I missed out on this event in 2010, a lack of enthusiasm at the end of the season meant I just wasn’t up for it though. Innerleithen MTB Racing was well represented though, with I-Cycles own Steve Deas just missing out on the podium, and taking No Fuss’ Best All-Round Mountainbiker prize. Steve raved about the event, adamant that I should do it in 2011.
This year I was much more enthusiastic. Not racing for most of June and July, and not training properly in months meant I was mentally fresh and ready for this big day out in the hills.
On the Friday night I stayed in a bunkhouse with Marty, Niall, Dave, Dave and Colin. Only some beer was drunk by me, and we were in bed by midnight. Up early, and at the start venue for 8:30, we had to wait for a while to dib in. While we were waiting in the road to start there were heavy showers which only lasted a few minutes at a time. This did not bode well for four plus hours in the big hills. We were led by a police car to the High Street, where the official start was to be. Pipers piped us down the high street at slow march, with us riding along very slowly behind (no dabs!). Once onto the main road we were off.
Up the first climb I was in the first couple of riders, looking for James Shirley and Rauri Watt who had performed well last year. A couple of roadie-looking guys were pushing good pace, but I wasn’t wanting to blow myself up in the first couple of miles as I had no idea how fit I really was. Nic Smith slowly pulled away towards the top, and left a small group of us wondering whether to chase him or not on the rolling roads. I worked with James, Rauri and a few other guys on the road, then it was every man for himself on the first part of the West Highland Way.
Rauri pulled out a little gap here, again I was content not to chase. After about ten miles we got to the Kinlochleven descent. Saddle down, dibbed in, and off! After only a few hundred yards a rock struck me on the shin, the pain rolling up and down my leg as I tried to keep the speed up. I didn’t know the descent to start with, and the pain wasn’t helping things. I got down in one piece, no punctures on the huge drainage channels due to following Steve’s advice and jumping them. I was 17th on this, the first, special stage.
Up the climb to Mamore lodge I was caught Ben Arnott. He’d managed to land on his face during the descent, and had broken a finger. I rolled on, hoping to get a good result in this special stage. I almost caught James Shirley who had got a gap on me before the previous descent, and was struggling a little with his single ring. I was 4th on the climb.
Next up we rolled along the side of some lochs, splashing through huge deep puddles. I made good pace along here, aware that there were a few people with me as we had bunched up after the previous special stage. Right before the river crossing I dismounted to avoid what looked like an especially deep puddle, only to discover the water at the sides was also waist deep. After that the river crossing was an anti-climax, being only knee deep at it’s deepest.
At the other side the path was punctuated by ditches every few meters, so it was quicker to run. After about half a kilometer I met James coming the other way: we’d both missed the dibber after the river crossing. Rubbish. I ditched my bike and bag and joined James on the run back along the riverbank to the dibber, then back to the bikes. This special stage was pretty much a 40 minute walk/carry up a steep mountain path. We made good time up here, eventually dropping other riders who looked like they were making good pace on the bottom section. The end dibber was at the Lairig bothy. I was 6th on that stage.
As I had been descending the section to the bothy I noticed that there was a rattling coming from the backend of the bike. I suspected it was loose bushings as I’d had them apart a few days before to clean them. After getting my allen keys out of my bag I realised it was the rear wheel that was loose in the frame, rattling in the dropouts. The skewer-nut was seized onto it’s thread, so there was no way for me to tighten it up. I left it out, confident that the wheel wouldn’t be pulled out even under heavy load.
The descent down towards Spean Bridge is a cracker, full-on 30-40mph snaking forestry road for several miles. At the bottom James had a puncture, so I kept on trucking, hoping I might catch some of the four guys up ahead. I passed the 20km to go sign, feeling my legs weakening on the rather dull trails and forestry road we were faced with at this section. I necked my remaining gels, all three of them, within about 15 minutes. Shortly after I felt better again, knowing I just had to keep it rolling. As soon as I recognised some of the trails and knew where I was, it was like someone turning on the nitrous. I took a gulp from the bottle on my frame, then emptied the rest onto the ground as I knew I wouldn’t be needing it. I was flying up the final climb, knowing it well from many races in the past.
The final descent was the Blue Crane down to the top of Nessie. I knew this descent well, so was confident of doing well. In my tiredness I made a mistake and lowered my saddle. This was great for the first section, but the middle section is a fast forestry road where you need to pedal all the time. Having the saddle down here was not good for my tired legs, but I wasn’t convinced I would make any more time up by stopping and raising the saddle. It was great fun anyway, especially as I hadn’t ridden these trails this year. I was 16th on this stage.
The final little tarmac section to the start-finish was over pretty quickly, taking turns in front with James who had caught me up at the bottom of Nessie. My legs collapsed within sight of the end, and I finished in 6th, a few seconds down on James.
Oddly at this event, the positions rather than time on the special stages were what mattered. This meant I was 4th, which was a pretty pleasing result all things considered. I am already looking forward to next year.
Full results are available from Sportident.