Vätternrundan 2014: Part 2: Pre-race

Every year Motala hosts Cycle Week, a whole week dedicated biking and home to various cycle races ranging from 1300m for 6-7 year old kids, up to the blue riband 300km race around the whole lake.

My mother-in-law always rides Tjejvättern, a 100km race for women only. She’s in no way competitive and takes her sweet time about getting round to get the most for her entry fee. This year we decided to head down to Motala a week early to check things out, get all the last minute bits and pieces I needed and then wave her across the finish line.

The whole town really gets behind the event. All the taxis get fitted with bike racks, the town centre is blocked to all traffic except buses and official vehicles and stalls pop up all over the places selling everything you could possibly need at some very knocked down prices. I’d already bought most of what I needed but a last minute puncture left me needing some new inner tubes. Two Continental tubes for 200SEK, not bad. I also picked up some Grip Grab gloves for 150SEK and a Bianchi foot pump for 349SEK. I also sorted out my food needs by buying the Enervit Vätternrundan “loader” and race packages.

With that all done we cheered on my mother-in-law then headed back to Stockholm for the final training session.

One week later and we had the car packed up and were on our way back to Motala.

Bicycle on the rack

The team met up on Friday night to have some dinner and sort out the final details for Saturday. We then headed home for some rest before our early start the next morning. I needed to get up at 0400 to be in town at 0515 and ready to start at 0546. As you can see I was taking it very seriously…

Pre-race diet

Everyone arrived in time. A few people had forgotten things. One guy forgot his sunglasses, I forgot to put on sun screen and so on but nothing major. The time flew by and soon we were ready for the start of our 300km adventure.

Fredrikshof Sub-12

There were lots of Fredrikshof groups and most started around the same time. Every two minutes about 70 cyclists headed over the line. At 0546 it was our turn.

Next time we’ll see how it went on the first part of the race.

Vätternrundan 2014: Part 1: Prep

My main reason for getting back on my bike a year ago was that I have decided to try and complete the Svenskklassiker race series. I did Halvklassikern three years ago and the cycling was by far the hardest part, so I started with the cycling this time. That meant tackling Vätternrundan, a 300km bike ride around Sweden’s second largest lake.

I figured that I would never make it round on my own so I signed up for Fredrikshof’s sub-12 group. Put simply, this meant that our goal was to get round the course in a total time under 12 hours. Not a bad challenge considering that most people take 14+ hours. There were 11 in the team ranging from total noobs like me to very experienced guys who have done VR in sub-9 groups.

We met up most Tuesdays and Thursdays through March, April and May for 50-60km rides around the Märsta / Arlanda area. These usually took us about 2 hours. We’d then meet up on the weekend and do anything from 50 up to 170km. The one big struggle we had was synchronising everyone’s real life commitments with the training sessions so we never managed to get the whole group together at one time. There was a core of five or six who came regularly and the rest came as they were able. Fortunately we had a great team leader who knew exactly what we needed to be doing to be ready in time.

sub12-training

They say that to make it round Vättern you need to have covered at least 1000km. 2000km is needed if you plan to go any sort of fast and 3000km if you want it to be comfortable. From buying my new bike last June to the start this June I covered a little over 2500km of which about 1800 was done this year. Tune in next time to see how it went…

giro d’sverige?

Giro D'Italia in Sweden?

Giro d’Italia takes place in Italy and the Tour de France takes place in France, right? Wrong! More and more they are visiting other countries including England, Northern Ireland and Denmark. And now the Giro may be coming to Sweden ((http://www.eurosport.se/cykel/giro-d-italia/2012/girot-i-samtal-om-mojlig-start-i-sverige-fantastiskt-erbjudande_sto4011459/story.shtml)). It’s not going to happen any time soon with the discussions mentioning some time after 2017 but at least it’s being discussed. It could be done in conjunction with Vätternrundan which would mean that most of the infrastructure is already in place and that us mere mortals would be able to join in and ride the same course as the professionals on the same day. Assuming I make it round my first Vätternrundan next year, this would definitely make a second more interesting for me.

Gran Fondo Stockholm

As a member of Fredrikshof Cycle Club, I recently received a mail from the club chairman. In it I was informed that the club will be a major partner in a new road race in and around Stockholm next year. Gran Fondo Stockholm (GFS) is a 150km race from Friends Arena, through Stockholm and then out towards Arlanda airport before looping back to the finish line inside the arena.

Gran Fondo Stockholm

Since I’m training for Vätternrundan 2014 (VR), I figured that a 150km race just a few weeks beforehand would be perfect. Then I saw the entry fee. 1195 SEK! Quite a lot of  money in my book but still, it’s a great chance to get some miles under my belt so why not.

A little while later I checked my Facebook news feed and ran straight into an avalanche of outraged Fredrikshof members. Why is the club boycotting  VR due to price but supporting an equally expensive new race? Why are we dropping Roslagsvåren (135 km) to partner with a much more expensive race? Why is the race in Stockholm so much more expensive than other Gran Fondos? Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Why are Fredrikshof not supporting VR next year?

Well the club haven’t abandoned it completely but are going to have a considerably smaller presence and it’s not due to the total price. In fact, it is in protest to VR’s raised fees for club registrations. If a club wants to register a team and get first dibs on the best starting time then there is an additional fee of 400SEK per person bringing the total cost to somewhere around 1800SEK per person. To put it another way VR costs 6SEK per kilometre whereas GFS costs 8SEK per kilometre so it’s more expensive. So if the argument was only about money then fine, I can buy that argument. But it’s not. It’s about all, or at least many, cycle clubs around Sweden taking a stand against what they see as an unfair price rise when they bring so many riders to VR every year.

Why are we dropping Roslagsvåren to partner with a much more expensive race?

I’ve never done Roslagsvåren so I can’t comment from personal experience but from what I’ve read the race is outgrowing itself. There is a lack of parking and a serious lack of volunteer marshals willing to give up their time to make sure the race goes of in a safe and organised way.

Why is the race in Stockholm so much more expensive than other Gran Fondos?

I’ve seen a lot of numbers being thrown around and yes, it does seem like it’s more expensive than similar rides in New York and the Alps but not by much. If that was the end of the story then fine but we don’t live in NYC or the Alps. So to take part in any of the “cheaper” races I’d need to buy a plane ticket, almost certainly pay a fortune to ship my bike and then find a place to live etc. For GFS I’ll pay my entry fee then either cycle or get a lift to and from the arena. End of story. So yes, the entry itself is more expensive but the total cost is much, much less for anyone living in the area. It is still expensive but nobody is forcing anyone to enter. If it’s too expensive for you, don’t take part.

En Svensk Klassiker So, will I take part or not? Well it’s all going to come down to money. Since I’m starting the Svenskklassiker next year I have to pay for entry to VR, Vansbrosimning, Lidingöloppet and Vasaloppet. If, after paying for all that, I still have enough to pay for GFS then I will. If I don’t then I won’t.

cycling Sälen style

Sälen is best known as a skiing area but a few years ago they realised that they need something to keep the region going once the snow disappears. They’ve spent a not so small fortune on making the area attractive to cyclists during the summer months. There are downhill runs and mile after mile of mapped road routes for those of us on skinny wheels. There are also information signs with maps, descriptions of the various types of runs, safety information and links to more info on the web…

Sälen, cycle

Now this has all been done in just a couple of years so how come Stockholm thinks it is going to take so long to do anything? OK, it’s a big town but the people here seem to think it’s comparable to London and New York. It’s just not. Stop making excuses and start actually doing something. If you don’t know how, go and ask them in Sälen.

If James Bond had a bike…

What’s the difference between James Bond’s car and every other car? Well, apart from the fact that most of us don’t have Aston Martin’s, Bond’s has tonnes of gadgets. Nowadays it’s possible to add more gadgets to your bike than Bond could ever fit into his car. First we had the humble bike light then speedometres. Now you’ve got power metres, GPS trackers, smart phones apps, Bluetooth devices, the list goes on.

I’ve been cycling since I was a kid but it’s only in the past few months that I started cycling in any serious way to get exercise. My plan is to complete Vätternrundan as a part of the Svenskklassiker next year so I needed to get a new bike (my mountain bike just isn’t right for 300km in one go). I bought myself a Columbus Pinta from CykelCity in Stockholm.

Columbus Pinta

It wasn’t cheap but it was far from the most expensive bike available. But buying the bike was only the start of the tale. Then I had to get special shoes to fit the clip pedals, a speedo to measure how far I’d gone and how fast, decent cycle shorts to cushion my butt, a cycle jersey with some pockets to hold the essentials and, and, and…

What I didn’t know at the time is that there’s a term for a new cyclist who buys all the gear but still isn’t very good. A Fred. I read a bit about it and I guess I have to admit it, I’m a Fred. I love having my gadgets. I track my riding with RunKeeper and/ or Endomondo, I planned to buy a Wahoo bike system from a friend (couldn’t make it work so I backed off) and now I’m trying to choose between a heart rate monitor strap or a sports watch. Do I need most of this stuff? No. Does any of it make me a better cyclist? Probably not. Will it help me get round Lake Vättern? Doubtful. Is it doing anyone any harm? 100% not so where’s the problem?

So who else out there is a Fred? What kit have you got? What’s worth getting and what’s total rubbish? What’s the best app to use for tracking your rides?

Say it once, say it loud. I’m Fred and I’m proud!

orange mécanique

Two days ago, something rather disturbing happened to me: in the span of an hour and fourteen minutes I wore Lycra, I rode a bicycle with lots of gears, a curved handlebar and a carbon fork and, to my own surprise, I liked it.

Despite the relative lack of sleep (a couple of hours) and training (none at all, remember the three week old daughter?) I met with two of my colleagues (Joel & Jukka) last Sunday morning for an Olympic relay (triathlon) here in Stockholm, Sweden. For those of you who are not too familiar with the sport (as I was until two days ago and still am), a triathlon is a multiple-stage competition with hundreds of women and men wearing spandex while they swim, cycle and run: a giant flash mob of people in tights sort of.

Anyhow, I was part of a wonderful team of amateurs on their first triathlon ever and my duty obviously was the 40 kilometres bicycle ride. I might commute by bike to work every day all year round and have some fun in the woods or in the bike park with the mountain bike I, on the other hand, don’t do road cycling and the fact is I don’t even own a road bike. But I have friends (yes I do), great friends, one of them being the owner and dictator at Fix My Bike in Hammarby Sjöstad. Yoann (that’s his name) trusts me enough to lend me a brand new Kona Jake The Snake for the race and the least I could do for him is put a link to his website (and here’s a second one – Fix My Bike – for the road).

Kona Jake The Snake, carbon fork

So I’ve been riding a Kona Jake The Snake, a cyclocross bicycle I know, on that race and, as a first road experience on a first proper sort-of-road-bike, it was a HUGE change from the Kona Coilair (really?) or the Kona Paddy Wagon (really?) I otherwise ride. Rolling at 50+ kilometres an hour with only the sounds of tires against asphalt and air in the spokes was just pure happiness.

I bought a pair of Crank Brothers Eggbeater 2 for the occasion and was very pleased with the pedals. I already have Mallet 3 on the Coilair and Candy 1 (that I’ll replace with the Eggbeater) on the Paddy Wagon so it was quite a natural addition to the bike.

Crank Brothers, Eggbeater 2 on Kona Jake The Snake

One hour and fourteen minutes then. That’s my modest performance on the 40 kilometres ride but I’m still quite satisfied considering the preparation with an average speed of just over 32 kilometres an hour. The team completed the race in 2 hours and 47 minutes and I guess we’ll just have to try and do better next year. Well done boys.

Note. The Snake, Jake (56 centimetres frame) is now for sale at 12,000 SEK (instead of 16,000) and has only been used for the triathlon. Hurry up cause there’s only one left.

ITU World Triathlon Stockholm 2013

In exactly 100 days I will participate in the ITU World Triathlon Stockholm but unfortunately I enjoy neither swimming nor running. I don’t enjoy swimming and running as regular sport activities I should say since I’m perfectly fine with a refreshing swim during summer and also fine with a quick run to the bus stop when I’m late in the morning (or a 10 kilometer race once in a while with the wife if she insists but that’s if she really insists).

Swimming in freezing water
Stockholm triathlon 2012 (or 2011, I can’t remember which summer it was so warm and we had so little ice)

Lucky for me there are such things as triathlon relays and people who actually do like swimming and running (weird but convenient)! “- Joel, wanna swim 1.5 kilometers? – Yes. – Jukka, wanna run 10 kilometers? – Yes. – Alright boys, I’ll bike, let’s go for the relay. – Sure. – Sure.” And so it is. Our it-took-less-than-one-minute-to-form team is on its way to its first triathlon.

I’m still not sure I’ll be able to get my hands on a proper racer for the day (I’m sure not going to buy one) so I just pretend I won’t and get ready for the 40 kilometer ride on my loyal single speed Kona Paddy Wagon (I’ll skip the fixed gear and go freewheel to get a chance to rest my legs if needed). The bike came with a 42T chainring and a 16T sprocket and the gear ratio – which is quite alright for relaxed commutes to work – would be way too small if I want to cover the distance in a decent time.

I now am on 46:16 and I will ride that for a month or so before I put on a smaller sprocket and so on. 46:16 is quite alright at the moment but I will need a bigger ratio to reach my objective: 1 hour 15 minutes and under (not sure I’ll manage but it’s more fun with a goal).

My main concern is the wind though: I ride the course almost weekly (at commuting speed) and it’s rather flat but it’s along the water and exposed. It’s around 6 kilometers one way and then back on the other side of the river (so the race will be 3 laps): with north to south winds it’ll be alright and means side winds the whole race but if it’s east to west winds then it’ll be harder with headwinds half the race.

As for the weather it does not really matter: it could be warm, cold, sunny, rainy or even snowy (it was 1°C for last year’s marathon in June so..) I embrace rule #9 and have a spare set of studded tires in stock. Our runner (Jukka) should be fine too but it might be a bit trickier for our swimmer (Joel) if he has to swim with an ice tool in each hand. But as long as we all have fun (Joel can always wear gloves) it does not really matter, we are the it-took-less-than-one-minute-to-form team on its way to its first triathlon and we’re going to smash our current record!

Joining the race too? Want to share your triathlon experience on one gear? Please don’t hesitate and leave a comment.