Event Report: Jason Gardner

Event: Vätternrundan
Date: 15th June 2024

Vätternrundan 2024: The Epic Adventure of the VTC Team

This year, our intrepid VTC (Viceroys Triathlon Club) team embarked on the world’s largest recreational bike ride—a whopping 315 km journey around Lake Vättern in Sweden. The lineup: Richard “The Resilient” Hill, Nick “The Speedster” Christian, Marit “The Machine” Sõrmus, and me, also known as “The Last-Minute Airport Resident.”

Pre-Race Shenanigans: British Airways vs. The Bike

The adventure kicked off a day before the actual race when British Airways decided that road bikes weren’t their cup of tea. While Nick, Richard, and Marit began their leisurely four-hour drive from Stockholm to Motala, I found myself with a new friend at the airport, both of us staring wistfully at the arrivals board for what was hopefully going to be the arrival of our bikes on the next flight.

Nine hours, one newly hired car, and a friendship forged in the fires of airline-induced frustration later, we rolled into Motala just after 9 PM. Thankfully, my stellar teammates had everything ready for me, including a much-needed evening meal and, most importantly, a beer. With my bike hastily assembled by another team effort worthy of an F1 pitstop (untested, naturally), we hit the sack by 11 PM, dreaming of the next 4 AM alarm that awaited us.

Race Day: 5 AM Start with Perfect Weather and “BA Buns”

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (well, sort of), the VTC squad rolled out at 5 AM sharp under perfect blue skies. The weather was decent: a bit windy, but with beautiful views around Lake Vättern that made every pedal stroke worthwhile. The plan was simple: stop at all nine feed stations to stave off monotony and prevent our feet from seizing up and get the job done. And to our utter delight, not one person had to shout “hole” for at least the first 180 km—the road surface was impeccable, a stark contrast to the pothole-riddled roads of Surrey.

We maintained a strong pace, joining forces with pelotons exceeding 40 kph, pushing our average speed well over 30 kph for the first half. There were a few touch and go moments with some slightly inexperienced riders hanging on for dear life on the back of a 50+ well organised peloton but we all remained upright with some careful manoeuvring (including a strong dash to the front by Mr Hill in the quest to avoid any further danger!).

The feed stations provided a delightful array of water, electrolytes, blueberry soup!!, and the soon-to-be-famous “BA buns”—those tasteless, dry-as-a-desert buns you get on a British Airways plane (in a wrapper) that, while not exactly gourmet, were a step up from energy gels and shot blocks.

To break up the food monotony, we were treated to a feast of meatballs and mash in Jönköping (104 km) and then lasagne at Hjo (171 km). These were washed down with more blueberry soup and, of course, more BA buns!

The Windy, More Elevated, Hard Second Half

As we entered the second half of the race, the wind decided to crank up the difficulty level. Despite the battering from head and side winds, even after 200 km and in the absence of larger pelotons (all trains had left the station by the halfway point), our quartet managed to maintain a 30 kph average between the food stops – quite some effort on tired legs. Getting over the 200 km marker was a great boost, albeit quickly flattened by the next marker at 205 km indicating 110 km (a mere “long” Saturday ride) to go.

The penultimate stage, between feed stops 7 and 8, was a brutal stretch of continuous elevation in high winds. Marit, ever the optimist, didn’t want to know what lay ahead but soldiered on with the reassurance that the end of the hill was (somewhat) near (yes, course it was Nick!) 😊.

Despite all this we remained a tight group all the way through with everyone making massive efforts on the front, not once did we split so the training clearly paid off. The continual reapplication of chamois cream really paid off on this ride (thanks for that tip, Euan!).

While this was not a closed-road event, the marshalling and signage were top-notch, making it unnecessary to rely on our Garmins—a relief, given our concerns about battery life.

The final section was a blast, with each of us taking turns at the front, pushing through the pain and fatigue at over 35 kph. Richard lost his sense of humour, which is a rarity, with 15 km to go, but we dragged each other through the final, seemingly endless, straight to big smiles as we could see the end.

The Grand Finish: VTC Victorious

Crossing the finish line, side by side in our pink VTC kit, was a triumphant moment. It was the longest ride any of us had completed, and doing it together made the achievement even sweeter. From airport delays to headwinds that could knock over a large mammal, the VTC team conquered it all with grit, determination, and a good dose of humour….and of course, the BA buns.