The first event of the year for the Warriors had arrived, the Etape Caledonia, 81 mile route starting and finishing in picturesque Pitlochry.
The Warriors were taking a strong squad of 13 riders to this event, some of whom would be guest riders for the day.
Accommodation and Travel Manager, Davie Mullin, had sorted out base camp for the weekend, and opted for the same two houses we had last year which were ideal. Nutritional Manager, Chris Hunter and his assistant Douglas Gilligan sorted out the nutritional food for the weekend to ensure we were carb’d up and ready to go come race day. Their shop included a couple bottles of Jagermeister, more on that later!
Friday Chris, Gilly and Robbie set off making a pit stop at Morrisons to get the nutritional food, with Stevie Potter, Kevin Lee, Davie Mullin, Stevie Haining and myself heading up later in the day and all met in the local Indian for a bite to eat and a beer……. or two!
Having suitably filled ourselves with Indian food high in carbs, we headed back to the house to drop the bikes off and unpack the car. With that out the way it was time to head down to what would be our local for the weekend, the Moulin Inn for a wee night cap…… or would it be a night cap??? Thought I’d walked into the Pitlochry headquarters of the SNP! Drunk middle aged women and guys handing out SNP badges to punters in the pub and abusing those who didn’t vote SNP.
Two pints and a cheeky wee malt later we were asked to leave……. not because we were rowdy, because the pub was closing! So we did what all true athletes do, we headed back to the main house for a night cap! That’s what proper athletes do? Right?
So the night cap didn’t quite go to plan as we polished off several beers and 2 and a half bottles of Jagermeister! The only reason we stopped drinking was because it was now 4am and the Jager was finished! Chris showed off his exceptional dance moves with Stevie Haining adding the sound effects in the background. I’ll spare you the video footage of the event! Lol
It’s fair to say none of us were very fresh the next day, which was confirmed by the rest of the boys who arrived up on the Saturday, John Stewart, Shaun, Euan, Scott and Hugh.
Saturday pretty much consisted of chilling out and taking a wander to register for the main event the following day. We did manage a cheeky shandy to help top up the fluids lost to the drinking session the night before. £30.95 for 8 drinks was a sore one! Stevie Haining opted for a can of Guinness at £4.95!!! Daylight robbery I tell ye!
Chris, Robbie and myself treated ourselves to new Endura Neoprene gloves as the forecast was for heavy rain and wind, what a godsend that would turn out to be.
Evening meal was greatfully prepared by Davie Mullin and Gilly, and what a job they did! We were treated to home made lasagne, Chicken Fajitas, salad, garlic bread….. but sadly no pudding! Lol
After evening meal was finished the rest of the night was spent preparing our kit for the following morning and turning in for an early night as for some reason we were all shattered.
Before long the alarm on my phone was ringing, it was 5:30am and time to get up and get ready for our 6:52am start time. We were greeted with high winds and rain pelting off the bedroom window, just the encouragement we needed to get up and out our beds!
The first race of the day was on, the race to get to the bathroom first, which I won! Breakfast for myself consisted of a toasted bagel with peanut butter, a banana and a litre bottle of water with two SIS hydration tablets.
All kitted up and looking like a pro team, I use that term very loosely, we headed down to the other house to collect the rest of the team and made our way to the start line, or as close to it as we could get. After last year’s fiasco we decided to take a slightly different route to the start and hopefully manage to slot in at our allocated start time, sadly, like last year, this was not the case as thousands of cyclists were blocking the start. People who weren’t due to start till much later were just standing there blocking the path to the start!
Eventually we got to the starting pen, two waves behind when we should’ve been! Not to worry we were now all set to go……. 3……2…..1…… we were off, but the rain wasn’t!
Stevie Haining, Gilly, Chris and Kev sped off and that was pretty much the last we say of them until the finish. With 5 miles gone we passed local spectators cheering us on at the side of the road. Now don’t get me wrong it was nice of them to get out of their warm beds so early in the morning to stand in the cold wind and rain but there was no need for the shout that one of the women gave us….. “C’mon guys not far to go now”. Not far to go now!!!!! We had only covered 5 of the 81 miles and she’s shouting not far to go! Lol
As per the norm my legs weren’t playing ball at the start and didn’t really get going until around 10 miles in. I had fallen back a little and Robbie, who was doing his first ever sportive, dropped back on a couple of occasions to ride with me. As the 10 mile mark came and went my legs started to loosen off and we started to make ground on the others and caught up with Stevie Potter and John Stewart.
We rode together for several miles then at around the 30 mile mark I made a break for it, the attack was on, how would the others respond? Well they didn’t, I was just too powerful, either that they though I’d blow and catch up with me again. Lol
I hadn’t planned on putting in an attack, I was just wanting to up the pace in an effort to beat the time of 4hrs 30mins I’d set before the off. I’d calculated the min average speed I required to beat my goal and at the current pace I wasn’t going to make it. I did think that the others would get on my wheel and come with me but that never happened to I was once again riding solo. Robbie claims I used fly tactics and waited till he’d had taken an energy bar out his pocket then sped off…… and accusation I ain’t going to confirm or deny! Lol
I never really found a decent set of wheels to tag onto so pushed on past other riders averaging speeds of between 20-30mph. I got a shout as I passed one rider and looked round to discover it was Davie Mullin who’d set off earlier with his mate Sinky. He asked if he could get pulled along for a while so I dropped back and we worked together for a few miles before I stepped up the pace once again and continued on my way.
All the way round I got battered by the wind and rain but was kept warm and dry thanks to my new custom kit from The Cycle Jersey, and the Endura neoprene gloves I’d purchased the day before.
My plan was to try and make it round without stopping at the feed stations and had plenty gels in my back pocket. I did manage to drop a couple of the way round trying to get them out my back pocket. Only feed station stop I made was at the third one, literally for 30 seconds to top up my water bottle.
Reaching the main climb of the day I was feeling pretty good, well pretty good for me, and managed to make it up the Schiehallion without having to stop, unlike last year! The sprint feature was missing from this years edition of the Etape, which I believe was probably down to the weather conditions.
After cresting the Schiehallion we were treated to a nice skelp down the back, hindered somewhat by the conditions. Tight, sharp turns in wind and very wet roads made for a cautious but controlled decent.
It became very apparent on the turn round the other side of the Loch that a new PB wasn’t going to be on the cards, thanks to the wind and rain, but I pushed on regardless. I felt good, even in the later stages, I was powering along the final miles into the wind where last year my legs were screaming in pain, very little left in them. The week in Mallorca climbing mountains certainly helped out.
I counted down the miles and before long I’d passed the final feed station, I was on the home leg now, there was light at the end of the tunnel. No it wasn’t the sun, it was still pouring from the heavens!
The locals were outstanding yet again, standing in the cold, wind and rain shouting and cheering you on, which really gave you a boost. With 7 miles to go I arrived at the short but steep climb by the pub, the crowds had gathered, some well lubricated, like we were a few night before. I rolled up to the corner and dropped the gears as I took the left hand turn into the steep climb, got out the saddle and gave it everything I had to get up without stopping. There was no way I was stopping and walking up the hill with all those people out cheering me on, I was determined to make it and like the previous two years made it to the top in one go.
The final 6 miles or so were rolling with a few more digs thrown in which I’d forgotten how tough the little buggers were. I round the bend to see a welcome sight, the caravan park on the right hand side. This was a significant landmark as it meant very shortly I’d be at the end of the back roads and would be turning onto the main road and home straight.
Both sides of the street were lined as I turn into the home straight to be met with the roar of adults, children, cowbells and inflatable batons. This was it, the final push of a very wet and windy 81 miles.
Despite the weather it was a great day in the saddle. It’s a different course in the wind and rain.
Again credit has to go to the Army cadets who helped out on the day, filling water bottles, manning feed stations, directing traffic, removing your timing chip and handing out medals, especially on such a wild day. I took time out at the end to speak to the guy in charge of the cadets and told him the cadets were a credit to him and thanked him for their work.
After crossing the finishing line and collecting my medal I headed back to the house with one last climb to tackle. It was too cold and wet to hang around waiting on others. Kevin was already showered by the time I returned and greeted me with an ice cold beer! Stevie Haining followed shortly after to my surprise as I though he was ahead of me but turns out he’d suffered two punctures near the end.
I headed for a shower, during which Stevie Potter and Robbie returned followed by Davie. We had all made it back safe and sound which was a welcome sight considering the conditions out there.
Sadly I witnessed the aftermath of a few crashes, with two ambulances in attendance at two of the incidents and others wrapped in foil blankets awaiting assistance. One particularly nasty incident involved a young girl who’s top tube snapped while descending at speed.
With everyone showered and changed we all met up back at our house for a beer or two and several Jager Bombs, listening to everyone’s tales from the day, followed by a Chinese takeaway. Once Chris had finished off everyone’s left overs we headed out into Pitlochry to the after show party where a live band entertained us for the rest of the evening.
We did manage to catch a pint in our local, the Moulin Inn, on the way back up the road before tucking into freshly made nachos thanks once again to Davie and Gilly before retiring too our beds around midnight.
Monday morning involved a healthy fry up before packing up and heading home.
A great weekend at the Etape was had once again, plenty of drink….. a little too much, and a laugh a minute!
Davie Mullin said that if the following isn’t mentioned in my blog post he was leaving the Warriors, really wasn’t sure whether to leave it out or not! Lol
Davie was the only one who managed to beat last year’s time, albeit by 18 seconds! Well done Davie!
A special mention has to also go to Robbie, completing his very first Sportive and longest cycle to date. Well Done Robbie!
Thank You to everyone who has made a donation to our fundraising for the Beatson Cancer Charity.
If you haven’t already made a donation and would like to make one you can do so to any member of the team or on our Just Giving Page.