Thursday 27 April 2017 08.31 BST
If there is one single activity most responsible for the recent mini-boom in Britons taking up road biking, it is arguably the sportive.
These organised, entry-only mass cycling events have sprung up around the UK in ever-increasing numbers. For various legal and insurance reasons they are not races but instead challenge riders only against the clock.
It is the done thing among some riders to disparage sportives. Racers might see them as a poor substitute for the real thing; tourers and other dilly-dallyers consider them overly corporate, restrictive and Lycra-dominated.
This, for me, misses the point. With challenges ranging from a relatively flat 40-odd miles to thigh-sapping marathons, such as the celebrated and fearsome Fred Whitton Challenge, sportives cater for many appetites and lung capacities. They’re not the only type of event around, but lots of people enjoy them.
A more recent development has been the closed road sportive, eliminating any interaction with motor traffic. This is a traditional element of a gran fondo or etape – the Italian and French equivalents – but relatively new in the UK.
A reasonable number exist now, the biggest of which is the Ride London 100, the Olympic legacy event which sends more than 20,000 riders through a car-free capital, into the hills of Surrey and back again.
It was to the latter I travelled at the weekend to try out one of the better-known closed road sportives, and surely one of the most beautiful – the Etape Loch Ness.
As the name suggests, it’s a circuit of the loch, taking riders from Inverness up the east side of the water, across the tip at Fort Augustus, up a steep climb into the hills, and then back into the city