WOW Cyclothon is a 1,358 km ultra-cycling race around Iceland held around the summer solstice. With multiple categories the solo category is of course the biggest challenge and the true ultra-cycling experience.
Cycling around Iceland as a solo participant is no small challenge and of the seven solo participants that started the race in 2015 only four finished the entire distance. The first to arrive at the finish line, after only 61 hour and 53 minutes (12 hours and 35 minutes faster than the first solo contestants of 2014), was Matthias Ebert from Germany.
Preparing for the ring
Matthias is an enthusiastic ultra-cyclist who has competed multiple times in the ultra-cycling races Tortour (both solo and as part of a team) and Race across the Alps, the hardest one-day race in the world. Having read about the WOW Cyclothon in WOW magazine on his way home from a vacation in Iceland, Matthias Ebert turned to his girlfriend, Sonja, and told her that they had to return the following year. “She agreed and from that moment I was obsessed,” Matthias says.
Matthias started the preparations almost immediately. Seven months before the race he started training his neck, back and shoulders and at the end of March he went to the Grand Canary Islands for training. “In total I cycled 1,000 km indoors and 5,000 km on the road, plus countless hours in a fitness studio. We often trained in Switzerland, at the Sust Lodge am Gotthard. It’s a perfect place for hiking, climbing, cycling and enjoying nature,” says Matthias, who admits that preparing for a big race in Iceland wasn’t easy. “The organization was often very stressful. It’s a challenge to prepare for a race in Iceland while you’re in Germany. It was also a great challenge to have a good and effective training while working a full time job,” says Matthias who works as a sales representative for Mimatic, a company that specializes in tools for lathe and milling machines. “In a way the ultra-cycling sport is like a company. It’s a team sport and everyone has to do their part in the team. Everyone has to give a 100% on their job. In this team I was the cyclist, so that means I was the worker,” says Matthias with a smile.
A team spirit
From our first encounters with Matthias’ assistants it was clear that they were very organized but also focused on having fun on the road. “This team is unbelievable. We are best friends who do sports together and we celebrate and have fun all year-round. Doing the WOW Cyclothon itself was just a small part of what this team has done. The main organization began 5 months before with meetings, team building strategies and training together. This is definitely the funniest team in the world and we had a party from start to finish. To have fun is the best motivation. Not only does that apply during races but also on your job. That’s why they were goofing around all the way,” Matthias says.
How about the weather?
Cycling in Iceland is very different from cycling in Germany according to Matthias: “In Germany we do not have this kind of coldness with rain. If there had been rain during the race I’m not sure I would’ve finished.” Matthias adds that the favorable weather during this year’s WOW Cyclothon was one of the biggest surprises during his race. “The weather in general was perfect and not typically Icelandic. Sometimes the wind was on our side! And we were very lucky that there was no rain.” He also said his team had no expectations before the race, “We only wanted to have fun and enjoy the track. Ultra-cycling races are very special and no one can tell who will win a race or if you will even finish.”
Matthias’ favorite part of the race was after Egilsstaðir in East Iceland, once he’d had a good rest, 1.5 hours to be precise. “I really enjoyed the gravel road [Öxi mountain road], and for the last 300 km we had a back storm which was great. Arriving during the 3rd night of the race on the new part of the course, the landscape was amazing and our average speed for the last 300 km was over 30 km/h,” he says. The hardest part of WOW Cyclothon for Matthias was probably the cold. “Iceland is cold, with cold and strong winds. One night the Garmin showed -4°C. Also the asphalt is very coarse; there were difficult gravel roads and then very long straight stretches.”
Regarding Matthias’ toughest rival, Eiríkur Ingi Jóhannsson, who had already completed the challenge once before, Matthias says it was a very hard fight for the first 700 km. “After that I had gained a 50 km lead with enough time for sleeping breaks. Eiríkur Ingi is a very strong cyclist, the strongest I have ever met. I congratulate everyone who finished the race.”
Time to stop?
And Matthias has decided to finish on top. “Ultra-cycling is an expensive hobby. We had a sponsor but still the only way that we were able to do the race was because everyone in the team paid for their own flight and hotel expenses. I am very thankful for them to be willing to do that. Over the past few years I’ve finished a lot of races over 500 km. To participate in WOW Cyclothon and win the race is the best I’ve ever done. That was the team’s dream and the best moment to say good-bye.”
“In the future I could see myself coaching cyclists who want to do long distance tracks or races but lack the experience. Interested cyclists could then hire a team and a coach with the complete know-how. You can check out our team at www.sust-cycling.com,” says Matthias.
Finishing WOW Cyclothon solo in first place was a dream come true for Matthias and his team. “To circle Iceland by bike in a race and then to win that race is the best we’ve ever done,” he says. He would definitely recommend WOW Cyclothon to other ultra-cyclists. “Of course, this is a special race with incredible landscape! Every ultra-cyclist has to try it!” Matthias also has a few words of advice for those who dream about going the distance. “Train hard in bad weather conditions and organize a great and fun team! If you and your team have a lot of fun you will more likely finish the race. I believe that fun is the best motivation and good motivation is the key!”