September 20, 2010
This weekend saw the inaugural Orange Mountain Bikes Tour de Ben Nevis take place. An event organised and run by the highly acclaimed Fort William based No Fuss Events.
With the pre-event promotion claiming that the Tour will ‘take mountain bike racing back to the mountains’ it was clear that Frazer Coupland and the team from No Fuss had a clear plan for the event. This entailed a race of one lap of an epic and wild route around Ben Nevis, at 72km the route stretched from Fort William down to the spectacular south side of Kinlochleven and heading up towards Spean Bridge over some of the most stunning and dramatic scenery in the UK. The route was almost 100% off-road and with incredibly rough and rocky terrain of the natural trails of the Lochaber area it was generally considered that a 5-inch style suspension bike was the order of the day.
To add an extra incentive, the team at No Fuss threw in 5 special stages scattered over the course to provide competitors with an extra challenge during the day. These consisted of extremely technical rocky descents, climbs and even a tough hike-a-bike section.
Participants who gathered on the shores of Loch Linnhe in Fort William for a 9am start on Saturday morning were greeted with a typically damp Fort William morning. Spirits were high thought and competitors seemed excited by the prospect of such a full challenging day in the Mountains, a refreshing change from the man made, trail centre style endurance races that seem to dominate the events calendar in the UK.
The first climb of the day headed up out of Fort William to the West Highland way and towards Kinlochleven. Immediately the field spread out and a few headed out front and the main field prepared themselves for a long, wet day of incredible riding and scenery.
From the outset it was clear that the event winner was going to come down to a battle between James Shirley and early leader Ruari Watt, both riders competing on 5-inch travel Orange bikes. Where as for the majority the day was about survival, Shirley and Watt proved that it is possible to keep an incredible pace up over the gruelling 72km terrain.
Despite taking the honours in the stage competition Shirley failed to keep in touch with Ruari Watt over the duration of the day. Watt took the overall win in an impressive 4 hours and 3 minutes, almost exactly 5 minutes ahead of Shirley. Taking third place honours along with massive admiration by onlookers went to Neil Scott. Neil decided to tackle the event on a singlespeed hardtail bike, proving that it was certainly possible (if a little uncomfortable!!) to produce a fast time on a non-suspension bike.
The first women competitor home was MTBcut/Orange rider Hannah Barnes, surviving the day to take the inaugural Orange Tour de Ben Nevis women’s title and also an impressive 18th in the overall standings.
There were undoubtedly two major talking points of the Tour de Ben Nevis. Firstly the descent into Kinlochleven, one of the 5 special stages and undoubtedly on of the most thrilling and challenging long natural descents available in the Highlands. This is a section of trail that must be ridden to be appreciated and despite the wet, treacherous conditions this delivered a wonderful treat to the riders.
The other stand out section was the river crossing. Although most of the day was spent riding incredibly wet terrain, the river crossing on the return trip towards Spean Bridge perhaps truly reflected the epic nature of this event. This was not any regular trail centre challenge, with bikes placed firmly on their shoulders, competitors had to wade through waste deep water as part of the route. Generally this involved much hilarity amongst many competitors, although it became clear that this was no easy paddle in a river as a handful of riders ended up with a head to toe soaking! The event video is available on the No Fuss website and features some footage from the river, this is a must see..
The Orange Tour de Ben Nevis did exactly as promised; it took mountain bike racing back to the mountains. This is by no means a gentle stroll round your local black graded trail; this is a tough but hugely rewarding day out in the most stunning environment in the UK. For the first year this was undoubtedly a huge success and the No Fuss team can only build on this concept for next year.
For more information and the event video head over to www.nofussevents.co.uk
Photos by Andy Macandlish and Michael Bonney.