Etape Pennines Press Day REVIEW
by Sean Lacey
Only a week or so after the press launch of the Etape Cymru, I was lucky enough to receive an invite to the press launch of the inaugural Marie Curie Etape Pennines, a closed road sportive based in County Durham.
The event is managed by IMG Challenger World, the team behind the hugely successful Marie Curie Etape Caledonia so it is already off to a flying start. Having stayed over in Durham the night before it was a leisurely build up to the 11am meet in the hotel lobby, with a warm welcome from the Challenger World, Cyclevox, Scott and Marie Curie crews who would be looking after us for the day.
Morning welcome in the lobby
Once signed in and sorted, the bikes were loaded onto a Scott transporter van, and we were driven to the start point of the ride at High Force falls around 45 minutes away. I was given a comfy seat in Scott’s people carrier with a couple of other journalists and event ambassador, track gold medallist and former British road champion, Rob Hayles. Rob is one of the most approachable (ex) pro I’ve met, and was quite happy to chat about riding, his Olympic experiences, working with Onix bikes and even his kids!
On arrival at High Force falls (which were a short walk from the car park so we didn’t get to see it) the bikes were unloaded and claimed. Rob emerged with a mysteriously procured coffee, lord knows where he hid that in the van, and set about his required press shots. The assembled journalists got in on the action and then a short briefing from renowned commentator Anthony McCrossan, and a goody bag from nutrition sponsor Zipvit to top us up and we were on the road.
Assembling at the falls
Rob Hayles prepares with secret coffee
Rob poses for shots
Right on cue, after a sunny dry morning, the rain started as we set out. I was up front with Rob and the press vehicles escorted us out with various video and still cameras about the place onto a gentle rise through the forest. Having been told that the route was lumpy rather than lung busting I had decided that my best bike could do with an outing having not been used since November. It’s a lovely thing, but stiff and unforgiving, with a standard chainset and an 11-25 cassette at the back.
Shorter rides and flat work are a pleasure, but I tend to pick another bike for longer or hiller rides with a compact chainset, as with only just over a year and a half’s riding in my legs I’m not the strongest rider. Whoever told me this though (and I can’t remember who) was telling porkies. We had been given a route sheet with the profile on in the van, and lumpy it was not!
When free of the forest, the road was going nowhere but up.. for quite a distance. This was how our ride would remain, up, down, straight up again, long climbs with 20% out of the saddle sections a common feature, climbing the highest paved pass in England, the Cat 3 Chapel Fell. My native Shropshire isn’t flat, but there aren’t any climbs like these for reference. I did manage to get up without having to walk which was a boost as it shows my fitness is still improving.
One thing (other than having my beloved compact) made a big difference to the workload and that was the scenery. Although it’s mostly moorland, features were few, but the scale of it was pretty epic. The cloud and rainfall obscured a lot at times but it was still impressive, and would be stunning on a good day. What goes up must come down though and the descents were eye wateringly fast as the open land meant a good view down the road. No surprise then that I managed 50.6mph on the longest descent.
At the bottom the faster climbers were waiting and we had a brief rest while the others caught up. Chatting to the route designer it turns out that the 23 miles we rode are the hilliest section, with the rest of the 78 mile route the rolling countryside I was led to believe it all consisted of, making it a realistic challenge for most keen cyclists.
Brief rest before hitting the hill in the distance
Epic scenery, killer climbs
This was the last time we were seen as a group I reckon as the constant climbing broke the pack up. I managed to stay in the middle pretty much and Rob was again Mr Nice riding up and dropping back to ensure he spent some time with all of us riding. The further in we got, the worse the rain came down although mercifully the wind wasn’t making itself known and although a bit soggy, spirits were high. When the first flat section of the whole ride came, we were ushered off the road onto a track that led to the lunch stop, a well know watering hole for those doing the most popular Coast 2 Coast route, The Parkhead Station café.
A welcome sight if I’m honest as the rain was really coming down it was a relief to get into somewhere dry. Immediately you could see why it is so popular as it’s a really nice place, and once presented with a towel and a table hot soup and hot beef rolls were brought out with as much fresh coffee as we could get down. There was even Spotted Dick and custard for pudding! Highly recommended if you are in the area. And, as happens, as soon as we were settled in the sun came out and the rain disappeared. We did get treated to a number of rainbows as compensation.
Hot food and coffee was welcome
The coffee queue was always busy
Fed, watered and drying out, bikes and journo’s were loaded back up and taken back to Durham where we had use of the hotel leisure centre to get showered and changed, another welcome luxury. A presentation of the event was made with speakers from Challenger World, Durham County Council and Marie Curie who encouraged all taking part to raise at least a little for the charity, a very worthy cause along with a few words from Rob Hayles himself – including the term grippy, meaning tough - a new one on me!
The key sponsors including Mavic and Endura also provided a few goodies to take away in addition to the Zipvit sampler we had on the ride.
From what I saw today and the provenance Challenger World events have, along with the full backing of the local authority and a number of top name sponsors, this looks to be an event not to be missed.
Entries are open now, for full information visit http://etapepennines.co.uk/
Strava ride info: http://app.strava.com/rides/7334754
- 07/10/2012 - Durham
Rating: 85.6% based on 10 reviews - See Previous Ratings
- Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Pennines - 06/10/2013 - Durham
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