Guest blog: Cycling the Viking Tour Stage Race (holiday!)
Another friend called Nick, who is also the brainchild of the Southside Six event in Glasgow, took part in the Viking Tour Stage Race 2013. This event is claimed as “the world’s most beautiful cycling”, “northern Europe’s steepest” and amid an “easy-going Nordic atmosphere”. Nick writes: I stood nervously on the start line waiting for the final beep of the countdown clock. Beeeeeeep! I was off with the customary wobble, clicking into the pedals and then with a surge of power as I accelerated away along the prologue course.
Unfortunately, we’d previously covered part of the route so I already knew that just around the corner the road started climbing two kilometres to the finish line.My breathing started getting heavier, my heart was racing, my lungs burned and my pace began to slow (I even got overtaken by two of the riders starting after me!) but I eventually crossed the line and was officially a competitor in the Viking Tour Stage Race 2013!
I’d arrived in Norway a couple of days before to visit my mate Justin who’s living in Oslo. He’d talked me into signing up for the event after having a blast last year. Unfortunately he fell ill during the lead up to this year’s event and was forced to withdraw so I was left to compete against the horde of continental cyclists on my own.
The Viking Tour provides a transfer service from Oslo Gardemoen Airport and so I found myself boarding a luxury coach with a handful of fellow cyclists for the journey up to the ski resort of Beitostølen – the hub for the event.
I had taken the Valhalla accommodation option, which meant that for the week I’d be sharing school gyms and village halls with 150 other cyclists (earplugs recommended!) and bedding down in a sleeping bag on a sleeping mat. Toilets, hot showers and buffet breakfasts were provided. One upside of Justin’s illness was that I’d bagged his very comfortable air-bed with a built-in electrical pump!
After the exertions of the prologue I showered, sorted out my sleeping area and made my way to the welcome meeting held in the Radisson Beitostølen Hotel. For those competitors who had chosen the hotel option, this was their home for the night.
Following introductions from the crew and some late-breaking news about the route (something about adding more mountain roads!) we were made to swear a solemn oath to ride responsibly, to be fair competitors and to always cycle on the right-hand side of the road.
After the meeting a Norwegian chap introduced himself in excellent English albeit with a Norwegian accent and a strong hint of Glaswegian. Olav had noticed from the start list that I was a member of the Glasgow Triathlon Club and was keen to chat about the city of his birth. We spent an enjoyable hour sharing sporting endeavours and tales about Glasgow before I headed off to my communal sleeping quarters.
Sunday’s stage race
Waking from an unexpectedly good night’s sleep it was time to get up, get packed ready for the luggage transfer, have breakfast and set off. Sunday’s race would start with a transport stage to the official start line. It proved to be a great way to get to know our fellow cyclists as I set off with Olav, Anosheh (an American of Persian descent living in Dubai) and Barry (a tall Dutch lad who’d recently cycled up and down the Alpe six times in a row!)
After 30 kilometres of gentle riding and chatting we arrived at the village of Rykoss where the first full-stage starting line was located. It was to be a rolling start with the motorcycle support leading us out for a few kilometres, but in reality the race started immediately and I slowly slipped down the field. The race proper had commenced!
Much like that first Sunday, each day we would gather for breakfast, pack our bags (if we were moving on to the next village), change into our cycling gear and get ready for the off. More often than not we would be marshalled out of the local village before the start by the fantastic motorcycle crew (and sometimes the local police). Then it would be full-on racing for anything up to six hours, generally finishing at the top of a mountain pass.
After refuelling at the finish line, we’d make our way gently down the mountain to wherever we were staying for the night and shower, relax, have a beer, grab some food and mostly get an early night.
Over the course of the week my competitive spirit was awakened and after finishing third last in my age category in the prologue, I started to rise up the rankings. Each day took a different route but the common themes running through each were the stunning views over snow-capped mountains, with cliffs plunging down to the valley floor and the fjords, the gourmet feed stations, the camaraderie amongst the riders, the hill top finishes and the friendly encouragement of our guides and marshals.
A week on the Viking Tour
On that first Sunday we cycled more than 160 kilometres finishing with a 1000 metre ascent from sea-level. The next day we cycled in convoy for 25 kilometres through the longest road tunnel in the world, which was an eerie experience. This lead us to a stunning 1300 metre Alpine road race back over the mountain through which we’d just passed.
Tuesday started off with another non-competitive convoy winding along the shore of the fjord through a few unlit tunnels before the motorcycle escort peeled away for a fast rolling start. The group I latched on to covered more than 20 kilometres in less than half an hour before we hit another 1300 metre climb.
On the Wednesday, an individual time trial had been arranged. This gave those of us further down the ranks a more relaxing morning and time to enjoy the beautiful warm weather of the valley floor. However, it still meant a gruelling 32 kilometres on the bike over a course that was interestingly described as “Norwegian flat”.
Thursday was the big hill day with over 3000 metres of ascent. The final hill up to the finish line was a daunting rise up to 1800 metres above sea level with an average gradient of 10% for 12 kilometres. It was cold and windy at the top so we hung around just long enough to catch our breath, take a few photos and grab a quick bite to eat before descending.
The final stage on Friday was almost an anticlimax with no real mountain passes and only a few gentle climbs. But then we topped out on the penultimate hill and suddenly found ourselves racing at speeds of up to 70 kilometres per hour over immaculate tarmac for nearly 10 kilometres before a final sprint uphill to the finish line. A perfect end to the race.
Highlights of the Viking Tour
The highlights of the week were the stunning mountain vistas, the quality of the routes selected by the organisers, the friendly nature of the event and the way in which people competed during the racing stages and then came together to reward the winners each evening. There were jerseys for the race leaders, the sprinters and the King/Queen of the Mountains in each age/gender category.
For me though, as many who know me will understand, it was the amazing feasts available at the feed stations that topped off a perfect week. From jelly sweets to chocolate cookies to bananas and sandwiches and hot soup and coffee to water and energy drinks and more. I was in Norwegian heaven several times each day!
Further information at www.vikingtour.org
Thanks to Sandra Groenwold for the pictures.