The Vatternrundan is the longest one-day recreational bicycle ride in the world, at 300 kilometers. Vattern is Europe’s sixth largest lake, roughly halfway between Stockholm and Gothenberg. The ride starts in Motala, on the eastern shore. It’s a quaint little town – unmistakably Swedish. The course travels south along the eastern side of the lake to Huskvarna (think chain saws and motorcycles) and Jonkoping, then north for roughly 150km toward Askersund, and then south again to Motala.
Our team, the Hollviken Cykelclubb, met up at 5:30am to review strategy. I met Charlotte and the guys, Charlotte being the only woman in our group. We broke up into two 25-rider groups to facilitate riding in a “paceline” (an organized peloton) allowing us to move fast and save energy. Our official start time was 5:56 and our goal was to ride sub-nine hours. In order for this to happen, stops for aquavit and plates of Swedish meatballs were not an option.
It was cold and there was a fierce wind as we started south toward Huskvarna. Everyone was full of adrenalin, our pace was high and the first 100km put a sting in everyone’s legs. The slipstreaming effect in cycling can save as much as 40% of the energy a rider expends on his (or her) own. Staying hydrated and eating adequately on a ride like this is no easy feat. There are no rest stops. Though we did stop for a 30 second pee-break at 90km, and a water break at 180km, we were moving fast, the whole time. We had a goal, sub-nine hours.
The Swedes take the Vatternrundan seriously. Despite the high winds, a new record was set for the greatest number of cyclists completing the ride, 18,475. Cycling clubs that participate take it to an even higher level. Typically, they have a designated “enforcer” to keep other riders from mixing in. There is a lot of trust involved when riding so closely to one another. Outsiders are frowned upon. I had heard of the use of “enforcers” and could only think of a bearded Viking with animal pelts and horns. Our enforcer was about 5’7”, 120 lbs, and her name was Charlotte. She rode at the back of the group, fending off other riders dropped from their groups. She also called out instructions – “contact” when we would all regroup at the top of a rise. She endlessly shouted encouragement – and often received a well-trained response. Charlotte was in charge. Remarkably, she rode roughly 15 feet off the back of the group, outside the slipstream effect, to guard our group against poachers, and keep things just so.
We rode north up the west side of the lake, passing the 150km point. Our pace was super high with a powerful tailwind. Kilometers ticked off as we flew down the road, whirling through small villages. As the day wore on, more and more spectators lined the roads and shouted encouragement. By the time we reached the top of the lake, the pace and distance were taking their toll. We had dwindled to 16 riders and had agreed not to wait for dropped riders. Riders were spending shorter and shorter amounts of time on the front of the group. With 50km to go, it looked as though we had a chance to finish somewhere near the eight-hour mark.
Unfortunately, when we rounded the northern tip of the lake we turned back into the wind, the terrain turned to rolling hills and it was clear we had a ton of work in front of us, just to finish. After a huge final push, we rolled across the finish line to cheering crowds and triumphant music. We crossed the line at 8:40, putting us somewhere around a 35km/hr pace. We later learned that we had passed an astonishing 6,126 riders while on the road, and had been passed by only 8 riders. No question, the ride had been a huge success.
Afterward, we grouped together for some cold lattdryk beers and pasta on the Motala village green. It was quite a scene: Everyone fired up after nailing a significant life-goal, while at the same time, completely exhausted. Our group’s ride was impressive – many riders spend in excess of 14 hours on their bikes.
Charlotte, as you can see in the group shot, is no wallflower. She too had accomplished a major goal of which she took great pride, and rightly so. She had safely shepherded her cycling club through the prestigious Vatternrundan. It was not lost on any of the “Vikings” who finished in our group that Charlotte, in fact, was the one in charge. She reminds me how far we can lead our Wealth for Women clients by giving them the same confidence to take control and direct their financial assets to winning finish lines. Charlotte had skillfully and artfully pushed, guided and inspired our peloton from beginning to end. When I asked her about her plans for next year, she was matter of fact, saying cross country running was her true passion, and she had some other goals, conquests, she wanted to put behind her.