I feel nervous. To this event I have done some longer rides between 200 and 250 kilometers, but is my condition good enough for a ride of more than 500 kilometers in less than 24 hours? In addition, the weather forecast looks pretty bad; rain at the start in Trondheim and a temperature of almost a few degrees above zero in the mountains of Dovrefjell.
Midsummer night in Norway. The celebrating of midsummer is a significant occasion that symbolizes the end of the long dark winters. Inhabitants make bonfires, arrange marriages of convenience, dance in pure nature.
Bicycle fans sign up for ‘Den Store Styrkeprøven’ – The Great Trial of Strength – a cycling race between Trondheim and Oslo. More than 5000 people enter, around 1500 of whom opt for the full distance, a hideously long 543 kilometers. It’s an exceptional challenge, something to tempt anyone with fire in their belly.
A roud sign confirms the distance to Oslo: 540 km. As soon as Trondheim is behind us, the E6 carries us through beautiful nature. A stunning decor with large forests, scenic panoramas, lakes and mountain rivers. The road is pretty flat and it’s going fast in my starting group.Wow, there we go! Less fun: in the second hour the rain comes down.
The initiator of Trondheim – Oslo is Erik Gjems-Onstad. This Norwegian war hero was an enthusiastic cyclist and wanted to commemmorate the end of the Second World War in a sportive way. The first edition in 1967 got quite a bit of criticism. In those days cycling was not very popular in Norway. They started with 100 participants. Only since the 1980s there was a huge increase of popularity. The economy was doing well and cycling became trendy.
Three hours after departure. We decide to take a breather. Despite my winter jacket and shoe covers, I feel drenched after the rain this morning. I’m shivering. It is 11 degrees which is cold even by Norwegian standards. I feel stiff when I get on my bike again after a few minutes. Only 440 kilometers to go….
Since its first edition, back in 1967, the race has evolved a lot : the route has changed, the roads are better, and nowadays, bikes are also better and faster. Yet, the individual challenge, the special feeling at the start, and the pure sence of joy once you reach the finish in Oslo, remains the same.
We climb towards Dovrefjel, a mountain with peaks over 2000 meters. The track is limited to an altitude of about 1000 meters, although many riders experience difficulties in this section. As a ‘climber’I looked forward to this part and I feel strong. I even take a a selfie and put it on Facebook.
But after 350 kilometers, the inevitable dip hits me. On the plateau that follows after the climb, the northwesterly wind is blowing strong and for more than an hour we struggle against the unexpected headwind.We reach Dombas, and moral rises when the tailwind helpss us for the next 75 kilometers. Besides, much closer to sea level it’s warmer so I start to feel a bit better.
The thousants of participants take off for a distance of 540 kilometers, from the north to the south of Norway. They leave each 2 minutes, in groups of 75 participants. During the first 250 kilometers it goes slightly uphill, however, there's not a lot of climbing in the Styrkeprøven. After 160 kilometers, you'll reach the highest point, at 1.015 m height. This is followed by a flat part of 40 kilometers, the Douvre Fjell, where the crosswind can blow you away. After this, you'll start the descent towards Oslo.
Less than 150 kilometers to go. I’m not that fresh anymore and the suffering starts to kick in. My vision narrows and goes blurry. My legs are seized with cramps. A protesting stomach because of all the bananas, sportdrinks, soup, sandwiches and energy bars. I feel cold despite the three layers of clothing. Giving up is not an option now, but during the last kilometers fatigue strikes hard.I ask myself a hundred of times why I wanted to do this. I can’t remember. It is simply madness. The longest day of my life.
To what it seems endless hours, Oslo appears. Two more times left, once right and then it’s over. We ride into the sports stadium. The announcer calls our names. I receive a medal and sit down on the ground. I’m extremely exhausted, but so happy. Den Store Styrkeprøven, it’s accomplished. 22 hours and 55 minutes after leaving Trondheim.
Den Store Styrkeprøven, is it madness? Or pure passion for cycling? The next race will be held in June 2018.