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Over 800 cyclists set to huff and puff in Contin for 2024 Strathpuffer

By Will Clark

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Steven Deas. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Steven Deas. Picture: Callum Mackay..

IT is known as one of the toughest mountain bike endurance events in the world.

Over 800 cyclists are set to power their way through Contin Forest over 24 hours at Strathpuffer 24 on Saturday and Sunday.

Competitors will attempt to do as many laps as possible over the 12.5km course to claim victory.

And for the first time, there is added prestige to the already world renowned event, as it will be hosting the British Championships for 24-hour Solo and Speed Racing.

Final preparations are being made for the event which is set to start on Saturday at 10am as cyclists will power their way through cold conditions over the course of 24 hours.

Picture: Callum Mackay..
Picture: Callum Mackay..

Strathpuffer director Alasdair Lawton says cyclists challenging themselves in what can be the harshest of elements is what the event is all about.

He said: “With the event always held January, we have had temperatures as low as minus 12 and everything freezes.

“It is going to be cold but also dry this weekend.

“There may be dustings of snow which would be perfect. But we have got to the stage where we just take things as it comes.”

One of the Strathpeckers team. Picture: Callum Mackay..
One of the Strathpeckers team. Picture: Callum Mackay..

This weekend marks the 17th Strathpuffer, which was first held in 2006 and was only meant to be a one-off event.

However, due to the success of the event, it has almost been held every year since, apart from the years when it was impacted by Covid.

Lawton recalls how it started: “We were approached by a television company to do a sports event as there was nothing happening in December or January.

“It was meant to be a one off event and that was it.

“They then asked us what about next year?

“Then it has happened almost every year since.

“A bike magazine has voted us as one of the top 10 toughest events on the planet for mountain bikers.

“We are only one of two in Europe and the rest are in America.

“We have a great team who organise the event and we couldn’t do it without them and help us put everything together.”

Picture: Callum Mackay..
Picture: Callum Mackay..

At last year’s race, former North Coast 500 record holder Robbie Mitchell from Durness claimed the men’s title for the first time when he rode 26 laps in a time of 23 hours and 50 minutes.

Gemma Baird, from Knockando, was the women’s champion cycling 16 laps in 24 hours and 33 minutes.

Lawton says as well as the physical aspect of the race, having the mental toughness is key to coming out on top and cycling throughout 24 hours.

He said: “There is the mental toughness to take into account. When it is cold and damp and the sleep is going one way, to get on the bike and to cycle a lap is mentally tough.

“The teams and the people that win are those that keep going and never stop. There are around a dozen riders who are usually really competitive, but mostly riders just want to get as many laps as they can and survive.”

BishBashBosh The Other One, Charlie Davies. Picture: Callum Mackay..
BishBashBosh The Other One, Charlie Davies. Picture: Callum Mackay..

Fellow event director Marc Peart has competed in the Strathpuffer as part of a pair and in a team of four in the past.

He says most people take part just to participate rather than the competitive element. But he says it is a cycling challenge which should not be underestimated by anyone who takes part.

“I have done it as a quad and as a pair and it is really good fun,” said Peart.

“But it is tough, it is a proper mountain bike route.

“It is not easy to ride and there are sections of forest track which are technical mountain bike trails.

“They are in great condition and they have been holding up well as we have ridden the course over the last few days and they have been holding up really nicely.

“But it is a course that can’t be underestimated, this is a tough event and when you are going out in January at 3am, it is really tough.

“I only ever rode the Strathpuffer to be a participant, I was never competitive. The guys who are going out and racing are phenomenal and they are seriously world class athletes. But there are people who turn up just to have a great weekend and the atmosphere is great.”

Twin factory racing team. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Twin factory racing team. Picture: Callum Mackay..

Scotland has a world class reputation in mountain biking, hosting the World Championships in Fort William in 2023 and also regularly being part of the UCI Mountain Biking Championship Series.

Peart says the Strathpuffer has played an important role in promoting Scotland as a mountain biking destination and attracting cyclists to get involved.

He said: “Part of Forestry Scotland’s mission statement is to use woodlands and forestry.

“We are putting over 800 people in there over the course of a weekend and introducing them to mountain biking.

“The Highlands are a world class venue and people come back after they go riding on the trails after the first time here which is great.

“There is a lot of prestige about this event in the mountain bike community. It has always been known if you do well at the Strathpuffer, you are a serious mountain biker.

“Being the National Championship has not changed the field, as most of the top guys come to win the Strathpuffer.”

Over the handlebars and far away team, Erin Mcgregor. Picture: Callum Mackay..
Over the handlebars and far away team, Erin Mcgregor. Picture: Callum Mackay..

n The Strathpuffer will take place over the course of 24 hours with riders aiming to complete as many laps as possible on the 12.5 km course.

The race starts at Contin Forest at 10am on Saturday morning and competitors must start their last lap by 10am on Sunday morning and complete it by 11am or it will not count.

Race categories include solos, pairs and teams of four.

In addition, a school competition will take place with riders competing in teams of eight.

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