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Etape Pennines REVIEW

by Emma Osenton

Ushaw College, Durham DH7 9RH
Date: Sunday 7th October
Distances: 77 miles
Entry fee: £61.00
Participants: 2000+ entrants
Start: Ushaw College Durham. DH7 9RH
Feedstops: 4 feeds and 1 water stop
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available before and after the ride
Timed: Yes
Signs: Loads! 
Roads: Closed roads, mostly of a good standard, Sag wagon, Wheel spares, motorbike out riders, paramedics.
Goody bag: Water bottle and Medal

The Ride:
When the email came round asking who wanted to review Etape Pennines, I raised my hand, in a virtual way. I live in the Pennines so assumed it would be fairly close. Inspecting the map afterwards I discover it's near Durham! Thinking they had stretched the title a wee bit I scanned the maps again. I was wrong, the Pennines are huge.

Sunrise Over The Pennines

The event itself had sold out fairly quickly; a stream of emails and my partner Ali had a place too. At this point she was still looking at me with a 'Now what are you making me ride round again' face. Loading up Snail our van we set off.

On the way I did a bit of reading about the event. It's one of the most expensive sportives on the calendar with an entry fee of £61. It's been much hyped after a Guardian article pointed out that whilst the event in it's full title 'Marie Curie Etape Pennines' led people to believe that part of the entrance fee went direct to the charity, that this wasn't in fact the case. Puzzled I read further. Marie Curie get 500 of the 2500 entries, from that 500 the entry fee still goes to IMG Challenger World events, however to get one of the charity places you must raise a minimum of £250. So from the entry that's 500 x 250 = £125,000. Doesn't seem quite so bad now does it? They skipped this part in the Guardian article. I doubt Marie Curie had to do much more than send IMG their logo's and proof the website!

At The Front For The 'VIP' Start

There was also Endura merchandise available to buy. Two styles, if you were a regular entrant you got one design and if you were on one of the £250 pledge places you had the option of 'Team Daffodil' Jersey and shorts. Loads of people were wearing the kit.

On the day the tannoy announcements were all for the charity, with great cheers from the crowd. Whilst it may be a money making business for IMG Challenger World it most definitely had it's heart with the charity. I don't think Marie Curie would allow their name to be used if it wasn't. Most people have in some way, shape or form been affected by cancer and would want to do something to help others. I'd like to know the end figures for what was raised, so many MAMILS on posh bikes riding in their Team Daffodil kit. Just a guess but I recon a quick whip round the office could raise more than £250 in some cases.

Roads Packed With Riders

Anyway enough with the media. So on we drive and suddenly Snail sags to one side, we had punctured I then irritated myself here by knowing how to fix it but not being strong enough to undo the bolts. The brake down man arrives, spies the bikes, asks if we ride a bit, say's his son in law rides for Node4 and won a jersey in the Tour of Britain. I love the cycling community sometimes.

A little later than planned we arrive into the event village, yes, village, there's huge inflatable arches, stalls, flags, banners, security men, parking bays for now, pens for the cyclists to start in the morning, music. Suddenly it began to dawn on us that this was quite a big event. Nothing quite like being clueless! We go over to register; marshalls with radios chatter back and forth, we're then escorted to the Media Centre. Warmly greeted by Ali (and his amazing angelic hair) who gave us numbers, timing chips and details. He was even kind enough to let us park Snail outside the media centre for the night. Coffee and nibbles at 6am he told us. Perfect.

Above The Clouds

Morning came; we met up with the rest of the VIP riders including Rob Hayles. Ali, my Ali this time, was looking at me with 'how do you get us into these situation' eyes. We're escorted past the pens of 2500 riders to the front of the event, yes, that's right it's photo time. It did make me a little curious about what it was like as a punter, what was the car parking like? How long were the queues? We were shielded from all this so I can't tell you. What we saw though was some very slick organisation.

Now something I've not yet mentioned is that this is a closed road event. I've never ridden a closed road event, generally opting for the virtually traffic free roads of the Pennines where we live. 

Finally we're off as the lead out group, British Cycling motorbike marshals lead out each of the groups, there's loads of them! Barriers line the sides of the roads; there are signs to warn for bends, all the side roads leading to the route are shut with a marshall on each. There's even marshals on tight bends! Sunshine is just breaking through misty light. They set off the faster riders in the early groups and left the rest off the rabble behind. Seems quite sensible to me, if you want to push a bit harder why not? This however is a way of doing it without the challenge riders getting zipped past by speeding packs. I did notice in a lot of the event information that the event was referred to as a race. Naughty, it's a sportive. Could be confusing too with 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes overall. They had however put in a timed sprint and a timed hill climb. These were both quite close to the beginning, I had got a bit excited thinking they were timing all the climbs some may say I'm a little sadistic there though!

Feedstation Stop

The roads chosen were amazing. The route begins fairly flat, enough time to warm your legs up before hitting the hills. We stopped at the feeds, all were well stocked with bananas, biscuits, ZipVit Caffiene gels, ZipVit bars and plenty of fluids and toilets were also available. It' was interesting to watch folk at the feeds. Oh my god, how much do some people eat at these things? Now I always er on the side of caution at these things and never ride on anything I've not tried before and generally self cater. I'm lucky enough to be sponsored by Clif and I know what's in their bars and that I wont feel sick ever. I also don't eat that much on the bike. For the whole ride I ate one and a half bars and half a packet of chews. It looked like some people ate that at each stop! 

The landscape is stunning. It really is quite different to ride with the safe knowledge that no cars are on the road; you get to really enjoy the bends and curves of the road. It does make for some rather erratic cycling though and congestion on the hills where folk just ride in the middle. A polite call of 'on your right' was often greeted with a grunt. Even with closed roads it still felt like there were a lot of cyclists on the road. Swarms of 'em! A really mixed bag of ability too. The promised hills soon came, beautiful cloud inversions visible from the tops. I stopped to take pictures and wait for Ali to catch up. Chatting with people taking a break. On one climb a group of MTB'ers from Scotland have stopped to wait for their roadie mate. One spied my Kinesis Morvelo kit. "You know that wee Katy Winton? She rides them bikes too" said one, "Yes, she's one of my team mates" I replied. "Oh she's great she is, we met her at the Scottish Cycle Show, she's from Peebles like us" he replied. So Katy if you're reading, you have even more members of your fan club.

Mind The Lambs

Hill after hill we rode, some of the faces we passed had clearly gone off a bit quick and were paying the price. Now I love hills so it didn't bother me. Also riding at a social pace makes it easier for me. There were a lot of hills though. The weather was beautiful which softened this; thankfully we didn't have last weekends weather. I think they would have had to cancel; the roads are on wide-open moorland, stunning, yes, but prone to raging weather. The snow depth poles we're along many of the roads. The organiser had put a 13mph minimum speed in place saying that anyone not keeping to this would be swept up. Ali's Garmin was saying 12.5 for us and we were passing plenty of people. The timing was essential due to the road closures. It would seem that a fair few would get swept up. 13mph is a bit optimistic for a really hilly ride full of challenge riders.

A TopDay Out

What we both found as we were riding along was that it really did feel like an event. We'd started with the Yorkshire war cry of  "How much!" but by the end were thinking more along the lines of it really was good value for what you got. An army of marshalls, paramedics, main road closures where the route crossed with timing mats down to neutralise crossing time, heaps of food, clear signs and loads of them. The route was amazing. 

A top day out, highly recommended.

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