The Great Test of Strength

A concise overview 1967-2013 from Olav Tyrhaug

The first years

The idea came from Erik Gjems-Onstad. He was formerly a Kompani Linge man and manager of Milorg in Trøndelag. Decorated with the War Cross with sword for his war efforts. As a cyclist, he was a promising track rider with, among other things, the Junior NM before the war. In 1959 he became chairman (president) of the Norwegian Cycling Association. Then he immediately became eager to establish a joint start in the classic Trondheim-Oslo distance. He did not get a hearing for the idea in NCF’s board, but he promised himself that the plan would become a reality. After several years of working against the idea, the matter was put on the agenda in the NCF in a board meeting in the winter of 1966. The conclusion from the meeting was rather lukewarm. The NCF would not support the ride but would not oppose it either. In retrospect, Erik Gjems-Onstad has stated that it was more difficult to start the load than to complete the Great Strength Test 10 times, which he did and always with starting number 1. It is a bit funny that no official body was behind the first Strength Test in 1967. The Norwegian Cycling Association would not accept any responsibility. The event committee appointed itself, with Erik Gjems-Onstad as chairman and it is said that he himself had to assume financial responsibility for the event.

The start took place on St. Hansen’s Eve 1967. 121 horsemen lined up outside Nidaros Cathedral. In addition, 25 from Dombås and 5 from Hamar. The maximum time from Trondheim was set to 48 hours. The finish line was in Kongens gate by the Fortress. The target sail was here for several years, before it was moved to Valle Hovin. Also for a few years at Lørenhallen, once at Rådhusplassen and at Idretten Hus in Ekeberg. The premiere in 1967 was successful in every way. One of the participants expressed after the finish line that the ride was a wonderful nature experience with “moonlight through Gudbrandsdalen that I will never forget” . The race leader, who had taken personal responsibility for the finances, was also satisfied and noted that the accounts showed a small surplus. He also had a greeting for those who had no faith in the measure; “The sport constantly needs renewal. Let us constantly seek new paths and support new ideas. If you don’t believe in a measure yourself, inspire those who have the faith and desire to get started.”

Is this still valid today?

The next decade

The 70s started with a heat record for the Strength Test in 1970. 35.4 degrees were measured in Gudbrandsdalen. A later winner, Stig Lundsør, says:

“I didn’t have a service car and therefore stopped at 5 food stations. In addition, I had with me 4 bicycle bottles, a box of raisins, 50 salt tablets, 2 chicken thighs, 2 apples, 3 oranges, an oil can and oak bars”.

This says a little about what a TOUR RIDER was at that time.

Support for the event increased steadily over time and exceeded 1,000 participants for the first time in 1979. A fatal accident caused by a collision with a car in 1974 led to the road manager in Sør-Trøndelag banning cycling events on the E6 through the county. Political consideration had to go all the way up to cabinet level, to the Minister of Transport, before the ban was lifted. A discussion about the security of the event was probably also instrumental in the so-called elite group being monitored by the police in 1976 and 1977. And that the joint start was run for the last time in 1976. In 1977 there was a pool start with 25 in the group, also in the elite class.

In 1978 it was an arduous trip. Of the 906 cyclists who started, only 602 reached the finish line within the time limit. The reason for the large dropout was heavy sleet and rain in large parts of the track. In terms of the event, we can note that this was the first year that computer technology (Merkantildata AS) was used to prepare the list of results in the Strength Test. The test made its debut in 1979 with a feature in Dagsrevyen and in all years it was featured in the radio’s “Trafikk og musik”.

Here you can enter a participant’s account of what he experienced in the 1970s.

The Trondheim trip in the 70s (narrated by Olav Tyrhaug)

At that time, a joint start Trondheim-Oslo was run, a real bicycle race. And that was The Great Test of Strength. The class division was simple; Active class and Tour class, without any age division in the Tour class. The joint start for the Active class was run for the last time in 1976. Then the police started to care, then as now! They thought the pools were too big and the joint start was discontinued. It might be an idea to get it back, almost 50 years later?

As a novice touring rider, I cycled the distance for the first time in 1972. What I remember best was tough headwinds all the way. Escort car was, of course, unknown to a debutant. Extra clothes were packed in a “sausage” around the handlebars. A DBS Winner (for those who remember what that was) did the trick as a racer. It was a bit small, but the headwind was a bigger concern. Gudbrandsdalen became infinitely long that day, a real long day’s journey towards night and morning. The distance was officially 56.5 miles at the time, probably 3 miles longer than today’s course. Even for the winners, the headwind was tough. The fastest took almost 20 hours, while I spent 6 hours more, before the finish line was crossed in Kongens gate by Akershus Fortress. “Now we’ll put on our helmets, boys, we’re going to cycle through the city,” I heard from an experienced guy in the field when we passed Gjelleråsen. The helmet requirement was not absolute at the time.

Never again I thought!

But still. The following year the wind had lied and it was tempting to repeat it, also a few years later.

In 1974, still in the Tour Class, I was a little better prepared and shared the victory in the class with 2 others and now almost 10 hours faster than in the headwind year of 1972.

Then a downturn in 1975. Over in Active class. But a sore back meant that there was a car ride from Fåvang and home. Then I thought that it might be just as well to give up on the long challenges. In 1975 I had started to run regular competitive races and was also awarded in the NM 5 mile pace. Then maybe the time trials became my strongest point as a cyclist, not abnormal when you make your debut in adulthood.

With quite a few hundred miles on the bike in the spring of 1976, I was tempted to try the Trondheim tour once more.

There was strong international participation here. Finn Teuvo Louhivuori was rumored to have held the record for 24-hour solo cycling with 74 miles. He would also turn out to be my fiercest competitor eventually. With top speed down towards Dombås and further downhill, we continued at a good pace. Nice weather, nice and warm. The beautiful Italian cycling shoes of the brand Duegi, model Knut Knutsen, had arrived on the market. These will be issues, I thought before the start. According to the rumours, they were supposed to have very stiff soles, unlike the ones we were used to before; quite soft leather soles. But the stiff wooden sole had a drawback. In hot weather it burned under the soles of the feet. The only solution was to douse it with cold water. Then there was a need for a trailer with a large water tank.

The field gradually got smaller and before Lillehammer it was reduced to 10 men. I had long noticed the long fin. He’s an old pro, I thought. He rides incredibly well on light gears. There was little conversation. He only knew Finnish.

Just before Lillehammer, he really believed. There was passivity in the field. You don’t intend to drive solo to the finish line, do you? There are over 20 miles to go. He got 100 meters, 200 meters, nobody reacted. I’ll take the chance. After a couple of kilometers I catch up with him. Now at least there were 2 of us, but it would be hopeless to keep away, wouldn’t it? With the Finn’s 24-hour solo abilities and we should ride a good couple pace together?

It went well for a long time. But Teuvo had his own ambitions. Already from Stange, he started testing with some juicy jerks. In this way, the speed was kept up and we received messages about a good distance to the field behind.

The pace probably took its toll as well. Despite no dialogue, other than in Finnish, I understood that he was getting tired. He was probably wondering how far there was to the finish line. At Råholt there was a large sign on a house; 61 km to Oslo. He understood that – and we pedaled on.

I realized that now might be the time to do something. Soon only 5 miles to the finish line. Would it be possible to run a normal 5 mile pace? I tried for the first time at the 50 km trail mark. I got 100 meters but he will surely come back, I thought, so I let myself down again. There was a bit of war in the air now.

I’ll try one more time – for the full this time. I looked back after a while. The fin was gone!

Then it was 5 miles of tempo cycling. We drove over Gjelleråsen that time. A pretty hard case after 56 miles. I got seconded at the top. You lead by 15 minutes!

Clean parade down Trondheimsveien, around Sinsenkrysset and towards Valle Hovin. Over the dirt, onto the track and a lap in pure Paris-Roubaix style.

The following year it became “Tyrhaug double” as it says in Arne Thoresen’s book Den Store Styrkeprøven (1985)

In 1977 there were early rumors that there would be a pool start for everyone. The police had had their say. Max 25 in each pool. Then there was a tactical setup of club pools. I was asked by Rye to join their pool. In addition, Øystein Rohlff from Hero. 23 from Rye and 2 from Hero. Rye had also teamed up with “professional” assistant riders who would do the rough work up to Hjerkinn/Dombås. A high tempo was set. So that before Dombås we drove into the pool which had started 10 minutes ahead, with a previous winner in the group. It naturally created a bad atmosphere among those who drove in. Why wasn’t there a joint start like before and a real bike race?

It went away quickly in an easy trail section after Dombås. Nevertheless, the field quickly became smaller. After Lillehammer, there were only 8-10 men left.

The drama began from Hamar. That time we cycled through the center of Hamar. This was on St. Hansaften and the party was already underway there.

Towards the center of Hamar, we follow the lead car as usual, where the chief judge of the race is also sitting. We blow through the city streets to great cheers from happy spectators and sense peace and danger within. I knew the route from earlier and was a little confused when the lead car took a road that I thought was going in the wrong direction.

Some partygoers had moved the trail markings in Hamar. We were on our way to Elverum and not to Oslo! Signaling to lead cars was of no use. When it finally stopped we were at Løten. The scandal was a fact. The race director had driven us 26 kilometers off the trail. He had to make some decisions; We were to be driven by car back to the track and placed so that we had the same head start to the field as we had in Hamar. 5 riders were piled into a box truck, were driven back to the track and past those who had been behind us. Great resurrection, they sit on by car! Then it stopped and we climbed out of the car stiff and stiff. After about 10 minutes it was a new start.

The drama was over and the rest went smoothly. At the top of Gjelleråsen, I got a question from the Rye gang if we were going to cross the finish line equally and share the victory. I didn’t answer that clearly. We drove a real sprint in the Innspurten to Valle Hovin and I was ahead by half a bike length.

Funnily speaking for me, a large interview written by skating legend Sverre Farstad, then a journalist in Arbeiderbladet, was the entire back cover of the Monday issue.

The headline in Adresseavisen in Trondheim was just as big; “The winning quintet drove a car for 26 km”. Despite a protest, no changes were made to the result list.

Flowering time and cancellation

The 1980s started with a violent upswing. With over 100% increase from 1979, from 1163 to 2492 registered in 1980. An adventurous development from 1967 with 121 participants.

The other thing that is particularly remembered from that time was what was later called The Great Freeze Test. At Dovre, it was measured as low as 6 degrees Celsius. Juice froze on the bike bottles. For many, the 1981 Freeze Test became a single, coherent nightmare. Most had too little clothing with them. Remember that this was the time before it became common to have service cars for everyone. You had to fend for yourself.

The event grew strongly in the early 1980s and it became necessary to hire help in the office. Grete Eikum was employed as secretary. The employment agreement was that she was to work 50% for the Oslo Cyklekrets and 50% for Den store Styrkeprøven. In the busiest period, she probably worked 100%, and probably more! for the Strength Test. “The spirit of hard work and friendly cyclists are what I remember best,” she says later.

The newly hired secretary had enough to do. Entries poured in and participant records were broken year after year. In 1983, 4,220 had signed up, while 3,660 cyclists started the challenge from Trondheim to Oslo. Of these, 3,140 completed. From the figures, we can perhaps read that many were optimistic about their registration and got a little cold feet when it got close to the start. The fact that as many as 500 did not finish shows that this was in the heyday of tour rides with participants who were perhaps not well enough prepared. A physiotherapist and dentist stated: “You’d have to be a bit crazy to take part in a bike race like this once. If you participate several times, it is basically proven that there is something wrong with you” .

The period of the classic joint start in the 1960s and 70s was long over. Gradually, it became increasingly important to set new time records. Active elite cyclists participated in this period and contributed strongly to new record-setting. In 1984, a stable tailwind probably contributed just as much to a new time record of just over 14 hours. This year, a separate record pool was established with 60 participants and a police escort from start to finish. This record pool was probably also what tempted the elite cyclists to start.

The number of starters had now stabilized at around 3,700.

With ever-growing events, the spirit of service was put to the test. Thoughts were aired in the board about remuneration for the board of Oslo Cyklekrets and the members of the Trondheim-Oslo committee. This did not receive a majority in the board and ended with only the chairman receiving a remuneration. Carrying out the event was entirely dependent on the work of the committee. Here there were group leaders for the starting area, food stations, trail/marking, sanitation, press, data etc. A successful event rested entirely on the committee doing good work. There was still only one secretary in a part-time position for the Strength Test in the office.

The idea of ​​a shorter distance than 560 km from Trondheim came up, for example starting from Lillehammer. However, this was only realized in 1996. Towards the end of the 1980s, participation steadily increased and a new participant record was set in 1988 with 4,644 registered. And a new record time of 14.05.49 with Morten Sæther in the lead. And for the first time over 5,000 registered in 1990. 5343 registered in 1990 was a historic peak in registration from Trondheim. The awarding of the WC for the elite to Oslo probably had a positive effect on the touring races as well.

A slight downturn came in 1993 with around 300 fewer people registered.

A major downturn came in 1995. A flood disaster hit large parts of Eastern Norway at the beginning of June. All preparations for carrying out the event 17-19. June had been completed, but only a week before the start, the Directorate of Roads withdrew the riding permit. After long discussions in the board and the event committee, the race was nevertheless carried out 4-6. August. Unfortunately, the postponement led to a dramatic drop in participation. Many of the foreign participants could not change their holiday plans at short notice and others had other plans than to prepare throughout the summer. There was little to be done with the expenses and it resulted in a million deficit in the accounts for 1995. However, solid equity in the back saved the accounts.

In 1996, Lillehammer-Oslo was organized for the first time. Also new this year was that the Oslo Cycling Council entered into a cooperation agreement with the company Arrangements-Partner AS for the Great Styrkeprøven. The company took over the practical planning and execution, as well as the financial responsibility for the event. However, the agreement with Arrangements-Partner AS was short-lived and was terminated in 1997. There was now a need to strengthen the administration and Ingar Wilhelmsen was appointed as general manager, with an outlined division of labor 1/3 at OCK and 2/3 at Styrkeprøven.

At the end of the 1990s, times became tighter. Lack of participation, less volunteer effort from the clubs and a greater need for the purchase of goods and services. Even with various market advances, the participation from Trondheim failed somewhat. Some believed that the Trondheim-Oslo product no longer had as much appeal. Perhaps it was time to invest more in shorter distances? In addition, there was discussion about the level of the starting quota. Was it possible to increase something to compensate for the decrease in the number of starters?

After the turn of the millennium

Lillehammer-Oslo was now well established and had already reached 1,200 participants in 2001. A newcomer, Eidsvoll-Oslo, had 20 participants in its debut. The decline in Trondheim-Oslo stopped and total participation in the Styrkeprøve increased due to Lillehammer and Eidsvoll.

The strength test had for many years been spared serious accidents, but in 2004 a tragic fatal accident occurred in a collision between a cyclist and an oncoming car.

A new publication, På Hjul, was launched by OCK. This was well received in the cycling community. With increasing participation, there was more optimism in the committees and the board. Greater interest and participation in the event from the Oslo clubs was nevertheless called for. 600 signed up from Eidsvoll in 2006 and with a steady increase every year from Lillehammer there were over 5,000 in total. This was still no more than the number who started only from Trondheim in 1990. But there was optimism to trace now. Participation increased rapidly and passed over 6,000 registrants in total in 2009. The participation from Lillehammer accounted for the most significant increase.

In 2009, project work was started to reorganize Styrkeprøven with an invitation to establish Styrkeprøven AS.

With continued strong increases in registrations, an upper ceiling of 9,000 registrations was introduced for 2010. This was considered a limit for proper traffic and safety implementation. The limit was nevertheless passed in the peak year of 2011 with 9,576 entries in total for all distances.

In 2012, the annual meeting of the Norwegian Cycling Association was briefed on the work to convert the circuits into regions. This actualized the work on a new company model for the Styrkeprøven.

New owner

The annual meeting of the Oslo Cycling Council decided on 18 March 2013 to invite representatives from all the clubs affiliated to the circle to a share subscription meeting on 20 August 2013.

Constitutive general meeting was held on 4 November 2013. Styrkeprøven AS has the following owners in 2023:

Asker Cycling Club (10%)
Bærum and Surroundings Cycling Club (20.33%)
Follo Cycling Club (6.72%)
Hasle-Løren IL (10%)
Holmenkollen Cycling Club (4.44%)
IF Frøy (18.11%)
IK Hero (10.06%)
Sports Club Rye (20.33%)

Literature; Arne Thoresen. The Great Test of Strength
Håvard Solerød. Oslo Cycling District 1913-2013