Reminiscing Ullapool Mor

I don’t know what it is about a race or sportive that gets me so uptight and nervous, they just do. I am definitely not the most objective person leading up to the starting line as my wife will confirm. I guess it comes down to the lack of experience and the number that I have done (two); whereas I have no issues heading out in the morning for my commute with just a glance at the outdoor temperature and what it looks like. I feel that I might be getting there now after a great weekend in Ullapool.

I had pretty much packed by Wednesday having spent the last six months working out what I was going to wear; in summary – bib shorts, short sleeved jersey, arm and leg warmers if necessary and light weight waterproof. Weather outlook was pretty definitely going to be wet, mild and wind free. To be honest that works for me, the ride was challenging enough without a 20 knot head wind.

My buddy James arrived Friday lunch, we threw everything in the back of the car and headed to Ullapool via Inverness. Turns out the day before the ride was fantastic (and the day after as it turned out) so we had a great drive up the road finally getting in to Ullapool at a reasonable time. Too late for a recce ride, but definitely time for food.

Loch Broom from Ullapool
Loch Broom from Ullapool

Food was kindly dished up by the Ceilidh Place (would recommend), and wash down with a hearty amount of rain as we trooped back to our lodgings for the evening. Definitely need the waterproof in the morning. Slept ok(ish), grabbed some food and headed to the village hall to register. Thought was; register early to get one of the first release times – ha ha, this is Ullapool where everything is a little more relaxed than my OCD would relate to. Got our numbers and then spent the next hour or so putting keys for our room back at hotel, check bikes, pee, check bikes, chat, pee .. you get the drift. Anyway time approaches 09:00 and we get a short (very short) briefing and we’re off at last.

So what had I signed up for again? Hands on Events organise five events across Scotland, the most well known being Applecross (Bealach Mor). This was the Ullapool Mor, it’s smaller brother (the legs would argue that point). Stated as being an 88 mile loop with ??? metres of climbing this was anything but easy though promised some of the best scenery you could get.

It's only a little rain.
I’m the overweight one of the left.

With a relaxed launch, my dibber dibbed (timing chip), we set off as a rabble heading North on the A835. The rain had eased a little and my nerves were at ease as we were finally on our way. This was my second sportive and I felt that I learnt a lot when I did the the Etape Caledonia earlier this year, the only thing I was unsure about was how hard could I push this without blowing up or before the end of the ride. At the Etape my heart rate monitor signal (trusty old Polar S710i that someone gave me years ago when they upgraded) had dropped out after about the first 2 minutes so I had no idea what I could sustain in real numbers; I only had the feel for what I could do. As with any race there is always the brave and stupid; the brave go for it because they know they can (which is not me) and the stupid who have not counted or prepared for the next 88 miles with a healthy side order of climbing. So I off in the stupid category, but based on the feel it was not unlike the Etape ride, though I was surprised to see an average of about 160 on the hrm. In hindsight I am pleased I did my first ride without the hrm as I would probably of ridden much slower than I did. Anyway, I trusted how my body felt and went for it.

The route is truly spectacular and most of the climbs you make reward you with some amazing panoramas. We headed north out of Ullapool straight in to a gentle climb, sticking to the main road until we hung a left heading past Stac Pollaidh. The only downside to the ride was the cloud that hung around at 500m and so Stac Pollaidh remained a mystery on this ride. Here is what we missed.

Stac Pollaidh
View of Stac Pollaidh from road

Ploughing on without the reward of seeing Stac Pollaidh we headed on knowing the first food stop was Lochinver. We had been on the road for about an hour when we started to bunch up into groups doing roughly the same speed. I love these moments when you get to ride, through some amazing scenery and meet up and chat with like minded people. We managed a good pace, it had stopped raining and was getting rather warm. The group was broken up after a while by some treacherous cattle grids that you had to watch out for. Not far before James and I got to Lochinver we both decided it was time to shed the waterproof as it was definitely getting warmer. After waiting a couple of minutes for James to sort himself out I left him (assuming that he would easily catch me up) and headed down into Lochinver.

I hung around at the food station for a while and eventually decided that I needed to keep rolling and that James would catch up with me, so freshly watered I headed of on the next leg towards what turned out to be some of the best coastline and some cracking climbs. The ride seemed to fly by at this point; I spent a good half of the leg on my own (still expecting James to catch up at any point), and then joined up with a couple of riders from Glasgow. Some of the beaches we passed were amazing (again this is not from the day of the ride).

Clashnessie Bay
View of Clashnessie Bay

The miles ground by at this stage with a repetitive ascent, descent, ascent, descent … you get the idea; there is no flat. This culminates in what I would call the mother of all climbs just after you pass Loch Ned. The two guys I was now riding with were both on triples and dropped down to the granny ring. I, however, had a double and was saved only by the 28 tooth wimp out cog on the back. I rarely stand up but definitely had to stamp my way up the hill. We passed a couple of riders pushing their steeds up the hill and one unfortunate who had succumbed to cramp at the worst time. This is definitely the mother of all climbs on this ride.

With this climb behind us the next food station appeared as a bit of a surprise. After grabbing yet another banana and saw one of the best things on the ride so far:

Ullapoool 28 miles
Ullapool 28 miles! Surely not?

I honestly thought I was about half way round so 28 miles left gave me a great booster to take on the climb I thought would be the hardest. It turned out however to be fairly gentle even if it was long. Compared to the last climb this turned into a slow chase, as myself and the two other riders I had joined up with slowly hauled in other riders who lacked the benefit of fairly organised chain gang.

The next leg of the ride was fairly long and the least spectacular when it comes to scenery; heading South past Loch Assynt, Ardvreck Castle gives you a small respite to the tedium. This was definitely the least enjoyable section though we we made steady progress down the road, eventually arriving at the last food station. A quick turn around here and our mini peloton gathered pace, the sent of home giving us our final boost. This leg ended up turning into a very swift ride home, at one point we max’ed out at around 72km and hauled in a large number of both Mor and Beag riders. The two guys I had ridden with finally pulled away on the last hill as my legs finally started to protest and only the bus that over took me stopped my from rejoining them on the last downhill into Ullapool. My buddy James rolled in 20 mins later having spent most of the ride on his own, only pairing up on the last leg of the ride.

This is an amazing ride. Hands on do a great job organising this and I look forward to doing it again.

Training Peaks –

Ride with GPS


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