Martin Malins writes…
Vatternrundan, an obscure skin complaint, a brand of toilet cleaner?
No it’s the biggest bike ride (in terms of total numbers of km cycled by all participants) in the world with over 18500 riders cycling 300km around Sweden’s second largest lake the Vattern. This event has been running for over 40 years and is now so popular it is full up in January. I entered the ride last September as something to take my mind off London-Edinburgh-London which is also running this summer and I’ve decided never to do.
Being in Sweden it’s certainly not cheap and to keep the costs of the trip down I rode from Stockholm to the start town of Motala over 2 days staying in a charming youth hostel in Vingaker. With a population of 9 million and an awful lot more land than the UK the roads were almost empty. I used a quiet section to Motala and was rewarded with charming little hamlets, log cabins all flying the national flag and a pleasant smell of pine forests most of the way.
Motala’s population had doubled for the event but luckily basic accommodation was provided in the large sports hall. I met a couple of other UK riders on Thursday night for dinner and had an early night.
The ride started Friday evening with groups of riders setting off over the timing mats every 2 minutes into the night. I had selected a late start so when I set off at 02.32 am I had only an hour of riding in darkness in the Nordic summer. From the start the ride was totally unlike anything I have ever experienced, with massive groups all riding at breakneck speed; and slower riders including many veterans of the last 40 years pootling along on all sorts of machines.
I had aimed for a 12 hr time and after a couple of hours this looked possible. There were feed stations every 40km or so but they became a bit monotonous with lingonberry juice buns and gherkins. And I also managed to ride past the only stop that offered a hot meal due to getting the distance wrong.
On the Western shores of the lake the adrenaline buzz was amazing with fast groups coming through every couple of minutes; I tried to jump onto a few but as many had started 2 hrs after me did not stay on them for long. I put my head down and TT’d a 50km section, after a while I realised I had about 50 other riders on my back wheel!
By now the 12 hr time was looking to be smashed so I just topped up on isotonic drink for the last 70km and went full-on for a 11 hr finish.
The last section was a bit main-roady with many cars overtaking us carrying packed riders and their bikes.
But for the last 20km the ride went back into lovely pine forest as it scoured the shores of Vattern. And I finally crossed the line at 10.55 hrs; almost 2 hrs less than my previous best.
A highly recommended ride, part sportive, part PBP and part London-Brighton! details of the event here
ps. I was 3,800th out of over 14,000 finishers !