I was born up in the Scottish borders, but this was only my second trip to Inverness, the first time was last year for the same event, the Etape Loch Ness.
This year the event promised to be bigger and better, with another 1,000 riders taking part on the this closed road sportive around Loch Ness. So, over 4,000 cyclists descend on Inverness for an early Sunday morning start.
Each time I have driven up from Hertfordshire, a 1,000 mile round trip in itself. Each time it has been snowing when driving up over the Cairngorms, on the approach to Inverness. By the time I reach the Highland capital the weather has cleared but it was still bitterly cold, with a biting wind, just what you want for a cycle ride.
I was due to start at 06.43 on the Sunday morning and was joined this year by a couple of fellow Macmillan L2P riders. A chilly start but there was the odd rider out in t-shirt and shorts, clearly much hardier than I am.
Having now ridden a few of these large sportives on closed roads, I know that with Loch Ness riders will stretch out very quickly on the roads and there will always be plenty of space on the roads (unlike with some other mass participation events) but you still have to keep alert to other cyclists. The Etape has a brisk pace to it as it skirts the western shore of the Loch heading south to Fort Augustus.
The ride then starts in earnest as we hit the climb of Glen Doe. It’s a 5 mile climb going up in 3 steps, with much of it at around 10% gradient. For most of us this is a tough climb and the temptation is there to get off and walk. But I can’t do that, so I keep the pedals turning, so slowly at one point that my garmin kept bleeping, thinking that I had stopped. With three steps to the climb there is some respite on the way up but the effort is worth it for the views at the top and then the descent down the other side. Apart from a couple of bends at the top it is almost dead straight so you can let the brakes go and just head down at top speed.
Now heading back north along the eastern shore of the Loch there are a couple of “cheeky” climbs that do catch a few riders out but the sun was shining and it had turned into a gorgeous day. So push on back to Inverness, knocking 15 minutes off my time from the previous year too. This was my first outing in the polka dot jersey too!
The Etape is a very friendly event, in such a beautiful part of the country. What is not to like about it? Roll on 2017 for the hat-trick.