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No, there's no mistake in the title. This stage of my Tour de Finlande has been exactly the Tour the Helsinki
, which is a community ride of 140 km around the Helsinki metropolitan area. I knew about the race already the last year, but I was too late to participate, as I read about it the day it took place. So this year I had already enrolled in May, just to be sure I could make it. And it has been really unforgettable, so I'll try to be as detailed as possible about this day.
The morning started with a four-egg omelette, just to make sure to have enough energy for the day. There are service points along the route, with bananas, raisins and pickled cucumbers, but you never know what happens. The big decision in the morning was however what to wear. The temperature when I left home was 9 degrees, but the forecast promised 15 degrees for the day. So I took just a T-shirt and the wind jacket, and opted for attaching the race number directly on the T-shirt. And it was definitely the right choice, otherwise I would have sweated like hell.
I cycled from home to the Helsinki Olympic Velodrome – where the race started and finished – so I did some 13 km as warming up, and the feeling was definitely good. I took off my wind jacket immediately: my arms were a bit cold, but body temperature was fine.
I got to the Velodrome at about 45 minutes before the start, that was at 11: the place was already full with riders, as this year there has been a record number of over 1800 participants. The competition worked in this way: if you are a pro, you just ride with your group (or alone) at the speed you want. If you are not (like me), you have the chance to follow a pace group, with leaders who ride at a predefined average speed. Plenty of choices, as there were eight group for men (20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 30, 32 and 35 km/h) and two for women (25 and 29).
The choice for the average speed was something that made me think a lot in the last days: all the recorded times I have with my bike are with the entire luggage on, and the average speed has always been about 18-20 km/h. No idea how fast I can go without bags; furthermore, when you stay in a group you don't get any wind, so practically you can keep a much higher pace than when you're alone. I chose for 28 km/h, something in the middle between the possible choices, with the idea that in case I can't do it, I can always slow down and get into the next group. In the huge corridor they made in Mäkelänkatu for the start the leaders were already in place, so I got close to the leader who had the orange flag with 28 written on top.
At 11 sharp we started! For the first 11 km we rode as a huge convoy at a restricted speed to get out of the town all together: after that it was up to each participant to decide the pace. There was such a huge crowd that I immediately lost sight of my leader. End of the story: after those 11 km I ended up in the women's group of 29 km/h. As a matter of fact it was a mixed group, maybe more men than women as there were only 200 participants of the gentle sex out of almost 2000 people. Whatever: now that I am here I'll take this group and never look back, I thought. And it was a good choice: although I was the only one in sight with just T-shirt on (many questioned me whether I was freezing) and a mountain bike with hugely large tyres as compared to the thin racing bicycles around me, I felt really good in keeping the speed. I was definitely happy: good pace, not too much sweating, legs and lungs working well on uphills, I mean, everything was perfect.
During the race there were four service points: at 39.7, 58.9, 95.9 and 117.8 km from the start. Didn't know what was the policy of the pace groups: it ended up we stopped just once after 95.9 km for 5 minutes, and that was also a good choice. As a matter of fact in the morning I opted to take the handlebar bag with me, which was full of bananas, chocolate bars and yoghurt, so maybe if I knew I could have taken even more and avoided stopping. On the other side I had to go to the toilet, so after all one stop was a must anyway.
After 100 km I started to think about the end of the race: I was feeling very good and not especially tired. What to do? Shall I go faster? The problem when you start to go on your own is that you get the resistance of the wind, and the legs could start to fail. The choice became clearer at around 120 km from the start, 20 to go: one of our two leaders started to get tired (hard work it must be staying on front all the time!) and got back in the group. At the same time I saw a few riders increasing the speed and overtaking the group. I thought: now or never.
From that point on the real race started for me. We were a group of about 20 people getting on front and then leaving behind the 29 km/h group. The first ones were speeding up too much, so I couldn't follow their pace. Some others fell back, and after a couple of km I found myself alone in the middle, that is, the worst it could happen. My legs started to burn and soon I was overtaken by a guy: better like that, as I just hid myself in the vacuum behind his shoulders! We went on for some km like that, but of course while I was regaining power he was getting tired: at a certain point he started to look back and I decided to tell him to work in team. And we worked very well: alternating one other in front we were able to reach the group of riders which were a couple of hundred metres in front of us. It was like in a real competition, really exciting!
The finish line was getting closer as the tall buildings of the capital started to surround us: it was also unbelievable the amount of spectators at the side spurring on us; that also made the whole thing even more real. The last kilometres were the hardest for me, as I guess for anyone else: entering the Velodrome was anyway so exciting that I even managed to make a last sprint and overtake a bunch of people in front of me before passing the finish line. I was and I am still extremely happy: more like this! More of these group competitions! While I was still in the Velodrome checking my time I was approached by the guy with whom I did the team work to run away from the group: we just thanked each other for the job, and most of all for the feeling of cycling in a real race!
My Tour de Finlande 2010 ends here. Until the end I wasn't sure whether this would have been the last stage of my summer ride or not. But the cold weather of the last days, some work I have to do the next week, and most of all the need to get back to a "normal" life after so many months convinced me that this is the best end for my long run. And it has gone even beyond my imagination. From the 5th of June up to today I have cycled for 4353 km around Finland in 49 days (and with not even a punched tyre!), and sailed for four. It was something I had never done before: I had never had such a long free summer since the high school, and I would have never imagined that I could cycle for so long. Well, now I can say that it's possible, and this can definitely change my holiday plans for the next years.
I might be posting some statistics and details about this tour later on, but for what concerns the real thing, it is now history. Thanks to everybody who had the patience to read these posts, the ones who spurred on me along the way, the (so many) ones (I couldn’t have ever imagined) who hosted me overnight, and most of all to my legs, which still seem to be working, and still retain their stocking-looking tan. Let's check better tomorrow anyway. À bientôt!
"You just give me a bike and half of a draft of a plan. I'll take care of the rest"
Day 53 – Tour de Finlande 2010: Tour de Helsinki 2010
Trip distance: 140 km (route)
Actual trip time: 4 h 45 m 26 s
Final time (including stopover): 4 h 51 m 22 s
Average speed: 29.5 km/h
Distance from day 1: 4353 km