Vätternrundan. 300km's through the night.
So, at 02:30 on the Wednesday, it really was the hardest way to start the pre amble before the ride. I think I managed to pack and get into bed at around midnight, so I really was running on a short burst of sleep. An early morning Taxi to Heathrow, quick breakfast, and much needed Cortado (or 2) and off to Stockholm on the 06:40 flight.
3 hours South East or to be exact 10 miles less than I had to ride is Motala, the town buzzing with cycling related events spanning the week-long festivities. Over the course of the week there is a Half Vattern, MTB Vattern, Ladies Vattern and the 300km Vatternrundan.
We had a couple of days for the group to assemble, and for us to adjust and catch up on sleep before the ride which started Friday evening. The ride is 27,000 strong and sets off in 2-minute waves over a 24-hour period (or thereabouts).
Our time slot for the start was 23:36, now there are a few things I probably hadn’t really considered before the day. Firstly, we are one hour ahead, therefore when I should be preparing for bed I was actually getting dressed for a ride, and not any ride but one that was going to take a hopeful 10 hours finishing mid-morning, which for the main didn’t really make sense when all I wanted to do was brush my teeth and bed down. I mean, 186 miles is hard enough surely after a well prepped evening and good night’s sleep, let alone a sleep deprived start and vino infused warm up.
Secondly the conditions. We were fortunate, the cats and dogs that had been delivered 24 hours before had stopped and the thunder and lightning had passed leaving a very pleasant and warm evening. I had figured that 11 degrees was the low, so a base layer and jersey would suffice knowing the sun would rise and the temps with it, so leg warmers and arm warmers along with a cap was all I needed in addition.
The town is busy. The streets full of cyclists which is weird as its dark and past 22:00. We grab a coffee and chat amongst ourselves with excitement. As the waves leave we start to get prepared, I am riding with a group of 11 with mixed ability. We have already semi agreed that the faster and stronger of us where likely to head out a bit quicker, and the slower group would stick together. The age range for our group was mid 30’s through to early 70’s (including a 10th attempt for Peter our eldest participant).
This is my 13th ride of the year. Not actually a lot of saddle time when you think about it. And I am earmarked as one of the fitter of the group. (We have a mix of Triathletes, Ironmen and seriously capable social riders).
We set off, led out by a motorcycle for the first 1km. It leaves the parade and lets us go off in the dark, I realise I have never ridden in darkness before. It’s different. We are trying to pace ourselves but seem to be passing many from the wave that left 2 mins prior. Then the wave 4 mins prior. We cover much ground and the first hour is dark, with lots of riders of all abilities, we are shouting around making sure we are all relatively close to one another, keeping an eye on those in front and checking in with those behind.
It’s a large Peloton, snaking past social riders, whom seemingly have come out with packed lunches and picnics for the long journey. 2 hours in and we have made good time, averaging 21 mph. By this time the field has spread widely, faster paced guys have seemingly gone, and then everyone has found their groove. We tag onto the back of a 15-rider team, all in matching kit, with a sweeper at the back keeping novices away, and rotation at the front to keep the pace. The pace is good, and other than the fixation of the rider in-fronts rear wheel the ride is seemingly easy so far. Long gone are the thoughts of a sleepless night, replaced with adrenaline and concentration. The sun starts to rise, and 5 of us who have stayed together are still sitting on the wheels of team Frey. This is the point when it all changed. We had now travelled 100km, a third of the way round. We had been peddling well, but effort felt like it had been reserved, so we dropped the group. Leaving them standing on one of the few hills and pursued a faster pace on the flat.
Effort - 125km in and its light, there is now only 4 of us. I look across to my wingman and he’s looking tired, red eyed, and slightly ruined. This was the moment I realised what we were in for. If the guy I was riding with whom I knew was more capable than me (multiple Iron men medals and in ferocious times) looked like he was about to hit the wall, then what chance did I have. I grabbed some energy chews and threw a packet at him, telling him to get them down him. I did the same. I was already 3-4 GU energy gels in and was consuming Chai energy pretty much constantly. After 10 minutes we now appeared to have regained tempo. We were passing many and seemingly not being caught by others. I realised now, as we were taking 5km at a time on the front and maintaining 35km’s per hour, we were actually heading the peloton, and all the capable riders we had been passing where in fact bunching up behind us. We covered another 60km’s only the 3 of us leading our 4th man and then a wave of random riders tagging on behind (none of which I may add bothered to take a turn at the front). We hit the 200km mark. This was going to be a lot harder than I had ever imagined.
On a side note if you ever do the Vatternrundan yourself it is worth considering that the lake is large. You can spend as much time as you like monitoring the weather conditions at the start and finish northern town of Motala, but 70km’s south the weather is very different. We didn’t get really wet, but we certainly only just missed some early morning showers in Jonkoping.
At around 200km’s in we arrive in Hjo. I arrive feeling strong, racing into town, and consuming the beautiful lake side views as I enter the feed station. This is the point on the ride where if you so wish you can have a sit-down meal. There is Lasagne on offer, and I’m told its good. Instead of stopping we splash and dash, quick toilet break and a water top up and back out we go. One of our team is really struggling to keep with us now. There is a long climb coming out the town (please do note, there really aren’t any long climbs on this ride, it’s meandering sure, but nothing you need to be hitting granny ring on) and 4 become 3. We get another 20km down the road and pull in to regroup. Our 4th man re-joins us and then I see our meal ticket home.
12-15 riders come screaming past the feed station. I look across to the guys and declare that’s our ticket home. We sprint out of the stop and latch on to the back. 3 chaps out front are pushing 35km’s per hour and there are several riders behind them clinging on, as they eat up the miles. It’s a tough pace considering the distance already covered and the hard 125km’s we have just pushed through, but I figure we had earned our place in the group. Riders start dropping off the pace and flowing back, we drop the last group at the next feed station and there is only 7-8 of us now, we know we have lost our 4th man again, but decide to stick with the pace. We pull in at the next feed station 40km’s from Motala, we had made a promise to all finish together, so we waited.
The last 40km’s and home. The last stretch has lots of ups and downs, you ride the highway into Motola for 25kms before pulling off the main road and up probably the shortest sharpest ascent of the entire ride in Medeve. My legs are numb at this point, just pushing on. I’m incredibly uncomfortable with a stiff neck from the tense early stages of the ride, I don’t want any kind of sugary substance to pass my lips, and pretty much all I want to do is brush my teeth. (9-10 GU’s through the night will do that to you). I am out of the saddle more than I’m in it (many years of BMX and mountain biking helps) but push on back down the highway into Motala and to the finish line.
The town is quiet as its around 10 am. The fence lined streets not as busy as it would likely be a little later in the day, still the 4 of us are together and we ride in congratulating each other, crossing the line in a very respectable 10 hours and 15 minutes.
Our total ride time was 9 hours and 22 minutes, resulting in an incredibly respectable 19.7 mph average overall.
Same again next year? Your damn right, but I doubt I’ll ever do it that fast again, and conditions where near perfect. Maybe there will be snow next time?
n.b. A massive thanks to Adrian Sarkies, James Causer, Ian Baker and Shane Betts for the company before during and after the ride. And to James, you where severely missed mate.