Race Report: Vätternrundan 2010

300 km. 30 swedish mil. More than 20,000 cyclists. And one really big lake: Vättern.

It is hard to know where to start when writing about Vätternrundan, Sweden’s longest and most famous bike race around Sweden’s second largest lake, which I participated in yesterday. I suppose the beginning would be a good place, so here goes.

Around this time in Sweden, the sun refuses to set. As I lay awake in my bed in Katrineholm, trying desperately to sleep the day before before our 3:14 AM* start time, I began to think about how I haven’t actually been awake in total darkness for almost a month. The plan for the day before the race was to sleep from 4 PM to 11 PM, then eat a *breakfast* of pasta, and then hop in Britt-Marie’s car and make the one hour drive to Vätternrundan’s start and end point: Motala, Sweden. That means that just when  it started to get (sort of) dark, it was time to wake up, a fact that was made even more ironic by the fact that I hadn’t actually slept. Oops.

But I got up notheless, and determined to REPRESENT Calcycling, pulled on my Calcycling shorts and jacket.

About 70 km in, Lunedi, my bike club in Lund, zoomed by. About 20 club members had formed a pack, half with the goal of riding the race in under 10 hours and half with the goal of riding in under 9. They seemed to be sticking together pretty well at that point (but were were after all only 70 km in, I heard that the groups slit up in Jönköping, about 100 Km in). As they sailed by us I yelled ‘HEJA LUNEDI’ and pumped my first in the air. At they end of the pack I saw my friend Danial, seemingly struggling to hold on. I screamed ‘Häng på! kom igen!!’ as loud as I could. No word from him yet on if he was able to hang with those guys, but he definitley must have made it under 10.  I have heard that at least two of them made it in under 8. All I can say to that is ‘wow’.

There were a lot of packs that passed us in the first couple of hours: several from Stockholm (there was one pack that had a goal of sub-7), a few from Uppsala, a few from random other places in Sweden, and a lot that were just random conglomerates of folk from all over. Every time a pack (one that seemed to have a reasonable speed) went by, I felt a sort of twitch in my legs telling me to chase and hang with them, but I knew that it would be really mean to leave my friend Johanna (whom I had promised to ride VR with about a year ago)  by  herself for such a long race. So I shifted down and waited. I waited a lot. But I was OK with it.

And so the first 100 Km went by like nothing. Maybe that was just because I wasn’t fully awake. Maybe because it was twilight. And I got to see the 4 AM sunrise. Two cool things happened in the first 100km. First a guy rode up next to me and asked, in a surprisingly perfect American-English  accent: ‘do you go to Berkeley?’ I was taken off-guard a little bit, but of course answered yes. He said he grew up in Danville, saw my Cal shorts and had to ask. The memory of riding Fruit Stand in 100 F heat actually warmed me in the body, I think. Then, about an hour later, a girl rode up next to me and asked: ‘Har du läst vid Berkeley?’ (have you studied at Berkeley?) JA! of course was the answer. Again, the shorts had tipped her off, and she had to ask me because she had worked over the summer at Strawberry Canyon recreation center. We chatted a bit about how awesome Berkeley is before she stopped riding for a break. What an insanely small world we live in!

We stopped for breakfast of oatmeal in Jönköping (the other option was mashed potatoes and meatballs, which for some reason didn’t seem appealing at nine in the morning).

After breakfast came the rain. Very typical of Sweden, to rain. Sigh.

For about 40 km before the Lunch break I convinced Johanna to hang with a pack that seemed to be averaging around 25 km/hr, which isn’t terribly fast, but faster than we where going at any rate. And it mean’t that I didn’t have to pull for a little while at least. The pack took us pretty safely to Lunch, were we sat in a tent and ate and waited about 20 minutes for the worst of the rain to end. Fun fact: lunch was in a town called Hjo, which is pronounced like ‘you’. I saw a sign that said ‘I love Hjo’. It was funny.

After the rain had cleared, we rode about 40 km at a pretty relaxing pace in the sunshine. Another Lunedi guy passed us, though he wasn’t wearing the Lunedi kit and was treating VR as a ride, rather than a race. I rode with him for about 5 min and then had to slow down and wait for Johanna. We rode at a pretty even tempo the rest of the way to the rest station at Karlsborg. Some Danish packs passed us along the way, and I remembered the warning we got from the old smålanning man we met on the way to Katrineholm: Watch out for the Danes, they are sickly good at cycling. I am not sure if he was right or not, but I did get a little pissed of when some Danish guys cut in front of me in the line to get Blåbärsopa (world’s best recovery drink) in Karlsborg.

Near the end of the race, it seemed as if every 100 m there was some guy peeing in the bushes. Aside from that the last 100 km had some nice hills, and it felt good to pull some old fat German dudes up them. We also passed some really badass-looking, really old swedes on rusty commuter bikes with old-school saddle bags, who had surely been riding since 10 Pm the day before. I was totally impressed and inspired.

We ‘pushed the gas’ a little bit for the way into Motala, skipping the last rest station (thank god) and pedaling straight through the last 40 Km. When we reached the finish in Motala, I was surprised to be greeted by yet another friend from Lunedi, Rebeka, who was working as a volunteer, and who had just won the Skåne 2-day road race the weekend before (Way to go!). She said she’ll do Vättern next year. That got me thinking….

And so our final time was (cough) 13: 35. Not too bad at all actually, considering how much we stopped. I am especially proud that Johanna, who hasn’t really trained for cycling at all, made it in such good time. Bra kämpat! Well fought!

A while later Britt-Marie and Annika showed up (with dogs in tow) and we changed and made our way back to Katrineholm where the schedule was accordingly: shower, food, sleep. O, sleep felt good.

And now the question is: Who wants to come Sweden and ride Vätternrundan with me some time in the future? Next time I am going for sub -10 hours, without a doubt. Who’s with me?


*Can you imagine my joy when I realized that our start time was 3.14 , also known as teh first 3 digits of pi?


5 Responses to “Race Report: Vätternrundan 2010”

  1. Anna Says:

    Woohoo – well done! I’m up for doing VR next year (unless, of course, I do ALC again). Loved the race report.

  2. tornspira Says:

    Thanks! I would like to Vättern again sometime but I’m not sure if I’ll make it back here next year already (but who knows?) You can pull me all the way around : ) How’d ALC go?

  3. darwin Says:

    Love the report. I did VR in 90 and 91. You described it very well with the rain and the hills at the end. Very cool.

  4. Ride Report: Genevarundan, Doing it Better « the daily saga Says:

    […] stories about Vätternrundan in good ol’ Scanian Swedish with someone you just met while riding your boss’s road […]

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