The Etape Cymru, the closed road North Wales sportive which suffered organisational problems in its debut year in 2011, will return this year under the stewardship of mass participation events company Participate Sport.
The company is headed by Nick Rusling, former managing director of IMG’s mass participation events division. He, along with many of his team at Participate, oversaw the development of the Etapes Caledonia and Hibernia so he has a wealth of expertise in managing closed road events. His new company organise the women-only Cycletta series and have also recently taken on the Wiggle Dragon Ride.
Rescheduled for Sunday 9 September, the revitalised Etape Cymru will retain many of the elements of the 2011 event including the name, closed roads and 100-mile length. However, Rusling says his team will introduce a raft of changes that should avoid the pitfalls of the inaugural event. These changes include staggering the start based on rider ability.
The first 10 miles will also take place on wider roads this time round. Organisers hope this will have a two-pronged effect, stopping overcrowding and keeping riders in evenly matched bunches. Traffic management and marshalling will also be improved, and riders will tackle the event’s signature climb, the Horseshoe Pass, earlier on, which should disperse the field and make the marshals’ task that bit easier.
Speaking to BikeRadar ahead of the event’s relaunch at the London Bike Show, Rusling said the Etape Cymru had huge potential and that his company were determined to right the wrongs of last year. “It has a chequered one-year history and we’re trying to turn the event around with a big focus on the safety of closed road riding, with an investment to get it right,” he said. “We’ve got to – it had such bad publicity on the back of the first year and we’re well aware of what needs to be done. We want to give participants the reassurance that it’s worth entering again. We want people to sign up, come down and see how much we’ve improved things.”
With the problems encountered last year – an over-inflated entry fee, poorly trained marshals and motor vehicles finding their way onto supposedly closed roads – does Rusling see the event as a risk? “It is a risk but I’ve gone into this with my eyes wide open to what needs to be done,” he said. “In delivering the Etapes Caledonia and Hibernia, and events like the London Triathlon, we’ve experience of very complex road closure operations and we know you’ve got to spend a lot of time and resource to get it right. The councils (Wrexham and Denbighshire county councils), police, traffic management and locals are really behind it. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have touched it.”
Did they ever consider starting from scratch? After all, the Etape Cymru in its first incarnation only lasted a year, so why take on something with such baggage? “It was an alternative (to ditch the name, route, etc),” said Rusling. “Part of our strategy is to create events from scratch, like we did with Cycletta. But the attributes are still positive. The route is fabulous and the support is in place from the council.
“It can take up to a year to secure permission. It’s the biggest closure exercise in Britain and you can’t achieve that overnight. Every year the permission is up for review and you have to go through a process of safety advisory groups. The previous owner knew he’d bitten off a little more than he could chew, and knew he’d either have to bring a partner in or sell it to bring some credibility. So the council are really pleased that we’re on board.”
Scores of posters on BikeRadar’s forum – and several staff as well – will attest to the mistakes made at last October’s event, so how is Rusling going about persuading people to return? “We’re just being open and honest, and acknowledging everything that went on,” he said. “There’s no magic wand – we’re putting a lot of time and investment into getting it right. We’re hoping people will recognise that we’ve delivered similar events in the past and think ‘these people know what they’re doing’.”
The entry fee for September’s ride is £55 – down £10 from last year – and entries are open now. Head over to the redesigned Etape Cymru website for more information.