It was the best of times!
The annual WOW Cyclothon is a 1332 km relay race, circling Iceland where one cyclist passes the baton to the next in teams of 6-10 people. Held on June 19-22, the longest days of the year, in rain, mud and lots and lots of sun, the event is becoming quite the summer highlight, but for some it’s the highlight of the year.
The Cyclothon isn’t just a race and a good time, it’s also a charity event where teams collect pledges and all corporate sponsorship goes directly to charity. This year, the WOW Cyclothon sponsored the Save the Children Iceland foundation and raised a total of 4,274,328 ISK. The event is also meant to encourage outdoor activities and subsequently healthy living. 24 teams participated in the race this year and we asked some of our WOW Cyclothon 2013 contenders to tell us about the highlights, the hardest slopes, and the surprises.
Coming in on a new women’s track record, “The Bells” won the women’s competition, and team captain Ása Magnúsdóttir was more than willing to share some of the delight of this experience.
“It was crazy fun from beginning to end, and a week later we’re still a bit overwhelmed with joy which will hopefully last until next year. It’s a personal challenge to participate, one that improves both your physical endurance but also your mental health because you just stay so happy for so long afterwards. It is also a most unique experience, circling the country on a bicycle and experiencing the special summer nights in this way.”
But some of those hills are tough, and last year, Ása was especially nervous about the notoriously long and steep hill up from Húnaver, between Blönduós and Akureyri.
“I was determined not to be the one to take that part but in the end my teammates tricked me and I finished the whole thing on my own, much to my surprise and their amusement. This became yet another awarding part of the race. Even though our team is all very fit and we all exercise religiously, I can recommend this for everyone. If you enter the B-race you can have larger teams with less physical pressure on each member and just enjoy the amazing ride. We hadn’t even finished the race when we already began talking about how we are going to do things differently and what kind of strategy to apply next year. It’s that much fun!”
Cops on bikes
Cops on bikes, is just that, actual policemen who love to cycle. They love it so much that they were the first team to sign up for the WOW Cyclothon in 2014 and team captain and police officer Sverrir Guðfinnsson told us why.
“It’s absolutely incredible! It’s the most fun I have! Having participated last year as well, we were a little bit surer of ourselves and knew what we were getting into but there still were surprises along the way. The weather was tricky with the heavy rain in the start. It cleared up though and another surprise was Öxi, the notorious highland road that we had dreaded, turned out to work out really well for us. Going down Öxi on the gravel road at an enormous speed you experience adrenalin like I don’t know what. It’s a rush I’ve never experienced before!
Roughly 10 meters from the finish line, I heard a rock punch my tire with a little click and as soon as I crossed the line I could tell that I definitely had a flat and wouldn’t have gotten much further. We were laughing about what I would have done had it happened 20 meters from the finish line. I guess I would have just picked up my bike and made a run for it!
“I think my favorite part of the whole competition was during the last quarter, the south coast, when we gave up on trying to distant ourselves from CFR Women (Cross Fit Women’s team) and started working together. It made for good company and it’s physically easier to cycle in teams of two.
Even though we’re all strictly amateurs we’re very fit, but I think our strength lies primarily in our professional experience of working nights, under a lot of pressure and sometimes in strange and unusual circumstances. And sleep deprivation was not a problem on our team. We’re all used to close quarters in cars on the road.”
This team was, as the name might indicate, made up of WOW air stewards and stewardesses who re-invented the idea of team spirit during their trip. Some of them even went to work during the race (Yeah, they went on a flight in the middle of a race.) but as a B-team they were able to rotate shifts between the ten of them. Andrea Sóleyjar and Björgvinsdóttir say it was pure joy for two days filled with happiness and friendship. “Oh and lactic-acid-burns in your thighs and applying Vaseline in weird places and learning how to ride a racer for the first time… Such close quarters and highly intense competition creates an incredible team spirit and invaluable memories. We were more like a family than co-workers when we eventually reached the finish line, exhausted and dirty and ecstatically happy!” So happy that they’re already plotting how they’re going to do things next year.
When we spoke to Steindór Eiríksson, team captain for team Marel, we could literally see his competitive spirit shine through his fun descriptions.
“It was full of surprises, and Öxi was surprisingly difficult. It was so dirty and so hard and so much fun! But it meant that we trailed behind and in the end Öxi was the strategic mistake that cost us our lead.
Marel is a large Icelandic company specializing in equipment and systems for the food processing industry and apparently, this group of employees is really into sports. “We’re all runners and we trained all winter for the spring-marathon. After that we started cycling for the Cyclothon.”
“There was so much rain when we started the race and the traffic was so difficult that our first cyclist was on the road for an hour straight. The weather was gloomy, cold and raining in some parts and sunny and charming in others. The overall experience was indescribable. I’m speaking to cyclists from all over the world to get more international teams to participate next year. The more the competition the better!”
“It was so much fun we weren’t through the finish line when we had already begun planning next year’s race” says team captain Georg Vilhjálmsson. “We use bicycles all year round as means of transportation but the two months leading up to the race we met once a week for a long ride around the city or to Þingvellir and back. The Cyclothon was still the longest any of us had ever cycled in such a short time, almost 350 km per person. Bjarki (team member) got the idea to offer bike repairs and services to our co-workers for a small donation and so we were able to get more donations than just from collecting pledges for Save the Children Iceland. Not getting enough sleep was the only difficult part. Nobody slept for more than an hour each night but who can sleep when you’re having that much fun? Even though I was tired for the next few days, I almost feel sad that it’s over. I guess that’s part of the reason we’ve already started planning next year’s race!
The Bike Company
The Bike Company is a group of guys who run guided bike tours in Reykjavík and all over Iceland. They know their cycling stuff but are more of the mountain bike adventure types than the eloquent racer types so the Cyclothon still poses some challenges for these professionals.
“We‘re all experienced cyclists naturally and this competition was actually easier than we anticipated. We were well prepared physically after 6 months of training but not getting a proper sleep was the hardest part. I can‘t really remember some parts that well due to lack of sleep, the south coast is pretty much just foggy. We had an incident going into the gravel road at Öxi on full speed on a racer and subsequently had an epic flat tire. Going down again on the other side is one of those vivid memories that I‘ll always remember, full speed, on gravel, with mud splashing everywhere. It was amazing!“
“Those hills are difficult for sure but as a team you just finish them and conquering hills like Húnaver and Kambar not to mention highland roads like Öxi, Öxnadalsheiði and Holtavörðuheiði, it‘s just so rewarding. You just keep going and eventually you‘ve made it!“