In Search of Nessie (Etape Loch Ness)

May 11 2019

In Search of Nessie (Etape Loch Ness)

Let’s clear something up straight away. What actually is an Etape? And why is it different to a Sportive? And does it actually matter? Well, whether it matters or not is probably rather subjective but let’s have a go at explain what they are. A sportive (or Cyclosportive) is a generic description that covers a wide range of mass participation cycle events. In the UK especially and in parts of the US they tend to focus more on the mass participation element rather than their competitive aspects. In mainland Europe however, the competitive element tends to be more dominant with categories, prizes, medals and all the paraphernalia that comes with a competitive race.


An Etape on the other hand has generally been used to describe a ‘leg’ or ‘stage’ (it literally translates as ‘step’) of a grand tour race that has been set up as its own Sportive. This allows folks like you and me the chance to get a taste of what the Pro’s do without having to be a Pro. Over time, the distinction of what defines an Etape has blurred somewhat so now, plenty of events market themselves using Etape when they are really just large scale Sportives.


Confused? Excellent. Now back to Loch Ness. One thing is definitely the case. If you are going to call yourself an Etape, it definitely helps if the event in question is a rather excellent one. Fortunately for the Etape Loch Ness, it is. Really, really excellent.


The Route

The race takes place around the iconic and stunningly beautiful Loch Ness offering participants the chance to cycle 66 miles (or 106 km in new money) on traffic free roads. The “traffic free road” bit is a big bonus which not many events of this size can manage to deliver. It’s a 360o route being a complete circumnavigation of the Loch starting, and finishing, in the Highland Capital of Inverness.



The terrain profile is interesting in that for the entire 106 km there is some 900m of ascent. However, 380m of that comes in the form of a timed King of the Mountain Stage on leaving Fort Augustus about half way round, climbing the aforementioned 380m in a 9km section with gradients of up to 12%. But more of that later; overall, the route is absolutely lovely and nothing to fear whatsoever.


Ready for the off! (Photo: Paul Bowker)


Paul and the Marmotte

Regular readers of our blog will know that Paul, one of the owners of Criterium Cycles, is competing in the Marmotte Granfondo Alpes this summer. A Granfondo is literally a ‘big ride’ and they don’t come much bigger than the Marmotte, a kind of Granfondo / Etape / Sportive all rolled into one crazy event. Anyway, as part of his preparation this year, Paul decided the Etape Loch Ness was the perfect event to include as part of his training.


Why? Well he did it in 2017 and 2018 so now has good data against which to benchmark his performance. And luckily the wind and general weather has been roughly the same in all three editions he has participated in.


In terms of times, Paul’s performances have been:


Year Time
2017 3h37m
2018 3h31m
2019 3h21m


Paul had this to say after the event this year:


“In 2017, at the end of the race, I sat on the bike for quite a few minutes, completely exhausted, composing myself! This year, I felt relaxed and reckoned I could have done a second lap at around 80% of the speed of the first. I felt I had raced within my capability and it’s all thanks to conditioning, and training. I’m feeling good for the Marmotte.”


We’ll never know whether he could have done a second lap at that speed of course because sensibly, he didn’t attempt it. But it does bode well for the Marmotte when it comes round.


A strange looking creature with a tragic hair style. And an orange Cow. (Photo: Paul Bowker)


Rosie is the real star

Around 5,800 riders started the event this year and we have a reasonably good level of confidence that around 50 – 60 were on bikes supplied by Criterium Cycles. It’s a really popular event with many of our customers and for good reason. On this year’s event, we were joined by our good friends Steve & Dana and Richard; riding an event such as this with friends does always make the whole experience something special (as we discovered when Madeline rode the Vatternrundan 300 last year).


Rosie has also ridden the event three times and her comparative times are:


Year Time
2017 4h23m
2018 4h11m
2019 3h44m


which by any measure of performance means 2019 has seen a fabulous improvement. Rosie puts this down to 4 factors:


“First, I’m lighter for a start which is partly training, partly better nutrition. Second, I’ve put 50mm deep dish carbon wheels on the bike and as well as looking great, I get a big boost in aero performance. Third, I’ve been working out on Trainer Road which has made a massive distance to overall strength and capability.”


Her fourth reason though is one that is really worth remembering for anyone out there competing in these longer, enduro events. “Fourth, and really importantly, this year I got fuelling during the event spot on. It’s mainly thanks to Dana who was badgering me every 30 minutes or so to take on fuel and fluids – but it worked. At the end of the event I felt tired but in a better state than I have in previous years by miles.”


Post Race refuelling is also extremely important! (Photo: Paul Bowker)


The Hill

One of the delights that the Etape Loch Ness throws up is that 380m ascent out of Fort Augustus and it’s the feature that has most participants talking about, especially those taking it on for the first time. It is not something to be feared however, simply respected. With the correct gearing (for your level of fitness and capability) and the correct approach on the day it’s perfectly achievable. It is hard, no question, but it actually comes in three distinct ramps so there is respite even on the climb itself plus the road surface is superb and wide. If you are thinking of riding the Etape Loch Ness next year, just let us know in good time and we can chat through gearing options if necessary but also the best way to go about preparing for and tacking the climb. The feeling of achievement getting to the top without having to walk is well worth that small bit of advance planning.


Organisation and Booking

It really is a superb event and brilliantly organized. Riders are grouped into 4 waves (A – D) and which wave you are in is dependant on your previous times if applicable and expected finishing time. Riders are released around 250 at a time at 2 minute intervals so it’s never frantic.


It is understandably popular and sells our fast. You do need to Register your interest ahead of time (if you have ridden before you do get a priority booking window) and there are some Macmillan places available as Macmillan are the official charity of the event. Most important – Register your interest if you want to stand a chance of getting in. Click on the link here


Overall, this is one of our favourite races. Route, location, scenery and organization all combine to make this an event well worth considering if you can. We’ll be there again in 2020 (as will loads of other Criterium Cycles customers and friends) so see you there!


The team after the event – still smiling! (Photo: Paul Bowker)


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