Pic of the day: Bealach Beag (and report)

The image is of me with around 10 miles remaining of the 43 on the rolling lumpy headlands on the north side of the Applecross peninsula. I have blogged it from the website of highly accomplished photographer Steve Carter, who has kindly posted several other excellent photos of the Bealach Beag 2010.

This is some of the hardest sections of the route- the Bealach has already sapped your legs, and you will probably have overcooked it a little on the beginning of the flattish return section. Then comes a series of short but very steep inclines, followed by descents that prevent you from getting any momentum up. In total the ride covers 6500 feet of climbing.

It was sunny and clear but there was also a chill wind in the air- hence my decision to wear the gilet and armwarmers. My head was overheating up the climb and I had to take my cap off and roll down the armwarmers on the climb (that’s why they are all over the place). I could probably have done without them, but then coming down off a 2000 foot climb is a bit chilly.

The fetching yellow bib was issued to all riders for safety reasons, allowing participants’ numbers to be viewed from the front and rear. This was to allay the safety concerns of the Applecross community council, who on the 2009 event, when emergency access to an ill competitor was less than swift due to riders being too focused on their times and not clearing the road for an ambulance. Everyone wore the bibs and just got on with it though, and I was not aware of any bad vibes whatsoever from the locals.

You can buy photos of the Bealach Beag at Northsport Photography’s website. Unfortunately though the galleries aren’t searchable by race number like last year, so the riders might not browse the gallery to find their own photos.

The ride itself went fantastically well – it was sunny and clear and I was too hot at several moments. I overdressed after last year’s windy, wet and cold day. My friend Ian Wallace and I gave our other companion Chris a head start before setting off along the first section, reaching the bottom of the Bealach several minutes ahead on last year. There is the inevitable jostling as fast riders pick their way through the traffic and chancers jump onto strong wheels.

We charged up the mountain, choosing some strong people to follow and picking up an entourage of our own, but before the hairpins I lost Ian’s wheel, and that was the last I saw of him until the finish. I was overheating and struggled to unzip my jacket, unclip my helmet and take off my cap on the steep gradients. I rode in in 37:47, five minutes faster than 2009.

Coming off the mountain is hairy stuff, with some well-placed marshalls keeping riders speed down on the precipitous bends. At the bottom, I thanked the feed station volunteers but didn’t stop, instead scoffing a banana as about a dozen riders massed on my wheel into the headwind. Eventually a bit of wheeling about got going, largely due to some vociferous gesturing by a Kiwi guy called Brad. For the next 10 miles this group worked together until the climbs started, and after only a couple of lumps the ones working were reduced to three or four.

There’s a bit of debate as to whether it’s cool to sit in a group in a sportive, but I wasn’t bothered by the hangers-on: I got an big boost of adrenaline knowing that all these people were following me, and to their cost perhaps, it propelled me up the series of short punchy climbs that come thick and fast along the north side of the Applecross peninsula. I felt really good but probably overcooked it. Kiwi Brad stayed with me but was playing it cautious, and when he came through I was too tired to go with him. I still had plenty of strength left to finish though, and was well pleased with my time of 2:35:53.

The scenery on this ride is absolutely stunning, and on more than one occasion I wondered how much I was missing as I looked over to Skye and north to Torridon, all the while pushing on for a good time. I already mentioned the Appelcross community council’s concerns that Hands On Events even publish the finishing times, but we all know that cyclists tend to be competitive beasts by nature, at the very least wanting to compete with their selves if not their fellow participants.

So I have edited an xcel file of the Bealach Beag 2010 finish times, with Autofilters so you can sort by name, number, finish time and hill time. I was 19th fastest and 17th up the Bealach-na-ba: pretty proud of that. You’ll notice that the 2nd, 3rd and 4th riders did not clock in at the bottom and top of the hill- some of these people are really going for it and take it quite seriously. Quickest participant Tom Owens did ‘dib’ though, and still finished with 4 minutes to spare.