As most of you know I am not originally from this part of the world and every now and then I get drawn back to my birthplace. So when this happens I usually try to combine my visit with some kind of cycling activity – well I wouldn’t be going back for the fine Scottish weather would I! So here are a couple of highlights from my recent visit back to Scotland... Track accreditation at the Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow, followed by the 132km Etape Caledonia.
Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome (Glasgow)
The Velodrome is part of the Glasgow Emirates Arena in the East End of Glasgow. It is situated directly opposite Celtic Park so if you’re a Hoops fan then a stadium tour can be combined with a track cycling event. The Velodrome was opened in October 2012. It hosted the UCI World track cycling event in November 2013, is scheduled to host a UCI junior world track cycling event in August 2013 and will be the venue for the 2014 Commonwealth Games track cycling events. The Velodrome is not only for major events - it’s actually open to everyone and can be used providing you have either booked up on the track accreditation system or have completed all 4 track accreditation events.
So since I was in town I thought let’s go to track accreditation level 1, I’ve done a lot of road cycling – how different can it be? No brakes (what!), no freewheel on the back (what!!) and if you try to just clip in and go you get a nasty surprise (if I told you what that was then it wouldn’t be a surprise). I must admit I was a little nervous after receiving my bike and staring at the gradient on that bend (the TV does not do it justice – it’s a 45 degree wall). However, the class coach was great – after an initial 5 min talk through we were on the bikes and doing laps. I won’t spoil the fun for anyone who wants to give this a go but I will say it was great. It’s more strenuous than you think but the feeling of speed as you come of the high part of the bend and onto the straight is tremendous. Try it – you’ll love it and you’ll be booking up for the level 2 class before your heart rate is below 150!!
Etape Caledonia (Pitlochry)
A lot of people probably know about this event already but for those who don’t, Pitlochry is a small tourist town in the highland area of Scotland. Once a year the town is taken over for a 132km closed road cycling event with about 5000 people taking part. The scenery in this area is beautiful. The weather is variable – it’s Scotland not Spain - what else would you expect. This event is very similar to the Etape Hibernia which ran for a couple of years in County Clare.
So after my track cycling adventure I headed up to Pitlochry to register for the Etape – the event usually sells out about 10 months before it happens so when I say "register" I mean pick up my timing chip. Unfortunately you have to do this the night before the actual event. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea as the actual event kicks off at 6:30am. So, 4:30am Sunday morning and the alarm is buzzing at me. As I drag myself out of bed the legs are a little heavy – maybe I should have passed on the last 2 laps of the Velodrome! Anyway of we go and get ready, eat a bowl of porridge and head off to the start line. To adequately picture the start line, imagine the main street outside Stagg Cycles filled with 5000 people and their bikes all fully fueled and eager to go – organized chaos.
After some formalities we were off. They start you in waves of 200 which as just as well because after the initial 5km drag from the start you are off onto forestry roads. A short steep descent then takes you down onto the banks of Loch Rannoch. As you ride along the loch and pass through the various small villages, there are plenty of locals out cheering you and pipers playing the bagpipes (before I forget, there were actually a couple of guys cycling in Kilts!). This is a nice flat section of road so you get into a group and keep a good pace. As we look over the loch there is a nice big hill on the other side with snow on the top (in May?!) and suddenly I remember that’s the big hill climb we'll be doing in about 40km – damn wish I’d brought that winter jacket.
On we go, as we get to the 30km marker there a 1km sprint section – the winner gets a new Scott road bike. So it’s head down, into the big ring and give it all you’ve got. I won’t tell you exactly where I placed but I never really liked Scott bikes anyway, and at least I was faster than 4300 other people that tried that day! So time to get the breath back and pull into the feed station before the start of the climb. Obviously it’s a melee as everyone tries to get water, and free zipvit bars/gels and get back onto the bikes with the minimum of delay.
So we are off again and it’s not long before you see the King of the Mountains start banner – here comes the pain. The climb is OK gradient-wise but it’s one of those sneaky climbs where you think you’ve got to the top, turn a corner and then find another stretch in front of you, but……. the descent off the climb is fantastic. It’s about 6km long and has a few twists and turns and is FAST.
After the descent I team up with a few guys from the Glasgow Green Cycling Club – they thought the Lucan Cycling kit was really cool and got really confused when they heard the guy that was wearing it had a Glaswegian accent. Anyway with my fellow Glaswegians it was head down and through the forest for the last fairly flat section to be greeted by a cheering crowd and bagpipes as we crossed the finish line.