YOUR GUIDE: Jason MacIntyre
DISTANCE: 85 miles (136km)
MAIN CLIMB: Glenuig
TOTAL CLIMB: 900m
ACHTUNG! Don?t ride into a loch while admiring the view
Is this the best bike ride in Britain? It?s certainly not one for the faint hearted, with 85 miles of tough road and tough weather to be experienced in one day. But for scenery, for its sheer haunting atmosphere, this circuit of Ardgour, Sunart and Moidart is difficult to beat.
Our guide is British time trial champion Jason MacIntyre, plus three of his closest cycling buddies from Fort William. In a world where coaches and physiologists seem to hold the key to performance, MacIntyre is a breath of fresh air. Self-coached, and living outside the system, he swoops south at regular intervals to beat the lottery-funded stars of British Cycling before returning to his Scottish eyrie.
A modern-day comic book hero? No, don?t carried away with the Alf Tupper imagery, MacIntyre doesn?t work down a coal mine and train on fish and chips. He?s just a one-man BC plan who has carefully analysed time trialling, enabling him to put his training on a very scientific platform.
?I?ve refined what I do and I use what works. I work on SRM numbers, I know my body, I?ve trained the specific muscles I use in a time trial to get the power down,? he says. In actual fact his regime has ended up being similar to the training our Olympic riders do, except MacIntyre has to be a lot more creative. The place in which he lives demands it.
Crossing the Narrows
?How many rides do you go on that require a ferry crossing?? MacIntyre asks, as we board the boat to take us across the Corran Narrows of Loch Linnhe, 13 miles into the ride from Fort William.
The day has started well. High cloud and little wind lend an air of tranquility, while Britain?s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, towers behind us, reflected in the Loch?s glassy surface. MacIntyre?s cycling friends are Alex Kitson, Ben Thompson and Stevie Martin, and they are determined to enjoy the day as an interval in MacIntyre?s methodical preparation.
?It?s nice to do a ride like this occasionally,? MacIntyre says at a coffee stop. ?I use this circuit quite a bit, but I?m often looking at the time when I do.? It might have been a relaxed day for him, but MacIntyre doesn?t miss a trick. This was essentially a fun ride, but he did it on his time trial bike, not everyone?s choice for 85 miles in the wilderness.
?I ride it a lot. I was training on my road bike but it just wasn?t transferring to my time trial bike. I found out that the CSC team do a lot of training on their time trial bikes, so I tried it and it worked. I started going better. Others don?t seem to have a problem, they train on their road bikes for most of the time and it just transfers, but with me it doesn?t.”
The next step
That attitude is typical of MacIntyre?s approach to cycling; no stone is left unturned, he takes everything into consideration, thinks about it and sees if he can use it. And now he?s thinking about what is next on the agenda.
Winning the National 25-mile Time Trial for the last two years, plus the British Time Trial Championship, has given him a lot to think about. ?It?s an honour to win the British national championships, but now I?d like to know how I compare to the figures that Bradley Wiggins and the others are doing, and I?d like to do the BC test. No one is going to ring up and ask me, I?ve got to make the approach, but I?d like to know what I can do,? he says.
No wonder he does. Chris Newton is a class scalp, and Newton badly wanted this year?s ?25? title. When they stood on the podium Newton looked up at MacIntyre and asked, ?How did you do that?? ?I didn?t answer,? says MacIntyre. Maybe, but he enjoyed the question.
Back on their bikes, the group continue to make good progress as they thread between the shores of Loch Sunart and Loch Shiel to tackle the day?s biggest climb over to Glenuig.
A drizzle of rain begins to fall, but takes nothing from the view at the summit. It?s amazing, out across the Sound of Arisaig to the islands of Rum and Eigg, and in the distance the towering peaks of the Cuillin range on Skye.
From Glenuig Bay, after the swooping descent, there?s another scenic lochside leg to join the road to the Isles for the ride back to Fort William. The rain gets heavier, and a stop to don rain jackets gives me a chance to ask MacIntyre about the climate.
?It?s definitely changed up here,? he says. ?The last few winters have been much milder, allowing me to get out and string together several good days, whereas before, my training would be interrupted by snow and ice. I think the changing weather has been one of the reasons for my progression.?
Scotland doesn?t get the snow in winter it used to, and its ski industry is virtually dead. Ben Nevis once had an alpine climate, but now MacIntyre, who lives at its foot says, ?You are just as likely to see a bit of snow up there in the summer as you are in winter. If the temperature drops, it snows at the top, but there isn?t snow up there all winter like there used to be.? A sobering thought on which to end such a beautiful day.
YOUR GUIDE: JASON MACINTYRE
* Age 33
* Lives in Fort William with wife Caroline and daughters Chloe and Morgan.
* Born in Lochgilphead and is a qualified printer.
* Sponsored by Dooley?s Cycles and by Continental.
* British national circuit time trial champion and twice national 25-mile champion.
* Has climbed Ben Nevis once. ?Once was enough,? he says.
From Fort William take the A82 and follow signs to Corran Ferry. In Corran turn left (TL) on A861 and simply follow that road for 50 miles, it?s virtually the only one. Turn right (TR) on A830 to Fort William.