Archive REVIEW: The Etape Caledonia

by Adam Tranter

Words and images by Mark Tearle

It was a unique experience to be part of this amazing landscape for a day, albeit riding an exceptionally well engineered machine made up of the most advance materials known to man at this time.  The Etape Caledonia, in support of the MacMillan Cancer charity is one of the UK's premier Cyclosportives and the ONLY closed road event on these Isles.

My companion for the weekend was a Neil Pryde Alize, kindly on loan to me from my friend Scott.  A real head turner of a bike made of shiny carbon stuffand fitted with a Dura-Ace grupo.  Uncanny that it had a paint job that matched my Cyclosport kit perfectly.

I reached Pitlochry at 18:30 on the Saturday after a decent train journey direct from Kings Cross.  It was a short walk from the station through the town to the B&B  I was booked in at Craighatin House.  The town was buzzing with preparation for the ride on Sunday.

This is a big event for the local economy.  With 5000 riders expecting to descend on the town, plus supporters, organisers, journalists, photographers and film crews; hotels were fully booked, restaurants and bars packed to the rafters.

After checking in to the Craighatin I wandered through the town down to the Etape Caledonia village to register and receive my pack for the following morning.  Do this if you can, much better to be organised about this and it helps for the smooth running on the morning.

I woke at 5am on the Sunday to a chirping chorus of birds and the sounds of rural Perthshire, gathered myself, had some porridge and then took the Neil Pryde, my helmet and rider number down the High Street and joined the assembled throngs of cyclists.

I have never seen as many cyclists assembled in the one place at the same time.  I was due to start on wave 'M' - a little over half way down the field.  The first riders crossing the start line at precisely 06:45.  Given the amount of riders to pass through the start this was carried out with almost military efficiency, groups of riders leaving every 2 minutes.

It wasn't long before I was crossing the timing mats and beginning the Etape Caledonia challenge heading in to the Caledonian countryside.

The course headed west and circumnavigated Loch Tummel and Loch Runnoch, through the Tay Forest Park and then heading back east climbing up and through the higher points around Tempar and Coshieville before looping back towards Pitlochry via Aberfeldy. 

The terrain was gently undulating against the glorious backdrop of the steely grey waters of the Lochs, clear waters of the slow moving and sometimes cascading rivers and of course the mountains in the near distance.  Images that will be forever indelibly etched on to my retina (along with the hundreds of photograph and video I took).

All riders seemed to be in cheery disposition, there wasn't that aggressive competitive streak that is so often apparent in the Sportives in the South.  Clearly there were people out to challenge themselves but also to enjoy the experience.

The sound of 5000 sets of bicycle tyres on tarmac is a delightful hum - on this sportive that was pretty much all there was to hear, except the sounds of nature, live stock and the gentle chatter of riders enjoying conversation as well as the occasional cheering and appreciation of spectators by the side of the ride.  No cars.

Nearly every corner and through every village there could be found a gaggle of supporters encouraging the riders along the route - some had even set up their own feed stations for the riders.  Did I mention that this ride was on closed roads?  The organisers and sponsors had set aside prizes and incentives for those completing the course with the best time (male and female) and a contest for the King of the Mountains (KoM).

Yours truly climbed the mountain pass and managed to place in the top 5% which is very pleasing, though I attribute my climbing form to the lovely bike I was riding, which performed outstandingly to every clumsy kick I gave it!

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it felt a real privilege to be able to ride in such a wonderful part of the UK, on traffic free roads and with total freedom and to be welcomed so wholeheartedly by the local community.  My hotel room was delightful and I was looked after well at the Craighatin.

The organisers, sponsors, local business and community have worked hard to encourage me back which I hope to have the opportunity of doing very soon, and there is no reason why not.  The event is affordable and the transport links good.   

Was Graham Obree there this Sunday?  As a UK cycling event the Etape Caledonia has a lot to offer despite certain individuals quest for sabotage the authorities did a great job in discovering this potential disruption and the event went ahead as planned.  

Despite threatening rain the weather held out for us.  Thank you Pitlochry and Highland Perthshire for having us, I for one had a wonderful weekend.  If you were there please leave a comment and a rating here, it is always a pleasure to hear from other riders.

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2nd June 2011 10:46pm Admin wrote:

I agree with all the comments. A great review of the best organised and best sportive in the UK. I gave up FA Cup Final tickets to compete in this and I certainly made the right decision, I just hope the event will continue beyond 2012.

2nd June 2011 10:46pm Admin wrote:

My second time of riding the Etape Caledonia. The organisation is second to none - the Mavic support was excellent - quite a lot of people punctured (possibly as a result of tack spreading) and we hardly saw one person who didn't have mechanical support stop to give them a hand. There was a crash on the descent from Schiehallion but the medical support had that well in hand when we went past and the British Cycling escort was much in evidence telling riders to slow down approaching the crash.

The scenery is mind-blowing and the atmosphere really great - it really is a celebration of cycling at its best and the closed roads make it a fantastic event. I really loved the pipers who turned out to pipe us up some of the tougher little climbs and the people who turned out in all of the villages along the route.

Excellent event - I'm certainly coming back next year!!

2nd June 2011 10:46pm Admin wrote:

A perfect day for me. The weather helped, just chilly enough, and the wind wasn't too bad with so many folk hurling along. Good craic as well on the way! Definitely on a high afterwards.

2nd June 2011 10:46pm Admin wrote:

Loved it! Did it with some friends, quickly deleting the thought that we would Chaingang round, none the less it was my first Sportive and I will be hunting out somemore. I had done the route before so knew what to expect but was amazed at how the time seemed to fly and I was v pleased with my 4½hrs inc 3 stops for fluid in and fluid out. The descent off the shoulder of Schiehallion with the confidence of no oncoming cars was, frankly, marvelous. Etape Cymru....

9th June 2011 2:00pm penray97 wrote:

This was my second time taking part. Best event in my opinion and the scenery is spectacular, support from locals outstanding just disappointing that a handful of people seem to want to cause problems with this event all the time regardless of what it generates for the local area not just on that weekend. I took part in 2 training rides organised by Skinny Tyres prior to the event so for ACRE to say it doesn't generate money outwith that weekend is nonsence. Can't wait for it again in 2012 and hope it continues for many years after that