Gary finally checks out (but doesn’t leave) Scotland’s only closed-road sportive
So here I was, at the start of my first ever Marie Curie Etape Caledonia and already the wheels were quite literally coming off. Well, the rear one was about to anyway. Such was my panic to get a new tube in that I completely blanked Drew from West Lothian Triathlon as I got my sick bike out of the throng. Still, minutes later, I was back in line. That’s enough pressure in the tube surely…?
Wave T trickled out of Pitlochry about 15 minutes after its allotted start time and headed northwest before turning due west to begin catching the forecast headwinds. Still, it was largely dry so no worries. The first ten miles rolled by fairly steadily and we hit the 1km sprint after Tummel Bridge. My time over this section indicates that I was munching my first half energy bar at this point rather than giving it the full Cav, such was my paranoia about bonking and dehydration. Of course, my other paranoia was my rear tyre and I would of course check out mechanical support at the first feed zone to borrow a track pump. Except there wasn’t one. Ach, it’ll be fine.
About 5 miles later, things weren’t fine: pinch flat. I felt it go. Schoolboy error. However the rear wheel was off before I had time to stop swearing and a marshal also arrived on moto to give me a hand. I wasn’t in the mood for patching so my 2nd spare tube was pressed into action. 15 mins later I was off again.
The headwinds along the north side of Loch Rannoch didn’t seem as bad as had been forecast nor as we had feared and I was pleasantly surprised to hit the 30 mile marker as we rounded the west side of the Loch and effectively did a u-turn. The subsequent miles were okay with some tailwind component from the south westerly pushing us towards the Etape’s showpiece climb: Schiehallion. But before that particular challenge, I felt the back tyre let go again. I can’t remember if I vocalised the virtuoso performance of apocalyptic language that danced around my head but it would have been a cracker. At the roadside in the peeing rain and with both spares used, this time was actual repair time. But then it wasn’t, as another moto appeared and astride it was another friendly marshal, who offered me a tube. Better still, he had a minipump that was better than my 5-star-review-my-arse Blackburn effort. I could have kissed him. With the tyre completely removed and rim inspected to ensure no puncture-causing debris, I was certain that I’d be okay for the remaining 40-odd miles. Well, reasonably confident. And by that I mean I’d spend the next 40 miles looking backwards and downwards just to be sure…
Regular visitors to the blog (both of you) may recall I’d written about the Duke’s Pass which I rode in the Scottish Bike Show Sportive a few weeks ago. Graham and the other guys were adamant that this was a bigger, longer and more bastardly affair than Schiehallion. But what Schiehallion may lack in distance, it certainly doesn’t lack in sharpness. Cautiously optimistic after my latest technical issues, I hit the entrée to the Etape’s main course and after the first couple of short, sharp ramps there were already people off and pushing. One guy had what I thought was a comedy SPD-moment, until I saw he was riding on flat pedals. Oops. The next comedy moment was a bloke on a recumbent. Nothing actually happened, you understand, but he was a bloke on a recumbent. Sometimes the comedy just writes itself you know. Anyway, things pointed downwards briefly but there’s another couple of miles of steadier climbing to be had before you can say you’ve cleaned it. I have to concur that the Duke’s is the tougher climb but I was once again quietly chuffed that I’d bagged another iconic Scottish climb and that my legs felt this good.
The descent, however, was southerly and catching a fair bit of head- and crosswind. How we laughed at the “Caution!” signs, struggling to break 20mph in bizarre gear combinations for the terrain. We did, however, veer briefly away and pick up some decent speed. At one point I thought I saw a sign for Courchevel until I realised it said “Coshieville”. Time for another gel then…
Hereafter came what most people I spoke to described at their most miserable part of the day and I’m pleased that it wasn’t just me then. We turned southwest and squarely into the teeth of the gale. Here the road was exposed, with the wind not only being channelled between hillsides but coming down off the hills themselves. At times it felt like the wind was just everywhere and at 55 miles gone, I was now attaining single-digit speeds. At this rate I’d be home by Wednesday. Fortunately the course turned back on itself and we reaped the rewards, so much so that I simply blasted past the final feed zone and on to the 70 mile marker. I may even have uttered the words “well, you probably won’t die now, Gary”…
I passed a stationary Drew just after the quaintly-named village of Pitnacree. This fact in itself instantly suggested something had gone disastrously awry with his day. He revealed later that it had: a loose crank bolt. Here too was a pipe band and a reasonably-sized crowd of well-wishers on the outside of a sharp left-hander. One that went up almost as sharply as it went left. I’d been forewarned of this and got into the granny ring just as I began to feel the climb bite. Standing on the pedals and riding remarkably (cf “suspiciously” – must check the ingredients of those Torq gels) well with 76 miles in my legs I saw that a good number of folks lined this sting-in-the-tail. Sadistic gets or not, it was genuinely quite humbling to see and I mused that this must be what it must feel like to be a proper cyclist.
To be buoyed by the fact that it was nearly done would have been a mistake. The farm road behind Logierait had at least 3 sharpish climbs that lay in wait for those expecting to freewheel home. At one point I muttered “f**k off and stop going up!”, which I think the rider next to me may have thought was aimed at him. Oops.
By the 80 miles sign, it nearly was over, however, and we began the fast approach to Pitlochry. I hadn’t appreciated just how much of a slope upon which the High Street sits but I still managed a wee kick to the finish line. My computer told a tale of 5hrs 17 minutes of actual ride time. The text from the organisers told me my punctures had taken me 32 minutes. Wind, rain and crapness almost certainly robbed me of more time but I didn’t care: I’d completed my single longest continuous day in the saddle ever. Okay, it was 61 quid, but I’ll leave that for another day.
Now, where’s the Savlon…?
Tags: Etape Caledonia, Gary, Puncture, Road