Round Lake Vätten
Vätternrundan, the first in our Journey series, is described by the event organisers as the World's largest recreational bike ride, and was brought to our attention by a well-known cycling event organiser who described Vätternrundan as his favourite amateur cycling event on the world circuit.
Therefore, we find it fitting to be our opener of what promises to be a great series of Journeys.
- Name – Vätternrundan
- Location – Motala, Sweden
- Inaugural event – 1966 with 344 starters
- Event date – On or near to the longest day of each year
- Distance - 300km
- Elevation – 1757m
- Number of participants – 23,000
- Number of nations represented – 50
- Our team start time – 21:44 on Friday 15 June 2018
- 11 South Africans all living in the UK,
- a Welshwomen and one of three Doctors on tour (we were well looked after),
- a Swedish interpreter & event veteran completing her 5th Vätternrundan challenge, and
- Rob Sharp from Lighttrapper Photography, who captured our entire Journey.
Heading off from Heathrow airport, loaded up with bike boxes, tents, and day packs, we began our journey to Stockholm, Sweden on Thursday 14 June. As we were flying in late, we planned to stay at the local airport hotel in Stockholm and drive out early the next morning. Arriving at the hotel around 22:30, we settled into the reception lounge and caught up over some good vino and cheap bar snacks.
Apprehension and anticipation filled the air as we forced ourselves to bed late that night. For most of the team the distance was manageable, as the hours of training had been banked. Our greatest challenge and the aspect of the ride creating the most nervous energy was our start time of 21:44 the next evening.
As Vätternrundan is a single stage event, we would be cycling continuously throughout the night and into the morning hours, as we pushed through the 300km distance. We would only stop for short breaks every hour or so to grab nutrition and to stretch out our tired backs.
At this time of the year, Sweden experiences around 5hrs of darkness, with the sun setting at 22:30. This meant we would be on the road to watch the sun set slowly over Lake Vättern and then rise a few hours later, over the amazing Swedish landscape. We had no idea what beauty lay ahead of us.
On Friday morning, after a quick breakfast, we began our trip south-west from Stockholm to our campsite, just outside Motala. Arriving around lunch time, we began setting up our tents and building all of our bikes. The excitement was electric as we worked together getting equipment sorted and handing out our tour kit – a very colourful cycling jersey and of course our range of Nüdo socks. Throughout the afternoon, everyone tried to relax and get in some needed sleep.
At 19:00 we kitted up, did last-minute equipment checks and strolled out of our camp site and into Motala. As we entered the town, we were confronted with a contagious vibe of excitement as cyclists whizzed between all the small cafes and restaurants. After some hunting we found a small corner in a quaint Italian spot, where we devoured pizzas and large bowls of bolognese in record time. Our next mission was to source some much needed caffeine before making our way to the start line. We made our way around town and found a quiet coffee shop, where we drank our flat whites and discussed our strategy.
With any large group ride, there are often challenges when it comes to flat tires and mechanical issues, which can threaten to derail a group’s morale. To overcome this, our approach for this challenge was simply – we would start & finish together no matter what. Our predictions were to complete the ride in ±12 hours, and to utilise the various refreshment stops along the way as and when we needed them.
Our strategy was to ride two abreast in a Social Paceline formation for the entire 300km. For this, the front rider on the right would move forward and to the left on each rotation, and the rider behind them would then take up the front right position. This meant that each rider would get a chance to pull at the front and also allowed us to catch up with everyone in the team. This proved to be very successful in creating a social element and helped keep us all awake.
At 21:44 we were ready to roll through the starting gates. Led out by 2 motorbikes, we felt like a professional team as we made our way out of the busy town centre and onto the first open road, leading out of Motala and down 47km’s to our first stop, Ödeshög. The support and atmosphere as we went out was exhilarating and left everyone in the team fired up and motivated.
As we hit the open road and our lead motorbikes pulled off, we started practicing our Social Paceline strategy, making quick work of the first 47km’s. Arriving at Ödeshög, we quickly parked our bikes and made a beeline for the coffee and food. Our teams time keeper was tight on the allocated 8 minutes per stop. Rushing in, we grabbed mouthfuls of sweet Swedish buns and salty pickles, which proved not to be the groups favourite when mixed with coffee.
Heading back out (2 minutes behind schedule), we soon found a good rhythm within the group as we road our way through the amazing country side, and into a long magnificent sunset. The few hours of darkness was a worry for the group at first, but actually made for fantastic riding. As the temperature dropped, we cycled further into the darkness making good time as we rotated through the group. There we long periods of silence as fatigue set in, requiring extra focus to hold the wheel of the bike in front and maintain safety within the group. We held a steady push through the late hours of the night and made our way into Jönköping with sunrise.
We arrived hungry for a hot meal and in need of a longer break. Our timing could not have been planned better, with Lake Vättern on our right and the sun steadily rising through the horizon in front of us. Hungry and tired, we parked our bikes and rushed off into the warmth of the food tent. Up till this point, we had only had sweet buns and pickles and we were in dire need of something more substantial.
Finding a large table, we gathered together mostly in silence and made short work of the hot lasagne. The groups morale gradually returned as our bellies filled and our legs rested. We were lucky to have a group with such a good mixture of personalities and characters that there was always a joke or witty comment no matter the mood. Pulling ourselves out of the warm tent, we set off in high spirits, filling the crisp morning air with our loud chatter and group banter.
Back in formation the team got down to work ticking the miles away. For the most part, our mood remained high however, we did experience hard patches as exhaustion set in and the length of the race became a reality. Luckily for us and little did we know, that we would have a secret weapon for keeping up our team morale.
Rob, our photographer, had been making his way around Lake Vättern capturing our moments earlier in the ride, was unable to follow us throughout the night and had stopped to catch some much-needed shut-eye. It had been a few hours since we had last seen him, and there was always excitement each time we spotted what looked like a photographer, hiding in the bush or in stealth mode next to the road. Add in some fatigue to our excitement, and the most faraway objects began to morph into a stealthy photographer. Our guess work definitely resulted into a few chuckles.
Moving his way around various back routes, Rob managed to leap frog us and caught the team at a particularly hard point of our ride. The group had been pushing hard and was tiring out, when we spotted the not so stealthy photographer, standing on the roof of his car ready to capture us as we flew past in tight formation. This lifted the team spirit and resulted in a hard push for the front riders as everyone wanted to be pulling the group and look strong in the pictures.
For the next few hours, Rob, always with his camera in hand, would appear on the side of the road or hiding deep in the forest. It was as if his camera lens was feeding the groups energy, as our spirits lifted each time we spotted him and jostled for good positions and forced happy smiles on tired faces.
As we made our way through the last few stops and back into Motala, we grouped up and crossed the finish line in a similar formation to how we started. Exhausted, but smiling, we hugged and congratulated one another as we moved off the finish line and plonked ourselves down onto the first open section of grass, removing our shoes from our exceptionally tired feet we collapsed onto our stiff backs and reminiscence over the events of the past 12 hours.
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