Rapha Prestige up close

Road cycling is often about love and hate, hate and love. In order to get to the bottom of what drives someone to bike 160 km in rain, wind and sleet, we sat down with biker Mads John Thomseth.

Text: Silje Strømmen
Photos: Pål Laukli

For me, a mid-twentysomething dedicated urban biker who prefers design to function, spending a day biking 160 km of rolling hills combined with three steep climbs don’t sound like an ideal way to spend a Saturday. Add rain, sleet and temperatures normally associated with February rather than May and you might just call it a nightmare.

For Mads John Thomseth and the rest of his team STANDARD (OSLO) though, it sounded like just another chance to combine their passion for road biking and great nature experiences. Or at least, that was the plan.

May 16th 2015 started out good. The sky had bits of blue in it, the temperature was good and Oslo was preparing for the national day celebrations. Mads and the rest of his team, Eivind Furnesvik, Andreas Meinich and Geir Kristian Teigland was with good spirits, ready to face the Rapha Prestige Oslo (later named “Hell of the far north”).

Promoted by Rapha as “an unsupported, unsanctioned, and unmarshalled adventure across stunning terrain”, they knew it would be tough. The 160 km would be enough to put me out, but for the men entering the race it’s not all about the number of kilometres or the length of the climbs. It’s about passion, comradeship and the experience.

Having gone through all of the stages of biking: from enjoying riding around the city and showing of his newly built bike, evolving onto biking with groups of friends, Mads quickly discovered that road biking was the branch of biking that could get him the furthest. He re-discovered the childhood feeling of freedom; being able to just pick up and go for a ride. The combination of beautiful mechanical work, being close to nature and the traditions attracted him: after all, the sport is built upon gentlemen and has a history full of heroes. What is there not to like? However, the question “why do you bike” is a though one, and Mads falls short to answer. Instead we go on to discuss love and hate:

- There is definitely love/hate feelings related to biking. In some kind of absurd way, the hate often turns into love during or after a race. I guess you can call it a fetish, but there is something to that symbiosis.

You need both. I love climbing mountains, but at the same time I hate it more than anything. A lot of it has to do with overcoming something. In the end it’s all about beating yourself, and in order to do that you need hate. You are your own worst enemy.

You would think that the feeling of accomplishment you would experience when finishing a race would give you wings, but upon asking Mads to describe it, he confesses that the feeling quickly vanishes.

- Unless you have just completed something epic that you have been dreaming about for a long time. Then you are on the verge of euphoria, combined with a unique sense of empowerment and the need to throw up due to exhaustion.

Looking back on May 16th Mads declares that he has never been as cold as he was after finishing the Rapha Prestige Oslo.

As heavy rain covered the capital, I recall standing in the kitchen, looking out and praising myself lucky for the cup of freshly brewed tea in my hands – all while getting live updates from our photographer on sight, Pål.

- There and then I regretted the whole thing, Mads admits and continues:

- In situations like that you tend to do so. In order to cope you visualize goals like “getting up that hill” and trying to digest the route into smaller sections. Sometimes you just loose it, physically and mentally. In situations like that I think psyche trumps physics, but I fell apart both ways. You forget to eat and drink, and even though you use your body to stay warm, that day it was just too cold. The grand finale of the route was supposed to be the climb to the peak of Tryvann, and even though that was supposed to be the final result of everything that day, it felt like hell.

There is no doubt that Rapha Prestige Oslo was quite the experience. But in the end, was it worth it, and most importantly: would he do it again?

- I’ve asked myself that question numerous of times. Being named one of the toughest Rapha Prestige races ever, there is a pride in having taken a part in that. Looking back I’m glad that I entered. But…

Long pause.

Hell yeah, I would have done it again. I definitely would, but it took me until now to realize that.