A Tour around the Ben

September 15 2010

Glen Coe Orange Mountain Bikes

The road up to Fort William is a well-trodden one for the Orange crew, but every time we drop down from Glencoe the magnificence of the area hits us. Jagged peaks tower above you with hanging valleys separating summits as torrents cascade down carving pools and barrelling over riffles. The geologist inside you tries to rationalise the peaks as your eyes flick between the winding road and the imposing sides. If I was a geography teacher, I’d be organising field trips here every weekend, probably sporting a rather fetching wax jacket….no offence Mr Elliott.

Reaching Loch Leven another view hits you, an expanse of water stretching into the distance to Loch Linnhe. Normally just a postcard picture, this weekend it’s emblematic of something far more sinister, the height difference between shore and mountain top. Having studied the map better than most, everyone at Orange knew exactly what Saturday’s No Fuss challenge had in store, and reality always looks so much more severe than the contour lines of a well used map. Bikes prepared and registration submitted, it was time to get some sleep ready for the No Fuss Tour de Ben Nevis.

Orange Tour de Ben Nevis route map

The plan was quite simply to circumnavigate Ben Nevis along the paths and byways that take you from Fort William into the true wilderness beyond. A ride designed to open people’s eyes to what the Highlands has to offer and test the cycling fraternity not used to more inhospitable terrain. This event is all about fun, but a proper mountain bike challenge; preparation went far beyond the usual saddle pack of energy gels…

Hannah Barnes Tour de Ben Nevis

Saturday morning brought a certain sense of dissemblance in the ranks. Everyone was smiling and laughing, but the weather brought doubt as the camera boys bagged up their flashes in anticipation of a wet moorland hike. Clouds straddled the glens, penetrating every nook and cranny of the horizon as we piled out and headed for the start line. The triatholon was already in full swing and after a dip in choppy waters the hard men of lycra were gone, time for the mountain bikers to step up to the mark.

Orange Tour de Ben Nevis

Already gathered at the start the riders were preparing in their own unique ways, some lunging worryingly in tight lycra, others exchanging stories about last night’s shenanigans. Many of the usual No Fuss faces were there, all excited to be taking part in the first event of its kind in the Highlands. The Fort William contingent were out in force, but others had travelled from far and wide to do battle with the elements. Anticipation shifted to excitement as we were set on our way, the trials bikes leading the way and setting the tone with impromptu wheelies along the waterfront. Those getting a little over excited soon got a warning shot as the race hooked left up Lundavra Road...

Tarmac it may be but the first climb did a good job of spreading the riders out, helping the marshals at the first special stage deal with riders one-by-one, rather than being flattened by a throng of endurance enthusiasts. Those not familiar with this kind of event, you have an identification chip, an SI card which is dipped into electronic stations that record your time at a specific location, starting and stopping the clock on the special stages. In another event these points are stressful, queuing, bustling to get on with the race, no such problem here, everyone was grateful for a rest.

James Shirley Orange Tour de Ben Nevis

The road stage finished and the course turned onto the West Highland Way, undulating along a boulder strewn track giving riders their first taste for the wilds as it contoured along the hillside. A good opportunity to put the hammer down, the leading riders pedalled into the distance leaving the likes of Pete Scullion to deal with the “sweet technical section” in their own way, watch the MTBcut video for Pete’s signature trick, dialled…

Special stage two is the track that most will remember, a technical descent towards Kinlochleven. Dibber dibbed and it was a pedal off the fell towards the tree line, skipping through the rocks and across drainage bars as the rain lashed across your face. Into the trees and the rocks refused to relent, slabs of granite sending your wheels sideward as you slipped and skittered past puzzled walkers and the odd photographer. Into the muddy ruts at the end and a controllable lack of grip came as welcome relief as we speederbike our way towards the road. The winner on the day, Ruari Watt, hit it quicker than most, overtaking the lead trials bike and having to wait at the bottom for the dibber.

Orange Tour de Ben Nevis

Flying out onto the road and those amongst us not paying attention missed the left turn toward Mamore lodge, taking us into Kinlochleven. My partner in crime from the last descent was buzzing from the special stage and as we laughed and joked our way down the road, we realised our mistake, others didn’t…we’re talking to you ‘Stompy Theboatdog’…

James Shirley and Ruari Watt Orange Tour de Ben Nevis

The climb up to Mamore Lodge was a relentless one, a tarmac attrition towards the rest point. Not wanting to stop many pressed on for the top, but crossing the bridge and dibbing into the third special stage brought regret as the moor opens up and any sign of shelter disappears. A steady climb brings with it immense views down the valley/glen (delete as appropriate), but after the special stage brings the dreaded river crossing…

Ruari Watt Tour de Ben Nevis

Already exposed, the river crossing smacks of wilderness adventure, the approach runs alongside the water preparing you mentally for what you’re about to do. Already soaked to the bone there’s little else to do than jump in and shoulder your bike. As you cross, the width of the river doubles, your perspective changed from the security of the bank. The force of the water tries to unbalance you as disco slippers get little or no purchase on the slippery boulders beneath. Looking down at the water unbalances you further as the carpet of water rolls underneath making the sensation confusing for time enough to lose your footing and fall. Those carrying two bikes over were heroes, the consequences of a swim at that point were severe.

The river conquered, it was time for the fourth special stage which included a moorland hike, descent, then a contour around to Lairig Bothy. Walking was a welcome relief to the relentless pedalling and cresting the hill brought even more breathtaking scenery as the terrain spread out in front of you. The river crossing before the bothy was a prime photo spot, and at this point respect goes out to Chris Hutchens who popped a wheelie for the camera before landing backwards with a splash, good effort Chris…

Chris Hutchens Orange Tour de Ben Nevis

The brunt of the climbing done it was time to descend down to friendlier terrain and head for home: A meander through the forest from Spean Bridge towards the Nevis Range and onto the Ten under the Ben course. More singletrack, some boardwalk and another timed section kept the racing vein flowing right to the end. Jelly beans from the last marshal was just enough to perk me up for the final sprint to Lochy Bridge.

Orange Tour de Ben Nevis

The warm down back to the Lochaber Leisure Centre gave enough time to reflect as your legs gave you firm assurance they still felt pain. Getting around the loop was an achievement not to be underplayed. Taking between four and eight hours everyone who finished can be proud, the inaugural Tour may not have been blessed with wall-to-wall sunshine, but in masochistic kind of way it added to the event.

Orange tour de Ben Nevis James Shirley Chris Hutchens

So that’s the ride over and done with, but everyone has their own interpretation of the day. The fast boys flew round, Ruari Watt stopping for a break, so far ahead even James Shirley couldn't catch him. Then the guys and girls at the back, struggling around to finish before the broom wagon swept them up. No matter what your story from that day, the inaugural Orange Tour de Ben Nevis will go down as one of the most rewarding mountain bike races in the UK.

Hannah Barnes Tour de Ben Nevis winner

Hannah Barnes took the ladies win, and looked rather pleased about it all...

Ruari Watt, James Shirley and Neil Scott

Ruari Watt took a convincing men's win on a Five, James Shirley pedalled his Blood to second, and Neil Scott came in third, on a singlespeed....


A massive thank you to everyone involved, No Fuss Events, MTBcut, Steve Bradley, and the whole gang...


Here's a gallery to flick through...the videos at the bottom tell the rest of the story.

Image Gallery



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