The Saimaa Cycle Tour is a 300 kilometre road cycling challenge set amidst the lakes and forests of northern Finland.

The fourth edition will take place on 28 June 2024, starting at 7:00pm in the evening. This far north, the sun doesn’t set during the summer. Cyclists will ride on roads that weave through the beautiful, watery landscape of Lake Saimaa, with a constant sunset for companion.

It will be beautiful.

It will also be challenging – on top of the distance, the rolling hills provide 2,800 metres of climbing.

Yet this is a challenge that is designed to be do-able. The time cut-offs aren’t too harsh and there are lots of service stops.

In this Q&A, we go behind the scenes of the Saimaa Cycle Tour, with event organiser, Juho Suikkari. He’s Finland’s three time road cycling champion and he’s lived in this region all his life.

This guide provides an overview of the event that is due to take place on 28 June 2024. Please read the rules, entry conditions and information on the official website if you want to take part. In the event of any discrepancy between this guide and information on the official website, please rely on the official website.

1. Overview of the Saimaa Cycle Tour

The Saimaa Cycle Tour is a beautifully scenic ride in Finnish Lakeland that takes place at night, during the season of the midnight sun.

In 2024, there will be three routes, with the long route at 300km and two shorter routes of 85km and 38km.

Each route takes you through a landscape of thousands of lakes and islands that are all connected to one another. Riding here is an incredible experience.

The event takes place on Friday 28th June 2024, ending on the late afternoon of Saturday 29th June 2024.

It’s not a closed road event, but this is a very low traffic part of the world!

The event is open and accessible to any cyclist that wants to challenge themselves; it’s not a competition.

 

Aerial view of the Saimaa Cycle Tour landscape

Lietvesi – Pistohiekka (Kuva / image credit: Niko Laurila, Saimaa Cycle Tour)

Esker road through finnish lakeland on the Saimaa Cycle TourPunkaharju esker area (Kuva / image credit: Saimaa Cycle Tour)
Puumala bridge at sunset, Finland, on the course of the Saimaa Cycle TourMagical midnight light on the Pumaala Bridge

2. Why did you set up this cycling event?

I set up the Saimaa Cycle Tour to show the world the magical landscapes that I’ve grown up with but which, to date, have been pretty unknown to cyclists.

I want to impress people with something that’s difficult to even imagine: riding through a continuous sunset on silent roads, past pure, freshwater lakes that are home to incredible wildlife (including seals!).

In Finland we don’t have mountains, but we have something else. We have natural landscapes and the chance to connect with the water and the light. The event is all about the simple things of water, light, silence and the quality of the air. You’ll be rolling through that magnificent landscape, through a continuous sunset with all the colours.

We think the Saimaa Cycle Tour offers an experience you can’t get in any other part of Europe.

These are my training roads, and I want to share the roads and the Lake Saimaa area with people. It’s really quite unique and my heart will always be there.

River vuoski, Imatra, FinlandRiver Vuoski, Imatra
Two cyclists on the Saimaa cycle tourCyclists on the Saimaa Cycle Tour

3. How did the 2021, 2022 and 2023 events go?

They were brilliant.

The Saimaa Cycle Tour was held for the third time in 2023 and has become the largest cycling event in Finland, with 2,600 registered cyclists from more than 30 countries.

In 2022 there were just over 2,000 registered cyclists from more than 25 countries.

In 2021, we welcomed 1,200 cyclists from ten different countries, which we were really pleased with given the uncertain backdrop as a result of Covid.

Cyclists at the start of the Saimaa Cycle Tour 2022

At the start of the 2022 event (image credit: Niko Laurila)

Start of the Saimaa Cycle Tour, Finland 2021At the start of the 2021 event
Cyclists in the forest on the course of the Saimaa Cycle Tour in FinlandCycling through the quiet forest

4. Explain the route profile for the long route

In 2024, there will be minor changes to the route before Lappeenranta and in Mikkeli, but most of the  route will remain the same as in 2022 and 2023.

The start and finish line is at the Imatrankoski bridge in Imatra.

The route turns west towards Lappeenranta for the first service point at the authentic harbour of Lappeenranta. The service point will be situated next to the Lappeenranta Fortress at the sand sculpture festival venue.

From Lappeenranta, the route goes over roads surrounded by lakes to Taipalsaari and Savitaipale where there will be a beautiful service stop close to the water. Many roads in this part of the ride are esker roads and offer beautiful views.

The route’s furthest service point is in Mikkeli. From here, the route turns back in the direction of Puumala.

On the way you ride over rolling hills and one of the most beautiful roads of the route at Pistohiekka; it’s five kilometres of incredible riding!

From Puumala, you will ride to the picturesque town of Ruokolahti where you will climb the short but steep Church Hill, before turning back towards Imatra for the final stretch to the finish line.

The event finishes back where it started. This should help ensure a great atmosphere.

GPX of the Saimaa Cycle Tour (long route) – look at that rollercoaster of a route profile!

5. What are the highlights of the Saimaa Cycle Tour?

There are lots!

The start line at the Imatra bridge is spectacular; the dam doors were open so that cyclists started with the sound of the Imatrankoski, the Imatra Rapids, below. It’s one of the earliest tourist attractions in Finland and gave a very dramatic atmosphere to the start to the race.

The experience of riding through the midnight sun is incredible. It’s something everyone should try at least once in their lifetime.

The Pistohiekka Esker is also a big highlight. The road is maybe three or four metres wide and have the lake on both sides. The road goes through the lake, via this esker that creates a natural bridge, so it’s very special.

Lots of participants mentioned the wildlife they saw on the route – foxes, elk…! These kind of experiences are unforgettable.

6. How fit do you have to be to ride this route? What training and preparation do you recommend?

Ideally, I’d suggest training consistently year-round, twice a week with some intervals. You don’t need to ride so much, but you do need consistency to help cope with the hills, and then you’ll enjoy it very much.

However, this event is good for anyone doing any endurance sport. It doesn’t have to be cycling, so if you’re walking or running, that’s fine. You don’t need to be a top fit athlete to take part.

I think the main thing is that if you don’t ride too fast, you can complete the long route.

Overall, you need to be able to get to an average of 16km/h (including stops) to complete the event within the time cut offs.

Cyclists in the midnight sun on Saimaa Cycle Tour Finland

Riding the Saimaa Cycle Tour 2023 (image credit: Niko Laurila)

Imatra rapids at sunriseImatra rapids at sunrise
Cyclists on the Saimaa Cycle Tour courseRiding the Saimaa Cycle Tour 2021

7. Are there time cut offs?

There are two cut off points for the long route. But don’t worry, they’re quite generous. In the 2021, 2022 and 2023 events, no one got caught out by a cut off time.

The cut off times are based on the 16km/h speed.

If you don’t make a cut off time, we have a bus that will take you and your bike to the finish line – we won’t leave you anywhere! The maximum completion time for the long route is 18 hours.

2024 cut offs

The first cut off will be at the warm food station at kilometre 117. You need to be there by 6:00 am.

The second cut off will be at the warm food station at kilometre 217. You need to be there by 12:00 am.

8. How to plan your nutrition?

For longer rides like this, it’s important you eat during the ride. Not just carbohydrates, which can boost your performance in the short term, but also proteins and fats to give you the energy you need. For that reason, it’s worth taking snacks with you – something you can easily slide into your cycling jersey, like a banana or a protein bar.

We have eight service stations, two of them are warm food service stops (at 117 kilometres and 217 kilometres). The remaining six stations are more snack service stops with cold food. They are placed every 40km or so, so there are chances for cyclists to fuel up while they are riding. You can even get a massage at these!

As well as the food offered at the stations, cyclists can also buy energy packages, which have sports drinks and energy bars in them. You can take them with you from the start or pick up some of the energy packets from points on the route.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that since we’re in such a pristine environment we have a zero-tolerance policy for littering; we want to keep the environment pristine. If we see anyone littering, they will be removed from the event.

In 2024, we will also ensure there are more opportunities to segregate your litter so we can recycle more.

Road twising through fields in FilandBeautiful road in the region, twisting through forest and fields

9. What kit choices do you recommend?

Hopefully we’ll have good weather, but it’s best to bring a few different items of clothing with you, as the weather can vary.

There is a bag drop around 1.5km from the start line where you can leave your bags and any unwanted clothing free of charge.

We suggest you dress for the whole race, and not just for the start. It’s a long race, and overnight it can get cold, so clothes to help keep you warm are useful.

Even though it’s a night race, sunglasses will protect you from wind and road water, and if there’s any glare from the setting sun.

For warmth, consider a cap or head cover under your helmet, especially if it has a lot of vents. You’ll want a good base layer, and a wind vest or wind jacket. Leg and knee warmers will definitely be necessary, and an extra pair of long-fingered gloves may be needed over your cycling gloves. It can get cold.

The most important item of clothing will be the padded bicycle shorts – for long cycle tours you definitely need something designed for comfort.

Finally, remember front and back bike lights. While you’re riding through the midnight sun, it’s not like riding through daylight, especially since you’re often in the forest and it could be overcast.

10. What support is there on the route?

As mentioned, there are eight service stations on the route that have food and drinks, some with warm food and some with massages. All of the stations have first aid, and they have bike services at all of them too.

We also have five cars on the road; they’ll act as rolling mechanics for any problems between the service stations.

11. Where should people stay?

We have partner hotels that you can find on our website. You can search for transport from the airport and for hotels through that. You have different kinds of hotels you can book straight from there. It’s easy and convenient.

Imatra Hotel, at start line of Saimaa Cycle Tour FinlandImatra state hotel (Kuva / image credit: Visit Finland)
Cyclists on a twisting esker road on the Saimaa Cycle Tour, FinlandTwisting esker road

12. Can people hire bikes?

Yes, they can. We are cooperating with ListNRide and they are offering standard and premium road bikes to our events.

There’s more information here.

13. How to get to Imatra?

Around 40km away is Lappeenranta international airport. Helsinki is the larger airport, around 250km from Imatra.

Lappeenranta

There are straight low cost flights to Lappeenranta from Bergamo in Italy.

More info on those here.

Helsinki

Helsinki airport is Finland’s national airport.

From Helsinki to Imatra it’s around a three-and-a-half-hour drive, or a similar train journey.

You can make the journey by train, bus or minivan transfer.

For the train, it’s one change, a small train from the airport to the train station and then a connection straight through.

There is also a luxury bus service from Helsinki to Imatra that is just 20 euros return. It’s only recently started but we think this is going to work really well for participants. More information on the bus service here.

Our travel partner Viada DMC will have different packages made available on our website during this winter.

14. What tips would you give to someone wanting to do this event?

Event tips

  • The event starts and finishes at the Imatra Rapids. The bag drop off point is about 1.5 kilometres from there.
  • For 2024 we will have groups of 50 people set off at four minutes intervals. Generally, it’s a first come first served approach to the pens; though some are reserved for press and large groups.
  • One of the most important points is not to start too fast and take your time. The finish is in Imatra, 300 kilometres away! It isn’t the distance of this event that will cause you problems so much as going too fast early on.
  • You should come to the event with a bike that’s in good condition, but if you need help, we do have service points in the event area. The work is free, but you’ll need to pay for any spare parts.

General

You don’t need to know Finnish to visit Finland; you can definitely get by with English. People are used to speaking English, but it’s with a strong Finnish accent, so it might get really funny at times with the pronunciation. If you find someone who doesn’t speak English, there’ll be someone nearby who can help.

You also don’t need cash; a bank card is fine. Most people now don’t take cash because of Covid.

If you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to get your coffee fix, there’s good news. The best roasters in Finland are situated in Lappeenranta, just next to our first service point. It’s a great location and they’ve got a nice terrace too. More info here.

It used to be very expensive to go to restaurants in Finland but now there is much more accessible, really good street food. There’s a gourmet burger culture and some better-quality restaurants too. Around the lake, the little vendace fish are delicious. And don’t miss the Finnish strawberries; they’re incredible!

Cyclists on the 2021 Finland long distance cycling challenge the Saimaa Cycle TourRiding at night; bring lights!
Cyclist cycling through Lake Saimaa, FinlandLakeland road (Kuva / image credit: Juho Kuva / Visit Finland)

15. How do you enter?

To book you just need to head to the website and register. However, bear in mind the local government rules and regulations on Covid.

While we’re expecting more than 3,000 cyclists in 2024 (as at 30 November 2023 we already have 1,800 cyclists registered), in future years we’re expecting the event to be as popular as the Vätternrundan in Sweden (or perhaps even more so!). So consider booking early (we also have some great early bird discounts…).

16. What’s the cancellation policy?

We have a new service called Transfer protection. With the transfer protection you can transfer your participation to the next year’s Saimaa Cycle Tour without any reason. The transfer protection is only valid if it is purchased at the time of registration.

With a medical certificate, transfer to the following year’s event free of charge

You can check out all the rules and terms and conditions for the event here.

There’s also more information on the Covid-19 restrictions/measures here.

17. What is there to do before/after the event?

I think everyone has to go to the Lake. Everywhere on beautiful Lake Saimaa you can find nice sandy beaches which are spotlessly clean.

In Finland, the sauna is also a must-not-miss experience. After all, this is a country with 5 million inhabitants and 3 million saunas! There are sauna boats and sauna floats. Go for the sunset, you’re cruising over the lake relaxing, having a drink and enjoying some good food. It’s great. More info here.

Cycling wise, we have so many other routes that people can find online to check out all around the lake. You can find some ideas here.

 

A big thank you to Juho for sharing so much detail about what to expect from this new event. He has also kindly shared the official 2023 Event Guide which might be useful to anyone thinking of entering and looking for more information. We wish we could make it this year – but perhaps 2025 will be the year!

 

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Juho Suikkari is the man behind the Saimaa Cycle Tour. He’s Finland’s three time road cycling champion and he’s lived in this region all his life.

Last Reviewed: 18 December 2023

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