Monday, September 30, 2013

Stavanger Aftenbladet follows Day 4 of SBS

Norway still has real journalists, and newspapers too! What a concept... To cover Super Brevet Scandinavia a journalist and a photographer from the Stavanger paper met us in Skien. On the last day they followed the ride from Skien to Kristiansand.

Those who speak Danish or Norwegian can read the original article here! For the rest of us, click here to see the Norwegian version (with photos) with captions in English. A text translation (by Elizabeth Astrue) is below.

“And they choose to do this, when there are perfectly good buses to take!” Gunvor Vikan peers into the darkness. She's the night receptionist at the Sportellet (Sport hotel) at the recreational park in Skien, Norway. As bow-legged men stagger through the door there is a click-clacking sound, not of cowboy boots, but of bike shoes with metal cleats. A majority of those present agree that the Super Brevet Scandinavia seems more like a nightmare than a voluntary bicycle event.

At 9:30 p.m., a 50-year-old man from Ålgård lands in the lobby, hungry and in pain. (It feels as if someone has been hitting his thighs with a sledge hammer, he explains.) In the lobby, refreshments – a Coke and a pastry – are offered. They disappear, causing a blood-sugar spike for the exhausted cyclist. Now it's time to bend over to take off his bike shoes. The whole process is punctuated with groans and sighs. “Oh, my balls!” he exclaims in his native Danish. (Norwegians hear something even more comical—‘Oh, my stolen balls!”). From the sound of it, there is reason to believe that the cyclist forgot to lubricate his hind parts!

A few evenings ago, Johnny Stausholm boarded the new ferry at Risavika for Denmark, together with the carbon steed he would ride for four days and over 1200 kilometers. Previously he rode Trondheim – Oslo (550 kilometers), and a tour from Norway to Kosovo, a distance of 3400 kilometers in 22 days.

But the Super Brevet Scandinavia has proven even more challenging than these rides. It has brought many varieties of pain, not just for beaten-up, sore muscles, but also for hips, back and neck. Ever since a car collision from behind in April 2001, Stausholm has suffered from chronic and debilitating whiplash pain.

During the first years after the car accident, Stausholm spent much of his time at home, taking powerful pain killers. One day in 2008, he got on a bicycle. The pain throbbed throughout his body, relentless. Nevertheless, managed to start working again, half-time at Aibel as an engineer.

He could not avoid or escape the physical pain, but the mental framework of having a goal, building fitness, and pushing his own limits was an effective way of dealing with it. On Super Brevet Scandinavia, he wanted to see if he could take that framework to the next level. “Physically this is not going to be so difficult. The hardest part will be getting enough mental distance from the pain”, Johnny said before crossing the Skagerrak.

The sun goes down. Soon it will be shining somewhere else other than Siljan, outside of Skien. The moon is rising over Norway. If there were a man in the moon, he would be gazing down on a road of gray asphalt cutting through a field of half-ripened oats. Soon he would notice two miniscule, ant-like humans, each straddling a tiny metal frame with wheels at both ends.

They've been leaning forward in that same position since an early breakfast in Uddevalla, Sweden. At this point their bicycles have mowed through nearly 330 of the 350 kilometers for the day. The two men riding through the approaching dusk and cool are Peter Meisel (Germany) and Johnny Stausholm.

Finally, both of them dismount. Johnny opens his mouth, not to curse whoever invented the bicycle but with his own tribute to cycling poetry: “This was pissing hard!” (Not hard enough to make him abandon at Skien, as it turned out.)

At the gas station at Arendal, people roll up to fill up their tanks with fuel. The cyclists fill up with juice, water, chicken and lasagne. This is the fourth and final day of the ride around Scandinavia. Many of these cyclists do not look capable of riding 300 kilometers through the day and into the night. Some have soft, round bellies, which even the most spacious bike jersey cannot contain. But they all have mental endurance, an iron will and determination.

Jens Glad Balchen is the Stavanger man who bicycled 4800 kilometers in 11 days, as he crossed the American continent in 2011. He accompanied Johnny Stausholm on some of the qualifying rides for Super Brevet Scandinavia. “On a brevet, riders can hit the wall physically, and still press on. During one event like this, a friend of mine rode for three days without any sleep”, says Balchen. After the qualifying rides, he gave Johnny a gift: a tube of butt cream. On this ride, liberal doses were applied to both chamois and skin every day. None of that seemed to work in the end.

Riding with Johnny on the final day is Reidar Svendsen, 49, a nurse from Kristiansand. Reidar fishes a cell phone out of a pocket. “It is sore, and needs some care,” he says into the phone. (Is he talking to his better half about his lower half?) Having completed Trondhjem-Oslo three times, Reidar was looking for a bigger challenge. He seems to have found it, but admits that he could not have managed to reach Arendal without Johnny out in front, pulling him. “That man is a machine. I almost had to ‘throw an anchor at him’, to get him to slow down”, Reidar explains.

Looking at Reidar the nurse, all red and sweaty and on the verge of masochistic bliss, I have to ask: “Is it really healthy to push the body so hard?” “Next question!”, he replies before adding: “Mentally this is definitely healthy, as you're released from thinking about anything specific. If you ask doctors if certain body parts are harmed by endurance cycling, you will get varying answers”, he explains.

I decide to ask Svein Ørn, doctor and trainer for the professional cyclist Alexander Kristoff. He says, “Going on a drinking binge for several days is more damaging to the organs than riding a brevet.” “Trained cyclists turn the pedals about 80 times a minute”, photographer and cyclist Anders Minge tells me. That means something like 268,000 pedal rotations in 56 hours for the Super Brevet Scandinavia participants. The number doesn’t concern Dr. Ørn: “The knees can take it fine. Remember that professional cyclists can ride 30,000 kilometers in a year. Otherwise, the body can tolerate the stress of a long-distance cycling event easier than a shorter, strenuous event like running a marathon. Bicycling is not as hard on the joints as running. And it's easier for cyclists to eat, drink and rest. But in the end, it is all about listening to the body and not pressing it too hard”, Svein Ørn concludes.

At the gas station in Arendal, Johnny Stausholm declares that he's completely empty. Then he eats a piece of lasagne, takes a couple of mild pain relievers, throws his leg over the top tube and pedals on, with Reidar close behind. As they approach Kristiansand, Johnny mistakenly thinks they still have 40 kilometers to go; when he learns there are only 25 kilometers left, he turns to Reidar and says, “Let’s go!”

Together they push into Kristiansand, where the support crew is waiting. Johnny receives a medal around his neck, a cold beer in his hand, and broad smiles all around.

Jens Glad Balchen’s butt cream has passed the test. So has Johnny: “During the ride there were terribly painful moments, but I've reached a new mental goal. This is definitely a victory. This is my pain killer, my drug of choice.”

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