As Etape Caledonia – the UK’s original closed-roads sportive – approaches, last year’s event winner Jeremy Honour shares his experiences of the 85-mile route around Highland Perthshire and offers advice on how to approach one of the most spectacular and challenging events in cycling.
Jeremy (‘Jez’), from Buckinghamshire, has participated in Etape Caledonia every year apart from the event’s debut in 2007, so this year’s edition (on Sunday 19th May) will be his 12th outing at the popular sportive. Getting on his bike as a novice in 2008, 49-year-old Jez began with the aim of just completing the circuit. Over the years, as his fitness has improved, he’s gone from just wanting to finish to being the first over the line.
An adrenaline rush at the start
“It’s very easy to overdo it at the beginning. I’ve done it before, and many will make this mistake. Everyone tends to go off quickly in the heart of Pitlochry, filled with adrenaline and enthusiasm. However, when approaching the Queen’s View with beautiful views over Loch Tummel, the realisation hits that there’s another tough climb towards Loch Rannoch coming up. Pacing yourself and not overdoing it in the early stages is vital.”
Exhilarating on the flat
“After another tough climb towards Tummel Bridge, you arrive onto the shores of Loch Rannoch. It’s really special here. The shore line is spectacular and the route is flatter and fast-flowing. The road is quite narrow with no traffic so you can get your speed up – it’s an exhilarating experience after tackling some tough climbs. You also pass through Kinloch Rannoch where there’s a lot of local people out showing their support every year which is always lovely.”
Climbing a mountain
“The 382m ascent up Mt Schiehallion is the biggest and most demanding climb of the route. It’s quite steep at the beginning so be prepared to feel the burn there. It turns into a category 5 climb, which is greater than 500m at 3%. It’s gruelling, but once you reach the peak you come out the other side to breath-taking countryside and a longed-for descent. Other challenges can be presented at this stage depending on the weather. Over the years, I’ve seen beautiful sunshine and stormy winds which can make it tough, so it’s good to be ready for any weather condition.”
A speedy descent
“At the other side of Mt Schiehallion, the road is very fast and, as scenic as the surroundings are, requires a lot of concentration cycling at such high speeds. By this stage in the circuit, people are getting tired and less focused. Just add some difficult weather conditions into the mix and this can become very challenging. It’s important to remember that there can be varying ability levels out on the roads, so everyone needs to take even more care here.”
Stay sharp and enjoy the finish
“After heading onto the main A-road through Aberfeldy, you make a turn and start heading towards Pitlochry around the 70-mile mark. It’s quite a grippy bit of terrain at this point from a riding resistance perspective so be aware of that. There’s a sharp turn around 80-miles in, which takes you along a narrow lane into Pitlochry. It’s a nice feeling when you get here because you know you’re almost at the finish line and the adrenaline kicks in for the last push home. A well-earned beer usually follows at the event village festival!”
There are still spaces available on the 85-mile route for riders to get pedalling with Jez and take on Etape Caledonia. Charity places are also still available with Marie Curie who have been the event’s official partner for 11 years. A Team Marie Curie charity place is £59.99 registration fee (£350 minimum sponsorship). A standard 85-mile place is £79.99. Please note that the shorter 40-mile route is sold out.
Participants wishing to register for Etape Caledonia and raise money for Marie Curie should visit www.etapecaledonia.co.uk