tisdag 19 juni 2012
Records broken as world’s largest bicycle ride crosses the finish line
A record number of registered riders, a record number of nations represented, a record number of riders that did not finish and, still, record times achieved. The 2012 edition of the 300 km ride Vätternrundan in Sweden became a truly memorable event in many respects.
Vätternrundan, with start and finish in Motala in south-central Sweden, is the world’s largest cycling event in terms of total distance cycled between all participants combined. Between them, Vätternrundan’s cyclists pedal over eight million kilometres. The 300 km main event circles Lake Vättern, Europe’s fifth largest lake, while the 150 km Halvvättern and the 100 km ladies’ event Tjejvättern are held on its eastern side. In total, over 30,000 cyclists registered for the three rides this year.
This year’s main event, held for the 47th consecutive year, started Friday June 15th and finished Saturday June 16th. Although many records were broken, it did not break its record for highest number of riders starting or finishing. But it will still be one of the most memorable rides of recent years. 23,307 registered riders; 46 nations represented; the 500,000th start ever; and a record time of 6.38, achieved by the “Ride of Hope” team; all these achievements represent records broken. In addition, record numbers of riders dropped out of the ride, justifying claims that the 2012 edition of Vätternrundan will considered as one of the most challenging ever. Persistent rainfall that lasted over five hours made about 2,250 riders give up.
“The downpour left many feeling cold, causing them to abandon their effort. We had to call in large backup resources of coaches and lorries to transport riders and their bikes to the finish in Motala. As a result of excellent teamwork, this part of the operation worked very well,” summarises Eva-Lena Frick, general manager of Vätternrundan.
Many of the food stops gathered hundreds of cyclists waiting to get back to Motala. The largest group, comprising 530 riders that had given up, could be found at Hjo. Vätternrundan has an extensive fleet of service cars patrolling the course and there are additional coaches on stand-by around the course. This is ample provision during normal years, but on this occasion, these resources turned out to be insufficient. The organisers realised early on that extraordinary measures would be required and an operation to call in more coaches was started on the Saturday morning.
“We realised more coaches would be needed so, as early as 4 AM on the Saturday, additional staff and more coaches were requested,” explains Joakim Höglund, manager for track and operations at Vätternrundan.
“We called up a total of 12 additional coaches to meet the requirement and when all stranded cyclists had been taken care of, we sent down two semi-trailer trucks to collect the bikes left at the food stops. At Gränna, as many as 250 bikes had been left,” says Höglund.
“It was an extreme situation, but we were able to cope,” he adds.
The challenging conditions caused 48 cyclists to seek medical attention in hospital for various injuries (about two per one thousand starting); seven of these remained in hospital for observation overnight but all were expected to be discharged from hospital during the Sunday 17/6. Still, there was tragedy when a man in his seventies was struck by a heart attack and died.
“During 47 years of Vätternrundan, we have only had three heart related deaths,” says Dr. Jörgen Larsson, physician in charge during the event.
“Bearing in mind there have been 500,000 riders over the years, this is a very modest number.”
“This is of course desperately sad news for the family of the diseased person and our deepest sympathies go out to them,” says Eve-Lena Frick.
“However, the best thing we can do to prevent this type of accidents is to continue arranging Vätternrundan and, in this way, promote public health, says Eva-Lena Frick.
On the Saturday morning, Vätternrundan was visited by the minister for infrastructure, Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd. The minister cycled the last 40 km from Hammarsundet, at the top of Lake Vättern, to the finish in Motala.
“I consider the organisers’ ambition, to one day run the event on closed roads, to be completely realistic. However, the best way to achieve this would be to introduce the changes bit by bit. Perhaps we will have to accept a situation where the whole course is not entirely free from cars, said Catharina Elmsäter-Svärd.
To Vätternrundan and its general manager Eva-Lena Frick, the minister’s positive attitude to the campaign for 300 car-free kilometres was encouraging.
“Our position is that we will one day be able to offer an event on closed roads, but this must obviously be achieved in cooperation with all concerned. It is important that we find a solution that works well for all involved during the hours the closure will apply.”
For 2014, the organisers plan to develop the event further by adding yet another ride, the Vättern Relay.
“From other big events, we know there is great interest in team competitions. The plan is to have teams with three to four riders, cycling a total of 80-100 km along a route on the eastern shores of the lake. We believe there is great potential in this idea,” says Eva-Lena Frick.
Notes to the editor:
A wide selection of photos can be downloaded from www.vatternrundan.se – select “Press” on the English-language site.