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N2A Rides the Etape Loch Ness

Last weekend, Fiona Russell rode the Etape Loch Ness, where the only monster involved was a 9km climb with gradients of 12%! Here's Fiona's report:

“Oh, I love that pale blue bike with the white and yellow flowers,” I coo to my partner at the Glasgow Bike Show. “It’s so, so pretty.” Proving that I am a true girl at heart, I was attracted to the Planet X N2A’s beautiful Guru Blue design and paintwork, rather than the actual ride of the bike.

Brilliantly, however, when I do take the gorgeous bike for a ride, I find it has both good looks and brains. This is a cleverly designed road bike that rides like a thoroughbred racer, giving superb, stiff and intuitive, performance on smooth roads.

I am immediately smitten.

It seems I am not the only one to like the look of the Guru Blue. Wherever I ride during training outings, I find people are quick to compliment both the design and its beauty. Note, too, that this is not only a bike for girls. Planet X frames are all unisex and there are black & red and white & silver versions of the N2A as well. I am also told that the pale blue and flowery design of the Guru Blue has been popular among the guys. Proof of this came at a recent sportive event. As I lined up at the start of the inaugural Etape Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands on Sunday, a man rode up beside me on exactly the same bike. “Oh, yes, I love this bike, too,” he said. “I like the colour and the design. It’s such a cool looking bike and great to ride as well. I even like the flowery design. It’s different from anything else you see.”

Riding the Etape Loch Ness

An invitation to ride as a press entry on the sold-out Etape Loch Ness was easy to accept. The 67-mile route follows a full 360-degree circuit of the iconic loch and the alleged home of Nessie. The event also offered a very rare opportunity to ride on a traffic-free A82.

The A82, between Glasgow, Fort William and the Highlands city of Inverness, is notoriously busy, often with tourist traffic and lorries, and while I have cycled it before it was not a pleasant experience. Many of the 1250 entrants to this new Scottish sportive were also attracted by the closed roads. Local rider Mark Macdonald might live in the area but he has never dared to ride the A82 with traffic so he was quick to sign up to the Etape. Katrina Moir from Dingwall and a rider with Ross-Shire Roads Cycling Club agreed: “I’d never tackle this route down the west side of Loch Ness in normal circumstances. It’s usually so busy and dangerous but this feels amazing, to have no cars at all.”

Other riders have been drawn to the sportive’s hilly route. Vicki Dunkel from the Isle of Skye signed up to the Etape Loch Ness “to try a challenging new route”. “I have been building up my cycling and fancied doing something that would push me a bit. I know this route will be hilly but at 67 miles I think it is manageable because I am used to the hills on our island,” she said.

The route is also stunningly scenic. Rarely is the huge loch out of sight and despite overcast weather, the landscape is dramatic and absorbing. If you love big mountains, lochs and a stunning array of colours - purples and oranges to deep and light greens - this sportive will blow your mind.

The Etape Loch Ness started at 6.30am on Sunday 4th of May with riders setting off in two-minute waves. Some of the riders looked like racing whippets and were dressed in a multitude of club colours. I spotted Glasgow Green Cycling Club, Inverness Cycle Club, Ythan CC, Moray Firth CC, West Highland Wheelers and Ross-shire Roads CC. Other cyclists were simply out for a ride, looking for a good time with pals or achieving a new goal. Some were also raising cash for the supporting charity, Macmillan Cancer. This is exactly what sportive riding should be about. The sportive is friendly and open to all types of rider, and as competitive as you wish.

Starting and finishing in the city of Inverness, the fully signed and marshalled route followed the A82 west to Fort Augustus, passing through Drumnadrochit and past the striking Urquhart Castle. At Fort Augustus, riders crossed the historic Caledonian Canal then cycled back up the loch on B roads. The race profile reveals a lot of hills – this is Scotland, after all – including a King of the Mountain section at around 35 miles. Leaving Fort Augustus at almost sea level, the gruelling uphill goes on for 4.8 mile (9km) with an ascent of 1246ft (380m) and including a gradient of up to 12 per cent.

Many riders had used up a fair bit of energy by this point and the riding speed suddenly dropped. The chat diminished to be replaced by a great deal of heavy breathing and crunching gears. Some riders got off to walk.

I don’t weigh a lot compared to the guys and I was riding the lightweight N2A so I had a bit of an advantage. As I overtook numerous guys, I heard them muttering: “How can she do that?” “That can’t be fair.” “Where does she find the strength?” I might have ridden that section faster than many of the other riders, but I was nowhere near as fast as Alan Dean, 30, of Edinburgh Road Club, who took the King of the Mountain title in 20 mins 47 seconds. Queen of the Mountain was Natalie Munro, 27, of Inverness, in 25:23. I scored 31:23 and 11th QOM, which isn’t too bad for an old bird. Alan also rode the fastest overall time of the etape at two hours and 55 minutes and the fastest Etape woman, Lynne Fraser of Deeside Thistles, crossed the line in three hours and 26 minutes.

Fiona Russell on the Etape Loch Ness


Final effort on the Etape Loch Ness

Soon after the KOM section, my uphill advantage was eaten up on a fabulous descent as the heavier riders (pretty much everyone) quickly passed me. Occasionally I’d find a group to ride with but for much of this section I rode solo. I didn’t mind, though, as the road mostly descended and offered great views. This B road hugs the eastern shoreline of the loch and the sun had started to break through the clouds. We also enjoyed a tailwind and I found the miles flew by.

This is also when the N2A really came into its own. Stiff, straight as an arrow, and aerodynamic, I enjoyed the feeling of power and performance as I pushed the pedals. Every pedal stroke was effective and I felt a sudden surge of energy (the energy gel I ate before the hill climb was also kicking in!) Many other riders were also cranking up the pace and it felt as though this section was the fastest of the sportive. Walter Sutherland, of Lossiemouth, became my companion for the final part of the sportive as he drafted behind, using my slipstream to carry him towards the finish line. I grinned widely all the way into Inverness and loved the spectators cheering us on. The atmosphere was superb.

The 67 miles had flown by and although I had not planned to race I finished in a respectable three hours and 49 minutes. I was 21st female. After the finish line, Walter said: “Thanks for keeping me going on that last section. I really struggled on that long hill and I needed someone to motivate me to ride faster in the last stage. It was a fantastic sportive and I can see it becoming a really popular annual event.” I couldn’t agree more. You will need to be on the ball to sign up to this new sportive but I would highly recommend it for 2015.

Click here to find out more and sign up to next year's event!

8 May 2014

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