Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Day Before the Big Race

We spent today getting Leif and his bike ready for the bike race he will be riding in tomorrow. It is called the Vätternrundan, which I think means “around the lake.” It is a 300 kilometer race around a lake. If you think this is the kind of race no one rides in you’d be wrong, there are almost 20,000 start numbers; at least 15,000 of which will probably show up and ride. And not just Swedes, mind you, but people from all over the world. Apparently it’s a big deal.

He put his bike together in the morning. It was a little nerve-wracking because he had to take the handle bars, seat, pedals and wheels off to get it into the special bike suitcase. I think he actually held his breath as he opened the case up. He was worried, as anyone would be, that the bike would be broken in some way. We have all seen the American Tourister commercial with the apes beating up on luggage. A giant case that says “CAREFUL, dream bike inside” is certain to attract the wrong kind of attention from overpaid but dissatisfied baggage handlers. He has heard horror stories from cycling friends about their bikes and the way they have been handled by the airlines and by security people.

But he and his dad got it all back together again in time for us to get in the car and go to his brother’s house so we could go to the town where the start/finish of the race is to sign in for the race. It is a cute little town on the edge of a large (obviously, it’s 300k around) lake. Right now it’s absolutely buried in people. This is a multi-day event and those always have a circus of side shows happening all around town. An outdoor gym offering spin classes (funny, huh?), live music, food, food and more food. Anyone who has been to a trade show or in a race knows exactly what waited inside the sign in tent, but thankfully the sign in was before the sales floor. It was a quick trip for them to sign in. I think it took longer for us to get ice cream because I couldn’t think of how to say yes in Swedish. Ja, I know, duh.

Leif’s brother was supposed to ride with him but hurt his knee so he isn’t able to ride tomorrow. He got his number anyway and was lucky enough to have a friend call and say that he knew someone who wanted to buy his number. This involved numerous phone calls and a trip to the IKEA parking lot. I felt sort of like I was in the middle of a Swedish drug deal, without the drugs. I don’t know if it’s exactly illegal to sell your number, but I’m sure it’s frowned on. I told them if I ended up in a Swedish prison one of them would have to call my mother and explain, and she would not be happy. They both laughed (but I think it was nervous laughter, a mother is nothing to trifle with) and told me it was fine.

We picked up Tomas’ (new) fiancée from the train station and went to their father’s house for dinner. After an excellent Swedish pizza (lots of shrimp choices) everyone trooped downstairs to look at Leif’s bike. He bought it in Italy and no one in his family has seen it. I asked, naturally, if he had taken it for a little test spin to be sure everything was working right. He said no, I frowned, he gave me a look, I said “hey, at some point you should at least sit on it to be sure the seat doesn’t fall off.” He couldn’t really argue with that logic and so with his jeans tucked into his socks above a pair of his father’s clogs and wearing a purple windbreaker two sizes too big he rode up and down the street a few times. Nothing fell off or froze up, so he declared the bike ready for the race and put it away again.

His brother and his girlfriend left, saying that Leif had better get some sleep before he has to get up for his early start tomorrow. They weren’t kidding. He has to get up at 1:15am (0115 for you 24 hour clock freaks, I mean fans) to get to his ride by 2:30 so they can get to the meeting point in time for his 3:40am start. What, you thought all 15,000 riders would start at the same time? They began the stagger starts at 8:30 this evening and will have starts every 6 or 10 minutes apart all night. The fastest riders will finish 7 to 8 hours after their start, while others will be riding for maybe 18 hours. Leif is shooting for a time under 10 hours. I’m thinking he’s gonna be pretty tired when he’s done. Uffdah.

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