Bealach Na Ba (Iain)

The Bealach Na Ba sportive was the first bike race I entered. It was 2007 and I’d read about the event in the Glasgow Herald.

“The Bealach Na Ba road is engineered similarly to roads through the great mountain passes in the Alps, with very tight hairpin bends that switch back and forth up the hillside and gradients that approach 20%. It boasts the greatest ascent of any road climb in the UK, rising from sea level at Applecross to 626 metres”

It captured my imagination. It looked like a great challenge. I convinced Andrew to join me.

There was one issue – we didn’t know anything about bikes or sportives. There was a second issue  – we didn’t know that we didn’t know anything about bikes or sportives!

Therefore, I turned up at the start line unaware that I was under-prepared. Unfortunately, Andrew didn’t make it to the start as he had the flu. He did volunteer to drive a van round the course and check on how I was doing.

Every other rider had a road bike. I had a mountain bike. I thought all bikes were the same. They aren’t! The race started. Everyone else raced off. I was soon last. I realised why road bikes are called road bikes. It’s because they’re good on roads. D’OH!

The other riders wore skin tight lycra and their bikes had water bottles. I wore shorts, a hill walking waterproof jacket, and I had a backpack filled with food and a 2L bottle of water.

The other riders had trained. I rode one long ride of…. 30 minutes.

I’m proud to say I made it to the top of Bealach Na Ba. I wasn’t even the last rider up it. Although I did have to walk quite a lot.. I dropped out of the race as soon as I made it down the other side. I was knackered. Thankfully, Andrew was there, so I got a lift back to the start.

We weren’t going to let Bealach Na Ba defeat us so, five years later, Andrew and I went back. This time I’d learnt my lesson. I didn’t use a mountain bike….I used a hybrid! I thought it was the same as a road bike just with different handlebars. It wasn’t. It takes the slowness of a mountain bike and combines it with the looks of a road bike to make something that’s not good on roads or mountains!

We made it round the course although we were virtually the last to finish. All I remember about the event is the endless up and down road from Applecross to Sheildaig. My legs were so tired by the end I had to walk some of the small climbs. That section is much harder than the actual Bealach climb.

So, to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of our first race we went back to do it again. This time I learnt my lesson. I used a road bike – I didn’t have to walk once!

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