Tackling Styrkeprøven: Norway's 560km ultra-race

A team of 17 women supported by Velocio set off from Trondheim towards Oslo in the hope of breaking the course record

When you set off for a 560km bike race (yes, a race, not a typical endurance event), you expect to get some crappy weather. That is particularly true if the race is held in Norway, a stunning country but one known for its rain. After all, Alfred Wainwright's quote "There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing" has become quite popular in Norway: "Det finnes ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlig klær!"

But it's one thing is to be rained on a bit, and another to push through the pouring rain and set a new race record.

"We started with five hours of pissing rain and headwinds, then at the top of the mountain pass of Dovrefjell we saw the wind sign indicating 15 m/s," says Alexandra Diem of team Velocio Trondheim-Oslo. "At that moment, I switched from the 'we're going do the record' to 'we're going to do as well as we can'."

The race is known as the Styrkeprøven (which translates into the Strength Test), and it's not only long, it also features 3,600 m of vertical elevation – mainly spread over the first 120 km – and a jaw-dropping route from Trondheim to Oslo over rugged and impressive mountains.

The Velocio team weren't there to just have a good time. Instead, they signed up to break the women's team record (set in 2019 at 17 hours and 56 minutes) and go under the 17-hour mark.

When they set off – at 4 am on June 18 – the weather forecast only announced a couple of hours of rain. Not more. But heaven unleashed hell on the roads.

When they were going up the mountains, they were climbing in a long line, two abreast. Because of the conditions, they could not overtake other riders, not that there was any point to it, as everyone – other competitors included – were riding almost to a standstill.

"And then a bus came up on our left trying to overtake this long line of cyclists," remembers Diem. "And then a car came down from the opposite direction, and they stopped in front of each other. So there were many dangerous situations like this with cars trying to overtake us on the Dovrefjell."

Within the general chaos, solo cyclists were also trying to squeeze in their team to find shelter and a bit of drag. But that caused more sketchy situations, near misses and last-minute saves.

"Because of the headwind, we probably lost over an hour up there, if not more," continues Trude Solvang. "And that's when I realised that was not going to work for us."

The Velocio Team Trondheim-Oslo was slowly built over the last two years, and the riders didn't all know each other. Some trained together if they lived nearby and had online sessions on Zwift and a weekend of group training. Yet, apart from those moments, it was a mix of people from all over the country.

"At some point, we were 25 in the team," explains Solvang, "but this year, we started the race in 15. Ten finished together, two finished later, and three dropped out."

Among those who dropped off the race over those mighty mountains was Monica Egeberg, the catalyst of the whole project. She didn't have to fight just with the harsh conditions of the day, but also with the physical and psychological effects of catching a long Covid in the spring.

"After 120 km, I had to let the other girls go," she says. "I know that race. I did it in 2019 too. It's so tough. You need to have a great day and be confident. Covid took away my confidence. I was not in a place where I could dig deep. And in this race, you have to dig deep."

When Egeberg had caught Covid in March, she had to stop training, but she probably didn't take enough time to rest properly. The zest to get back on her bike knocked her down again, and – consequently – those weeks off the bike dented her grit and focus. 

After nine weeks of Covid, she started to train again in May, but she couldn't return to her previous shape, and frustration added to the challenges of preparing for one of the toughest bike races in the world. That cracked her confidence even more.

"Covid destroyed me more than just physically," she says. "It broke me mentally too, and I'm just starting to feel better now." 

The idea to break the record followed 2019's edition when her team had another unlucky experience with the Styrkeprøven.

"We weren't lucky with the weather then either. Plus, we also had a couple of accidents and mechanical problems. So we lost a lot of time, but as soon as I crossed the finish line, I started to think about the new record."

Although she couldn't hit the target just yet and had to withdraw from this year's edition, the humbling experience has taught her some important lessons. And it still provided her with good memories.

"The best moment of the race is when I saw the other girls at the finish line in Oslo when they did it," she says. "The team spirit that day was amazing. I could feel it. It made me really proud."

Although Egeberg and the team haven't set a new target yet, it is clear from the spark in her eyes and the tone of her voice that there will be more. Team Velocio will be back, stronger and with more experience than ever.

This feature was produced in association with Velocio, find out more here.

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