In the Land of the Hammer (Norway 2018)

posted in: Cycling | 2

Fjords and sprinters (Thor Hushovd, Alexander Kristoff…) were the two things that came to mind when I thought of Norway. And oil. We got all three on our trip there as well as great company and five days of blue skies, low winds and warm weather. A cycling friend from London had left London to move back to Norway three years ago. He now lived in Stavanger and was keen to meet up and show us around. Moreover, by good fortune the weekend we had chosen played host to the Hammer Stavanger pro-race and an associated sportive, the Hammer Classic. It had all the ingredients for a great trip.

Stavanger is a busy port and there was usually something cool to see. Often massive cruise ships were docked and further out to sea there was a new oil platform under construction.

Stavanger 1

Petter was a fantastic host and created several rides for us, the first of which was appropriately called Stavanger 1. However with many potential options the numbering got more confusing as the trip progressed…

Or first ride was on a Thursday and Petter was working so Lillian, Claire and I set off on a winding route though the farmlands around Stavanger.

We crossed this bridge as we headed around the bays and inlets surrounding the city.

This was the only gravel section of the ride, much to Lillian’s relief.

Although this sand was also tricky to ride on.

At Sverd i fjell, a monument built to commemorate the victory of King Harald in 872 that brought Norway under his rule.

Stavanger 7

A big day to ride up the timed climb for tomorrow’s Hammer Classic sportive and then explore the roads to the east. These are Petter’s regular training routes which we’d seen on Strava; they had looked appealing twisting around the coastline and past inland lakes. Nicole had arrived the night before and Petter took the day off work so we were now five.

Lillian and Nicole doing a full effort recce of the Hammer Climb.

Just after we reached the top, Kristoff, who is from Stavanger, and his team rode by. They were warming up on the climb for the Hammer Climb race that afternoon, the first of three races that made up the Hammer Series.

Once we left the towns behind we found ourselves on quiet roads rolling through forest, bays and farmland. It was beautiful. It also took a while to get used to the novelty of riding on roads with no potholes.

At one point we followed a dead-end road to a small fishing and holiday village called Vier.

By a lake on the way back up from Vier.

We returned to Stavanger by the bike path along the coast and past the aptly named Paradise Marina.

Hammer Classic

This sportive took in elements of the three day Hammer Stavanger pro race. The Hammer Series is an interesting concept with the first day being a c.100km race on a circuit that has a climb, followed by a similar distance on more sprinter orientated circuit. Teams can score points by being first over the line on the multiple laps of the circuits. The final day is a chase where teams race in a team time trail starting at staggered intervals with the teams with the highest points from the previous two days starting first. The sportive was not timed aside from three sections: the climb of the Hammer Climb (6-7 minutes), the ‘sprint’ of the Hammer Sprint (around 40 seconds) and a 1.4km section from the route of the Hammer Chase (just over 2 minutes).

The facilities at the start and finish (the Stavanger Forum) were excellent. I particularly liked the grass roof. We were joined by Petter’s brother, Rune, at the start and for the first few kilometres of the sportive.

Nicole smashed it up the Hammer Climb, perhaps helped by an attempt from Petter and I to provide some shelter from the wind (the post race assessment was that we needed some more training as domestiques). Lillian didn’t have the legs to keep up (I have to admit I was struggling for the first couple of minutes) but did get rewarded with a photo.

We then entered the lakes and forests where we were cycling the previous day. As we weren’t being timed it was quite chilled and we enjoyed riding through the hills.

We’d brought Petter some of the new London Dynamo kit so he was looking sharp in the blue and black.

The ride became less relaxed when we turned towards the coast and the wind started to pick up. We jumped onto a train of about 30 riders powered by one of the local clubs, TOSK, and about an hour of frantic riding ensued. There was a strong cross wind and I was stuck on the windward side of the line, as was Lillian about 4 riders ahead of me. I knew she would be hurting and as we turned north and directly into the wind it was a struggle to move up the line to take a turn at the front. Also there were too many people of varying strength for it to be an efficient chain-gang. Lill was dropped and I stopped to ride with her about 5 minutes before the TOSK crew went on strike and said they didn’t want to ride with anyone else… which was fair enough as it was a shambles. This photo was taken later in the ride when things had calmed down, just after TOSK overtook us again.

The last 25km (of the 130km sportive) was a hard work for Lillian as her legs were shredded… a bit like the bottom of this photo. This unusual effect was from trying to take a photo when my iPhone was on pano mode.

We all regrouped at the finish for the best post-sportive food that I have had (apart from curry and beer in New Zealand). Crisps, fizzy drinks and unlimited pizza. The race jerseys were really nice too. Nicole also won the women’s race with the fastest time on all three sections.

Later that afternoon we walked to the end of road where our AirBnB was and watched the Hammer Sprint. Unfortunately local hero Kristoff came third in the final sprint although Kristoffer Halvorsen, another Norwegian won, so it was a good day for Norway.

Stavanger 10

We’d ridden through some beautiful countryside but had yet to see a fjord so Petter planned a ride for Lillian and I to the nearest one, about 50-60km from Stavanger.

At 7.30am we were on a boat from Stavanger to Hommersåk. Although Norway seemed generally expensive compared to the UK, public transport (both bus and boat) was great value at 37 kroner (about £3.50) per journey. It was also very easy to buy tickets on the mobile with the Kolumbus app.

It was a great way to start a bike ride. (A photo of our destination, Hommersåk, is the featured image for this post.)

We started by following the coast road of Stavanger 3.

And then descended the hill of Stavanger 3 and the Hammer Classic to Oldetal… again; we felt we were really getting to know the area. The road to the fjord(s) headed down the valley behind Lillian.

The main climb of the day was a c.400m ascent out of the valley from Gilja over the hill to Frafjord. We returned through a 3.8km tunnel. This was fine to ride through but bring lights… and some warm clothes. As we approached the entrance on the way home it felt like being blasted with a troll’s icy breath!

The top of main section of the climb took us to a high-mountain lake surrounded by beautifully situated cabins. As an aside, we found out from Petter how important trips to the ‘cabin’ are for Norwegians. In fact his wife’s family, Anna, had a cabin in the fjord where we were headed.

Just after we crested this climb we came across this. An amazing view 450m down to Frafjord.

We had our lunch of squashed sandwiches and peanuts here before descending. Another point to note is that there are not that many places to obtain food and water on the roads, so that is something to research before setting off on a ride. On this ride the only places for food were cafes attached to two yarn shops in and around Oldetal.

We set off down the descent with some trepidation as the road was closed to cars. The though of having to climb back up was not appealing. However the reason why the road was shut was because of a landslide; no problem for cyclists.

It was tempting to continue up the Frafjord valley to see where the road went but we decided to turn around… as planned… though left to myself I tend to ignore that… and ride back to the sea.

Looking back down the fjord before heading for home through the 3.8km tunnel. As well as this tunnel there was another shorter but steeper one (above Dirdal) to negotiate on the return journey. Fortunately there was a narrow service road that we could follow to avoid the tunnel.

Stavanger (0?)

After so many memorable rides we spent our last morning sightseeing in Stavanger.

The old town (Gamle Stavanger) just above the port.

The cafes of Øvre Holmegate.

Checking out a lifeboat in the Norsk Oljemuseum, a interesting museum about oil exploration in the North Sea and the impact on Stavanger and Norway. Well worth visiting.

There was another enormous cruise ship in the harbour (Mein Schiff 4) as well as a more permanent resident, the Rogaland. The latter was used as the hospital ship moored by the pier in the movie Dunkirk.

So ended our trip to Norway. We’ll have to go back, both to Stavanger and further north.

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