Local protesters? What a bunch of tubes……
Well, well, well. At least French farmers only block the roads with their tractors rather than resorting to the kind of Wacky Races shenanigans seen at the Etape Caledonia
Monsoon rains, a night in a tent and 3 hours of Martin Kelner’s Piss Poor Podcast meant that the event was started with around 3 hours sleep – not the best preparation. (Incidentally, cheers to Stumpy for the loan of the tent, and a sarcastic “cheers” to Big Col for not ensuring that I had a night in the Hilton like last year!) The start was damp but not actually raining & after failing to meet up with Burnsy (my fault entirely) I started at around 7.40am.
There didn’t seem to be quite the same number of large groups as last year, possibly due to the revised self-seeding procedure, but it wasn’t difficult to get on a wheel travelling at roughly the speed you wanted to go. A fairly relaxing first 20 miles saw us past the first feed station and a couple of miles later I spied a nice black Bianchi with a nice relaxed Burnsy aboard. We chatted for a good few miles before we ended up splitting into different groups.
Another uneventful few miles saw us reaching the head of Loch Rannoch & heading back along the other side. Shortly before the second feed stop at about 43 miles, the arms went up & we slowed to a mass halt. My first thought was an accident, or possibly just congestion at the feed station but pretty quickly the Chinese whispers waved their way back through the pack – “what, someone’s been attacked on the road?” No, someone has put tacks on the road – oh the myrth! We stood, making no progress whatsoever for the best part of half an hour before we shuffled our way to the feed station and then descended, en masse, on the village of Kinloch Rannoch to be treated to first class hospitality by the local fire brigade who made tea & coffee available to all those who wanted it.
Having met up again with Burnsy amid the crowds, we discussed our options. Even if they cleared the road, how could they really dispose of thousands of small tacks? Would we simply be riding ourselves into certain, puncture-related hell? Should we give it up as a bad job & cycle the 20 or so miles back to Pitlochry? The announcement came shortly after that the road to Schiehallion was now open, allegedly cleared & safe but we were given a warning about taking care on the descent. So Brunsy, me, and the vast (fast?) majority of participants headed off in search of the vertical challenge that is Schiehallion. Once we reached its lower slopes I just put my head down & tried to focus on getting up smoothly – with the desired result, as it didn’t feel too bad although the flatter section at the top was fairly windy and a bit of a grind. The roadside was littered with tyre-changing cyclists and discarded inner tubes meaning that despite their best efforts the organisers had made little impact on clearing the course.
The Schiehallion descent was just reward for the climb, bringing us to the 20 mile slog to the finish. I got on some good wheels, mainly small groups of 4 or 5 but I was beginning to get a bit scunnered and uncomfortable & willing the end to come. This year I was prepared for the sting in the tail as the road reared up at Logierait and in that last few miles i felt fairly strong, just about managing a sprint finish which I felt was necessary to beat the guy in front of me who was wearing joggy bottoms – I just couldn’t let him beat me!
My chip time says I was on the course for 6 hours 20 and the figure of 1 hour 30 is being touted as the delay. If so, that makes my time about the same as last year which feels about right as I didn’t get the pack-riding benefits of last year, especially in the last 15-20 miles.
Have the nasty locals put me off – hell no, I’ve just signed up for next year! Care to join me?