Last weekend, thousands of riders and spectators flooded to the beautiful roads of Caledonia for the Marie Curie Etape Caledonia sportive.
The mammoth 81 mile loop takes participants through some of Scotland's most beautiful country side, winding through snow capped mountains and alongside vast still lochs.
Among the thousands of riders, Olympian Chris Boardman participated in the 10th anniversary of the iconic charity event.
Our contributor, Tracy Norris, was amongst the 17 per cent of women who took part in the Etape Caledonia sportive, and has shared with us her adventure.
Etape Calendonia Road Sportive
Words by Tracy Norris
Beautiful lochs, rolling empty roads, snow-capped mountains and the whirring of bicycle wheels. That gives you a good idea of what it is to ride the Etape Caledonia. With the charming highland town of Pitlochry at the heart of this event, enthusiastic locals welcomed over 3,000 cyclists for the Marie Curie road sportive.
We were in luck – in spite of the bizarre weather of the preceding two weeks, the forecast for the this year's Etape Caledonia settled down into the warmest weekend of the year so far. In fact, it’s only the second time I'd taken my leg warmers off this year and if I’m honest, my blindingly white Scottish legs were as shocked as I was to be exposed to fresh air.
After a winter of slightly half-hearted training, I’d managed a good month or two of solid Spring training. Building my mileage up in bold leaps culminating in a very hilly 94 miler in this very part of Scotland just two weeks earlier. I felt relaxed and comfortable about the sportive – I knew I could do the distance, but I wasn't sure how fast I could do it.
My training partner and I calmly moved with our wave of riders to the starting line. The atmosphere felt friendly and encouraging, and we'd need that to beat our goal of 4.5 hours.
I didn’t have my usual stomach-churning nerves, and I managed to trick my brain into thinking that this was just a good training ride for bigger events later this summer. It was 6.30am and I had 81 miles to ride, so I got a move on!
The 81 Mile Road Sportive
The burn around the North side of Lochs Tummel and Rannoch was pretty lumpy in places, but there were plenty of fast wheels for us to latch onto and we were on target.
Before we reached the end of the loch for the return down the south side, my training buddy fell back and instructed me to leave her. I spotted a couple of girls ahead and I was keen to try and catch them, but I was concerned that I was going too fast and in danger of blowing up. Between my gasps for oxygen I shovelled a stodgy cereal bar into my mouth and gulped water. I decide to keep going and see what would happen.
After the loop that sent us past the ancient Fortingall Yew and to the mouth of glorious Glen Lyon, we took a hairpin turn that pointed our noses back towards home.
I knew we had a long, fairly flat stretch here and I was determined to hold onto the fastest wheel I could. Cycling past the brilliantly named village of Dull (twinned with Boring, I kid you not), we reached the 70 mile mark at a good pace.
With only 11 miles to go, I knew that I could start to push really hard. My time was pretty good but I wasn't sure it was going to be good enough for a PB. I decided that there’s no point in finishing with anything left in the tank, so after the calf-popping and mercifully short climb out of Logierait, I gritted my teeth and rode for all I was worth.
I found I still had energy reserves, and there was no hint of cramp. In my heart of hearts, I realised that if I'd got this much left, I probably should have used some more of it up by now! There were just 5 miles left to ride and I was desperately trying to do the mental arithmetic to figure out if getting under 4 hours and 20 minutes was even possible.
With less than a mile to go, I discovered that it blatantly wasn't. I saw 4.20 appear on my screen and I growled out loud but I wasn't going to give up. As the minute passed, I was powering my legs as hard as I possibly could and the crowds were lining the high street, cheering loudly.
At 4.21.12 I whizzed over the line with a grimace on my face, gasping alarmingly. Wobbling to a halt in the timing chip area, I climbed off my bike and hung onto it as I bent double, gulping uncontrollably for air. I had done it, and I was relieved.
I rode a Trek Silque SL which had done me proud for the Etape Calendonia. No clunks or clicks were to be heard. Not a flimsy gear change have I had. The IsoSpeeddecoupler gets a big thumbs up from me – curing me of a nagging coccyx complaint on longer rides. It’s a nippy and responsive ride, and I love it. I’ve never owned a bike that people stop to admire before, but it happened more than once over the weekend. It’s a beauty of a bike.
The Etape Caledonia delivered again with great weather, camaraderie on the route and unbeatable scenery. Combined with closed roads it’s an absolute winner of a sportive. I’m going to have to keep coming back until I get my time under 4.20, at least!
From 3,000 entrants, only 17 per cent of those entered were women, which is even less than in the Etape Loch Ness which had 22 per cent females ride.
Road sportives may seem a little daunting when you're faced with 60+ miles of loop, but they are for all abilities. It isn't a race at the end of the day, but by entering and taking part, you're contributing to some great causes.
Tracy Norris helps to organise the annual Tour de Force charity cycling event, following the route of the Tour de France, one week ahead of the pros. Tickets go on sale for the 2017 tour on 20th July 2016 here.
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