The Etape Royale is now only 2 days away!

The last few months have passed quickly and Autumn has most definitely arrived with a real chill in the air the last few days. The weather looks to be ok for Sunday (slightly worried I am jinxing it by writing this) so that is definitely a real positive for the day. This is the first time the event has run and a successful day will mean it is more likely to be run again in the future. I haven’t counted the entries but I think there is around 1000 people entered with most opting for the leg and lung busting 100 mile route which leaves between 6-6.30am from Ballater. I am very thankful to be entering the 65 mile route from Rhynie to Ballater leaving between 8-8.30am. As a novice 65 miles feels more than enough, so huge respect to everyone entered no matter the distance.

I completed my training preparations last week with a recce of the actual route. As I come from the Aviemore direction we drove to Tomintoul and I cycled from there over the Lecht to Ballater where I met up with my support crew (husband, father in law and partner who were along for the jolly) and we had lunch. The weather was perfect no wind to speak of and I found the going much easier than the last week when I cycled to the Lecht in a strong headwind. The road down to Corgarff gets really steep and I felt myself hauling on the breaks but really enjoyed the downhill to the turnoff to Ballater from the Strathdon road. The climb up to Gairnshiel was better than I had expected and there were a lot of red grouse out on the heather to keep me company! Once you reach the top of the Gairnshiel climb it is 10 miles mainly downhill to Ballater which is brilliant to think about mentally for the end of the event. In my head the 65 miles is a mere 55 (I keep telling myself that anyway….). We had lunch at the amazing Rock Salt and Snails Cafe. I think they will be very busy this weekend as they do amazing coffee, cakes and sandwiches and we had a great bowl of soup and a scone to fuel the rest of the day.

Etape Route

We drove to Rhynie across a maze of farm roads. The countryside very quickly goes from heather and moorland in the Cairngorms National Park to rich farming country with miles of fields with the occasional huge farm in between. We would have got lost had it not been for the many yellow road signs saying the road will be closed between certain times on Sunday the 27th September. The event is bringing a huge boost to the local area with most of the entrants staying in Ballater or Rhynie the night before. Hopefully they will love the area and make future visits to the Cairngorms.

I got back on my bike and the road very quickly begins to climb (not ideal for the start of the 65 mile event) but quickly warmed me up and took me up to the Cabrach. The climb over the Cabrach and across to Tomintoul through Dufftown is more than the ascent over both the Lecht and Gairnshiel but is more gradual. I found the Cabrach to be quite an eerie place. There was not much sign of life. The houses I did see were unoccupied or falling down, there were few animals and very few cars passing. I am glad that on Sunday there will be a lot of other cyclists with me. One gate post read ‘The Slough of Despair’ and put a chill down my spine…. Eventually I got to Dufftown and there is a fair climb through the town itself. Once out the other side it was a countdown to the end of my day as I passed through whisky country. The first Distillery to catch my eye was Allt a’ Bhainne which looked like something out of a James Bond film! I couldn’t quite figure out what it was until I saw the sign post. You will know what I mean if you have passed it. Finally I saw the familiar Glenlivet Distillery sprawling out across the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. One of the most famous malts in the world, a visit here is highly recommended for whisky fans.

I didn’t do the route as it will be done on the day and I had a break for lunch in beautiful Ballater but I feel much more positive about doing the Etape Royale now. I will even go as far as to say I really enjoyed the Lecht and Gairnshiel stretch which I didn’t think would be the case! I passed a few other cyclists on the road and I really like the friendly nature that everyone seems to share with a quick hello, wave or nod of the head in passing. I have been using Strava in my training as I find it quite motivational especially on shorter rides where I aim for small improvements in my time. I like seeing familiar names on routes and being a little bit competitive it makes me push myself a bit harder. On Sunday I am just hoping to complete the route before the sweep vehicle has to pick me up but hoping the adrenaline will keep me going fast enough!

For final preparations this week I took my bike to Mikes Bikes in Aviemore for a quick check. They are really helpful in the shop and get your bike looked at quickly. Tomorrow brings a quick trip to Ballater to register, a lot of carb eating and water drinking and I will be ready to go on Sunday. Wish me Luck! Best of Luck to everyone else taking part on the day 🙂

You can read about my journey to the Etape Royale Challenge here and here