The Etape Pennines returns to the lanes of the Durham Dales in October. if you’ve got 60 quid to spare and want to spend it watching people push bikes up hills then entries are still open. To ensure you never have to get off and push you can pay a bit more and get a head start with some of the pro riders from Cav’s Omega Pharma Quick Step team and if forking out £350 and having to keep up with Tom Boonen aren’t incentive enough to give the old just checking the satnav/fiddling with something on the bike/switching the water bottles around, I’m not stopping because I’m knackered, honest routine a miss then you need to find another hobby. With its closed roads and opportunities to hobnob with the pros the event might seem to be breaking new ground but in many respects this event is simply keeping alive some old cycling traditons:
1. Misuse of the term étape: We’ve all had our Ménage à trois Rodney, Ménage à trois Delboy moment with a backfiring attempt to come across all continental when the closest we’ve actually ever come to La Francophonie is buying Stella Artois from Bishop Auckland Lidl but in the biking world the Etape du Dales remains the king. L’étape, c’est moi, say the Dave Rayner Fund, in fact.
2. Riding on clear roads: Who hasn’t dreamed of freewheeling carefreely on empty traffic free lanes. Ironically, one great way to do this is to head out over the moors between Teesdale and Weardale really early on a chilly autumn morning, although obviously you can’t do that on October 6 this year because the roads will be full of people and you won’t be allowed on them anyway.
3. Paying to ride with people who are much better than you: You do get a lot of inferiority for £350, that’s for sure, but it’s all relative and I certainly find that for only £20 I can usually find something to enter with loads of people who are faster than me. For high end humiliation the Etape Pennines OPQS rider club is perhaps just what those public school Pinarallo types are looking for and if they can afford it then who am I to judge but some of us are less Belle du Jour and more screaming pissed girlfriend throwing her stillettos at us outside a cheap nightclub in our available choice of chastisement and will just have our dreams of riding a Raleigh Chopper through the crowds on Fleet Moss wearing only a Davis Millar style nose clip as the Tour de France peloton reels us in like a two year old on a my little pony tricycle to fall back on.
4. Justifying doing something for ourselves by pursuading ourselves we’re doing it for charity. The Etape Pennnine’s charity credentials are, it has been suggested, tenous, but let’s face it you have to get sponsored to take a piss nowadays and considering all the holidays in far away exotic places we’ve all been asked to help fund on the basis that flying to the other side of the world for three weeks is the only way to save the ozone layer/starving children/polar bears whilst your summer holiday of a long weekend in Redcar is just plain selfish someone going to Barnard Castle for a bike ride in the semi darkness of a cold October morning is pretty low down the scale of self indulgent altruism so even in this respect the Etape Pennines doesn’t really break any new ground in the field of cycling nor of human cynicism.
The Etape Pennines is run over some great roads. You should go and ride them. They are there right now just waiting for you. Go on, you know you want to…