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Hansens Cykellob: Ice cream themed gravel sportive makes for a great day's riding

In-depth
6 Jan 2020
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The Hansens Cykelløb is a fantastic day out in the Danish countryside, as Cyclist found at the 2017 event

Words: Jack Elton-Walters  Photography: GripGrab Media Crew

The British sportive market is pretty saturated and many events seem to have fallen into a "stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap" approach with feed stations that leave a lot to be desired and routes that send riders along sometimes unwelcoming roads.

Only, a lot of the time they aren’t that cheap to enter even when the feed station offering is. You’d have to really stuff your pockets with energy gels to get back on a par if you were feeling short-changed by what many events offer.

This isn’t something I do or condone, but is a common sight at feed stations on the long route of almost any given sportive around Britain.

The idea of paying a premium to ride on roads you can tackle on any Sunday for an experience that’s lacking in any kind of wow factor sees more and more British riders heading away to foreign sportives, gran fondos and on cycling holidays and training camps.

There are the obvious choices such as the mass participation events that precede Classics like the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix or week long trips to Mallorca and Tenerife, but there is an increasingly long list of unique events, each with its own character and approach.

Hansens Cykellob: Key information

Date: 17th August 2019  
Location: Hansens Flødeis, Landerslevvej 5, 3630 Jægerspris, Denmark  
Distance: 130km  
Entries: sportstiming.dk/event/5770  
More informationhansenscykellob.dk   
SponsorsHansens Flodeis and GripGrab   
More photosGripGrab Facebook

Proper gravel tracks

A unique event

One such international event is the Hansens Cykellob in Denmark. The 2017 edition, which I rode, was the second running of the sportive but it’d been in the pipeline for about five years before the inaugural event took place in 2016.

Hansens is a family-run Danish ice cream producer, now in the hands of its fourth generation. At the helm are brothers Anders and Rasmus who are motivated to run the event by a number of factors, none of which is money as they were quick to point out.

‘This is not for the money at all,’ says Rasmus. ‘This is for the good feeling, for people having a good time and having some good food.’

How a Danish ice cream company came to run a sportive ‘is really simple’ Anders tells me.

‘We love ice cream, we love bikes and this is just combining those,’ he says.

‘I think for us it’s a quite natural match,’ Rasmus offers.

The Hansens’ link to cycling goes back much further than this fantastic gravel ride, and it’s the history of cycling in the family that started the process that led to the Hansens Cykellob.

‘We’ve been making ice cream for four generations’, says Anders. ‘Our granddad had his own bicycle race in the ‘60s so we grew up with this notion about him having his own race, so we wanted to have our own.’

Varied parcours

Railway lines form a small but memorable part of the route

The 130km route combines tarmac roads, gravel tracks, singletrack in the woods and even a short section next to a small railway line.

Looking at the satellite trace on Strava and thinking back to the twists, turns and cut-throughs, it’s difficult to think how the route was ever conceived.

The route evolved from the first to the second year, but was fairly similar. ‘With a few modifications [from 2016],’ says Anders. ‘We added the hill sprint, that was new, and towards the finish was new too.’

Rasmus adds, ‘We thought actually that the route was very good last year so we thought it was ok to use it again.’

The hill sprint Anders mentioned came immediately after the first feed station.

The feed station itself was offering Hansens take on the humble choc ice: a chocolate covered frozen nougat bar which would score five stars if reviewed in its own right.

Dusty lanes towards the end of the sportive

The hill climb came straight after: a 20%+, loose surfaced narrow path up the side of a vegetation covered sand dune. Families of other riders were dotted along the upper slopes and cheered strangers as keenly as friends.

Just how they settled on the route, however, comes down to local knowledge and a willingness to explore the area on two wheels.

‘Rasmus lives in Copenhagen,’ Anders points out. ‘He rides his bike to work, which is quite a ride [about 50km one way], and he knows a lot of the small, secret forest tracks.

‘So a lot of it came from him.’

Woodland trails test those who opted for a standard road bike set-up

International appeal

Despite this being only the second edition of the event, it is already proving popular very close to home and much further afield.

Good friend and fellow Islander Tim Wiggins joined me on the trip to Denmark. Tim is the blogger behind lifeinthesaddle.cc and was using the Danish event as the starting point of a touring ride to Andorra.

In addition to us two from the UK were riders from elsewhere in Europe as well as the village that hosted the start/finish.

‘We had a guy flying in from Spain,’ Anders says. ‘There a lot of people from Sweden, and then the first person to pick up his number was a local guy.

‘Having that bridge from the very local to everybody in the world is magical.’

In mind of the often rabid local opposition that some cycling events in the UK suffer – think drawing pins on the road and people driving on closed road courses – I was interested to know if there were any objections to this event.

‘No opposition, no,’ says Rasmus, surprised to hear about some of the responses to events back home.

A puncture this late would delay the finish line milkshakes and beers

Word of mouth

Despite its rapidly growing popularity, advertising for the event is confined to local bike shops and most people know about it through word of mouth.

Since riding the event I’ve been telling anyone who will listen how great it was, so it wouldn’t take many of the local riders to come away with the same experience to spread the word around Denmark.

‘Last year we had 250 riders,’ says Anders. ‘This year we decided to go for 400 and it was sold out two weeks before the event.’

‘We’ll have 4000 next year!’ Rasmus shouts with a chuckle. ‘No! It’s a pretty small place, so maybe a few more [than this year] but it’s not going to be thousands.’

It was wet and marshy on this descent

Indeed, parts of the course would struggle to take many more people. The start of the event sees the peloton led out by a huge Hansens ice cream tanker, with motorcycle outriders front and back.

Sending 400 riders down an A road with this kind of escort is no problem at all, and once the tanker peels off at the end of the neutral zone the bunch soon splits into vastly different pace groups.

A long way ahead there's an ice cream lorry

Riding along with the GripGrab group, an early touching of wheels saw a couple of our number go down and so we lost our position in the bunch.

Martin, GripGrab’s photographer had to call it a day before we left the neutral roll-out as he’d lost a couple of spokes. Tim’s bike suffered a twisted mech hanger that saw his complete the event on only three gears.

Although far from an ideal start, this did mean we had more freedom on the course to set our own pace and choose our lines in the woods.

It was easy to see how the race could get over-subscribed when a tree root covered incline on one trail caused a concertina effect that saw several riders, me included, topple over sideways.

Everyone got back up unharmed, but you can see how with a bigger peloton there could be more problems.

Gloves for cycling and holding ice creams

The GripGrab - and guests - group before setting off

GripGrab, the Danish cycling and run accessories brand, is the co-sponsor of the sportive and they were out in force on the day. All three of the Kroyer brothers, who founded the company, were riding and it’s in that group that Tim and I rode for the duration of the day.

The hill sprint that was added to the course this year served as a prime with the winner getting a brand new pair of GripGrab race mitts as a prize.

Kristian, the eldest of the three brothers, managed to win a pair of his own gloves back and so swiftly tossed them into the ice cream eating crowd at the end of the day.

The day's KOM

To calm down the racers and reassert the ethos of fun into the day, the lunch stop is within a time-neutral area with timing mats on the entrance and exit.

Here we were treated to sandwiches, fruit and ice cream of similar size to a rider’s head.

Tim enjoys his obligatory ice cream

I first met Heine Dahl Nielsen while queuing for a massive ice cream at the lunch stop, and I caught up with him again at the end of the sportive.

'I read an article about the event, spoke to my friend and we agreed to do it,' he tells me. 'We signed up about half a year ago.'

Despite how long ago he and his riding companion put their names down, the field was already over 25% full.

'It's a very good day, but a very hard day,' he says. 'Last weekend I did the coast to coast race, which was around 200km, but this was much harder.'

Possibly highlighting one reason for the popularity of the Hansens Cykellob, Nielsen says this was his first gravel sportive and that 'there are very few races here in Denmark.'

I spent the day on a Ridley X-Trail gravel bike, which was ideal for the mixed parcours as it handled just as well on tarmac, gravel and muddy trail.

Nielsen took the option that many riders went for and converted his road bike into a gravel bashing machine. 'I'm a roadie, but I've got a Specialized Roubaix and I added some fatter tyres to it, and that was perfect.'

The event was offering finishers priority entry for the following year's ride, an offer Nielsen was ready to accept. 'We're definitely tempted, it's a great race.'

A welcome sit down

Unrivalled scenery

Refuelled and universally grinning, the sportivistes are sent out of the café and onto a waterside track that traces the edge of the Roskilde Fjord.

The pace involuntarily slowed as we found ourselves in awe of the views across the water and beyond.

This was a stunning part of an all-round picturesque route, and the only time you weren’t treated to a cracking view was when riding deep in the woods and needing to concentrate on the trail and the wheel in front.

Very few people were able to ride up this late kicker

The closing stages of the route took in some proper gravel riding, clipping along at speed down farm tracks between recently harvested wheat fields, in scenery much like the near-unmatched vistas that Tim and I grew up riding through on the Isle of Wight.

Covered in dust but still grinning, everyone was welcomed back to Hansens HQ with truly the best chocolate milkshake I’ve ever tasted.

On top of that was a locally sourced beef salad lunch, beers and yet more top notch ice cream.

Smiles and beers at the finish

This is an event every British rider wanting to expand their sportive horizons should consider and is quite probably the best event - at home or abroad - that I've had the pleasure of riding.

It might not have the altitude of the alps or the iconic status of Flandrien cobbles, but this event more than makes up for it with a challenging route, unmatched feed stations and one of the friendliest welcomes I've found.

‘It’s nice to gather people who have the passion for the same thing,’ concludes Anders.

‘Our passion is cycling and ice cream, and we’re combining something that’s really tough with something that’s all about enjoying life. I think that’s the essence of it.’

This article first appeared on Cyclist.co.uk in September 2017