The reason Ollie and I decided to look for a new challenge, and in doing so found Vätternrundan, was that we were unimpressed with the way London-Surrey Ride 100 (Prudential Ride 100) was organised.We felt that too many people were released onto the course at the same time, that many of these people were not regular cyclists, and that these two factors combined to make the course high risk. Finally, we were also unimpressed with the requirement to turn up mega early, to stand in pens (typically in the pouring rain) whilst slowly being herded towards the start line.
On the plus side, London-Surrey is a prestigious event, which we have been lucky to have a chance to do (for me, on more than one occasion), due to the fact that the roads are completely closed to traffic and participants can enjoy seeing London in a completely different light; a rare opportunity. It is also, just down the road, so it is accessible to us.
Conversely, Vätternrundan is a 2000 mile round trip, it involves two ferry crossings and many, many hours of driving (or alternatively the purchase of a bike box, a flight reservation, and a hire car). It takes time and money to get to. However…
We drove into Motala (the host town), we parked in a free, designated car park and took a free bus to centre of the activities. We flew through registration and despite not knowing the language, found everything we needed. We were allowed to cycle on the course to get to the start.
The start pens were split into three (e.g. 2154/2156/2158), and our numbers told us if we were in the left, middle or right (though we could have worked it out for ourselves based on our start time). Once your time was showing you could enter the pen. I entered my pen at the very last minute (having been sat down and using the facilities, right up to the last minute), and that was not a problem at all.
The start pens, therefore, took up a very small amount of space, there was not a maze of pens leading into the one starting area (like London – groups orange, red, black, blue, times, group numbers… all converging on the one start area, slowly…), participants could relax until their time came up… it was just so, so much better.
The two events allow the same amount of participants (around 26,000), the difference is that Vätternrundan release participants on to the course over a much longer period of time (from 1900-0700) and thus spread them out across the course.
Whilst I did see a couple of injuries, I didn’t see or hear about anywhere near as many accidents as in London, and I didn’t get held up at all due to anyone else’s actions. Vätternrundan does still have inexperienced riders on the course, but they didn’t cause an issue because everyone was so much more spread out, plus the length of the course probably does deter some individuals from applying. Lesser mileages are catered for in the weekend prior to the main event; with a half Vatternrundan and also a ladies event; so everyone gets a chance, lessening the risk. (I believe London may be introducing a shorter event, which is a good thing).
London provide food stops, with the standard gels, bananas, sweets etc… pretty good but I generally only used them for the water. Thing is, I can carry sweets, gels and cereal bars in my pocket – what I need at certain distances is some savoury and some salt in there as well. And when I am cold and wet, I need somewhere dry and warm to shelter. Vätternrundan provided two indoor stops with hot meals, which were very well received. Not only that, but they had also catered for gluten free and vegetarian (I expect others too), which seemed very modern and insightful.
London is closed roads. No other traffic other than emergency vehicles. No access for cyclists getting to the event. Just competitors.
Vätternrundan is less strict; some roads are closed to traffic, some have a much lower speed limit than others, some they’ve transferred traffic to the other carriageway (making a dual carriageway into two single lanes) and some remain open. It worked, and I wonder whether the knowledge that the road does have other users added to the improved discipline of riders. It also meant we could get to the event without going massively out of our way. Our host in Motala, was troubled by the traffic hold-ups, but she could get through – had it of been London she would have just been denied access.
Vatternrundan was almost double the cost of London.
For the money, London provides a e-mail and facebook comms, a magazine, posted instructions, food stations, a medal and a bag of goodies at the end. They also cage off pretty much the entire course.The course is open from the early hours until mid-afternoon. Whilst, Vätternrundan provides e-mail and facebook comms, food stations including two main meals, and a medal. They cage off the start and end of the course. The course is open for 24 hours.
I wouldn’t do either again! I wouldn’t do London because I didn’t enjoy either attempt and I felt it was risky. I wouldn’t do Vätternrundan again because it was a crazy thing to do and a once in a lifetime experience! It was challenging but fun, and there were waaay more opportunities to ride as a group and really help one another getting around.
In my opinion though, Vätternrundan was much more professionally run, much smoother, efficient and safer (but it has been running for much longer than London).