Back in August 2016, with the prospect of colder, wetter rides ahead, a group of us decided to plan ‘something’ to focus on the following summer. John Keohane recommended the Vaternrundan, having previously completed the event 3 times.
Having confirmed entry and booked flights and accommodation the event was duly forgotten about until Easter when we decided we should get a few extra miles in.
The prospect of a 300k route was slightly daunting, particularly as we had a start time of 01:14. The longest most of us had ever cycled was around 190k during one of the club’s training rides.
Northern Sweden was not what we expected – reminiscent of the American mid-west, big skies, flat terrain, straight/empty roads, colourful timber buildings and local youths in loud, American cars. Blackett, Paul Tong, Tom Hudson and I decided we needed some comfort and booked a modest Best Western Hotel. Norman, John Hopkins and Troy Kiri being far more adventurous airbnb’d a local shepherd’s hut, complete with a ‘long drop’ loo and well.
Now in it’s 30th year, Vaternrundan was much more than a regular sportive. It is a week-long Cycling festival, with MTB events, kids rides and shorter distance rides. The 300k being the main event. With around 20,000 entrants. The organisation was amongst the best I have ever experienced, registration was quick and easy.
In a country famous for Volvos, safety is naturally taken seriously – it was mandatory to fit wheel reflectors reflectors and a bell. Disappointed that neither Enve or Campagnolo made these, cheaper options were sourced. The ‘rules’ were abandoned and a ‘bento box’ was fitted to the top tube – largely to hold an additional chargers for our Garmins as we doubted they would last the distance. In the end they managed without additional charge by following these suggestions http://www.scarletfire.co.uk/how-to-improve-garmin-edge-1000-battery-life/
Despite our latitude and it being midsummer it was surprisingly dark in the early hours. Good lights were essential. The start was superbly organised, with a visual countdown for each start time. When underway we were led out by two motorcyclists- a wise move to temper enthusiasm on the slightly damp city streets. They outriders peeled off as soon as the road opens up and we were off. Riding on plan flat, clear roads in the dark was a great experience. With Troy’s rear light being bright enough the attract small aircraft .
As the experienced distance rider, Norman was in change of pacing (which he did excellently). With some of the best road surfaces we had ever ridden (300k without a single pothole) together with a very flat first 100k it would have been easy to have pushed on. Being passed by a number of groups it was tempting to join them but there was collective agreement to listen to Norman’s wisdom.
Riding together we quickly established a rhythm and shared the work. Troy and Tom doing a great job pulling us along and maintaining a respectable average speed. We attracted a number of wheel-suckers (Italian and Swedish access can sound remarkably similar when they are behind you).
As the sun rose at 3am we had our first view of the impressive scenery, there is something quite virtuous about cycling at this time in the morning.
The Food stops were excellent, managing to serve decent quality food, (meatballs, pasta, porridge, energy drink etc) at each of the stops with minimal queues.
As a mainstay in the Swedish cycling calendar the Vaternrundam seems to have become and annual test for Swedish clubs, determined to beat their previous record. A numberer of ‘road trains’ powering along; highly disciplined groups of around 30 riders. We we happy to join in and jump on the back – this was now more like a road-race than a gentle sportive! There was some slightly sketchy riding and we had to take care hammering along with a bunch of strangers of unknown experience.
Some of the groups were taking things a little too seriously, shouting ‘attack’ as soon as they crested a ‘hill’. Tom Hudson and I soon spotted a weakness, they were hopeless on the climbs, so we passed them on every hill. I am sure they were holding their pace and we p*ssed them off, but it made things more fun for us to hear ‘attack the english’ behind us.
In the end we completed the 297k in 9hrs 27m (moving time) with an average speed of just over 31kph. Our total time (including food stops) was just under 11 hours.
Clearly this was an event for everyone, from some clearly experienced cyclists to the young and old of all shapes and sizes on bikes of all descriptions. Much respect to these individuals, the event was tough enough on the latest carbon-fibre innovation; I would hate to think what it would have been like on a 1970s steel bike with jeans. For this we will have to wait for Matt Richardson’s future report …
All in all, a fun event, although we all agreed there were other more iconic cycling events for next year. That being said for anyone who wants a long distance ride and perfect roads, no real hills with great organisation this could be worth a try.
If you ever hear Norman shout ‘attack’ on a club ride, you should be afraid…