After months of hard graft in terrible conditions, the Etape Caledonia was finally upon us. Stevie Potter picked me up on the Friday night just after 7pm and we headed to the Travel Lodge in Perth which would be base camp for the next 3 days.
Davie Mullin and Stevie Haining also headed up on the Friday night. Once we checked in we headed across to the attached Harvester pub. Stevie P and myself ordered a bite to eat and we joined Stevie and Davie for a couple of pints, 3 to be precise. Well larger has carbs in it doesn’t it, no? Oh well we were wrongly informed! We got kicked out the pub around 11:30pm and headed back to the hotel where we called it a night.
Saturday morning saw us head across to the Harvester and tuck into a fry up, at this stage food is good! Later that morning we were joined by Ian Hockey and Willie Rosling, shortly followed by Chris Hunter and Gilly.
Once Willie had managed to transport the 10 ton of food he brought with him we headed off to Pitlochry to register for the following days Etape. We duly registered and collect our race pack then met up with Si before having a look around the stands that were setup selling over priced goods to a captive audience. I turned my back for two minutes and the boys had all ordered big fat greasy lamb burgers! Will need to speak to the Team nutritionist on this matter! Just for the record I didn’t have one, athlete and all that!
Having managed to drag the team away from the burger stall, as they were contemplating a second burger, we took a stroll around town and went for a look at the fish climbing ladder only to be thoroughly disappointed! We seemed to be doing a lot of walking the day before a 80 mile sportive! Will need to consult the Team fitness guru on that on! Really need to get the ship in order!
We headed back to the cars and made our way to Aberfeldy where there was supposed to be a festival of cycling….. boy that was disappointing! I did however meet up with one of my mates that I used to work with. It was good to catch up with you Colin. While I was catching up with Colin the boys sneaked off to the food van and ordered a roll and haggis! If you can’t beat them join them! So I did and got myself one too!
With not much going on at the festival of cycling we decided to head back to Perth to catch the first half of the FA Cup Final before heading out for tea. Just as Stevie and I were about to leave Aberfeldy he suggested that we go and take a look at the “King of the Mountains” stage as it wasn’t too far away. So off Stevie P and I set on a recce of the main climb we’d be doing the following day.
After we King of the Mountains section we continued on following the route and discovered a cheeky wee 90° left turn into a steep climb which only lasted about 250-300 meters, but it was a tough climb and one that would most definitely catch people out if they didn’t know about it. We continued along the narrow road on what would be the last 3 miles of the roue when we discovered that Gilly had already beaten us around the section!
Having checked out the main climbs for the following day we headed into Perth to meet up with the rest of the boys who had found a pub to watch the first half of the FA Cup. We arrived to find them tucking into alcoholic beverages! I stuck to the soft drinks being the athlete that I am! Lol
6pm soon arrived and we headed down to the Italian restaurant that Gilly had booked us into to carb up. We all got tore into pasta dishes while the less athletic wing got tore into the bevvy again! With tea finished we headed back to the hotel where we got our kit ready for the following morning. Numbers were pinned onto back of jerseys and stuck to front of helmets. Timing chips were attached to the bikes and we were good to go.
With everything ready for the following day we headed for an early bed, 9pm or 10pm can’t really remember but I did remember it was a 4:20am rise the following morning. The alarm clock duly rang and it was time to get kitted up and grab a quick breakfast.
I jumped in Ian’s futuristic car with Wille, Stevie P jumped in with Davie and Stevie H while Chris, Si and Gilly traveled together. Now Ian’s car is some machine! It slows down when you get too close to the car in front and does a host of other things that cars shouldn’t do! We watched some of the Tour de France from last year on the cars media center to get us in the mood.
We arrived in Pitlochry around an hour before our start time so I took the time to wake myself up properly while waiting in the toilet queue in the chilly morning air. As I was waiting in the queue Willie turned up armed with a toilet roll in his hand! I really felt for the people that were going in after him!
It was now time, we got the bikes ready and headed the short distance to the start line and were met with an abundance of lycra clan men and women, some suiting the lycra more than others! I couldn’t believe the amass of people before me! 5000 cyclist lined up waiting to start. I really wondered how they were going to organise this properly but having had years of practice it went smoothly. Our wave was soon called and Ian, Willie, Davie and myself made it to the front and set off under starters orders. As we set off we managed to line up 4 abreast across the road and get our photo taken by the official photographers as we did so.
So that was us, we were off on the 81 mile route, many of the team had been untested at this distance so it was going to be an interesting day! The pace started to quicken and I tried to hold on to Ian and Willie’s wheel but soon realised that I would never make it round if I kept up that sort of pace, so I let them go. 1.3 miles in my chain slipped forcing me to stop and fix it.
I picked the pace up and left Davie and the rest of the team, with the exception of Ian and Willie who were long gone. I jumped from wheel to wheel as I made my way through fellow riders. Always a confidence booster as you leave other riders with club kit on trailing behind you.
The first 20 miles flew in and I stopped at the first feed station to fill up my bottles, take on some food and give my mum and dad a quick call to let them know where I was. Just as I was about to start off I bumped into Si, Gilly, Davie and Stevie Haining who’d just arrived at the feed station. Davie and I decided to leave and I soon distanced myself from Davie as I picked up the pace again.
42 miles later and at the foot of the King of the Mountains section I was met with the 2nd feed station and again stopped to refuel, stock up on gels and give my parents a call to update them on my progress. They were coming to see me later on so it was just for timings that I called them. After refueling I set off up the mountain climb and was surprised at how easy it was. Ok it wasn’t a doddle but it definitely wasn’t as bad as it looked or I thought it would be. One thing that did annoy we through the climb and all the climbs during the day was the slow people hogging the right hand side block the route for the faster riders.
Having completed the King of the Mountains section the next stop was feed station 3, 47 miles in. I literally rolled into the station, filled my bottle up and set on my merry way again. Just as I was leaving the feed station I met Si so we tagged together for the next 24 miles. We got a good pace going and soon felt like the pied piper as every time we looked back more people had joined our train, none seeming willing to have a turn on the front. We lead the train for around 10 miles before dropping subtle hints about other people helping out. Eventually one guy overheard us and took the hint and jumped onto the front.
The rain started on the last third of the course making the fast windy decent a little tricky and dangerous so we held back a little on the bends as we didn’t know how tight they were.
My mum and dad were going to be waiting at Weem, just after the final feed station. As we approached the final feed station I said to Si that I wasn’t planning on stopping as I had enough fluids and gels to see me to the end, he was in the same vote so we shot right passed it and into Weem where my mum and dad were. Approaching the spectator point I kept a look out for them and eventually spotted them both in the crowd looking at their mobiles as I shot past! I turned round and shouted “MUM” to which she looked up and acknowledged me. As I turned back round the guy in front decided to stop and I nearly ploughed into the back of him! It transpires that my mum and dad were expecting me to be through the spectator point at that time as I was well a head of my predicted schedule.
As we hit the 71 mile mark I cramped up in my left thigh AND right hamstring at the same time! At this point Si slipped away as I stretched while still on the bike and popped a gel which seemed to do the trick.
With about 6 miles to go I got talking to a boy who’d traveled all the way from London to do the event. We chatted for a while and I warned him of the upcoming steep climb before he carried on his way. Before I knew it the 90 left hand turn into the steep 250-300 meter climb was upon me. I dropped into the lower ring and powered my way up the climb out the saddle all the way with the locals lining the climb cheering us on! All that was missing was the guy in his pants with a cape around his neck running alongside shouting and screaming at you as we climbed the hill.
The last few miles were up and down and really sapped the energy out of me but powered on and turn into Pitlochry main street which was lined with cheering locals as I crossed the finishing line. Mission accomplished!
One of the little things that made this event was the support from the TA who had personnel at the end to remove your timing chip for you. Now you may not think that a big deal but after 81 miles it really is! Little things like that make a huge difference!
With the timing chip removed from my bike a collect a bottle of water, my goodie bag, if you can call it that and my medal.
It really was a well organised event from start to finish with great support from the locals. You felt as though you were riding in one of the tour events with the Mavic car, motorbikes and crowds cheering you on.
Official Time 4:43:32
Garmin Time: 4:31
Average Speed: 18mph
The official time includes feed stops while the Garmin time is traveling time only. Was well chuffed with my performance and time!
I met up with Ian, Willie, Chris and Si who had already finished and waited for the rest of the boys to return. Every single one of us made the top half of the field! That was some achievement and one that we should all be proud of!
Performance of the day goes to Ian “Iron Man” Hockey who strolled home in just under 4hrs claiming 197th position! Another stand out performance was Stevie Potter who had been off the bike for just over 8 weeks after breaking his chest plate in a car crash! Only two weeks back on the bike and he’d completed the Etape Caledonia 81 miles and in the top half of the 5000 strong field!
With everyone over the finishing line we headed back to the cars and headed back to the hotel to get showered, then met at the Harvester for a couple of drinks before heading out for tea.
We enjoyed a few pints in the Harvester before heading into Perth for an Indian buffet where some of us did more damage to it than others, not naming any name Willie Rosling! After stuffing our faces on Indian buffet food we headed to Yates type boozer. Stevie Haining and Davie were starting to feel the pace so headed home early, Stevie Potter dropped them off as he was heading up the road as he was working on the Monday. The rest of us powered on with the help of cocktails laden with Monster Energy Drink! As the night got later, the more the drink flowed, the louder we got! Last orders were called and yet again we were last to leave the boozer, heading round to the kebab shop to finish the night off before returning to our hotel and retiring for the night.
All in all it was a great weekend, the weather was kind to us and the company was fantastic. Before the event I has said to several people that the Etape Caledonia Sportive at £63 would probably be one that I’d do, tick off the list and never do again! Having completed it and experienced the atmosphere and the support from the locals and the general organisation of the event I was buzzing and desperate to sign up for next years event!
We were raising money for local Cancer Charity Friends of the Beatson during last weeks trip to Arran and by doing the Etape Caledonia. A big thanks to all who donated and if you haven’t done so you can make a donation on our JustGiving Page.
A special mention has to go to 3LC.tv for helping me lose 2½ stone in 14 weeks and getting me in shape for this event! If you haven’t tried out their Turbo Training DVD’s I highly recommend you do! Thanks guys!
The last and most important thanks has to go to my wife Gail and our two boys Callum and Jamie for allowing me so much time out on the bike to get in shape to complete the 81 miles. Gail has been wonderful and taken Callum to his rugby and football and stood in the pouring rain and wind all by herself while I’ve been out training!