NEVER TOO LATE TO START CYCLING

Tromsø at almost 70N, limited road network and occasional snow falls as late as June and as early as September will not strike you like a road cycling paradise. But there is a house with a colorful sign ‘Its never too late to be a rock star’ in the town center. I mean – we cant expect to have it easy AND fun in life right? So, why not start road cycling right now and here? After all, indoor trainers can save your evening on a dark and stormy evening when the weather outside is too repulsive to put your skis on and fight with the sticky snow. The roads get predominantly snow and ice free in April and can last you until October. And there is a cycling event almost every weekend during summer. Not bad – I just wish there was more women into it. Men have a nice gang to train and compete with, but there is only a handful of us.

To inspire myself (and you!) I traveled down south and checked out how they do it there and how we could do it up here. I went to two ‘Norwegian Cup’ races this year. Norwegian Cup is a series of amateur races in the highest league of Norwegian road cycling. Women have their own competitions and usually there is 30-40 starting on each race. There are no qualifications and everybody can join. I have started to train in a systematic way a year and a half ago and I wondered what can I expect from biting a piece of such a big apple. It turned out to be quite a big show that to my naïve perspective closely resembled pro races of the Tour de France style. Team cars, caravans, organized teams with coaches, mechanics, support cars, tents for warm up. Unimaginable amount of training and sweat behind the scenes. Quite a contrast to a women traveling alone from Tromsø with a bike, a sport bag and a handful of outdoor races in her legs this spring. Here is how it went…

First ‘pancake’

The first destination was the race at Eidsvoll, right next to the Oslo-Gardermoen Airport. It was still May and while there was still lots of snow around Tromsø, my bike and me landed in a grey spring afternoon – constant drizzle, but the grass was already green and the trees had their buds ready. The race started well, I was enjoying my ride in the elastic accordion of the pelaton for the first 30km. Until the climb. It started very steep and continued in slightly gentler switchbacks. Still, I got dropped in the first ones. I was breathing like a locomotive, but that was not the problem. The legs were not strong enough, body (and bike) too heavy and head not ready for so much suffering. At the top of the hill there was a feeding zone and everybody got a fresh bottle (except me of course). I havent done my homework with that climb. I should counted the turns and know exactly how long it is and how does it end. The end was really quite gentle – as it usually is the case, but I was not sure and did not give a final push when I should. I still managed to follow another women down a scary descend with muddy bad road. She let me rest a bit before I started to take my short turns with her. The second climb was much easier because I did not even try to go hard. Finally we caught up with two more women and we rode in a pace line to the finish. About 10 km to the end it started to rain. After the finish we were supposed to cycle two more short laps. But we got time-cut, because we were more than 10 min behind the leading group. I was disappointed. I was angry at my self for not trying harder on that first climb. I wanted to have another go. Maybe with a bit less climbs actually…

Second pancake!

It turns out that the surroundings of Stavanger – together with neighboring Sandnes Stavanger is the oil capital of Norway and third biggest Norwegian city, are quite flat. This county called ‘Jæren’ supplies most of the food to the Norwegian supermarkets and has a remarkable road network between the villages – perfect for a flat road race! I have studied the race track better this time and decided to increase my chances by participating in two races that weekend.

Typically every Norwegian Cup race has an prelude in a so called ‘Ranking ride’. Nine laps on 6,7km of undulating terrain with narrow roads and sharp turns. All went fine and I have learned some lessons on how not to stay with the peloton and how to tackle the sharp curves and crossroads. To make things more interesting, some turns were followed by short steep climbs. There were a couple of falls – one woman was pushed off the road in a sharp turn and several got into a mass crash on the climb where bikes wobbled too much. Later I heard they were all fine and I saw most of them riding next day. There were several men that were not that lucky and first aid team had to use quite some bandages on them. On the 5th Lap I started to feel my legs turning to jelly and soon after I noticed that my saddle had slit down quite a bit. I managed to ride on quads and stand up in the climbs for two more laps, but I got dropped at the end of the 7th lap. Another time-cut!

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The saddle dropped by some 5cm. The seat angle hurts just by looking at it…

The next day on the Norwegian Cup race my saddle was firmly screwed in. 22 km lap five times – 111 km – as flat as a Norwegian pancake can be. Again I needed some educative pushes in the first two laps where I almost got dropped several times. Luckily the ride was full of accelerations and slow riding in between, so I had enough of chances to catch up. I learned to stay in the middle on the group. Back seats are dangerous. In a sharp turn riders in the back have to break the most, loose most speed and have to accelerate more. Not the most economic racing style. The front seats also offer a good overview of the race tactics. It is very important to have team support on these races. While the strong riders attempt to break away and escape forward from the group, their team-mates are taking the lead in the peloton and slowing down to prevent pursuits. Then the other strong riders and their helpers have to jump forward and catch up. If riding in front all those accelerations are predictable and not hard to manage, but if you happen to struggle in the back you can be suddenly dropped off. Then you are quite lost in the head winds and will soon be lapped… I must admit I did not feel secure in the tight group. I have struggled to keep a strait line and fluid motion at high power pedaling and was often pushed backwards because I left too much open space or was too scared to ride in narrow places. You cant learn this kind of tricks on the indoor trainer. But I was continuously making it back towards the front. Believe it or not – I made it with the peloton to the end! For the first time. I suppose the sprint effort is another thing for me to work on, but I shouldn’t be too picky here. I was very happy.

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Guess which legs are from Tromsø. (Photo: Arild Toft)

Big thanks to Espen (ride leader) who found me a place in the Grimstad team car. Nils Petter, Julie and Turid were so nice to give me a ride from the hotel to the race start. After the second race I got a perfect taxi lift from Marianne from Stavanger CK (and race organizer) back to town. The featured photo was taken by Arild Toft.

The roads in Tromsø are covered by ice and snow once again and I am back on my indoor trainer, doing the base miles. In spring I will be ready to join the cycling show again!

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