All cyclists have three enemies. Wind, hills, and the elements. While most races on the ultra calendar will do their best to throw adversity at riders by chucking in the odd mountain pass, technical gravel trail or long sections between resupply. It would take the mind of someone who knows cycling inside and out to not only start a series of races that takes on these three enemies of cyclists head on, but themes the races around them. Enter Camille Mcmillan, and the FURTHER events.
Further East does it’s best to whittle riders down with it’s flat bridleways and farm tracks in a time trial format. Further Pyrenees (titled Perseverance) takes on barely rideable terrain and tracks through the Ariege Mountains, forcing riders to navigate between specific segments and often involves prolonged hike-a-bike. Further Scotland, or Further Elements as Camille calls it, is the newest race which balances the two - on what is for the most part easily rideable gravel tracks across the Cairngorms. The only catch being this was in October. Scotland is well known for having tough winters, and this was Camille’s plan all along. Catch the trails when they’re still rideable, but only just. The race would involve multiple river crossings and long exposed sections, meaning riders would have to be on top of their kit game.
The race would start at Corrour, the highest and possibly most remote train station in the UK. Something of a challenge to get to compared to most races. Myself, Greg Annandale and Rupert Hartley would be tasked with covering the race, grabbing as much content as we could throughout. Me and Greg made our way to Corrour by van, cycling the 15 mile gravel track in, while Rupert took the luxurious option of sleeper train from London.
While we did come with the main aim of focusing on the riders using Restrap kit, we did our best to cover as much of the race as possible. We knew the heavy hitters would be ex-pro Laurens Ten Dam, Restrap ambassador Neil Phillips, Juan Antonio Flecha and Thomas Decker. The women’s start list included HT550 winner Alice Lemkes, Lee Cragie and Philippa Battye - all close friends and hardy riders. The field was packed full of strong riders so we knew it would be great to follow along.
I had figured it wouldn’t be the easiest thing to cover - the route of the race would snake its way around the Cairngorms on long gravel tracks for long sections. Ideal for a great route and great racing, but to catch fast riders coming through at multiple points was a game of choosing the right locations at the right time. We knew the leaders of the race would be riding along at a fair clip, so we needed to move fast.
We would leapfrog the pointy end of the race along certain sections of the route, doing our best to hold for as long as possible to catch the leaders coming through. With the length of the race sitting at 480km, we had predicted that the leaders would be pushing it in a one-er. As the race unfolded, this was clearly the outcome, with gaps forming between riders where rest and resupply was possible.
Ballater proved to be the location where a lot of riders would post up for the night, or spend significant time warming up and gathering food. We had earmarked this beforehand, and as night approached we leapfrogged ahead of the race again to catch as many riders as we could.
With rain pouring throughout, riders were facing their fair share of the Elements, just as Camille had intended. River crossings along the route were swollen and fast flowing, and a broken bridge had caused a route diversion towards the end of the route.
Back at race HQ in Corrour the next morning, we had arrived in time to watch Laurens and Neil roll in. While watching the dots, it was looking like it would be a sprint finish to the end. The two riders had been taking chunks out of each other for 18 hours straight.
After 3 hours of constant monitoring, it was into a borrowed Land Rover and down to the nearby hostel to watch them roll into the hostel on Loch Ossian, the race finish line. In an act of valour, the pair rolled in together after calling a truce in the last 50km. With a bottle of Dalwhinnie at the ready, we awarded the riders a celebratory dram and bundled them into the back of the Land Rover and off they went for a warm shower and lie down, provided by our lovely hosts at the station house.
From the leaders rolling in, it was onto the waiting game for the remaining riders. Hours would pass between them, with only a couple of small groupings throughout the field of dots. One thing evident while we were back at race HQ was how each rider, for that relatively short time on the road, was like Camille’s child. Despite being the master of their suffering, the level of care that goes into each rider's wellbeing is remarkable. I’m sure most ultra race organisers know the pain. Watching dots wide-eyed, on a tiny amount of sleep, and pacing a room when inevitable signal difficulties mean the dots go intermittently dark. The race isn’t over until the last rider is home.
For each rider we got onto the bikes and ran down to the hostel to watch them roll in. Faces covered in joy, sweat, rain and mud. A special mention to Rich Rothwell here - who rolled in with a face of absolute relief. Long story short, if you can think of something awful that could happen to you in a race, it happened to him on this ride. A 30mph over-the-bars crash, double tyre failure, electrical problems, and losing his money. For more on this head over to his instagram page.
The final riders we were able to catch were the trio of Alice Lemkes, Philippa Battye and Lee Craigie, who came in with Michal Serafin. With conditions being so tough throughout, they decided to ride the entire route together, opting for a more fun and social experience. They opted to DQ themselves from the standings, but arguably came over the finish line having had the most fun, stopping in pubs throughout, sharing food and equipment along the way. The sheer joy of their adventure was an excellent demonstration of Other Ways To Win.
Words by Jon Hicken
Photos by Greg Annandale (@greg_a) & Jon Hicken
To learn more about the FURTHER events, click here: