It wasn't a hill race for me this weekend (well not on foot anyway) - I'd talked some colleagues to join me in Applecross for the Bealach Beag Sportive.  It's a great event taking in 44 miles of tarmac and some of Scotland's most breathtaking scenery (at least relative to scenery from other roads).

The route starts off in Shieldaig and heads 10 miles south to Tornapress, before heading from sea-level west over the 626 meter Bealach-na-ba pass.  So after 16 miles you have done what you came to do... the problem is that after the decent into Applecross there are another 27 undulating miles round the Applecross Peninsula to get you back to Shleldaig.  It is true what the organisers say that the Bealach is the easy bit as there is twice as much climbing still to be done!

It was a glorious day for cycling, particluarily in the sheltered bay where Shieldaig village sits.  Graeme, one of my mates from work, and I started off pretty easy when we realised the strength of the wind once out one the open road.  We sat in a group for the first 10 miles, sharing the work and making steady progress to the foot of the climb.  Then the fun began!

Now I am not much of a cyclist, but I have been training on the bike and really felt the benefit of it come the climb.  I sat in a low gear, firmly seated in the saddle and kept up a high cadence and soon found myself passing lots of folk.  The Bealach is only a 5% to 7% gradient for most of it, only steepening to an 8% gradient near the top.  So this approach worked well as I ate up the height, only gettng out of the saddle for the chicanes near the top.

I waited for Graeme at the top, savouring the views, before we hit the decent. What a buzz it was – the climb and descent into Applecross is on closed roads so you can take the racing line round the corners and concentrate on enjoying the wind in your hair, and the stunning views across to Skye and Raasay.

Once through Applecross we got a huge lift from the wind. It was now behind us and we found ourselves easily keeping up 28 to 30 mph as we headed north. The road is undulating, but with the push from the wind you hardly noticed it. Well not until mile 34 when you turned east.

It was a battle now, even cycling downhill required the small chainring and a lot of peddling! And with tired legs the short climbs became bigger and bigger each time. However, the final 10 miles were soon over and I was back in Shieldaig after just short of 3 hours cycling (15 minutes quicker than I thought I'd do it in) with 44 glorious miles and 2,600 meters of ascent in the legs. Oh yes, and a pint of An Teallach Ale in my hand!
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