Rouleur Explore: Swede Dreams
Riding with reindeers, scoffing pizza after pizza and going off way too fast, this 2,000-kilometre Scandinavian odyssey is full of delightful surprises
It doesn’t matter how carefully you approach an ultra-cycling event. And it doesn’t matter how often you tell yourself to take it easy because the days will be long and excruciating. And it doesn’t really matter how hard you try to convince your friends that you’re taking the most conscientious approach.
Somewhere, hidden in your mind, you know that you’ll start full gas without even realising it, particularly if you start with a bit of tailwind and there’s a rider in his last year as a pro among your friends.
That’s when the excitement can get out of hand, and over a more than 2,000 kilometre-long ride, you just might hammer the first 240km at an average speed of 40kp/h. Whoops.
“We have a long way to go, and maybe we should start to bring it in a bit,” said Damian Phillips of POC, after the blistering start. “It’s not about doing a big day today. We need to do seven big days,”.
Phillips and his colleague Magnus Gustavsson had had a different plan for the Sverigetempot. The event – which in English translates as The Swedish Time Triallist – is a 2115,2 km long, self-supported endurance road ride that covers the length of Sweden from Riksgränsen (in the north) to Smygehuk (in the south). Their plan was hardcore: to ride the length of Sweden in seven days and log in 300km rides every day. But they wanted to take it easy, enjoy it, and sleep in hotels at night.
It still wouldn’t be a walk in the park to ride those kinds of distances in a day, for seven days straight. But the light was on their side, as they were planning to ride all day long into the magic midnight Swedish sun.
But then, because of the close partnership between POC and EF Education-EasyPost, the most famous ‘tache in the pro peloton decided to join: Mitch Docker. And, at first, this was quite the honeypot. You’d think that Mitch is this laidback Aussie who’s going to tag along and chill. For sure, he is a funny, convivial guy, and he likes a cold beer, too. But when he showed up at Sverigetempot in July 2021, he was still a professional rider based in Girona, training hard (he retired at the end of that season). Therefore, it took him a while to transition to the very different reality of amateur endurance rides.
“At the end of the day, I like to push the pedals, and I like to feel fatigued,” says Docker from his artsy office room in Melbourne, which is decorated with abstract and colourful paintings. “But this time [at Sverigetempot], it wasn’t just me. There were three of us. And you’re only as fast as your slowest rider. So it wasn’t fun for them to just hang on my back wheel and just be on the limit the whole time. So teamwork came back into it.”
Professional cycling not only taught Docker to push big watts and cycle fast. It also led him to understand other people’s priorities and what they enjoy most. He realised he didn’t want to bring the WorldTour vibe into an amateur race. So he slowed down a notch (or maybe two), soaked it all in and learned from what was unfolding around him. For several reasons that change of mindset and approach to Sverigetempot has been a preparation for his new life after professional sports.
“I’d never done anything like this in my life,” he says. “And what I understood from this event, from Damian, Magnus, and also from seeing other people, is to just enjoy the experience. But I almost needed 2,000km, seven days back-to-back, 10-hour days of riding to grind it out of me.”
Adapting to the continuously evolving reality, re-assessing goals, and switching mindsets are all fundamental requirements of endurance sports. In fact, nothing ever goes to plan in these kinds of events, and nothing materialises exactly how you wished it to unfold. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional rider stepping down your own level of exertion or an amateur called to up your game. Resilience lies in the ability to metamorphosise.
“Magnus and I signed up for the ride almost one year before the start day, and we were pretty relaxed,” says Phillips. “But the closer we got and the bigger the rides we did to prepare, the size of it started to dawn on us.”
Then Docker decided to join: “OMG! How will we keep up? On the first day off the start line, we went off like a rocket, and my mindset was: ‘Do not overstretch. You have seven days of this!’”
However, magically, the trio merged into one holistic organism. They started to ride as one, and they could almost feel each other’s speed and movements. The pro had been freed from his need to perform, and the amateurs felt relaxed. The anxiety of the unknown that characterised their year-long preparation became, little by little, a painful but familiar routine. They woke up in the morning, battled against the pain in their legs for the first part of the ride, rode the whole day, ate pizza, and repeated it all the next day.
“I was blown away by what my body was showing me it was capable of. All I needed to do was to let my mind accept it,” says Phillips.
As soon as they settled as a cohesive trio, Sverigetempot unfolded in the best possible way. The temperature of 20 degrees Celsius was hot for the north of Sweden, particularly for the Swedes. But nobody dared to say that riding in those conditions was worse than in the pouring rain that cursed the event in 2014. At the same time, the superb, rolling Swedish roads made the ride fast, even without a tailwind and no matter who was setting the tempo up front.
When things finally landed in a good place and hit the flow, it became natural to enjoy the present and learn the road’s lessons. Even the more surprising ones.
“One of the most exciting things was riding with reindeer,” says Docker. “They were on the side of the road, running with us quite a lot. That was quite cool.”
Then there were a lot of pizzas, because Sweden – if you didn’t know – is also known as the land of pizza.
“I heard that before I went there,” says Docker. “So I guess I just decided I wanted to do pizza the whole time because it was ridiculous. But in the north, there are really only these weird, one-stop takeout shops which say pizza, kebab, pasta. And I just thought, you know, pizza will be safe, something I can eat. And then once I had one or two, I was like, fuck it. I’m just gonna go pizzas the whole trip.”
If you are looking for an introduction to endurance cycling, an event that will still be challenging but can be approached with more confidence than others, the Sverigetempot is probably what you’re looking for. It’s now held every four years because the organiser also wants to participate, and that timeframe is more convenient for him.
The 2020 event was pushed back a year, so the next Sverigetempot will be held in the last week of June/first week of July 2024. There’s no immediate rush to sign up. But you know, it’s a long ride. So you also need a long time to train for it and get used to all the pizzas you’re going to eat along the road.