Chain Reaction Cycles' PR Manager Simon Cordner reports from the event:
"I always know it's early when I get into the van to set off for an event and Annie Mac is on BBC Radio 1. It's 0330 Saturday morning and we're back on the road to Wales for the inaugural Etape Eryri. Following last week's Skoda Velothon and Berlin Pro Race this event continues on from CRC's already busy sportive and road bike event calendar which has been headlined by the Vitus Sportive Series for 2012.
With recent reports of flash flooding and torrential rain I have taken Sian Lloyd's advice on the BBC weather and packed a canoe, lifejacket and sou'wester (in CRC colours of course). Wales is a little like our native surroundings in Northern Ireland, beautifully green and best seen in the rain!
We arrived on site at lunchtime Saturday and were greeted by the ever cheery bunch of Always Aim High staff, busy setting up registration, camping and a retail area at the local rugby club in Caernarfon. The atmosphere was great with lots of riders clearly making a weekend out of the event and choosing to have a lazy day ahead of tomorrow's race down at the race HQ. Thankfully for me the weather was good and we'd managed to keep the rain at bay for now.
The race started at the historic Castle Square in Caernarfon which has to be one of the most fantastic backdrops we have ever been blessed with. Add to that that the three course options all take in some of the finest parts of Snowdonia and this event really has a great deal to offer.
Setting up an event for over 600 cyclists and a few thousand spectators in the middle of a very popular tourist town is no mean feat, but the Always Aim High crew were as helpful as ever making our 5am start on Sunday as painless as it could be. With our retail unit, finish arch and branding all up and ready to go by 0530, Welsh efficiency was at its best!
Thanks to our event nutrition partner Gatorade, we were joined by Team Sky Team Principal Dave Brailsford MBE, who returned to the Gwynedd area to rekindle his cycling youth.
Accompanied by Team Sky's Dario Cioni, Brailsford rolled out on the first wave of cyclists at 7am to embark on the 47 mile option Etape Bach ride, taking in such brutes as the Drws y Coed climb and the tough, but splendid, Nant Gwynant climb. Team Sky director sportif Sean Yates was also present on the start line, undertaking the mammoth Etape Mawr which explored some of the toughest and most beautiful roads in North Wales.
Over the next two hours riders in all three Etape Eryri distances – the Etape Bach, the shortest of the three routes at 47 miles, the 76-mile Etape Canol and the Etape Mawr – rode from the Caernarfon start-line out onto their respective routes, all equally challenging in their own way. Just three and a half hours later Brailsford and Cioni arrived back on the cobbles of the square to a warm welcome and even warmer June sunshine conditions.
Speaking to the gathered crowd of local cyclists, friends and excited youngsters Brailsford expressed his thoughts on the route and the event: "I went for the Bach, which was certainly enough for me today. It's fantastic to come back here, a real trip down memory lane for me, really brilliant – Drws y Coed, Nant Gwynant and up Llanberis pass – it's iconic."
"The event has got all the potential, it's got everything that you need to make a fantastic event nationally, the scenery, the warmth of the welcome, the facilities are here and the roads are unbelievably good – it's got a huge opportunity to grow as an event."
Having grown-up and experienced the local community as well as the cycling experiences of the Snowdonia National Park in his younger years, the British Cycling performance director continued:
"If there's one event in the country that I'd like to get behind it's this one. It's probably the best cycling area in the country (UK). I love coming back here, I wouldn't miss this for the world. Anybody who's thinking about doing any event should come down here and do this one – it's going to be fantastic".
The first Etape Mawr rider to return to the Castle Square was newly-crowned Welsh road race champion Gareth McGuiness who whipped around the 103-mile route in just five hours and 12 minutes. The Llanrug man also expressed that the route would become iconic in the future.
Speaking shortly after crossing the line he said: "It's an amazing route, though I would say that as I have been training on it for years. I was on my own from about half way through today and I was hoping that Gruff Lewis would have been with me, so that we could have pushed each other to go under five hours. Also the wind from Pen-y-Pass was tough all the way back to Caernarfon, which made it even harder out there on my own."
Outside of the cycling events, Caernarfon's famous square with the backdrop of the famous Caernarfon Castle, was turned into a festival of cycling activities, live music, bike stunt displays, climbing walls and children's attractions. Speaking about the day an understandably proud Tim Lloyd of Always Aim High Events explained:
"Today has been utterly brilliant. We couldn't have wished for any more in our first ever cycle sportive event. Also to have Dave Brailsford and the Team Sky guys here has just been a dream come true for our event and our organisation.
Already the reaction from the cyclists who took part, the local people and Gwynedd Council has been overwhelmingly positive. Additionally our main sponsors Chain Reaction Cycles and Gatorade have been extremely supportive and complimentary towards our organisation on the day. The scenery is simply stunning and the roads certainly challenged all standards of rider, and we are sure that people have left with a sense of inspiration from the North Wales landscapes and cycling country.
The day really couldn't have gone any better. From our cycle display team Addo, to a great live musical set by Gwibdaith Hen Fran and Banda Bacana, it all just worked. It was also great to see so many local people on the square, as we also feel that events like the Etape Eryri will do a great deal for for the area in the future – both economically and in terms of a sporting boost for the area."
He concluded: "However, we are probably most grateful to Dave, Sean and Dario. For Dave to give up his time, in a year when both the Tour de France and the Olympics are imminent, is pretty amazing really. He really did have a great time, riding the event, catching up with friends he has not seen in years and we are deeply grateful for the stamp of approval he has imparted on the event."
CRC's roving Events Manager Grant Norris has been eagerly awaiting this event in 2012 and it didn't disappoint him:
"A rider will always focus on the route when reviewing a sportive. The climbs and descents that all three distances offered this past weekend were spectacular. For me though having bands, stunt teams, kid's entertainment, great food and huge crowds all with the stunning backdrop of the castle as the riders returned to a hero's welcome, sets this event apart. A classic has been born."
Our thanks to the Always Aim High Events Team and sponsors Gatorade and Clarks for their hard work in making the Etape Eryri such a great event. Make sure to check out AAH's other events this year including the CRC-supported Sandman and Snowman triathlons!
Fancy doing a CRC Sportive later this year? Why not check out the Vitus Sportive Series including the fabulous Lord and Lady of The Lochs Sportive in the fabulous Scottish Highlands – full details here.