by Martin Wheeler
Sunday 13th May heralded the annual Etape Caledonia in Pitlochry. This event is held on closed roads and takes in some 81 miles and 5000ft ascent of well groomed Highland roads. The event is well attended and over subscribed, and this year was no exception with over 4000 riders assembling at 7am on the Sunday morning. The starting arrangements proved a little problematic, with many riders digging in at the top of the High Street ahead of those with earlier start wave times. However once underway the event proved to be extremely well run and supported.
In all, 9 riders from Walkers CC took part and battled some horrific winds on the outward leg. Whilst the course is not particularly demanding in terms of topography, the wild Scottish Spring weather threatened to turn the ride into one of ‘character building’ stature. Thankfully the rain came and went, and once past the worst of the headwinds, a reasonably flat and tailwind assisted return lightened the mood.
One of the attractions of this event is the use of closed roads, and the large group of riders. Using the full width of the road, without fear of traffic coming head on or from behind, takes some adjustment, but then becomes addictive. Moving through the field, leap frogging from group to group, overtaking and picking lines makes the rider feel like a true pro! The special timed sprint and King of the Mountain stages, only add to the effect. The locals were also a real credit to the event, turning out in large numbers in towns, at junctions and driveways to cheer, wave and sometimes pipe, really adding to the atmosphere. Approaching the finish line there were supporters in their hundreds.
In all a really enjoyable event to be thoroughly recommended.
Added by Laura McFarlane
The first 10 miles were fine, passing other cyclists and jumping on some folks wheel as we moved along. The route taking us along past Queen’s View and along Loch Tummel. At this point (I think) the rain started, so after 10 minutes or it was decided rain jackets were required. (These remained on for the rest of the day).
For a bit of interest the organisers had a sprint as well as KoM ‘races’ flung into the sportive. At the sprint at Tummel Bridge David Belding decided to give it a go (or so we thought) but he was actually acting as Russell’s lead out man only Russell didn’t realise this. As the sprint was about 1/2km long DB was puffed out well before the finish line. (Good try DB).
Added to the rain was the extremely strong head wind meaning most of us got pretty cold once wet making the long drag along the side of Loch Rannoch to Bridge of Ericht quite hard going.
Eventually the route turned back around the loch and the tail wind made the return leg so much faster with a lot less effort. Eventually the long drag up to Schiehallion began. I would have to say this hill seemed much steeper than I had remembered. I was not the only one to think this as not far from the top another cyclist was going so slowly he fell over. Luckily he was unhurt. The descent from this hill was enjoyed by all. That was until we turned along to Keltneyburn and round that loch. The wind here was incredible. At times we found it impossible to get the speed up to double figures, even when we caught others and tried to get shelter from them. Eventually the route took us back along past Ween, Aberfledy and back to Pitlochry. As always there is a wee sting in the tail on this route. The last 3 miles are the toughest with many short shockingly steep climbs before dropping down back into Pitlochry. This makes the last few 100 yards up Pitlochry High Street seem like a mountain.
We were so glad to finish even if we didn’t make the 4 ½ target we set ourselves.
The weather was so bad that at some of the feed stops some cyclists were wrapped in foil blankets trying to prevent hypothermia.
Well done to all 10 club members who completed this challenge, especially Martin Wheeler – the bionic man. (He was flying). Well done everyone. That is Martin, Brian Hunter, Steve Lockhart and Steve Findal, Robin, Laura, DB, Michaela and Russell