Out to Applecross
The full course teams in ITERA, and those short course teams who had the energy, followed the route out to the remote village of Applecross today. It can only be reached by a winding and rolling coast road or by crossing the Bealach na Ba, the highest pass in Scotland and a road with a fierce reputation, for both drivers and riders. Or by boat of course, which historically is how it traded and survived before the roads were built.
First to go were race leaders Columbia Vidaraid, followed later in the day by SWECO and Lozere Team2Raid, and then the short coursed Team Endurance Life. Before they set off Tom Davies of Endurancelife told me, “We cut some checkpoints last night to go short course as we felt we had to in order to finish, so were disappointed to arrive and find a stage and checkpoint taken out. We’ll aim to complete the rest of the course from here.”
They were later followed by Team Black Diamond who had followed the same tactic and several other short course teams who are all now competing with them for position, so there is plenty of competition to get as many CP’s as possible still. The fourth remaining full course team, Swiss/UK Adventures followed later in the day.
SWECO set off ahead of Lozere Team2raid, following the winding road beneath the ramparts of Liathach and then the single track road along the coast which climbed and fell along the rocky shore and from which there were stunning views of Torridon. After punching CP24 the Swedes took a wrong turn, inexplicably going back the way they’d come, instead of further along the road to find a cross-country track to Applecross.
This allowed the French team to overtake them and push on across the hills to drop down to Applecross, but to get there they had to ride through a herd of Highland cattle, which look a bit fearsome with their huge horns. With care they rode through, but the Swedes were much more hesitant. Thomas Norlander called out, “I was a bit scared there!”
Next for these two teams came the big climb to the pass, and there was no gentle lead in. Right from the shore the road rises steeply up and into a first hair pin bend, and from there it was a steady, steep and relentless pedal up the pass. As the two teams climbed the weather turned, the views disappeared and the rain came down. SWECO stopped on top of the pass to don waterproofs which they would need for the rest of the day.
The descent was steeper and more dramatic, with big, sweeping switchbacks speeding the team towards Lochcarron and the next checkpoint at Strome Castle. Perched on a mound on the loch side it must once have been impressive, but now is a ruin. The same could not be said for the following CP at the famous Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most picturesque and famous in Scotland. (Though sadly teams did not get to go inside.)
As dusk fell and the weather set in for the night Columbia Vidaraid completed the ride, reaching the transition ahead of all but one short course team. Most of those were on their way from Kinlochewe, and there were still a couple yet to arrive there to finish their Fisherfield trek. For all the teams there is a tough night ahead in the wet weather.