Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Tour de Ben

No Fuss events Tour de Ben is billed as a 'must do' race. I will not go into too much detail about it as the details are on No Fuss' website. Let me just say that i was looking forward to a long loop race in challenging terrain: i've had enough of the 'multiple little loop' endurance races for a while. The concept is one big loop with 4 special stages that make up a points race within the overall. This adjusts the standings once it is all added up. So, after a cold night under canvas in the Glen Nevis campsite i popped various food products into assorted pockets and wee bags, not forgetting a tube or three, and set off for the start line.
I had signed on the evening before in the Nevis Centre which gave me the opportunity to chat to Greig and sort of compare notes. I know the area pretty well from a riding point of view, though i havent spent much time around the Mamores or Grey Corries for a couple of years. Essentially you drop south from Fort Bill, joining the West Highland Way and then take one of the choppy descents down to Kinlochleven before climbing back up towards Loch Eilde Mor and returning by climbing over and cutting west into Leanachan forest. The mystery for me was the reported hike-a-bike from the Abhainn Rath up and over into Lairig Leacach. At 10 am we were led through the high street by a posse of pipers before the hammer dropped. I hung around the first bunch and made good time on the tarmac climb up from town. It seemed from the chat that the pace was perhaps being pushed pretty high, pretty early, in comparison to years past, but you can't read too much into these things until the race establishes itself. Continuing in the top 10 group Greig and myself shared a few more words before we hit the rocky trail south to the old shielings on the WHW. Unfortunately, as i flew through a water bar i square edged a sharp rock and blew my front tyre out. This early in the race, that was a bit of a bummer: I had sort of expected the possibility of a puncture at some point, but not before we hit the rougher stuff. I knew my choice of a rigid bike was a little at odds to the smorgasbord of full bouncers around me and it would cost me on the techy descents, but i had hoped to offset this on the climbing. Hmmm!
A quick fix with extra psi added courtesy of a C02 canister got me going again and i overhauled a few of the folk who had courteously checked my well being as they passed before the descent to Kinlochleven. This was rougher than i remember and the lower section was essentially a stream. I knew i was losing time on this special stage, but as i passed Iain Nimmo battling with what looked like a shredded tyre and a couple of other riders with mechanicals, i was happy enough with my conservative approach. The next climb gave me the chance to catch a few other riders. It was amazing how swiftly some folk were ascending on their tiny stemmed/big travel bikes. On flat pedals even! However, i knew the fast guys were well away by now. The trail around Loch Eilde mor is quick and it takes you back into the heart of the mountains. The sun was still shining and despite some puddles, you could be forgiven for thinking it was summer. The last time i crossed the Abhainn Rath, i lost a sock in the fast flowing, cold waters that inspired a barefooted, yelping run down the river lest i be blistered and limping. This time, rather than removing my shoes, i just waded through and assumed the position for the hike-a-bike. It actually wasn't too bad. Certainly i've done more irritating portages. All too soon, it was time to tackle the trails down the Lairig Leacach. At first it was really rocky and broken. I was still pretty concerned with puncturing and i was getting a little beaten up on the rough, water damaged trails, but i made it down without losing too much time and as i entered Leanachan forest it was time to engage the afterburners. I had taken in calories well and 4 hours of riding meant i was pretty warmed up. Other than a boggy (ok, VERY boggy) section in the midle the dry smooth trails let me hunt down at least 5 fellow racers before the Blue crane descent and a short run in ended the race. I was relatively pleased to come in at 4.39 and some change, as 14th rider over the line. I knew that once the points were added up i would drop places due to my DH mincing, but i'll admit a smidge of disappointment to lose 7 places. Oh well, the message is clear - the DH counts on this one. I was also gutted to see Greig who came in a few places in front of me seemed to have missed a dibbing point on one of the special stages that had left him way down the standings - a most unfortunate situation that doesnt do justice to his very strong ride. Will i be back? maybe! it *is* a must do event and we need to have more like them. I would like to see it a bit longer though - not just because it plays to my (imagined?) strengths, but there are better trails that could be added in potentially if it could be pushed out to 100 or even 140km. As it stands, for the 400 or so entrants, this was a great race and a jewel in the crown of No Fuss for sure.

2 comments:

stevo said...

Top ride Jon. Impressive stuff on a fully rigid bike. I'd like to do this race one day soon. Good to support No Fuss too - they have the right idea on how to put on events. Hope you are able to get out for a rip round some SCX rounds steve.

andytrailfettler said...

great ride and report Jon. inspiring.