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Cycling Squad Development Weekend
Badaguish Lodges: 24th to 26th October 2014

Group at Loch an Uaine
Squad photo taken at Loch an Uaine above Glenmore

Cycling squad preparations for the 2015 International Island Games in Jersey took a huge step forward when most of the squad took part in a training camp at Badaguish Lodges near Aviemore. This was a superb facility, ideally placed to take advantage of the many trails in the surrounding forests and mountains. This was a joint weekend with the Athletics Squad and both athletes and riders made the most of the superb accommodation, food and talks - all of which were superbly organised by the Athletics Team Manager Mairi Levack.

Having both squads at the same venue worked out well for those athletes who are also cyclists - they were able to join us on some of the rides. We decided ahead of the weekend that it would be mountain bike based - many thanks to the "roadies" for agreeing to this, I think it is fair to say that some of the rides were well out of your comfort zone!

Who attended?

From Lewis: Gavin Earons (Team Manager), John Neil Mitchell, Charlie Greenwood, Daniel Amor and Connor Maclean

From Uist: Calum Fraser From Mainland: Paul Smith, Craig MacCulloch, Kirsty Macphee, Christina Mackenzie

Unable to attend: Malcolm Bain, Donald MacRury, Anthony Pidcock and Ruairidh Michie

Friday 24th October

The advance party of myself, John Neil, Charlie, Daniel, Calum and Connor arrived at lunchtime and, after a quick look round the lodges and some lunch, we headed out on a mountain bike adventure! We rode down to Loch Morlich and on up the road towards the Cairngorm ski resort. Connor and John Neil took no prisoners as they sped up the hill leaving the others gasping for breath in their wake! Half way up we took a trail on the right which led down to the river before rising steeply onto the 2 mile climb up to the Chalamain Gap.

John Neil leads the way up to the Chalamain Gap
John Neil leads the way up to the Chalamain Gap

Daniel just below the Chalamain Gap
Daniel just below the Chalamain Gap

The track surface was excellent but the numerous drainage channels cutting across it made for a very frustrating climb (at least for some of us!). The Chalamain Gap is a narrow boulder filled pass which leads over to the Lairig Ghru. I knew the Gap was boulder filled but didnt realise the boulders were the size of small cars! The 400m or so of hike a bike up this steep rock strewn pass in a gale was “interesting” to say the least – and perhaps the less said the better!

Charlie and Daniel on the Chalamain Gap
Charlie and Daniel on the Chalamain Gap

Charlie at top of Chalamain Gap
Charlie at top of Chalamain Gap

The weather was threatening but the rain held off as we crossed the muddy bealach which led to the steep descent down to the top of the Lairg Ghru - an old drove route between Aviemore and Braemar. The mtb specialists took off down the trail and were soon out of sight of the young roadies (and me!). However, payback time for leaving us behind soon followed! Calum had a puncture, my spare tubes wouldn't fit his wheel and despite three patches his tube was still deflating. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, a quick text to the guys resulted in them riding the 2 miiles back up the trail again – to bring us a spare tube that fitted.

Calum pushing flat tyre down the Lairig Ghru trail
Calum pushing flat tyre down the Lairig Ghru trail

Daniel with another flat on the Lairig Ghru trail
Daniel with another flat on the Lairig Ghru trail

Following a quick tube change, we were all soon enjoying the fabulous descent back down the Lairig Ghru trail to the Cairngorm Club Footbridge. A fast trail ride from there over to Loch Morlich followed and we were soon back at the lodges for a well earned rest after a 22K ride which had around 750m of climbing. During the evening, we were joined by the remaining athletes and riders who were making there own way to Aviemore. Craig would be the last to arrive – incredibly he attended a wedding in Glasgow on Friday night but still made it to Aviemore by 9.00 on Saturday morning!

Saturday 25th October

Group near Loch an Eilean
Group after the round of Loch an Eilean

The weather forecast had been for strong winds and unfortunately it was not wrong! It was too windy for us to safely ride the high level "Burma Road" over to Sluggan Bridge which was what I had planned. Just as well I had many plan Bs! Of these, I chose a largely low level route through the ancient Caledonian Pine forests of Inshriach and Rothiemurchas. Myself, John Neil, Paul, Daniel, Craig, Christina, Kirsty, and Charlie drove down to Inverdrui to try and get some TLC for the bikes at the local bike shop - without much success it has to be said.

Group on the Cairngorm Club footbridge
Group on the Cairngorm Club footbridge

From there we enjoyed a ride round the beautiful Loch an Eilean and Loch Gamhna. The wet roots, soft surface and bouldery trail made this quite a test of bike control despite it being a relatively flat trail - a few minor falls proving that maybe this was not as easy as I remembered! Down in the trees we were well sheltered from the gale but as we made our way up the Lairig Ghru trail we were in danger of being blown off our bikes by the gusts. Everyone made it up and down safely and it was smiles all round as the group chatted about the tricky "moments" they had had on the descent!

Gavin riding down the Lairig Ghru trail
Gavin riding down the Lairig Ghru trail

Christina riding down the Lairig Ghru trail
Christina
riding down the Lairig Ghru trail

Kirsty enjoying a wee rest!
Kirsty enjoying a well earned rest?

From there, we rode through the ancient Scots Pines back to the lodge for a well earned lunch and a short rest. On the way, Kirsty demonstrated how not to ride over a road side ditch - the front wheel stopped but she didnt! A slow motion fall into a moss filled ditch followed - no worries, her beaming smile told us she had had a very soft landing! Another 24k in the bag with almost 500m of climbing.

After lunch, we headed out on the easiest ride of the weekend - 7k or so down the old logging way trail to pick up the cars. We just had time to drive back up to the lodge before the start of the first talk of the weekend - an interesting presentation on Sports Psychology which certainly gave us all some things to think about!.

Paul bouncing around Badaguish Lodges
Paul bouncing around Badaguish Lodges

No sooner was the talk over, than we were back out on our bikes again. Immediately behind the lodges was one of XC courses used in the Scottish Mountain Biking series (happy memories for Paul and myself as we both had won races here!). The wet conditions, off-camber trails, roots, rocks and drop-offs made this the most technical ride of the weekend - some of it a bit too technical for some of us to ride! The mountain bikers loved it but the rest of us were probably more relieved to have survived it than anything else!

John Neil taking air in the jump park
John Neil taking air in the jump park

The course finished back at the Lodge which has an almost completed jump track immediately behind it. This proved too much of a temptation and we all took advantage of the different routes through the jumps, bumps and berms. The braver members even taking some big air off the largest jump on the trail - which made for some spectacular photo opportunites!

Charlie on take-off
Charlie takes-off

But not Kirsty! She had other ideas - earlier she had failed to clean one of the steeper uphill sections on the XC trail which a couple of the guys had managed to ride. Not satisfied with that, she headed back the hill to try and do it without having to put her foot down. The spirit of Robert the Bruce was present as she tried and tried then tried again. She gradually pieced things together and solved the puzzle at the seventh attempt - superb effort at the end of a long day! The final ride of 8k with 250m of climbing made it a total distance of around 40k with 750m of climbing for the day.

After a feast of curries, we settled down to a talk on Strength and Conditioning followed soon after by one on Sports Nutrition. Both were enthusiastically delivered and we were left in no doubt about the crucial role these areas play in helping athletes attain their peak performance.

Sunday 25th October

The rain which had more or less held off all weekend finally arrived – that along with various people catching buses and trains home in the early afternoon meant that the big climb to the summit of a Munro had to be cancelled. Again, a ready alternative was available – a ride up past Locn an Uaine to Ryvoan Bothy, down through Abernethy Forest and back over An Sluggan to Badaguish – 32k and 330m of climbing.

Group shot at Loch Morlich
Group shot at Loch Morlich

The ride started with a blast down to Loch Morlich for a TV photo-call with BBC Alba. However, after a bit of searching around in the woods at the end of the loch, we had to move on as we couldnt find the camera crew! We found out afterwards that we were never going to find them as they were never there! We now rode up the sharp climb to Loch an Uaine. Uaine means greeen in gaelic and the loch is green by name and green by nature – it wouldnt look out of place in the Alps.

Group shot at Loch an Uaine
Group shot at Loch an Uaine

Beyond this the trail became steeper and much rougher and the wet rocks proved a real test of technique and route selection! We picked our way through this section and regrouped at Ryvoan Bothy. Next up was the super fast, fun descent down through Abernethy Forest to Tulloch. By this time, the rain was relentless and the constant spray in our faces made for less than ideal riding conditions. At one point the road had flooded so badly that we were in it up to our hubs – to be fair we were so wet by this time it made little difference!

After a short tarmac section, we set about tackling the final climb of the weekend over the An Sluggan pass to Badaguish. The climb is tough enough on fresh legs but after a long weekend of hard riding, this really was a true test of stamina and endurance. It was not made any easier by the fact that the heavy rain had turned the landrover track into what was essentially two parallel streams! Knowing it was the last effort of the weekend helped us all put in one last big effort and we were soon over the top and heading back to Badaguish. The pain of the climb was immediately forgotten as we raced down the fire road descent - its always nice to finish with a smile on your face! We gave our bikes one last wash, showered and had a final meal before packing the vehicles for the journey home.

Group at Badaguish Bike wash
Group at Badaguish Bike Wash

One topic of the lunchtime chat was about where to have our next get together – a clear indication that the weekend had been a success! I think the cold and very wet last ride may have influenced those suggesting a warm weather training camp in Tenerife for our next one – watch this space!

Gavin

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Western Isles Island Games Association
Comann Geamannan Eileanach nan Eilean Siar