Taking the high road to a sporting delight

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Keen cyclist Adrian Downey of Newcastleton reports on his participation in the 66-mile Etap Loch Ness with its breathtaking views and challenging hills.

Adrian Downey of Newcastleton enjoys every minute of the 66-mile Etap Loch Ness, even the hills
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Adrian Downey of Newcastleton enjoys every minute of the 66-mile Etap Loch Ness, even the hills

ONE lap of a Scottish loch, how hard could it be?

Fast forward to Sunday, April 23, 6am and 5,000 of us are at the start line of the fourth annual Etap Loch Ness, a 66-mile closed road cycle sportive around the banks of Loch Ness, starting and finishing in Inverness.

It was chilly and the hanging about wasn't ideal but once we got going we would warm up a bit. Eventually, it was time for my starting wave to set off, cheered on our way by the small watching crowd, a few turns and we were on the traffic-free A82, heads down and settling into the next several hours of self-propelled adventure.

As we pedalled and wound our way along the usually busy road, the views across the loch were impressive; you really felt you were experiencing the environment, unlike the same journey in a car.

Very soon we passed through Drumnadrochit, Urquhart castle came and went and more visually pleasing, surprisingly fast miles toward the first feed stop at Invermoriston 27 miles in. I had five minutes for some high energy food and was on my way again.

Just after the feed stop, we crossed the river Moriston which would have been a perfect photo from the bridge but there was no time to stop. It was onwards to Fort Augustus.

Cheered on by the waiting spectators, we passed through the town, crossed over the Caledonian canal and turned off the A82 onto the B862 Glendoe Road. This marked the start of the “back half” but, more dauntingly, the run up to “the mountain climb”.

At about 35 miles in, the start of the mountain came into view. I had been told it was on a par with riding up the Holm Hill so I was expecting a fairly tough climb but it was worse, it was brutal. First gear, travelling just faster than walking pace and a heart rate higher than was good for me but I knew the drill, rhythmic pedalling and don't look at the top.

Soon the pedal turns got easier and I was at the top or so I thought. There were many more climbs to navigate and any thoughts of being a bit cold were forgotten as the relentless climbing warmed me up a treat. Each climb I crested I expected to see the piper but, no, just another incline.

After climb number six and with the tank almost empty, I was so happy when the promised piper, playing his heart out, came into view. I was now at the top and the mountain was conquered.

What goes up must come down and this case was no different. I was just a passenger as I sped down the mountain, a good chance to recover from the previous exertion and to take in the view.

Soon enough I arrived at the second official feed station at Whitebridge, a quick stop for an energy bar and off again, with 20 miles to the finish. A quick calculation told me about 75 minutes riding to go.

Back down to the waterside again and, by this point, most riders had found their comfy speed and were riding with people of similar abilities so now it was about eating up the miles in a group.

Four of us pushed on, Urquhart castle a welcome sight on the opposite bank. We sped along past the final official stop without stopping and on past Dores, fewer than 10 miles to go and fairly flat, thankfully. In no time, we were on the outskirts of Inverness, the finish line just around the corner.

People lined the route cheering, clapping, ringing cow bells and this really spurred us on. As we passed though Inverness, now sharing the road with cars, I allowed myself to say “that's it done”.

Over the river Ness and a left turn and the final couple of metres through a fenced-off circuit, with hundreds of people helping us along our final way. They made us feel like we were ending a stage of le Tour de France and, finally, over the finish line, my finisher's medal hung swiftly around my neck, and relax.

It was tough in places, pleasurable in others and not the longest sportive around but it was in an iconic part of Scotland and, in my opinion, the best way to see the loch.

It took me three hours, 55 minutes to complete the 66-mile lap and I enjoyed every one of those minutes, even the uphill ones. So, if anyone is looking for a good challenge which has good roads, climbs, views and no cars to spoil the fun, next year's Etap should be considered.

We went back to Invermoriston the next day for the bridge photo - in the car this time, though.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017 at 10:56AM
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