The mystery surrounding the Loch Ness monster isn't the only reason visitors venture to this Scottish location.
Last weekend, the beautiful Scottish setting was the starting point of a challenging 66 mile cyclo-sportive. With 4,300 competitors setting off from the Loch, through stunning scenery and local villages, each rider aimed for the Inverness finish line.
Our contributing writer, Maria David, was amongst the crowd of 22% registered female entrants. Having recently recovered from surgery, Maria shares her account of beating the beast, and overcoming recovery.
Etape Loch Ness Cycle Sportive
Words by Maria David
As I sat on the plane en route to Inverness I wondered what I had let myself in for!
A 66-mile cyclosportive on closed roads around Loch Ness had sounded a good idea at the time when I accepted the press invitation. Regular sportive riders would not see it as a formidable challenge, and as someone who has ridden long distances in the past, this shouldn't have seemed an onerous task for me either.
However, this was a different period for me – post operation. Surgery had knocked me for six and I had been out of action for 3 months. Since February I had been getting back into biking again from scratch. Well, I had to walk before I could ride! So, my first challenge had been to be able to walk for 10 minutes to the train station!
Cycling the 10-mile route to work which included a big hill had to wait. My first forays into bike-riding eventually came in February, when my most striking memory was struggling up a small incline on a railway bridge near my house! There were also many sessions that included 5- mile laps around my local park, just to build up my muscles without feeling too much pain.
Fast forward two months and I am back to full strength and able to tackle the daily cycle commute, having managed a couple of "epic" day-long rides of around 40 miles to Richmond Park in South London.
So here I was on the start line at the Etape Loch Ness, all dressed up and hopefully with somewhere to go – preferably arriving there before the broom wagon. My challenge was to maintain a speed of 13 mph in order not to be caught.
This had been a nagging thought, but the sight of Loch Ness in its full beauty, the friendliness of the organisers and the other competitors made me forget about my worries and I made up my mind that I would enjoy my day whatever my result - even if I finished 4,299th out of the 4300 riders registered!
So on a bright, but very crisp morning at 6.30am my wave of 200 riders set off –riders from all over the UK and beyond had come to savour this Highland beauty that is Loch Ness.
I had forgotten how pleasant it is to ride in a big group, taking the slipstream of others and moving along effortlessly. People were chatting and relaxed in the bunch, and it made me feel comfortable to be there. I was beginning to feel at home.
At the first few villages that we arrived at – Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus, people had come out to cheer us on – despite it not yet being 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning! I was impressed, and grateful.
A stopover at the feed-station in Invermoriston was not to be missed as we would soon be tackling the main climb of the day. I would need all the energy I could get for the upcoming 5-mile climb to the summit at Glen Doe. A 350 metre-altitude gain over 5 miles (8km) does not sound so tough, but the climb along the military road has a few downhill sections, so it wouldn’t be easy.
This was definitely the highpoint of the ride in literal and in metaphorical terms. Rolling over this long stretch on General Wade’s Military Road has a bit of everything – short sharp ramps that must reach about 16%, false flats and even some descending.
Fortunately for me, it wasn’t a constant grind out of the saddle. Around me there was moorland, mountains and lakes as well as thousands of riders. I was determined to ride all of this climb (apart from a couple of moments where I took photos – that’s my excuse!). If I stopped and walked I wouldn’t have been alone as there were tens of riders who had been compelled to do so, such were some of the gradients. But the spectacular scenes kept us going.
Finally, at the summit we were rewarded with serenading from a lone piper, as well as numerous spectators – and a lovely descent through the frost-laced forest.
A final feed-station right along the lake near Dores was much needed, as I had started to flag while in the little unofficial chain-gang we had formed, so I stocked up with some tasty dream rings and pressed on with the final 12 miles on my own just trying to keep my pedals turning.
The Finish Line
I realised I had overdone it somewhat, having gotten pulled along by the crowd and carried away with the beauty of the glistening lake, but I didn’t care as I was in the home straight and there was no broom wagon in sight!
Crossing the finish line I had the biggest smile on my face. I had made it round my first cyclosportive since being completely out of action, and I had finished an hour quicker than I had predicted having averaged 15mph.
The Etape Loch Ness is a great event to ride as it is well organised and is one of the most beautiful settings for a cyclosportive, with riders of various levels. Who would want to miss out on this Highland delight?
Thank you to Calendonian Concepts and Tricker PR for organising this trip for me.
For my ride, Halfords kindly provided me with a 2016 Team Carbon Fibre women’s road bike.
I was happy with my positioning on the bike and for the 66 miles it felt very comfortable.
Importantly, for the climbs it felt light enough, and it was also stiff enough to absorb ruts and rough sections of road.
I have not had great experiences with Shimano Tiagra groupsets in the past, but this did the job for me at the Etape Loch Ness.
All in all, I give the Boardman Team Carbon a thumbs up as it is a great fit geometry-wise and is nice and light – two important factors when tackling long rides.
Beautiful scenery, challenging routes and personal achievement, the Etape Loch Ness Cycle-sportive has it all.
With post-surgery training and determination, Maria's uplifting account is motivation for anyone looking for a new goal on two wheels.
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