Video - Filming Scotland's Hardest Cycling Event for TV

For a keen cyclist who works in TV this was a dream assignment.  I was one of four camera people who followed extreme cyclists around Scotland during a blazing hot July, filming their efforts. The results will be in an Adventure Show special on BBC-2 Scotland at 7pm on Tuesday 9th December.  Outside Scotland you can find the channel on Sky and Freesat, and the show will also be on the iPlayer.

It is the hardest cycling event ever held in Scotland. Daily distances and height gains were around double a typical stage of the Tour de France. 

David Crampton feeling the heat
Amateur riders came from across Europe to struggle 1300 mountainous kilometres, with a leg-sapping 18,000 metres of ascent, on a course they had to complete in a mere 100 hours.  

Oh yes- they had to do all that completely unsupported.  

The Highlands, Glens and Western Isles event is an 'Audax', the name given to a remarkable type of long distance cycling and which means 'Bold' in Latin. 

There are no team cars, masseurs or spare bikes - entrants must be completely self-sufficient and provide evidence of reaching specified control points.  
Lead riders on Skye

At the start of the year I'd been hired to do some initial research into whether or not this would sustain a one hour special for The Adventure Show.  
Then it was my task to get in touch with as many riders as possible, find their back stories and identify those who we should follow.

When the event came around, four camera operators, each with a driver, followed every pedal stroke of the way. 

Almost all the bike-to-bike footage you see was shot by my tiny Sony or one of my GoPro cameras. 

 I had one on my helmet that could point forward or back, and another under my saddle and one hand-held. I must have looked quite a sight.

Audax is a world where night slips into day, where sleep is snatched in bus shelters and under hedges, and where it's not unusual to ride a day or even two without rest. 

Midge encrusted Ken Thomson
Late on the fourth night civil servant Ken Thompson rolled out of the dark and up to my camera waiting outside a B&B in Spean Bridge to tell me, "I last got up at half past four - a day and a half ago."

The riders were not alone in being sleep deprived.  We worked hours on the trot - from early morning until early the next morning - but it was worth it.

This anarchic adventure is completely different to other cycling events. 

Whereas professional riders are cossetted in luxurious tour buses and fed by team chefs, these amateur Audaxers huddle outside corner shops, in remote corners of the highlands, guzzle whatever food they can't stuff into bulging saddlebags, before climbing back into the saddle and riding into the night.

Nearly over for two Swedish riders
Take another look at the map in that video.  

This unique challenge began on the Isle of Arran from where the cyclists pedalled up Scotland's west coast, timing their ride to coordinate with numerous ferry crossings; to Kintyre, to Mull, to Ardnamurchan and to Skye. 

After reaching and riding the far North coast, they descended the Great Glen, travelled through Glencoe and down the Cowal peninsula, took a final ferry from Dunoon before riding the Ayrshire coast to end their gruelling tour in Saltcoats.

I'm lucky enough to have seen the whole programme and, even if I hadn't worked on it, I would think it a cracker.  

I wasn't involved in wading through the huge mass of digital material we delivered, but the team who put this together did a great job.  

Organiser Mark Rigby and Simon, ready to cycle across Arran
I'm not sure the extreme heat comes across (Scotland in July was utterly baking!).  

However, they have managed to capture the true spirit of this utterly bonkers event.  

The physical challenge; the self reliance; the mental highs and lows; riding through the night - even nodding off in the saddle - we get it all in an understandable and entertaining package.

So make a date - even if you don't live in Scotland you can still see this programme.

It goes out 7pm Tuesday 9th December on BBC-2 Scotland.  That channel can be found on Sky, Freesat and I think Virgin Media.  

The show will also be on the iPlayer from 10th Dec.

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