Long-distance mountain biking challenges in Scotland have become bigger, longer, faster â€“ and very niche.
Cross-country mountain bikers like a challenge â€“ and in recent years it has been the long-distance West Highland Way that has been the focus of so many high-speed rides. The record for the 96-mile route between Milngavie and Fort William is 11hrs 30mins set by Stephen McInnes.
In 2012, Gary Tompsett and Nicola MacLeod rode out and back, unsupported in 38hrs 1min, and a month later by Phil Simcock, supported, in 28hrs 59mins.
So what would be next for endurance MTBers? For Tompsett, a keen endurance challenge and race creator, the ‘obvious’ next step was to ride the WHW and then the Great Glen Way, another long-distance trail and 73 miles, in less than 24 hours.
He said: â€œThe WHW is an aspirational mountain bike route in itself. Itâ€™s challenging, very tough in places, beautiful and now achievable in less than 12 hours. I rode it in 13.5hrs in 2003 but times have got faster and faster.
â€œHaving also ridden and out and back and seen others do a double I wanted to find something else to ride in sub-24 hours. Doing the WHW and the GGW all the way to Inverness continuously, that’s Â 170 miles and 16,500ft of ascent, clicked with me.â€
The niche side of endurance MTBing
Tompsett admits that the mountain biking challenge is ‘uber niche’. The hugely energetic 48-year-old from Strathaven, South Lanarkshire, says: â€œPeople do like new challenges and among my mountain biking friends we are always looking for the next idea or way to achieve a new route in a set time. Sub-24 hours is always popular.
â€œI know that many will think, â€˜Why on earth?â€™ But itâ€™s for the pleasure of riding a superb route in an impressive time. I love to inspire others to ride longer routes, especially in Scotland, and I bet there will be riders who really like the idea of the GT24. Who knows, maybe it will become an annual race?â€
Riding the GT24
Tompsett named his new ride the GT24. On June 28, he set out with seven friends to attempt the route in less than 24 hours. With great weather and dry trails on their side, the riders left Milngavie atÂ 08:08 heading north.
Tompsett says: â€œIt was a huge, huge day out for everyone. Massive! To top it all I hadnâ€™t slept the night before because I had been thinking too much about the event.
â€œAt times we rode together, such as over Conic Hill, but for much of the rest of the time we rode separately, and you could see a line of riders strung out ahead. We each rode in our own way and suffered our own problems at different stages.
â€œThe strongest rider managed to get lost for a while on the WHW and again on the GGW. Other riders had mechanical issues and health problems, two bailed, and two had to stop for a three-hour sleep at Fort William.â€
Food was a big concern for the riders. â€œThe amount of food is vitally important because we were burning it off so quickly,â€ says Tompsett.
John Laughlin recounts: â€œI stopped for chips and Irn Bru in Kinlochleven, cheeseburgers and tea in Fort Bill McDonalds and crisps and a Mars bar on the Inn on the Barge on the canal near Laggan. They were stunned by the sight of me walking through the canal boat door at 23.20 and gave me free snacks.â€
In the end Keith Forsyth, 45, of Musselburgh, arrived in Inverness first in an incredible 20hrs 40mins. Four others also finished, including John Laughlin, 32, of East Kilbride and Gary Vallance, 40, of Hampshire, in sub 24 hours; and Angus Hamilton, 39, West Calder.
Tompsett also reached Inverness after nursing his friend John Houlihan for dozens of miles. Houlihan stopped short of Inverness at Glenmoriston due to exhaustion.
Roll of honours for GT24
Some riders were supported, while others rode it unsupported. Support means having a mate in a vehicle providing food, drink and mechanical assistance, which can include bike replacement. Unsupported means completing without any pre-planned assistance.
Keith Forsyth 20:40. (WHW 11:50. GGW 9:50). Inaugural GT24 record for Supported.
John Laughlin 21:07. (WHW 13:00. GGW 7:34mins). Inaugural GT24 record for Unsupported.
Gary Vallance 23:51. (WHW 14:57. GGW 7:54).
Angus Hamilton 26:00. (WHW 15:33. GGW 10:27)
Gary Tompsett 28:47. (WHW 14:47. GGW 8:00.)
An extra challenge
As if the GT24 was not enough miles, Tompsett added a few more by starting his outing in Glasgow at the Clyde Riverside and finishing it at the slip way at South Kessock, to the north of Inverness city. In total this ride took him 29:17.
Tompsett says: â€œI like to take things a step further if I can. I didnâ€™t tell anyone what I planned to do in riding coast to coast that day. I didnâ€™t want people to feel the pressure of something extra. The extra miles, and riding from Glasgow to Inverness, coast-to-coast was for my own pleasure and satisfaction.â€
A GT24 website will be set up soon so that other riders can discover the rules of the challenge.