What is the Etape Caledonia?
Since it launched in 2007, the Etape Caledonia has become one of Scotland’s biggest sportives, regularly selling out its 5,000 places to riders from all over the world who come to enjoy the Scottish Highland scenery. As the crowds descend on the small town of Pitlochry, the whole place develops a real party atmosphere – which is only enhanced by the warm welcome extended by the locals.
What’s the Route?
Although this isn’t the hilliest of sportives, it’s by no means flat – indeed, the road out of Pitlochry is uphill from the start, giving you a good chance to get the legs warmed up straight away, and the road continues to roll constantly as it weaves through the pine forests along the northern side of Loch Tummel.
After the first feed stop, the route continues along the flatter but no less scenic road that hugs the northern shore of Loch Rannoch to the turning point at Bridge of Gaur.
You then return along the southern side of the loch, before veering southwards to loop through Aberfeldy before being greeted by the cheering crowds at the finish in Pitlochry. Here you can relax with friends and family and soak up the party atmosphere in the event village, where you’ll find a range of stalls serving plentiful food and drink.
Are there any big climbs?
While the route takes you through some stunning Scottish scenery with granite peaks looming on all sides, there aren’t too many occasions where you’ll be forced out of the saddle. However, you’ll definitely be reaching for your lowest gears on the climb of Schiehallion, which comes just over halfway around the course.
Schiehallion is the most prominent peak in the region, and you’ll get your first glimpse of it through the trees, looming in the distance as you ride along the other side of Loch Tummel.
The name comes from the ancient Gaelic words for ‘Fairy Hill of the Caledonians’, which gives an idea of its picturesque beauty. Not that you’ll have much chance to enjoy the scenery, as you’ll be focused on setting a good time on the main part of the climb to put yourself in with a chance of winning the event’s King of the Mountains competition.
This prize goes to the fastest rider up the hardest part of the climb, which comes right at the start as it rears up from the valley floor and twists its way up slopes with an average 6% gradient for the next 2.3km. Look out for the signposts warning you that the timed section is about to start! After cresting the summit, you might want to ease off, but be warned that the road continues to rise for another 7km- albeit at a gentler gradient – across an exposed open moorland plateau.
The good news is that by the time you reach the next feed station, you’ve cracked the back of the ride and what follows is a thrillingly fast 6km descent. This is all the more enjoyable for the fact that the closed roads mean you can take advantage of the full width of the tarmac and attack the hairpins as hard as you dare – while not taking any reckless chances and remaining mindful of other riders around you, of course!
What’s included in the entry fee?
There are three feed stations along the route, all staffed by local volunteers who make a great effort to look after the riders’ every need. Plentiful food and drink is available at each, including a range of energy products as well as a selection of ‘proper’ food including bananas.
You’ll also and well-equipped mechanics at each stop who will quickly sort out any problems with your bike, and there are roving motorbike mechanics around the route who will offer assistance if you suffer any difficulties between stops.
And in the event that you’re unable to continue, there’s a broom wagon that will pick you up and return you to base. As you’d expect of a major event like this, electronic chip timing and numbering are used to give you your official event time, and there’s a medal for every finisher as well as an exclusive cycling cap for every entrant.
How do l sign up?
The 2018 event is open now for entries at www.etapecaledonia.co.uk – you can choose standard entry at £75, or opt for a heavily discounted charity place if you’re planning to raise money for the official charity,
Marie Curie Cancer Care. Raise enough cash for this excellent cause and you’ll get a commemorative event jersey or gilet thrown in with your entry fee. Premium places at £125 also get a limited-edition event jersey.