Published: 08/03/2018 19:00 - Updated: 11/03/2018 06:50

Strathpuffer adventures in frame for TV spotlight

Written byHector Mackenzie


The Strathpuffer 24 is one of cycling's most daunting challenges.

A ROSS-SHIRE community which hosts "one of the hardest mountain biking events on the planet" is set for a special TV showcase this weekend as footage captured by an intrepid round-the-clock camera team is screened.

The Strathpuffer 24 has been described as "freezing temperatures, 17 hours of darkness, miles upon miles of gruelling terrain; a brutal mix of ice, wind, hail mud and snow".

And yet the allure of that daunting 24-hour challenge has seen the event, centred on the Strathpeffer and Contin areas, gain a global reputation and generate an off-peak visitor boost for the local economy.

BBC2 Scotland’s Adventure Show, presented by Dougie Vipond and Duncan McCallum with executive producer Richard Else, features the event this Sunday evening.

Organised by Steve Macdonald, a keen cyclist and former owner of Square Bikes in Strathpeffer, the event entered its 13th year last month and has grown to attract 1000 participants, many from overseas.

Some return every year, with competitive riders citing the huge benefits they gain when focussing on an event which requires winter training – a distraction from the boredom and the depressing short days of mid-winter.

Steve said: "It’s all thanks to the Adventure Show that there is a Strathpuffer at all. They were commissioned to film an endurance event in Scotland in winter. We’d had a conversation about a summer event about 20 years ago, and decided a 24-hour winter mountain bike race would be much more extreme.

"So I was tasked with organising the first Strathpuffer 24 in January 2006. We thought we might stop at ten, but there is so much support and demand from our participants it has continued beyond my wildest dreams."

Forest tracks built for the event are used year round. The event begins on a Saturday morning at 10am and the last lap must start within 24 hours after that.

This year, four girls from Dingwall Academy entered as a quad team, chaperoned by Commonwealth Games competitor Lee Craigie.

Lee is part of The Adventure Syndicate, a collective of female endurance cyclists, whose aim is to increase levels of self-belief and confidence in others, especially women and girls, by telling inspiring stories, creating an encouraging community and delivering enabling workshops and training.

Lee said: "We do this because we love the way adventuring by bike makes us feel and we passionately believe we are all capable of so much more than we think we are.

"We have been working in Dingwall Academy and the school chose their team for the Strathpuffer 24. I witnessed one member of the school quad team raise her game way beyond the limits she thought she could – to ensure her team completed in record time. And that’s what this is all about."

Lee herself completed the Strathpuffer several times before and credits the team pits and mechanical support and the staff at Dingwall Academy for their efforts in ensuring the girls got a great result, "and the chance to do something extraordinary".

Participants vary in age and ability with professional cyclists alongside amateurs aged 10 to 72.

Producer Richard Else said: "What strikes our production team, which includes six cameramen and drone operators, is the inclusive atmosphere and the fact that anyone can enter whatever their ability.

"But that’s not all. What also impress me about this event and so many we cover are the people who take part. There are professional athletes but also complete amateurs. They have to fit the sport around a multitude of commitments – jobs, families and, in this case with the younger participants, education.

"We have challenges too. Our crew work all the way through and we organise shifts to enable them to catch some sleep, and, although everyone enjoys the Strathpuffer 24 immensely, it is hard work. Sometimes it is difficult to keep warm. Often when the weather is particularly harsh, even eating is challenging. And I know that every single member of our team will keep going until I make them stop."

Engineering geologist Cat Hirst originally from Durham, has competed in the race four times and tells the show: "If it snows, it's magical. You’ve got to remember to look up from the handlebars and see it."

The show screens at 7pm.

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