The cheers of elated cyclists echoed across Loch Ness today (Sunday, April 29) as Etape Loch Ness returned to the Highlands, attracting a record 5,600 entrants. Official charity Macmillan Cancer Support has also shared in the success, on track to raise a total of £1 million from its five-year partnership with the event.

Bringing together cycling fans from across the country and abroad, the popular 66-mile sportive offers participants the rare chance to traverse the Scottish Highlands on roads free from other traffic, meaning all available spaces sold out in a matter of days.

The fastest male rider around the course – for the second year in a row – was Andy Cunningham of Ilkley Cycling Club in a time of 2 hours, 48 minutes and 50 seconds. The fastest female cyclist – also replicating last year’s triumph – was Marie Meldrum from Nevis Cycles RT in 2 hours, 57 minutes and 23 seconds.

A red polka dot jersey was also awarded to the fastest male and female participants to reach the top of the Glendoe summit outside of Fort Augustus. Andy Cunningham and Lauren Johnston were crowned King and Queen of the Mountain for their speed up the 4.8-mile climb.

Andy completed the King of the Mountain stage in 19 minutes and 52 seconds, while Lauren took 27 minutes and 13 seconds.

Success was also on the cards for charity partner Macmillan Cancer Support, with over 1,000 riders raising much-needed funds for the charity during the event. Donations this year have so far exceeded £210,000. With tens of thousands of pounds still expected to be contributed, Macmillan is on target to reach the £1 million milestone from its five-year partnership with Etape Loch Ness.

Event director Malcolm Sutherland says, “The sun was shining this morning as thousands of cyclists set off to ride through the Highlands in the biggest Etape Loch Ness in its five-year history.

“It’s been amazing to see so many participants crossing the finish line with huge smiles on their faces – both seasoned cyclists and newcomers completing their first sportive – and with so many raising funds for good causes across the country. That our charity partner Macmillan Cancer Support is on the verge of breaking the £1 million threshold really is the icing on the cake.

“A great many volunteers, partners and sponsors have helped in the planning and execution of Etape Loch Ness over the last few months, and we would like to extend our thanks to them all – along with the communities and businesses of Inverness and the surrounding area – for their support and enthusiasm.”

Eleanor Hoare, challenge events programme manager (cycling) for Macmillan Cancer Support, says, “We’d like to say a huge thank you to all of the cyclists raising funds for Macmillan this weekend. With over 1,000 participants supporting us at Etape Loch Ness this year, we have already raised £210,000 and expect this to increase to around £300,000 as the final donations come in. This would bring the total raised at Etape Loch Ness events over the past five years to over £1 million which is an incredible achievement.

“Thank you once again to Caledonian Concepts for inviting us to be part of this wonderful event, and to everyone who has raised funds while cycling over the last five years.”

Provost of Inverness and Area, Cllr Helen Carmichael, adds, “Etape Loch Ness is a very significant cycling event that helps to bring economic benefits to Inverness and the Highlands. Highland Council is happy to work with groups that stage well-organised events which benefit the local community, and our officers have worked closely with the organisers in recent months to ensure that this event proceeds with minimum disruption to communities and road users.”

The first cyclists set off at 6.15am from Inverness’ Bught Park, following a route which passed through Drumnadrochit, Invermoriston, Fort Augustus and Dores before finishing at the Event Hub at Eden Court, Inverness.

The second fastest male was Iain Palmer in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 18 seconds, while the third was Gavin Beaton from Moray Firth CC in 2 hours, 52 minutes and 58 seconds. Jacqueline Ross from Ecosse North Boats was the second fastest female around the route in 3 hours, 6 minutes and 1 second, and Olga Hamilton from Orkney CC was third with a time of 3 hours, 7 minutes and 24 seconds.

For more information about Etape Loch Ness – and to register interest for the 2019 event – visit www.etapelochness.com. For all the latest updates,  follow Etape Loch Ness on social media at Facebook www.facebook.com/etapelochness, Twitter @EtapeLochNess and Instagram @EtapeLochNess using #RideLochNess.

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