With the wind at our backs and some good downhill sections we really picked up the pace. Heading towards the southern end of the lake and the turn north at Jönköping we were hitting our maximum speed of just over 60kmh several times. When we got to Jönköping we were forty minutes ahead of schedule but it was not to last.What had been a tailwind had turned into a headwind and a very strong one at that. We were also heading into several long uphill sections and the pace dropped considerably. Two major uphill sections of over 5km each were killing us. In fact, over the next 50km we lost all the time we had made up and were only just keeping up with our schedule.
Morale in the team sank a bit and it became very quiet. Nobody was chatting anymore, everyone was totally focused on just keeping going. To make things worse, the group got slightly separated from each other and some outsiders forced their way into our lines. This made it difficult to rotate the team and keep the guys at the front fresh. I was stuck right at the back and in the end I had to just sit there and watch everyone else suffer while I had it easy stuck out on the tail. One of the girls was also starting to feel sick. She couldn’t eat or drink without becoming nauseous and, of course, that just made things even worse. This really was our low point.
Luckily it wasn’t too far to Fagerhult. We got a rest some food into us.
We also took the chance to reorganise the group. One guy stayed at the back making sure those who were struggling could keep up while those of us who still felt strong rotated at the front a lot faster to keep everyone feeling in top condition.
So far it had been a struggle but we’d had no mechanical issues. That was about to change.
And so we were off. We headed south out of Motala towards our first stop. Unlike most people we did not plan to stop at all the pit areas. We had planned four stops totalling just 45 minutes. Our first goal was Ölmstad which was 83 km away.
There was a huge board telling us the start time of the next group and counting down to our start time. One group departed every two minutes so it was important to pay attention.
As we left Motala it was a lovely day, blue skies and, most importantly, the wind at our back.
The roads were almost completely free of cars as everybody had been encouraged not to drive in the area unless they had to. Unfortunately we got stuck behind another group who were going slower than us but not slow enough to make it easy to overtake them. They were very jerky in their tempo, constantly accelerating and braking which made it difficult to be close behind them.
After about one hour there were suddenly shouts from in front of us. There had been an accident ahead and an ambulance was partially blocking the road. Rather than gradually slowing or just steering round the obstacle, everyone in the leading group slammed their brakes on. If you’ve ever done group cycling then you know this is very dangerous as we ride so close to each other, usually not more than about 20 centimetres off the back tyre of the bike in front. Luckily we were all able to stop safely and the chaos of the situation allowed us to get by the other group. Sadly, as we passed the ambulance, we saw that it was a Fredrikshof group that was down. We learned later that the sub 9 group had crashed but nobody was seriously injured. A few broken bones and a lot of cuts and bruises, 5 guys out of the race but everyone lived to fight another day and that’s the most important thing.
Once we had cleared the slower group we really started motoring. It was a beautiful day and the countryside was lovely, reminding me a lot of my home in Ireland but we couldn’t take the time to appreciate it. With the wind at our backs we set to it in earnest pedalling as hard as we could to make the best of the favourable conditions.
After just under three hours we arrived in Ölmstad for an all-too-short break (just five minutes). It was a real splash and dash. Run to the loo, refill the water bottles, grab as much food as we could and back on the bikes. As with everything else, the pit area was really well organised. Plenty of racks to hang the bikes on, lots of toilets and loads of helpful and friendly volunteers manning the food stations. We had just enough time to check our progress compared to the plan. So far we were about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.
At this point I was still feeling great but could we keep this pace up?