Ten under the Ben is simple: how many laps can you ride in 10 hours.
It is a flat out race against yourself and the rest of the field. The event plays out with a great atmosphere: although listening to Highway to Hell blaring out on the final climb is of dubious motivation !
I had entered the race with Marion as a mixed pair just as we had 4 years previously. Last time we had come second so we at least had a clear goal this time around. However in 2015 the mix pair field was considerably stronger than last time, the question was how much faster were we in 2015? It is a format that works well as a pair: not so long the breaks become tedious and you start seizing up but not too short that you think you might as well have entered it as a Solo. Part of me wanted to be racing Solo but after the first two laps I was happy to be resting but racing at the same time!
The mass start was always going to be carnage but as we set off behind the Model T car that had previously driven at the top of Ben Nevis – Scotland’s highest mountain, everyone was jostling for position.
Being in a pair my goal was to set the overall fastest lap of the race and I wanted to be near the front to do this. For a 10 hour race the elbows were out quickly after we turned off from the classic car.
At the first corner a rider pushed from behind swerved and cut me up entirely and I was forced of the bike. It was a clean crash despite a few riders using my wheel as a speed bump. I was quickly up and set to the task of catching the leaders again. It wasn’t until the first climb I regained the lead group and tucked in behind the fast solo riders.
The next climb I attacked and pulled away feeling fine. I wanted to head into the singletrack first and did so. It was going well and I had a decent gap until I reached a section of tape that had blown onto the track I went right instead of left and got confused. It wasn’t until the rest caught up I realised my error and scrambled through the forest to rejoin the track.
I tucked in again and kept with the leaders despite my semi slick rear tyre providing limited grip on the first descent.
The next lap was the first full length lap and it was fairly clean and only a couple of missing markers led to retracing steps and lost time.
This lap was fun but some of the singletrack was overgrown with much arm slapping and some annoying grazing from gorse bushes. The circuit needed a bit of a prune in places.
I dropped down into the arena to change with Marion and the live results showed we were the leading pair overall. But unbelievably I was behind Rob Friel who was in the solo category and flying.
I chilled out as Marion headed off on the first of two laps. She made good progress and looked happy at the midway point that returns to the arena, I got ready in case she wanted to swap on lap 4 but happily she boosted on. I had another hour to chill out on the world’s lowest chairs with our main competitor, Maddy. She had gone first so her partner Graeme had to overtake Marion to gain an advantage for my next laps and he had.
I vowed to myself this was to be the fastest lap of the race but little did I know what lay in store! First I caught Maddy and was pleased to pull out a lead again but then on the final descent a clunk signalled my carbon seat post had failed. The saddle was still attached so I pushed on, next the saddle had flown off on a corner! I decided I would swap it out for another I had in the car and rode on. Next I felt the back wheel hiss and wobble. I had a puncture. Whether it was my awkward saddle-less riding position I will never know but I stopped and swapped the tube over. Then disaster struck again I had bent the valve pumping too fast. I managed about 25 PSI but knew it wasn’t enough. I stopped to pump it up again and rode carefully but it punctured again. I now had to run and it was a long way to the finish. Maddy came flying past and our lead was lost. I ran straight down as fast as possible and then tried to ride along the soft grass verges of the fire road with mixed success. Then I ran the final descent to the arena cut to the finish. I quickly swapped with Marion who Maddy had kindly pre-warned to get ready and she was off again earlier than expected!
I had a bike to fix in one hour. I fitted my spare saddle and post (I suspected I might have issues!), bought new tubes and a new chain link as I imagined that would be the next failure. Marion had been riding consistently fast and had managed to avoid any crashes or mechanicals and that meant I was amazed to see we were tying for second place still. I was right about the next failure: on lap 6 my chain snapped! It was a quick repair but still a few minutes lost. The next lap I rode slower but smoothly and trouble free as that was what we needed. Marion put in another consistently quick lap that was her fifth of the race and our 9th and she was done for the day. I didn’t expect to ride two more laps but we had time and I then managed to overtake Maddy on lap 10 to take the lead. I also had plenty of time for the painful lap 11 that Marion had ruled out and she even got changed into jeans to avoid! It was lap number 7 (or 6.5) for me and we had done just enough to ensure we won the race. Amazingly we were less than 3 minutes ahead in what was effectively an 11 hour race! Here are the results
Altogether a great race and we were super pleased to get top spot on the podium for the first time and even win some prizes. I failed to get the fastest lap of the race with all the mechanicals and crashes but I was still happy to have been in the top few. What makes these events is the atmosphere and the fun of out and out racing, the calculation of lap times needed while cheering on the solo guys and the rock music blaring out classics like Highway to Hell on the last climb. Ten hours is a great format and the course here is fun despite maybe lacking a bit of maintenance and maybe some sharper signing at the start.