The inaugural Bealach na Ba Challenge promised 143km (90 miles) with 2,935m of ascent around the Applecross peninsula, a renowned gem in Scotland’s crown of natural wonders. The Bealach na Ba, translated to Pass of the Cattle, boasts impressive credentials as the UK’s biggest road climb gaining 636m (2053ft) from sea level in just 6 miles, and was recently billed as one of the UK’s top ten road climbs. It provided the perfect opportunity for the SheCycles.com TransWales team to meet each other and ride together for the first time, with only 2 weeks to go before the multi-stage Welsh event.
If you don’t already know, the SheCycles.com team for the TransWales mountain bike stage race consists of Heather Dawe, ace adventure racer with a passion for fell running and cycling, and myself, newly returned to XC racing in 2005. As such we have quite different but complimentary backgrounds as a team for the multi-day MTB event and with Heather recently bagging a 3rd category placing at La Marmotte (200km road event in the French Alps) and myself finishing 3rd at the National MTB Championships 2006 we are both capable of riding well.
As a Cycle Sportif, the Bealach na Ba Challengeis held as a challenge rather than a road race although entries to the women’s category included Katie Wylie (current Scottish Road Race Champion), Angela Mudge (former World Hill Running Champion) and Dagmar Borrowman (current Scottish MTB Champion), so posting the fastest women’s time of the day was always going to be a stiff competition. Heather and I decided to ride with the emphasis on completing the event together.
The small Highland village of Kinlochewe, which normally has a population of just 150, hosted the event’s 500 riders. In true Scottish tradition, the sound of bagpipes heralded the start and riders set off on the long climb out before heading towards the coast. The undulating route saw fast groups forming before the pace settled as the main climbs loomed ahead. The route passed through many villages and brought plenty of spectators out cheering the riders on. As we passed through Lochcarron the climbs started with a steep grind before dropping back to sea level to the take on the Bealach na Ba. It was all going smoothly and we had already eaten up almost 40 miles.
Unfortunately, our good fortune was about the change. As we ascended the Bealach na Ba I hit the wall, I felt like I was running on empty and we had to slow our pace right down. We passed over the summit and I was looking forward to the descent for a chance to try to recover. As we dropped down on the small mountain road I clipped a rock and pick up a puncture but our efficient teamwork meant it was quickly fix and we were soon back on the road. As we left Applecross, Heather realised her front mech was only working intermittently so had keep the amount she changed out of big ring to an absolute minimum. So for the rest of the day, Heather climbed in big ring but maintained a steady pace for me to follow. The strategy worked, and after a short drink (and cake) stop before the last climb over Torriden, we both arrived back in Kinlochewe in a time of around five and a half hours.
Aside from our trials and tribulations, the scenery was magnificent, the event was well organised, and the drinks stations were fully equipped with fruit and cake to keep everyone going. I would highly recommend the event and if you want to explore some of Scotland’s most impressive roads then the Applecross peninsula is a great place to start.
After a day riding together in the Scottish mountains, we learned lots about each other and were able to work as a team (and maintain a sense of humour) when things went less than perfectly! In that way, it was an ideal training ride for TransWales!
Next weekend, Heather competes in the Borrowdale Fell Race while I’ll be racing round 4 of the National XC Series at Plymouth before we head off to the land of the dragon.
Looking forward to the TransWales
Keep an eye out for TransWales event reports and up-dates on our progress on SheCycles.com. Thanks to all who are supporting us for the TransWales: SheCycles.com and BikeMagic.com (of course!), Mountain Hardwear for providing top quality PacLite waterproofs and their latest N2S windproofs, Cambrian Tyres for supplying Continental tyres including the latest MTB marathon specific SpeedKing, and TORQ who will be fuelling us for the week with their energy drink and delicious energy bars.
If you would like to know more about riding Cycle Sportif events like the Bealach na Ba or about the different cycling events that are out there to have a go at, look out for the ‘How To Start Racing’ article appearing soon on SheCycles.com.