Lycra in every shade of the colour spectrum; the sound of wheels rolling along the open road; the buzz of excitement in the air – thousands of cyclists are about to descend on the Highland capital for the annual spectacle that is Etape Loch Ness.
And once again, as participants from all over the UK and beyond take on 66 stunning miles around the picturesque loch, family, friends and the public are being asked to help them push through the final stretch.
Hundreds of spectators are expected to line the last few miles of the route for the event, which takes place on Sunday, to cheer the riders through Inverness city centre, while the residents of villages around the loch are also planning to be out in force.
Those who lend their support to the cyclists – many of them riding to raise money for official event charity Macmillan Cancer Support – will be rewarded for their efforts as the event hub at Eden Court is bigger and better than ever.
Event director Malcolm Sutherland said the spectator support had become a hallmark of Etape Loch Ness, which has now been drawing riders to the Highlands for the thrill of cycling on traffic-free roads for five years.
He said: “The spectators who line the route have helped to make Etape Loch Ness one of the biggest and best-loved events of its kind in Scotland. We get such positive feedback from riders about the local community – not only for the way in which they support cyclists during the ride, but the welcome they give to people over the whole of the event weekend.”
The first wave of Etape Loch Ness riders will set off from Eden Court and along the north side of the loch at 6.15am and will be rolling through Drumnadrochit between 6.50-8am.
Riders are expected at Invermorriston from 7.20-9am; in Fort Augustus from 7.35-9.25am; Foyers from 8.10-11am; at Dores from 8.40-11.45am; and in Inverness from 9am until 12.30pm.
The quickest riders – and those who are the fastest up the challenging King of the Mountain stage leaving Fort Augustus – will be presented with their prizes at the event hub at 10.45am.
The hub is open for registration throughout the event weekend and a number of event partners will be set up there. There will be plenty of food and drink on offer, including pop-up bars from partners Tomatin Distillery and Cromarty Brewery.
Both riders and their families will have the opportunity to buy a limited edition bottle of Etape Loch Ness whisky produced by the distillery, while the brewery will be offering a complimentary beer to all finishers.
Other event partners who will be at the event hub include Cycle Republic, whose mechanics will be able to help make last-minute tweaks to bikes, Muc-Off, Fuel 10K, Bikes of Inverness, Dryburgh Cycles and Macmillan Cancer Support. This is a huge year for the charity, which is aiming to break the magical milestone of £1million raised at Etape Loch Ness over the past five years.
The money from the event helps to fund a wide range of services for cancer patients and their families in the Highlands and beyond. Although the cash raised is not ring-fenced for any particular service, the £1million target would pay for 36,000 hours of Macmillan nurses.
Malcolm said: “The fact that this event does so much to help the local community, especially charities that are providing services to local people, is incredibly important to us.
“We simply couldn’t stage this event without the support of the local community, whether that’s asking residents to volunteer over the weekend, get out and support the riders, or show understanding over traffic restrictions that allow cyclists to ride this route in a traffic-free environment.
“We really do appreciate the support we get from the community. As event organisers, we can take care of the logistics, but it is the passion, enthusiasm and welcome of the local community that has made Etape Loch Ness truly memorable for thousands of riders over the years.”
There will be a number of traffic restrictions in place during the event, and organisers aim to have the road reopened in sections to minimise any impact.
Further information about road closures is available at www.etapelochness.com