I’m riding the Caledonia Etape on Sunday 10th May 2015.
I rode it last year …and thoroughly enjoyed it – fantastic scenery, some challenging climbs, closed roads, literally thousands of other cyclists, great support and very, very well organised.The town of Pitlochry had been turned into a cycling mecca for the weekend complete with a base camp area of sponsors tents, service providers, masseurs, bike retailers etc. The locals were fully behind the event and incredibly warm and welcoming – what’s not to like?
So I’m going again this year ….
Wisely, I decided to go and “do” the route this past weekend to remind myself of the realities of the route instead of the rose tinted foggy eyed reminiscence that I was obviously deluding myself with.
So here’s my watch list of tips for anyone who hasn’t done the Etape before….
1. Get fat
The Scottish roads put up with a whole load of crap weather and regularly get beat up even during our so-called “summer” weather. The route has recently had some potholes filled and so on – so is in relatively good nick.
I was, however, getting a lot of road buzz coming up to my hands through the front forks.
The road immediately out of Pitlchry heading north is fine, it’s once you turn left over the Tummel Bridge that the chips in the road surface become more obvious – it’s not harsh – definitely nowhere near cobble classics or anything – but just enough road buzz to kill your hands over the long ride if you have a stiff set up. It was more than I remembered from last year and I couldn’t tell if it was down to my new wheels or something else …..my advice is go up to 25’s if you are sporting 23’s or fatter if you can manage it between your wheel and your frame.
2. Layer up
On my day out on Saturday the weather was kind, even sunny in parts. It was however very cold at about 3 degrees. I’ve never really been bothered by cold but once you get past the Queens View part of the ride, which is sheltered by trees, you drop down to the edge of Loch Rannoch and ride around it’s circumference.
Tree cover is patchy and the road is very open to the elements. A cold ride felt even colder when the wind came down the hill. Take extra layers – you may not need them…I hope we don’t – but we might. The Scottish weather is notorious for being quite micro climate like and the weather in one valley may be very different from the valley you are leaving behind. You may get 4 seasons worth in one day…just saying.
3. Scheihallion – there’s snow on them thar’ hills
This beautiful mountain dominates the Loch Rannoch area and is visually striking in its almost pyramidal shape to its upper slopes. On Saturday, the upper slopes were still covered in snow. Not enough to block the road that the route goes up and over – it was fine, but it goes to show that on the upper levels – going over the high pass into the next valley -air temperatures do drop.
4. Get mechanical – check your bike
I got into trouble almost immediately after Kinloch Rannoch when ascending up through “that twisty bit” with the steepest slopes at the base of Scheihallion. Basically, when on my inner ring, my chain was slipping awkwardly on my rear cassette, which meant I couldn’t maintain an even rhythm or momentum. There was too much chain dop and some links need to get removed. This is on a bike with a relatively new chain and cassette, that had been serviced within the last few months – so problems were not expected. Needless to say – a stripdown and re-build will be happening this week. I confess, I ended up walking up some of the steeper sections as I was fearful of breaking the chain if I put the pressure on and it slipped again. Bike TLC required.
Thankfully I’m quite handy on cycling mechanics and have a good set of tools so a strip down and clean is no bother for me. Others may prefer to get others to do it for time or peace of mind reasons – either way get your bike checked out / serviced.
5. Take plenty of food /water.
On my return, my Garmin estimated a calorie consumption of just under 4000 calories for the ride (I’m a big guy as cyclists go). That’s more than a days worth of calorie intake – so make sure you’ve got food / water to take care of yourself if for any reasons the foodstops aren’t available or are too busy / have run out. Note:- This has never happened in my experience, but you really don’t want to bonk on the return leg, as the road is open, always contrives to have the prevailing wind in your face and there’s a nasty legbreaker steep ascent when you turn left to head northwards back to Pitlochry within the last 7 miles. You need your good legs on for that one – but thankfully its short and sweet.
It looks deceptive – and its very short when you turn the corner but gawd it hits at your tired legs…..
The Scheihallion descent is long and flowing but like all good things it comes to an end …with two tight corners, one of which is almost a right angle turn. Hitting 48-to 50mph on the downhill is easy, ……just remember you have to be able to stop and unknown obstacles may be in your way.
Sadly, I have not yet gone down the slope without an ambulance or paramedic team being present somewhere on the road tending injured riders who have gone off through fences / hedges etc. And rear ending an ambulance is a distinct possibility if you’re not paying attention.
So heads up! Eyes peeled! Use your brakes, stay away from other riders (they can come to a sudden slowing / stop too!), and stay safe.
But most importantly – go easy to begin with, lift your head up and see the fantastic scenery you’re riding through – its some of the best of Scotland.
I really hope you enjoy the ride.