The 2009 Intersport Viking Tour was certainly the most challenging of the previous Viking Tours which the GB team use as a preparation for forthcoming major events. In 2008, Darren Kenny and David Stone both used the event for their successful preparation for the Beijing Paralympic Games where they returned with six Gold medals between them. Although a lot hillier than most Paralympic events, the Viking Tour provides an excellent physical and mental challenge for the competitors.
The seven day stage race started in Beitostolen (Norway) which is normally a cross-country skiing base, is not specifically a paracycling event but an international competition with entrants this year coming from Belgium, Austria, Sweden and Finland.
Whilst most people’s attention was on the Tour de France, the Great Britain Paracycling team of Rik Waddon, Darren Kenny and Simon Richardson, supported by coach Gary Brickley and Physio Tom Mitchell, travelled to Norway for the stage race. The first stage was a moderately easy 100km race starting with a steady climb but whilst the sun was shining at the start, it wasn’t long before the riders would spend the rest of the week dodging rain clouds.
Whilst the Great Britain riders stayed with the main group for most of the stage, the leading riders in the race started to edge away on the final climb with the leader finishing in 1 hour 54 min and GB’s Darren Kenny finishing in 2h 4 min, Simon Richardson riding his new Boardman bike, in 2 hours 13 min and Rik Waddon in 2 hour 41 min. This was just a taster for the rest of the week.
Darren Kenny doesn't have time to look at the stunning scenary surrounding him
On day 2, it was Waddon who had struggled on day 1, who turned in the best performance when he climbed strongly on the infamous Trollsvegen, a 30km climb. This time Rik finished in a time of 3 hours 4 min with Darren Kenny coming in 12 minutes later and Simon Richardson seven minutes further down on Kenny.
It was an impressive comeback by Waddon but on day 3, with the race covering 130 kilometres, it was Kenny who was on the better form of the three, managing to stay with the leaders for the majority of the race before finishing in 3 hours 14 minutes, 14 minutes up on Richardson and well ahead of a fatigued Waddon. The rain and cold had challenged the riders to their limits and on a technical course, many riders in the race struggled to break the four hour mark.
It was another early start on day 4 which saw the riders race over a shortened time section due to the declining weather and the GB riders performed well before the big stage on day 5 with a climb rising up to 1500m.
Darren Kenny had the ride of the week staying with the leaders for the majority of the race and pushing himself beyond his normal extreme levels. He was exhausted at the end of the 150km race finishing in a time of 5 hour and 17 minutes. It was a stage where all the riders were never quite sure how far was left and when they reached the 10 km to go sign, they all had a mixture of emotions. Richardson had caught Waddon on the final climb and they finished off the ascent together in a time of 6 hours and 22 minutes.
The penultimate day was a time trial, a relief for the riders having to only compete over a 7km climb and once again Kenny maintained his green jersey for the best overall disability competitor in a time of 20 minutes and 44 seconds.
The final day involved less climbing than the previous days but the organisers sent the riders through the longest car tunnel in the world -- the 24km Laerdal tunnel. Fortunately this was controlled otherwise there was potential for crashes despite everyone wearing their lights. A nice sweeping 20 km climb at the end of the course made the riders work hard all the way to the finish line around 20km from the start town of Beitostolen. Both Kenny and Waddon started well by staying with the main group until the first feed, with Richardson in the second main bunch.
However, as the riders approached the first King of the Mountain sprint, Waddon had a mechanical failure which effectively put him out of the race for the day. Kenny pushed on with the main group staying with them until the last 5km of the climb and finishing just minutes down on the leaders in a time of 4 hours 27 minutes.
Kenny’s overall time for the timed sections was 20 hours 44 minutes giving him first place overall in the disability category and a commendable top 20 in his age group. It was a tough week for all of the GB riders but they will look back at their achievements over the week and realise what a hard week of training and racing that they will have endured.
The team will shortly head out to Arona, Italy for their final preparation before the World championships in September.