Racing the Swedish Way

Last weekend I rode in my first bike race, called the Vasatrampet, in about 2 years, or basically since becoming pregnant with Michael. It was a lot of fun, although it was quite different than the road racing I used to do in the States.

To clarify, here is a broad generalization to contrast our two cultures; I feel like Americans thrive off of competition and quest for the extreme, while Swedes thrive off of cooperation and moderation. (I've heard enough Swedes make similar statements and seen enough examples to know that, although a stereotype, it has a basis.) A saying in Sweden with roots back to the viking era is "Enough is best", or in other words, get just what you need and no more. It can be looked down upon for anyone to stick their head out - for example to be wealthy or to try to be too good at something or too competitive. You see this in the political ideals - really really high taxes (so it is difficult to get too wealthy) but the payoff is that everyone is pretty much taken care of. I also notice it in the way salespeople have no pushiness whatsoever. I notice it in the serving sizes at restaurants. I notice it in the houses (sure there are some nice ones, but not the abundance of mcmansions I'm accustomed to seeing in the States.) But I probably have noticed the most examples in the biking culture.

So back to the race. It was 55 miles, and I would say that the first 53 miles of it didn't really feel like a race against each other; it was more like a race with each other. Like a team time trial, basically. Even at the end, the speed ramped up but there was no major battles that I could see. We pacelined the whole way. Of course it naturally broke up into groups - probably only about 15 people could keep the pace of the lead group - but within this group it was like we were all just trying to get to the finish line in our fastest time, all everyone together, regardless of the team. Although I must say that the vast majority was Team Magnus (the team I joined a few months ago), so it made sense we were helping each other. But no one seemed put off by other individuals mooching off of our draft. There were no attacks, EVER, even in the end, as I learned that here, for this race, that would have been very, very bad sportsmanship. But I am used to attacks being the name of the game, part of the competition aspect of a bike race. Anyway, I am sure that part of that was due to it being a mass start style amatuer race (I'm sure their pro races would have the attacks and competition), but I still know that even the most amatuer of races in the States would have attacks and plenty of flashes of testosterone and battles for dominance.

I got caught behind a crash right before the last mile or so of the race, so I was disappointed that I did not get to see how the end played out among the race leaders, but the guys who placed all said that there was no sprint at the end. Yes, it was fast, but they did not do a proper sprint. I almost feel like they would hold hands across the finish line if they could. There was only one other girl who also kept up with the lead group with me, and I figured that my only goal (besides simply having my curiosity filled to do a Swedish bike race and see how they do it here) would be to try to beat her. However, she was one of the people who crashed in front of me so we didn't really get to race it out at the end. And now I am thinking that was a lucky thing we didn't race to the finish together because maybe I would have looked really bad if I was out there being all tactical to draft behind her till the finish and then trying to out-sprint her at the end, while everyone else just held their position....I would have felt so dumb! So I was lucky to have been sparred that embarrassment. I am learning the Swedish way. But it is so against my highly competitive nature! But it is good for me at this point in my life when I am doing this sort of thing "just for fun" (which, ironically, I've found is actually less fun than when I used to take it pretty seriously...). I later learned that they don't even post or keep track of the placings for the race. But it was definitely, decidedly a race. Would that even be legal in the States? (Along the same lines, they do not get grades in school here until they are in eighth grade.)

Anyway, it was a good time. It was fun working with teammates and non-teammates, without those surging efforts of people trying to rip my legs off and me trying to do the same to them, since I really don't have the fitness for that now anyway. And I am enjoying Sweden more than ever. There are a few issues, as you can see from what we were wearing in this side picture in ***AUGUST***. But overall, I feel happy and at home here, and I am having fun figuring out the culture and language and food (I fed Smalls blood pudding the other day, at the recommendation of his nurse. Yes, bloody bloody blood pudding. More on that in a future post. I was trying to play it cool like I'm-so-Swedish, but really I wanted to puke.).

Below: In our hotel the night before the race.
Bedtime Battle Winner - Biggie Smalls! What little boy could possibly go to sleep when this must CLEARLY be a slumber party! How could he go to sleep when he knows we are RIGHT THERE, omigosh, BEST THING EVER. The child was as hyped up as we've ever seen him, crawling wildly from one spot to the next, wheezing in and out like he was going to hyperventilate, and falling over in fits of excitement. It was just like puppy flurries.

The Richmans  – (8:36 PM)  

Okay, lots of comments again:

1) I'm glad you got to "race" again finally--I'm sure it felt good even if it wasn't the most fun you've ever had.

2) I bought JB one of those sleepsacks like Smalls has and the first time I put him in it (yesterday) I laughed hysterically for like 5 minutes and then again every time I looked at him. I guess I'm a horrible mother for laughing at my child like that.

3) Did you get the birthday package I finally sent (I mailed it last week). I have no idea how long things take to get to you, but hopefully you got it. I am going to send a bday one to Michael in the next couple of days--hopefully that one will actually make it in time for his birthday.

Sara  – (9:50 PM)  

Nice post. Amazing at how different the world is!

Davis Doings  – (6:28 AM)  

It is so fascinating to learn about different cultures. It seems that you really have to live there to truly understand the nuances of the culture and it is definitely not something you could really understand by reading a text book. Michael is as cute as ever!

Rachelle  – (9:54 AM)  

So interesting! Sounds like your new goal instead of winning will be to NOT win. That might be harder. Great post; you're a fabulous writer!

Joy  – (11:30 AM)  

Very interesting post. I laughed at Michael's enjoyment as you described his slumber party experience. See you soon!

Amy  – (7:18 PM)  

I'm glad you got to "race" again, even if it wasn't as fun as it would have been in the states.

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