For most of us, most of the time, our riding tends to remain resolutely local. Sure, we may occasionally venture further afield for a sportive in the next county, say. Or, if particularly adventurous, head overseas to bag a legendary cycling climb like Ventoux or the Stelvio. And there’s nothing wrong with this, of course, all riding is good riding but how about riding somewhere that you’ve never thought about riding before? Somewhere like Norway…
Pining for you
Ever since I found out as a kid that that Norway donates a huge Christmas tree every year to the people of Britain – the one in that London’s Trafalgar Square – I’ve fancied paying it a visit. But I’m not sure if it was the scare stories of the price of beer (£8 per bottle!) or the promise of warmer riding weather in Southern Europe which stopped me making the relatively short trip to finally see the Fjords and mountains.
Luckily I was recently invited on preview of the new Maserati Haute Route Norway – a multi-day event based in the western city of Stavanger and scheduled for next summer. Haute Route has been described as “the Michelin star cycling event” and promises to deliver the taste of being a pro cyclist to us mere mortals over three days.
Despite claiming Christmas tree piqued interest in the country, my knowledge of Norway above its seasonal arboreal generosity was actually non-existent.
Unlike the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites which are extensively covered in cycling magazines and shown on TV every year during the Grand Tours (as well as hosting Haute Routes or is it Hautes Route?), the roads of Norway were a complete mystery to me. Norway actually has two pro road races – the Arctic Race of Norway and Tour de Fjords – but neither has bothered my telly.
Despite this lack of knowledge I did expect stunning scenery and quiet roads. And some climbs. And fjords. Probably. According to the route map, the first two days promised around 2,000m of climbing over 120km and ferry rides from Stavanger. The third daywould be a short individual time trial to make sure legs were completely dead before flying home.
Starting a bike ride on a ferry is a unique experience and offers a different perspective to the local topography as well as sightseeing opportunities. The highlight of the event was the start of day two which included a ferry down the Lysefjord, a stunning 26 mile long straight body of water flanked by 1,000m high cliffs.
The weather was a mix of rain and mist which admittedly hampered the views but did give a mystical feel to the journey. At the end of the fjord stands Lysebotn – a tiny village only accessible by boat or a 27 hairpin mountain road (including one inside a 1km long tunnel). The road rises over 900m at an average of 10%. A brilliant start to any day.
My three days in Norway was a great experience – quiet roads, fantastic views, courteous locals and a tasty food. If there is one thing Norway is missing, its decent coffee – hopefully Haute Route can source some before the inaugural event in 2018.