21 things I learned while riding the Etape Caledonia sportive
Earlier this month, I took part in the 81-mile Marie Curie Cancer Care Etape Caledonia sportive in Perthshire, Scotland. The Etape is the UK’s largest closed road sportive and attracts entries of more than 5,000 riders.
Here are a few of the things I learned during the event (in no particular order):
1 Closed roads are a fantastic way to ride a cycling event. A closed road sportive feels somewhat surreal but afterwards it feels far worse to be back among the traffic.
Even when you know the road is closed to traffic it still feels wrong to cycle on the opposite side of the road.
2 The 81-mile route through Perthshire is gorgeous and includes picture postcard Scottish lochs, mountains, forestry, heather-covered moorland and lots and lots of greenery.
3 May is the perfect time to ride a sportive in Perthshire. (See point 5 below)
4 Scotland’s weather can behave itself for four to six hours of fabulous sportive riding.
5 Eighty-one miles seemed like a very long way to ride – especially after last year’s focus on going short and fast in spring triathlon – yet from the start to the finish line of the Etape Caledonian sportive I couldn’t help smiling.
6 Sportives are increasingly the domain of club riders. The Etape Caledonia included riders from dozens of different clubs across Scotland and the UK. It was fun to spot the multi-coloured swap shop of colours and shades of cycle club kit.
7 By far the biggest group of riders were the MAMILs. …But coming up fast behind them were many, many more female riders than ever before. Some of the lady riders impressed me greatly as they zoomed past in huge packs of powerful guys.
8 Riding on the tail end of a large pack of hard working riders is fast and thrilling. Being lost off the back of a peloton is a bit dispiriting… And riding solo offers the best opportunities for taking in the fabulous Perthshire landscape.
9 Pelotons of cycle club riders look like swarms of worker bees. The undulating road along the north side of Loch Tummell and Loch Rannoch buzzed with many “swarms” of 30 to 60 group riders.
10 It’s a great ride. While the road ascent stats looked fairly tough for the Etape Caledonia, in reality it’s a fast rolling course with many impressive finish times for the 81 miles.
11 The mountains are not too bad. The King of the Mountain section on the mountain of Schiehallion was far easier than I imagined, although it still zapped my leg muscles.
12 The descent of Schiehallion was awesome.
13 There were fast times. The fastest rider in 2014 was Neill Kemp in 3:26:01, who is from my local cycle club the Glasgow Nightingales. First female was Ingrid Kidd in 3:41: 01.
14 Sportives are for all shapes and sizes – and sometimes when you least expect, it a more rotund rider will whizz right by you. How do they do that?
15 There are those that are slower, too. The range of times for finishers was close to four hours with the final rider coming home in a glorious 7:11.
16 Legendary cyclist Chris Boardman wasn’t planning on a fast ride – but he was still a lot faster than me!
17 The yellow Mavic support cars are, indeed, driven by French bike mechanics.
18 Food stations are fantastic. They help to make a long ride more energy fuelled.
19 The support from cheering spectators was the best. The cheers keep you going.
20 Pitlochry comes to life. The start and finish town of Pitlochry never seemed so buzzing.
21 Places sell out quickly. You need to register for a place as soon as you can for the next year’s sportive. This year it sold out within 72 hours.