I’m at the start line of my first ever bike sportive. I look at the other riders. They’re all using road bikes. I’m on Bike 3 – a mountain bike. Oh dear – I’m the only one using a mountain bike.
It gets worse. Everyone else is wearing skin tight lycra. I have my winter jacket (as it’s cold and wet) and a pair of baggy shorts. Everyone else has clipped-in bike shoes. I’m wearing trainers.
I’m the only person using a backpack. It contains a sandwich, a 2 litre bottle of water and a map in case I get lost. It’s quite heavy.
I turn to my friend Malcolm, who’s also doing race. “I’ll be fine,” I say, “all bikes are the same!” Andrew is also here but he’s not biking. He’s acting as support in a van.
The race starts. All the other bikes pass including Malcolm. I realise all bikes are not the same. A road bike goes significantly faster than a mountain bike.
After 35 miles I reach the big climb on the route called “Bealach Na Ba.” It’s one of the few roads in Scotland that’s similar to mountain passes in the Alps, with very tight hairpin bends that switch back and forth rising from sea level to 626 metres.
I’ve never biked more than 20 miles before and I’d certainly never gone up a hill like this. Thankfully the mountain bike gears mean I overtake some people on the hill but, from the halfway point, I struggle to turn my pedals. I get off and push.
At the top I discover a film crew waiting for me. They’re filming for BBC Two Scotland’s The Adventure Show. The reporter approaches me:
– I can’t believe you’re using a mountain bike!
– It’s my only bike
I take out my water bottle to have a swig.
– You carried that all the way up the mountain?
– Yes. I thought I’d get thirsty.
– You do know the organisers supply water and food at regular stops?
I thought I had to supply everything myself! D’OH!!
The descent of the other side is great. Six miles of downhill with treacherous corners. At one corner an ambulance is tending to a rider. I think to myself how glad I am that it’s not me.
At the bottom of the hill I reach Andrew. I decide to quit the race. There’s 40 miles to go but I’m done in! I’ve achieved my race by cycling further and higher than ever before but there is no chance I’ll complete the race before the cut-off time.
We head to the finish to wait for Malcolm…and we wait…and we wait…and we….
As it gets dark there’s no sign of Malcolm. I approach the race organisers and ask if they have seen him. They go to check their list of riders. When they come back they have bad news – Malcolm was the man I passed on the mountain who was getting tended to by the ambulance.
The news gets worse. He’s been taken to hospital.The news gets even worse! The hospital isn’t in Inverness, which is close by and on our way home but Broadfoot on the Isle of Skye which is miles away and nowhere near our route home.
We head to Skye to collect him. He’s broken his collarbone after his brakes failed on the corner. The bad news is he’ll be off work for six weeks. The good news is that it coincides with the Edinburgh fringe. He can spend six weeks partying! And he can use his other arm to drink pints!