Some of you may have noticed the following comment on one of my previous posts:
I feel it is my duty to suggest your next event.Lavington Hill right on your door step ideal for training, far fewer hours in saddle required practising for a ~6 minute effort.You’re welcome.
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).
I promised that I would come back to Blueberry soup and Cinnamon buns. In the information about the event both Blueberry soup and Cinnamon buns were mentioned; I thought the latter sounded great – the Blueberry soup, not so much, since I don’t like blueberries and soups are generally savoury. Reality, however is that Blueberry soup is a complete revelation! It’s lovely!!
The cinnamon buns on the other hand, were a complete disappointment, partly due to my own stupidity. Each stop had bananas, bread rolls and gherkins laid out. And most had blueberry soup as an option with the drinks. Ollie had many a gherkin sandwich, but I mainly had my own food, supplemented with a blueberry soup every now and then. However at every single stop, I looked for cinnamon buns, and never found any. It wasn’t until the penultimate, or possibly even the last stop that I realised the bread rolls were the cinnamon buns, and that they were quite nice dipped in the blueberry soup!!! Even so, they were very subtly cinnamony and still a disappointment.
I learnt several lessons from the Vatternrundan experience…
- Jelly babies are evil.
- Ollie is allergic to Sweden (I don’t think he’d appreciate me sharing the photo of his swollen face).
- The Swedish are amazing at languages and I am quite ignorant.
- If rain is forecast, it will probably rain, and thus waterproof shorts are a must.
- I’m more determined and competitive than I thought!
- Don’t let two hungry cyclists loose on a supermarket
Sadly WiFi was lacking after my last post, so I’ve had to wait until getting home to post. Though, I was able to update Facebook from my phone, so I am sure all of my Facebook friends are sick of hearing about it!
After finishing a massive Swedish breakfast in our lovely B and B in Hästveda, Ollie and I lazed around and got our kit in order until absolute last minute check-out time (11am), and then got back on the road to Motala.
We arrived in Motala around 1500, to a party atmosphere, and found a place to park the car at a sport centre on the outskirts. We then caught the free bus into the centre to go and register. Just as the bus was coming up to the bus stop we had to wait in a queue and two cyclists (a father and his little girl) came up the side of the bus as we were stationary. When the queue moved forward the father rode off on his bike and the little girl (who was directly under the wing mirror of the bus) tried to get her footing on the pedals – just as the bus pulled away and clipped the side of her head! Luckily, she was wearing a helmet and it seemed that she suffered only from shock. Ollie and I were right at the front so heard the clip and realised what was happening, but after that there was much shouting in Swedish and little we could do. The bus driver briefly got off, had an argument with the father and then got back on and drove us to the bus stop. A dramatic start, and a bit of a worry as our introduction to the event! Embarrassing for the driver though I suspect, since he hit a cyclist whilst carting a bus load of us around!
With the knowledge that we weren’t having any sleep, we wanted to save energy so we took a fairly direct route to the registration tent, registered and then returned to the car. We drove the car to our Saturday night accommodation and found a place to park nearby (in the outer carpark of a school, which was by then closed for the weekend). Once parked up we moved everything from the back of the car into the front and locked the bikes to the front alloy of the car and then set up camp in the boot to try and have a little afternoon nap!
It wasn’t all that successful; though I reckon I could sleep pretty well in a boot if required in future.
We gave up after an hour or so and started to get our kit on and pack our pockets and saddle bags. The locals must have wondered what was going on; us getting dressed in the school carpark!
Eventually we left the car and set off on a 6 mile ride into town to get some food before our designated start times of 2156 and 2206. We finally found some pasta in a local kebab type shop (everyone was doing pasta!) and took it away to eat on a bench in the centre. We applied our reflectors to our frames (a Swedish requirement) and our numbers to our bikes and jerseys and then headed down to the lake side to relax. We managed to bag ourselves a bench which we could have a lie down on, and we found a group of Brits who we had a chat with.
And then, all of a sudden, it was time! – They nearly went without me!
The first mistake I made was to get on the wheel of someone who pulled in less than 5 minutes into the ride to wait for his friends! So I trundled along and waited for a big group to come along; they were going too fast – so I waited for another, and finally I found a group of my speed and I followed them for a bit. Then I dropped off and had a chat with a Swedish chap who’d done Vatternrundan many times before.
After a very short period of time Ollie caught me up, we’d made a plan to meet a Ödeshög – the first stop (47km in) but, he’d been in a big fast group and had managed to make very good time.
My tactic to get through was to stop at every single organised feed station, of which there were nine. Seven of them provided the basics (cinnamon bun (we’ll come to that later), blueberry soup (and that), coffee, banana, Gherkins (?) gels, toilets etc… and two of which also provided a hot meal. This worked well, and the only other stops we took were two loo stops because we just couldn’t wait (TMI?) and two photo stops (see photo above).
The first stop we got to had an Elvis tribute band across the road from it, so I had a bit of a dance across to the loo. There was a real party atmosphere all the way around, and people were at the side of the road cheering us on all the way through the night (I think they were saying nice things?! I couldn’t understand a word they were saying sadly). Jönköping, the first of the hot meal stations, was at the 104km (65 Mile) point; Meat balls (or veggie alternative) with mashed potato.
This station was in an ice rink (which had been covered, heated etc…) and people were actually fast asleep on the floor. An odd decision we thought; they’d cool down and feel groggy once waking up. But then again, there were people at this stage and earlier that were walking up tiny bumps of hills and I wondered how they would get to the end too.
It was whilst we were at this food stop, that my Garmin decided to reset itself for the first time; an on-going problem throughout the ride which ended up with one section missing and me having to use a tool to stitch the ride together (borrowing some of Ollie’s ride to make up the missing part). And then to add insult to injury it ran out of battery just before the end and missed about 6 miles (as did Ollie’s – so we can confirm that a fully charged Garmin lasts approx. 15 hours).
It was 30 km later at Fagerhult at about 0430, that the rain which had been expected at 2200hrs arrived, and made up for lost time. It chucked it down. The ride between Fagerhult at 133km and Hjo at 171km was reminiscent of London 2014. There was so much water I couldn’t see, I’d clear one eye and then the other was full of water. I squelched in my bib shorts and I was miserable!
Hjo (106 miles into the ride), was another hot food stop – this time in a large humid tent full of warm bodies. As I walked, soaking wet, freezing cold and with my Carpal Tunnel affected fingers buzzing, out of the weather and into the tent, the warm air hit me. As I sat down with my veggie lasagne I wondered how I could possibly leave this nice warm tent and get back on my bike in my uncomfortable wet kit. Ollie said it was time to go and I burst into tears. He knew it was a possibility that I would give up here – I’d been struggling the last few miles. I didn’t want to. It was such a hard decision, but eventually I said I didn’t want to damage my body by pushing it too hard and we found the tent which dealt with quitters. They took my number and then said I had to go to the top of the road and wait there for half an hour for a bus to take me back to Motala. One of the main reasons I wanted to give up was my inability to warm up – so there was absolutely no way that I was going to stand in the cold and the wet waiting for a bus. I told Ollie that I would have to continue.
Just as we were about to set off, a Service car came around the corner; these cars have bike racks on the back and pick people up along the course and, as far as we knew, take them back to Motala. Ollie flagged it down and the lady got out – when we told her that I wanted to go back to Motala she said she could help and she almost dragged me away. I wished Ollie goodluck on the rest of the ride and we went our seperate ways.
The car woman took me back to the tent and the bus woman. The bus woman told me to wait for the bus.
So I was on my own, miserable, cold and wasn’t getting taken back.
Carrying on seemed easier than giving up at that point, at least if I was pedalling I would be warm.
I stuffed everything into my jersey pockets haphazardly, barely finished talking to the woman and got on my bike to sprint after Ollie. I used every wheel I could keep up with but then realised – he was probably doing the same, only 5-10 minutes ahead of me. So, I stopped and called him, leaving a message and hoping that he would feel his phone vibrate or stop for a break. I was convinced he would not stop at the next station as he didn’t have me holding him back and he wasn’t as in need of breaks as I was. Having left a message, I trudged on, thinking I would have to do the rest of the ride on my own.
7km outside of Karlsborg (the next stop) my phone vibrated; I pulled over and called Ol back; he had stopped at the next station. I got a bit emotional again and got a move on in order to meet up with him.
Despite writing much of this post in km rather than miles I have not been converted, I still don’t know what km are, but the maps were all in km so at each stop I started Googling the convertion of km to miles so that I would know just how many miles there were until the next stop;
Okay so this is just like from work to home, 18 miles. Easy peasy…
I only considered how many miles there were until the next stop, taking the ride in tiny chunks.
The rest of the ride went without drama; we saw people sleeping, sleeping everywhere – at the side of the road for instance – helmet off and used as a pillow, fast asleep. Then the sub-9-ers started to come through at a crazy pace and I watched in awe as I realised there were women in the groups!
We finally crossed the finish line at about 1430 on Saturday afternoon, about 16.5 hours after we had started.
We went straight back to the kebab/pizza house from the previous evening and ordered a pizza each and some fries – a massive amount of food, which it turned out we couldn’t finish. We then had a 6 mile cycle back to our accommodation, where we showered and then fell asleep until midnight. We got up for triple chocolate cookies and then fell back to sleep until 0700, which was the time we were meant to be leaving!
A 14 hour journey in the car followed, and back over the bridge, which 1. charges both ways and 2. actually costs around £48 each way rather than the £30 which we thought was extortiate before. Here’s a picture of it, please appreciate it because it cost us a fortune!
Thanks so much to Ollie for putting up with me, encouraging me, believing in me and for stopping at that food stop!
We’ve (Ollie has) driven 790 miles, taken two ferries, eaten three pizzas (plus chocolate, fries, crisps..a healthy car diet) and driven across the famous bridge from Denmark to Sweden (which cost us in excess of £30). We’ve had our last nights sleep before the big event and we’re enjoying breakfast before getting going. We have another 3-4 hours of driving to get us to Motala.
The weather last night and this morning was perfect cycling weather; not too hot, not too cold, no wind and no rain. Tonight’s forecast is rain, and wind.
P.s. I mean Ollie did the driving, not that he ate three pizzas, chocolate, fries etc. He had help with that.
It’s 10 days since I last went on my bike. I did a solo century. It was grim and my neck was in agony for days after, in fact I’m still having trouble with it, but much improved.
On the plus side my new shorts were great.
It certainly wasn’t the confidence boost I’d hoped for though and I’ve not even been slightly tempted to get on my bike since!
The jury is out on whether I will ride, if I do I honestly expect to give into the broom wagon but will of course give it my best, I’m just not over-doing it.
So, we’re on our way to the ferry (our accommodation for the night), the sea sickness tablets are packed ready! Hopefully a nice smooth trip so we can get some sleep ready for a 12 hour car journey tomorrow!
The weather forecast in Sweden is wet and windy (basically the stormy weather here is moving north)
More updates when I can.