300km Vätterrundan, Motala, Sweden: we survived!

You know a race is seriously long when your Garmin‘s battery runs out, the sunrise snack was something called “Köttbullar och Potatismos” – meatballs, mash and warm sweet red berries at the 104km mark – and you’re clocking 200 km by 08:00 in the morning.

The truly spectacular Vätternrundan is the largest recreational bike ride in the world, consisting of various distances with the 300 km challenge being the longest and most popular,  attracting more than 20000 riders. We were lucky to get an entry, so I flew from Cape Town via Amsterdam to Linköping,  where my brother and sister picked me up. Like most riders we stayed at one of the many campsites, close to the Vättern lake. There was even a beach on our doorstep.

Our starting time was at 22:36, just before sunset and it was bitterly cold and windy. Standing on the market square in the tiny town of Motala felt unreal – I had flown in the day before and was seriously attempting the longest bike ride I had ever even considered. We had checked our gear for the umpteenth time, our energy drink was in our cycling shirt pockets, we were dressed with arm and leg warmers hoping it would be sufficient protection against the chilly winds. It barely was: the first 104 km lead us to the southernmost tip of lake Vättern, to the town of Jönköping. We rode this against the wind, and by the time we had covered this, the temperature had dropped to an achingly fresh 7 degrees. The clever organizers of this race had prepared: the food stop here was in a giant factory building, which was heated! We were served Swedish specialities like meatballs, warm blueberry soup and salty gherkins, which at that point was still surprising, but towards the end of the race I was looking forward to a healthy portion of gherkins at each watering point (of which there were plenty). After sunrise the route around the shores of the lake was truly spectacular: little villages with cobbled roads (rattling a couple of bike lights into pieces), endless pine tree forests and picturesque views over the lake just kept us going. It got warmer the minute the sun peeked over the misty horizon and cycling in this breathtaking scenery was just a dream come true. The second half definitely feels more challenging, mostly because of the countless rolling hills, and the lack of sleep at that point. Once we hit the 200km mark, adrenalin kicked in and I knew that I would finish this race – we hit it hard at that point and averaged above 33 km/h in a crazy 4 man mini-race within a race.  It felt like we were flying through the Swedish landscape. Well, we came to our senses and slowed down eventually but by then we only had something like 40 km to ride. For some reason I didn’t want it to end yet, mostly because we had planned this trip for the better part of a year and it would soon come to an end. But this is what we came here for, completing the Vätternrundan. The final 10 km lead us down to the lake and along the promenade to the finish.

Our plan was to ride fast but to make use of the catering stations as much as possible – so we managed a 28 km/h average, but had to add about two hours to our total ride time, bringing us back to Motala after 13 hours in the saddle. It took me a few hours afterwards to realize that we had actually done it.  We had completed the longest race of our lives so far!

The organization of this race is incredible:  the entire town of Motala is taken over by cyclists – registration, exhibition, start and catering all happens on the main market square. This creates a great vibe around the start/ finish all the way through the night.  The food and drink stops along the route are so perfectly run that 20 000 riders all receive a warm meal and endless bread rolls, gherkins, warm berry juice, coffee, teas and energy drinks without having to stand in a queue.  I couldn’t believe the number of volunteers who assist in making roads safe or serve food all night long, only for a bunch of crazy cyclists to have the time of their lives. I couldn’t believe the “veterans” cycling the route on 50 year-old single speed bikes with shopping baskets in the front or the guy doing it on a 30 kg military bike. There was a 70-year-old riding his 40th Vätternrundan, having completed the 300km ride every year since it started. Our campsite neighbour never trained, “but uses her bicycle to go shopping” – and completed the 300 km in about 20 hours. The support by locals was something special too: seeing a family sit in front of their house by a fire, at 3:00 AM during a bitterly cold and windy night and cheering excitedly is something I won’t forget. Their little boy screaming a supportive “hey hey hey” at the top of his voice will stay with me forever.

Thanks to the Vätternrundan organizers (Twitter: @Vatternrundan)  for a truly unforgettable event. If I can, I will be back some time.

The largest recreational bike ride in the world

from: http://www.vatternrundan.se

Vätternrundan 2011

Vätternrundan, 300 km long, is the largest recreational bicycle ride in the world.

The 300 km course follows the shoreline of the beautiful Lake Vättern in Sweden and early starters can see the sun set and rise over the lake during the ride. Taking place every summer in mid June, it is open to everyone from 18 and up. This is a unique possibility to experience cycling on a grand scale. The main event is accompanied by the shorter alternatives; Tjejvättern (100 km, women only) and Halvvättern (150 km).

Vätternrundan starts and finishes in Motala, Sweden, which swells to three times its size during the cycling events. The cyclists, their friends and relatives and the thousands of bicycles create a festival atmosphere, making the bike ride that extra special. Many cyclists return year after year to be a part of this large and welcoming cycling community.

The course appeals to all sorts of bicycle enthusiasts and the level of service along the course is very high. Word of this well-organised event has spread far beyond the borders of Sweden. Last year 38 different nations were represented.

Because Vätternrundan is a recreational ride, no winners are listed. Instead cyclists wear a timing chip that registers their individual times. These times can be seen under Results. Everyone can check what time they started, when they passed the check points and what time they arrived at the finish in Motala.

Punctureking will take part in the ride this year – we’ll post pictures and reviews from mid June!

vattern map

Local bike shop: service made me smile

The other day I packed my bike to fly to a race in Johannesburg, arrived the afternoon before the race – a Saturday. After checking into the hotel and unpacking my bike, I realized that my bike’s headset bearing had disintegrated, with balls falling all over the (very plush) hotel room carpet.

Panic – my starting time was somewhere around 06:45 AM, no time to sort anything out. Bike shops all closed. But there was the Cycling Expo, which is  the registration event where all local bike shops have stands to sell anything the last minute semi-pro might still need for the race. Equipped with iPhone pictures of the bearing in question (and in pieces) I ran across and showed it to some of the sales people, who all felt really sorry, but couldn’t do much.

Until I met a gentleman at one of the biggest shops, who told me immediately to get the bike there, they would take me to their workshop. Two hours later his mechanic was still calling around trying to locate the bearing which didn’t work out. All this on a Saturday afternoon, during his off time. Eventually they told me that there was nothing they could do to fix the bike, as the bearing is not available anywhere on the day and everythign they had didn’t fit. I was bleak, saw my participation in the race disappear and the wasted money for the flight and the hotel accommodation I should have rather used on a weekend away with my wife.

They must have sensed my disappointment despite the lack of tears – and suggested I take a brand new bike, with better components, off the show floor and ride the race on it. I was speechless – they didn’t accept any payment, and drove me back to the hotel, with my borrowed bike. Wished me good luck, arranged the meeting for the next day after the race (they had to open their shop again, on a Sunday, to take of my pedals and other items) – and still refused to take any money.

The race went well, but at that point I was so impressed with the friendliness of Johannesburg and the no-questions-asked service by this bike shop, that I must have smiled all the way on my race. Thanks again, Joburg!

PS: If you need a really friendly bike shop in Johannesburg, let us know – we might have found one!

2013 Cape Argus PicknPay Cycle Tour, Cape Town

The “Cape Argus” is South Africa’s most famous bicycle race and with 35000 participant the “largest individually timed bike race in the world”.  This year was my 4th attempt to clock an impressive time, and let’s just say it remains an attempt. The race starts in Cape Town’s CBD and follows the False Bay coastline all the way to Simonstown, then crosses the Peninsula and runs along the breath taking Atlantic Ocean coastline via Hout Bay all the way back to Cape Town.

My starting time for this 110km race was at 06:56, and as I learned from previous years, the trick was to be in your individual starting pen as early as possible. In my case it meant hat I was freezing in the Q box from 06:00 and I was still only in the last quarter of the field, before we even started. The amount of people taking part in this race is amazing, the amount of Portaloos int he starting pens is too – there was a total of 2 toilets for what seemed about 700 Q riders. It was not a pretty sight and I hope that one day this lowlight of any bike race can be taken away…

The race itself was fast and I felt much stronger than in the previous years, which were overshadowed by painful walks up Suikerbossie, the last long hill of the course. This year I managed a 30 km/h average and flew up all the hills, even the dreadful last one – my result was just a few minutes over three and a half hours, which made me quite happy, but left me with the feeling that I should have pushed harder.

The men’s race was won by Johan Rabie in 2:39, the woman’s race by Ashleigh Pasio in 2:53. My kudos go out to the people who spend the whole day on their bicycle because the Argus is their personal challenge to beat. I remember a lot of very humbling moments like being overtaken by a seemingly 70 year old on Chapmans’s Peak or trying to catch up with one of those incredibly fast wheelchair riders. The Argus truly brings riders from any background together: t

One of the most beautiful coastal cycling routes in the world.

One of the most beautiful coastal cycling routes in the world.

here is the  lady on the back of the tandem whose husband is doing a lot of pedaling work while she focuses on the shouting, there are riders in support of rhino protection, there are brave people on rigid single speed bikes and there is the hipster in a tweet jacket – the Argus is an amazing spectacle.

Nice celebrates the Tour : join us on the Promenade !

Nice celebrates the Tour : join us on the Promenade !

The finish of the 71st edition of Paris-Nice put cycling champions in the limelight on the French Riviera for the final two stages of the Race to the Sun. Another cycling weekend will be held in just over three months in Nice, besides the Corsican Grand Départ of the Tour’s 100th edition. Nice mayor Christian Estrosi and Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme unveiled the details of the “Nice fête le Tour” (Nice celebrates the Tour) operation this morning.

On the 2013 Tour, Nice will be the landing base of the peloton for its first stage on the mainland. If the city is familiar with the race, with 35 appearances since 1906, it is a welcome return to the capital of the Riviera, 32 years after the start of the 1981 edition.
For this vintage Tour de France, Nice will be doubly invited to play a leading role since, before hosting the riders, the town will have a first taste of  the biggest cycling race in the world during three days between June 29 and July 1. A meeting venue will be installed to follow the first three stages live in communion with Corsican fans. A giant live screen, an exhibition village, animation stalls and various quizzes and games will take visitors to the very heart of the Tour. Amateurs will then have a chance to go from recreation to action on June 30, when they are allowed to gauge themselves on the course used for the team time-trial two days later. Applications for the 24.1-km timed challenge will be open on http://www.asochallenges.com from April 11.