events of the year.