Glencoe Mountain played host to the No Fuss Events Macavalanche and somehow maintained its record of sublime weather.
Team Wideopenmag‘s Chris Hutchens and web editor Pete Scullion were representing on the slopes of Meall a’ Buiridh under a ferocious summer sun. A week of dry weather left the hill bereft of snow, but the organisers made sure they found some.
The UK’s only mass start race has always taken place at Glencoe Mountain. Regardless of how you move through this stunning part of Scotland, it will be something to remember, no matter what the weather.
Ever since No Fuss Events brought the Macavalanche into being, it has been blessed by the mountain gods. Nothing but blue skies seem to meet riders as they arrive at Scotland’s oldest ski field. Nobody was here for the snow though, and the organisers had to look higher and higher up Meall a ‘ Buiridh for snow enough to fit 300 eager riders onto.
With the sun beating down after a week of nothing but blue skies for the majority of Scotland, things were looking good for some amazing racing. With numbers for the Macavalanche rising steadily, it was a shock to see almost 300 riders jammed into Glencoe Mountain’s car park well before 9am on a Saturday morning.
Callum McCubbing would be back to defend his title, having galloped his way to a resounding win last year. 2017 wouldn’t be so easy, with the likes of Team Wideopenmag’s Chris Hutchens, Sick Skill’s Ben Cathro, James Shirley and a few other fast cats joining the party. Callum is no slouch though, and the stage was set for some top notch timed bicycle nonsense.
As the sun gained its height and heat, riders thronged to sign on and the main access lift. Uplift would take in the main chair and the infamous Cliffhanger. Stage 1 would decide gridding for the mass start, so there was more than just a good feeling from riding well to be had. The opening few minutes were as fast as you dared over the open hillside before a stiff and stiffening climb to the southern tip of Creag Dubh, before some walkers’ path action.
This section down to the main access top was fast, steep and unpredictable. Rock is king in Glencoe and there seemed to be evidence of everyone else’s runs strewn across your path. Once back on the access track, riders were spat onto more walkers’ path before joining the infamous red run. Fast, rough and loose.
Our Chris Hutchens would put an almighty dinger in his rear wheel in the dying moments of his stage 1 campaign but comfortably took the win with a time of 7:45 despite lacking any wind in his rear tyre. James Shirley would land a second place in the opening round, but a good 18 seconds back off our flying enduro weapon.
Hutch wouldn’t be the only one losing wind from his wheels at this race. Blind racing and the nature of Glencoe’s rock means anything can happen, even to those good at it. Soft spots covered in moss can hide the sharpest volcanic efforts, primed and ready to steal your chances of a good time.
Despite usually getting the lead out on the unpleasant climb, knowing full well that it’s where time is made and lost, I had leads of lead that seemed to offer no power and I was left feeling like I needed a lung transplant afterwards. Despite my somewhat unspectacular time, over 2 minutes adrift of Hutch, I was still placed well enough for the main event, where I planned to change up my tactics from previous years.
A 21st place was more than I’d expected after the mouth breathing on the climb.
Stage 2 was the mass start that arguably is the reason everyone enjoys this race so much. Where else can you join 300 other riders at the summit of a Munro just after midday for some snow-based carnage? Even after the stiff hike from the Cliffhanger, riders were spread out among the rubble, snow and chairlift towers, there was a nervous buzz about what was going to go down.
Just shy of the top of Meall a’ Buiridh, a full 1108m above the sea, riders had time to chill, shake their head at the 45 degree angle of the snow, and shake their head even harder at the precipitous, rocky nature of what followed the snow…
Normally, racing gets into my head before I have even slung a leg over a bike, but there’s something about this race that seems to calm me down. Maybe it’s that this race effectively only adds the elements of timing and tape to what I do in my spare time, or that the views distract attention from the imminent carnage, but I always seem to race the Macavalanche well.
300 riders is a lot of riders to picture inside your head, and for stage 1, these were strung out across the mountain, some even slinking off to lick their wounds. A full 269 would make the hike to the thinning snow with unfettered views of Buchaille Etive Mor, Ben Nevis and Rannoch Moor and what a sight it was. The hang gliders lazing on the afternoon thermals must have wondered what on earth was happening.
Colin Olden then began calling riders into their rows in his inimitable style. Standing atop a mountain trying to herd riders into some semblance of order is no mean feat but Colin seems to have the task dialled. Previous years have had the first 4-6 rows called by qualifying position then everyone else left to pile in behind, under the instructions “if you’re fast, go to the front. If you’re shite, go to the back.” Works a treat!
Having taken the stage 1 win, Hutch was called first and took his place at the top of the snow with almost a straight line to the first corner. What would happen in between was anyone’s guess. I would slot myself in the middle of row 4, just behind the ladies who were given row 3 to be in the mix. Great to see so many fast ladies flying down the hill.
Fiona Beattie was only three seconds behind me on stage 1 and I knew she’d be away at the start, so I focused on getting past her somewhere on the hill to gauge my speed.
Go time. After all the nervous looks, fist bumps and high fives, Colin began the countdown from 10. What followed was the carnage we all knew would come. I opted to run my bike off the snow and so, it seemed did everyone else. The howl of brakes as we met the first steep rocky chute was deafening, like the howl of banshees all around.
The speed increased inexorably and I set about quietly and safely making ground as the Vitus began to spool its turbos. My legs had clearly taken fancy to the climb this time, and as I started up the steeper section, the boys out front had just topped out on the climb and Fiona was in sight.
I managed to get the climb done with a short run and felt far better than the previous attempt, ready for the fast, rough madness to come. Fiona slotting into my lines ahead of me making a pass risky. For once I went brakeless where I normally wouldn’t, and I was away.
From there it was just a case of holding on as the body tired, riding smart and making what few passes there were left to make, I was in 14th at this point, so there weren’t too many bodies ahead. A terrible case of the table top down the bottom saw me flat too, but I managed to squeeze past someone with a front flat on the last turn. 13th in the mass start, 14th in Masters. Stoked. Hutch won it by a mile, Fiona, unsurprisingly, won the ladies.
Massive props to the Help for Heroes team who got Anita Bartram down the hill on her trike!
Massive thanks to the weather gods for smiling on us, No Fuss Events for the unique race and Glencoe Mountain for the stunning location and logistics.