Thoughts from the transportugal

Sagres Travel Blog

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So after a 2 week taper and an extended period of bricking it the event has finally arrived I left work about 3pm on Friday, possibly a bit early, and flew over to Lisbon, taking in an hour of so of cricket in the BA lounged. Friday was fairly uneventful and consisted mostly of eating before finishing up in a nice looking hotel in Lisbon, meeting up with Paul and Paul, 2 of the other brits on the race


Saturday 9 June       A LONG WAY

Started early as I didn’t sleep too well, then into the coach up to Bracanca. Basically spent the journey swapping stories to intimidate one another like chimps strutting to be the alpha male, I emerged from the bus a very long way down the mating line, suddenly 10 laps at the dusk ‘til dawn don’t seem so special compared with:

-          Tom : planning on a 532 mile road ride round Oregon in 36 straight hours, without stopping, he is doing the event on a 3 speed with rigid carbon forks.

-          Many people who’s done the cape epic / transrockies / transalp (you are no-one without a transalp bag / La Ruta / various 24hr races

-          Probably winner is george of the jungle, a 40 something shaven headed south African who did the trans-africa, a 93 stage race over about 3 months across Africa, think he could have played his joker a bit early with that one

Anyway we eventually dis-embarked at Bracanca (top right of Portugal), noting the uniform of the other competitors:

-          Shaven legs

-          Massive polar heart rate monitor

-          T-shirt from scary sounding endurance event

I don’t even have particularly hairy legs and  Merida marathon T-shirt from Penrith doesn’t really cut it, I’m scaring no-one! Bikes were then built, an incredibly detailed briefing carried out then some binge eating. Being Portugal dinner wasn’t served until 9pm, so late to bed listening to a hoard of junior football players running round the corridors in studs, little bastards! Some interesting bikes on display:

-          Tom’s 3 speed land shark

-          Ralph Philley and his 8kg scott hardtail with 21 – 11 road cassette

-          Paul Errington and the white Raleigh frame he got second hand for £70 with cranks

-          my ETSX70, I appear to be somewhat overbiked

-          flock of Ti hardtails for the locals.

-          Various santa cruz


Sunday 10 June : Stage 1     F*CK ME THAT WAS A LONG WAY

East facing hotel room so up bright and early, fired down an early breakfast to go and watch Cal start, he’s 64 and so has a massive head start, he also appears to have the body of a 50 year old and the legs of a 20 year old, no supprise he won a couple of years ago. He disappeared in the big ring at high velocity, we didn’t see him until dinner... Suitably chastended I left to smear half a tub of minty arse lard all over my shorts. Come my start the plans of beginning at a steady pace went out of the window as I hammered it out of the gate, straight into the big ring with heart pounding, heart rate unsustainably high and the red mist firmly in place. Obviously this meant I wasn’t looking at my GPS and so missed the first meaningful corner and ended up pushing up a cliff face within 20 minutes of the start of an 8 day race before realizing my mistake. Following this school boy error it was then into a relatively steady pace for a big ride, I set off at 08:28 with a personal goal of knocking off the 80 miles by 6pm, possible if I didn’t stop for the next 9 hours, lacking a 9litre bladder this wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t. The highlights (?) of day 1 were:

-          drinking 3 litres of water and 800ml of energy drink in the first 38km (bit warm then)

-          finding a steady pace then needlessly accelerating when Errington appeared from the bushes after something of a diversion

-          dying on my arse in the last 20 miles

-          not too hot

-          bit of rain

-          getting a massage in a town square in a downpour following a final climb up a cobbled street to the finish, cobbled climbs were to become a theme and this was a mere shandy compared to some of the class A narcotics served up later in the race..

-          kids dressed as firemen laughing at me as I stopped to get water and espresso

-          my first beer for 6 weeks (I’d bloody earnt it!)

-          worst spaghetti in the world, ever, at dinner.

ultimately I finished up 29th out of 49.

Of the other Brits Errington beat me, Al tried to jack in early in the stage, Antonio (race organizer) basically said “no” got back in his VW and left Al to get on with it, tough love! Paul West came in late, not feeling is best and curious as to why. Some Belgian won in a ridiculuously quick time. I felt ok after scoff and an interested in how I’ll feel tomorrow.

As an up-date, it turns out that muscle man Ralph (he looks like a track sprinter) lost his granny ring on day one so rode the toughest stage of the race with a bottom gear of 32:21 for god’s sake. But because his bike is so light (brakes 33g according to what’s etched on them) the 21 cog feels more like a 23, so that’s ok then……


Monday 11 June : Stage 2   RELENTLESS

“woke up in the fireplace, slept like a log” – Julian Cope

Locked myself out of the hotel trying to find my bike, crappy breakfast with no bread buns to make butties for the day, suffered from this later as I was stuck with Torq bars / nuts and raisens / a banana. The stage kicked off with a biggish climb followed by a recently tarmac’d descent that I’d ridden before on 3.5yrs ago holiday. This being a race we left the smooth fast stuff for a top drawer, heart in mouth, rocky single track descent, replete with rock steps, thorn bushes, drop offs and a huge 500ft drop to one side. In a big to demonstrate to the Europeans how to ride down hill (they fly up it and mince down, just like in the transwales) i endo’d when the front wheel found a comfy place to stop, I elected to land in a thorn bush, not quite so comfy but better than the rocks a long way below. I’m sure the chicks were all wow’d with my manliness and the south sea island tattoo I picked up on my left leg. After about 500m descent the re-curring theme for the day was up, first a long granny ring climb from a river, up through a rather warm valley, then a barren rocky plane before a seemingly unending 60km of undulating up (overall gain 100m) into a headwind. Unrelenting is the appropriate adjective here. Paul E and myself pushed each other along too quickly whilst at the same time wasting too much time in a bar getting crappy dry sandwiches (on the plus side I squeezed in a cheeky wee espresso). I also adopted a team ethic by waiting for Paul whilst he fixed a puncture, this allowed Al to catch up and come steaming past with 10km to go, Paul put his race head on and duke it out, I couldn’t be arsed and pottered into the finish swearing at myself every time I put a wheel out of place, obviously a bit tired! My finish probably cost me a couple of minutes, but sod it, I’ll get that back tomorrow. Today’s observations:

-          Portuguese riders have no compulsions about sitting on your wheel for many km. This happened twice, first time a skinny guy grabbed my wheel for about 10 minutes, once I sat up to let him take a pull we slowed dramatically so I was forced to put the hammer down for 30 sec and drop him, ha!

-          Overtook a couple of guys, they caught us up (I’d probably stopped for a piss) they then followed us for ages before coming past. Anyway Paul E and myself just had to smoke them J

-          Eat normal food as much as possible to keep the stomach entertained and interested. At the finish today I felt like I had a chemical experiment ongoing in my guts, with chemical weapons being tested at the back

-          Don’t have a massage when you’ve got wind, managed not to disgrace myself. Better than yesterday when I was experimenting with the capacity of my bladder

The other highlight, apart from the baking evening sun and getting some washing done, was taking my shock apart to re-fit the dust seal. All seemed to work and it holds air. I spoke to Mojo and TF this morning and got different explanations of what to do, I took the advise I liked the sound of and it seems to be ok, time will tell but at least I’ll not fill it with shit if the going gets dirty. Temp topped out at 92F today. Its interesting talking to people about their approach to racing, old man Cal was saying that if he can’t get his heart rate up its because he’s not got enough food inside him, with me its because I’m knackered.


Tuesday 12 June : Stage 3   PROPER MOUNTAIN BIKING

Based on my limited experience so far I would say that todays stage captures the escence of the TP, ~2400m of climbing, lots of down, traversing the empty wilderness ridges of Malcatta national park, passing through the wonderful Monsanto with its bastard roman cobblestone climb, and a bit of racing thrown in for good measure. I managed myself much better today, plenty of cereal and bread / honey at breakie, then a couple of butties during the day, plus riding at my own tempo which allowed me to keep up a reasonable speed. Today’s stage is what mountain biking is all about, a big enough climb to start with then traverse what feels like the roof of the world through Malcatta, taking in some very rapid descents. In between “highway to the sun” by Julian Cope going through my head, the occasional question popped up around the wisdom of doing 35mph down a rocky trail in an acknowledge wilderness, however since it was race time I elected not to bother too much with the brakes, let fate take its course and ultimately fortune favoured the foolhardy, Following the grins of malcatta we traversed an evil dirt road covered in a couple of inches of dust with what felt like corrugated roofing tiles scattered at random angles underneath, then a vigorous climb through a euclaptus forest (prefaced with a liberal dose of assos). The climb became a walking race when the contour lines filled the GPS screen at right angles to the path, upon reaching a 90 degree left hander at the top of a hill I could see a portuguese (obvious by the glint of Ti) stomping up the hill after me As such forks were lengthened and brain safely stowed away from the cerebral cortex and I scrubbed off altitude as rapidly as possible, heading for Monsanto, which is Portugal’s most Portuguese village, perched on the top of a 300m climb. You have to circumnavigate this pimple on a plane to get to the roman cobbles which lead you up, I lost traction after a short distance (well that’s my excuse), walked a bit then nailed the rest. At the peak I entertained locals with my lycra and limited Portuguese whilst obtaining water and espresso before meeting George and Tim. They were in tourist mode taking pictures having taken it easy that day, bit disappointing to hear this when you’ve been on the rivet all day, painful difference in class. After a big down via some rocks that hopefully the Romans had laid in a more ordered fashion some time previously I was left on my own with 20km of a tedious road for company and a race against the clock for a 5pm finish (personal target). This ended up as a race with Belgian Sven as I spent 10km trying to drop him until he came alongside with 200m to go up to the hotel enquiring if I would like a sprint, since he was in the correct gear and I was fucked I came second. Top days ride, good massage by the pool, then bed.

What of the brits?

-          Paul West has now established himself as a legend in the world of mental arithmetic, calculating average speeds at the drop of a hat to allow his efforts to make the cut to be quantified. Intersting that our times from today (and I was down the pan again) would have been top 10 last year, so the extra 25 people who have turned up appear to be fast,bugger!

-          Al Wilson bailed out following Malcatta today, so not too many behind me now.

-          Paul Errington had a blinder, although interestingly he only rode for 10 minutes less than me despite finishing 30 minutes ahead, obviously I should stop less, even though I was only stationary for 23 minutes in 6hrs 40.

This event is harder by far than the T-wales, but I seem to have a pace that gets me round 90 minutes before the cut-off, now waiting to see how tomorrow goes, I plan to take it easy in anticipation of the 2 ~100 mile days that follow. Ave temp today 82F with a peak of 100F, possibly why I had a bit of oil leaking from my fork after some foolish downwards activity.


Wednesday 13 June : Stage 4          A BAD DAYS BIKING IS BETTER THAN A GOOD DAY WORKING


Bolloxed today and late in

-          Had the bangles in my head all day thanks to musak in the hotel

-          Took it easy

-          Have got a sore arse

-          Split a tyre and the sealant didn’t catch it

-          Put a tube in

-          Got a puncture

-          Put another tube in

-          Got passed by a super charged Al who is back in the saddle (when he can sit down…)

-          Absolute beast of a climb up a cobbled roman road with steps thrown in to make it exciting. Rode it all unlike many other people

-          Ate what I thought was a mountain of spaghetti, until I saw was Joao next to me was putting away, maybe that’s why he’s second.

-          Ultimately had a good ride but dropped time and was suffering a bit towards the end of an overcast day. Don’t think I ate enough during the day.

-          3 steps to biking heaven when your mojo leaves you:

1.      Stop riding bike

2.      Put a load of assos into your shorts

3.      Eat a handful of Tangfastics

-          As if by magic your mojo returns, the more hygienic of you can swap steps 2 and 3.


14 June : Stage 5       HARD TO DESCRIBE HOW I FEEL

It rained. Started from reception of the hotel (600m altitude) in a storm and headed straight for a cobbled climb followed by cobbled descent, nearly went over the bars when I found a hole and used all the travel in the forks. The another climb (great) up into the clouds, caught Paul West and tried to kill him by lending him a buff which slipped over his eyes on a fast descent, you should have heard him squeal!. Rode the rest of the day with Paul and about 50km with Carol Silvera from California, she’d had gps trouble which brought her back to us, then she bailed as she got cold. Today was a tough day with a lot of undulation, and rain and cold.

Plenty of people didn’t ride today, it was interesting to listen to the excuses

-          Ralph : ridden enough events to not have to ride in the rain, blah blah blah

-          RSA Steve : rest his knee so he can enjoy riding

Al bailed on the first checkpoint. If you are going to do these events then you’ve got to try and finish, don’t know what Al’s excuse is.

Anyway when riding in company I took too many pulls at the front and suffered at the end of the day, this lead me to get pissed off with Paul who picked up the pace at bit over the last 30km, bit my tongue, threw down a gel, a bottle of Torq, 1/3 a malt loaf and an espresso and amazingly enough I was Mr Cheerful for the last 15km. Once again we had a bastard of a climb to finish at a castle with views to Argentina, Paul and I came in at 8pm with 30 minutes to spare following 11 hours of ‘fun’. Errington slotted one in the top 10, superb effort. George of the jungle fell off an landed heavily on his melon, then bonked heavily at the end, to the extent of taking 40 minutes to walk up the last climb of 1.5km to the finish. I’m tired and hoping I’ve eaten enough for tomorrows long, flat recovery stage.


15 June : Stage 6      TRANSITION

Yesterday was not a good day and I was really just recovering today, fortunately a flat if slightly long stage was the order of the day, this provided ample opportunity for eating. The day kicked off with a manic hour of mashing big gears on tarmac where Paul West and myself got in a group of 5 and chain ganged it until the tarmac turned to dirt, as such we covered 24km in under an hour. I was happy to give up the wheel in front of me after about half of this, however Paul figured we should stick it out. 3 speed Tom’s legs were turned up to 11 as he struggled to keep up with us. From there on it was a rolling day with no hills to write home about. At the end we had 8km of straight / flat tarmac (which replaced 8km of mud) and Paul, myself and Luis of the Titus racer X set about the flat stuff in a team of 3, happily nipping along at about ~18mph until a camera car from turned up and took some video, the pace jumped and I was dropped, all captured for posterity here

A few people sat this stage out as well, principally because it is long and tedious. Reebax Domi created his own excitement by falling off on a cattle grid and creating a large hole (5 stitches) in his right arm. Cal spent a bundle of time in hospital on a drip being ill (possibly justifying his withdrawl from a few stages). I managed to scoff like a good one in the evening and have 3 particularly large dumps and felt a lot better, particularly as I’d been hanging onto one for several hours. Think there must have been something wrong with me, anyway felt loads better and considerably lighter. Champagne moment for me today was when Paul Errington came past at speed on Joao’s wheel, “brave” I thought, he then passed him which I think was particularly bold He’s racing here, I’m surviving, big difference.


16 June : Stage 7      GOING TO WAR FOR 30 MINUTES

Think I must have been feeling a bit under the weather yesterday, ate to excess last night and slept well enough. This is basically a binge eating week with a bit of biking thrown in to burn the calories off. After yet another large breakfast and a last minute stop to rescue my gillet from the van we were off. The first 100km were ‘Portuguese flat’ to use Antonio’s parlance, ie rolling undulations, whereas Belgian flat can be measured in degrees of a witches tit flatness. We don’t do Belgian flat here. At the start of today I was 27th, and my goal was 26th (sad or what) which required me to pull in 30 minutes on Andrea in front of me. Flat and rolling at the start, I’m feeling shit and miss the chance to jump on the back of various groups that hammer past me, consequently I ride 103km on my own, wondering where West is. I’ve ridden most of this stage before on holiday in January and its nice to ride some nice familiar trails again, although obviously its been long enough since I rode them last as I’ve forgotten all the bad bits. Knowing that there be hills at the end I eat as much as I can during the start of the stage to avoid the familiar ‘dying on my arese’ experience I’ve had on the previous couple of stages. Along the way I stop at a couple of bars to pick up water and espresso, the first one is V. local and has a guy with goiters / no neck serving a couple of locals with pear brandy and pears at lunch, very league of gentlemen. Just after this an identikit Portuguese rider catches me (dark complexion / tanned / shaved legs / Ti hardtail) and begins moaning about his knees, how they are destroyed, how his dreams of finishing are destroyed blah blah blah, like I’m not hurting all over as well. He has a bottle of something from the chemist in his backpack, if it were me I’d probably have ended up with suppositories up my arse for painful knees…… About 60km into the stage are a couple of hills to liven things up, I ride up the first one with Nuno and Knee man before smoking them on the downhill, big bike, big tyres J last I saw of them was arriving at a café when I was just leaving, once again my lycra / slashed leg / general shabby appearance entertained the locals, particularly a drunken hag who I thought was going to expire with laughter, how I laughed when asked if I was german.. From the top of the intermediate hills it was possible to see the proper hills in the distance & getting larger. After a couple of false starts they arrived, after 1/3 of a malt loaf, a bottle of Torq and some Tangfastics I was ready for them, pushing up the steepest hill in the race and sweating like an obese yank carrying home the Kentucky bucket. From the briefing this climb is >20% in places, last time there were mad dogs at the start but hiding today. After the climb had become a bit more sensible I recommenced riding with the little princess being given a thorough work out, her close relative Mr Middle even got an airing in places. After a few hairpins I spied Paul and Al walking and looking pretty miserable. I continued to ride whilst they continued to walk and there was no obvious difference in speed. Rounding a corner we sighted Adriano sat on his arse looking a bit hacked off, this was about 20km from the end of the stage, he declined our offer to ride together shortly before we reached the top. Once it was established that down was the option, then the forks were lengthened and its “see you at the bottom or in a tree halfway down” , Al kept up well on his cannondale hard tail, then we begin the long drag on tarmac to Monchique, talking in a 300m climb on tarmac, at this stage Paul is blowing a bit, Al is flying and I’m feeling strangely fine. After 15minutes of middle / princess we hit some flatter stuff before the final drag up into monchique, here it gets wet as we enter the cloud and I’m glad I have carried my gillet for 130km because I’m chilly now. Once wrapped up we negotiate some entertaining singletrack downwards and finish up in the best hotel of the week I eat lots, take a shower, eat lots more, have a beer and learn that I took 40 minutes out of Adriano in the last 20km so am up to 26th, I’m happy but obviously now confirmed as sad. I don’t think 26th meant quite as much to Adriano. After dinner I get a fantastic 45 minute massage from Berta then crash about midnight concerned I’ve burnt off all my energy, and concerned if I’ve drunk enough. The last 30km of today had 3000ft of climbing in them, the first 100km had 4000ft of climbing, so a reasonably stiff and end loaded day.


17 June : Stage 8      TO THE SEA

Not sure I’ve ever felt less ready for a short 95km ride (that’s longer than the penrith merida!) than I was this morning. Had the strongest coffee in the world ever at breakfast then packed and made ready to ‘race’ in a concerned frame of mind, this stage is longer than the Selkirk merida and has more climbing. We have a gentle downhill start then a vigorous climb / push to get properly warmed up, it dawns on me that despite feeling like death I appear to have someone elses legs and can ride at a decent pace, as such I jump on the wheel of some passing portuguges from the flat manic start of stage 4 and trading pulls at the front we make rapid progress, passing Adriano pretty quickly, so securing my 26th spot, it is a worringly quick pace though. After flying along for a while we come across Carol Silvera who’s had her usual dose of GPS woes and a couple of mechanicals, I elect to extend my life expectancy with some social cycling to the finish, since she’s about my pace. We pass a very convivial few hours swapping tall tales, and I gain kudos by fixing her granny ring. Eventually Portuguese flat gives way to coast line, blue sky and hot weather, I’ve ridden this before, as has Al who we snared having a couple of 7-ups at a café. The riding gets more entertaining, I ride the steep slippy descent almost perfectly and nail the toothfloss singletrack, on the climbs my legs feel strong (thanks Berta) and before you know it we’re cranking the big ring downhill to the beach, beer, food, sun and a sense of disappointment its all over. Happy I’ve finished but disappointed I was closer to a survivor as opposed to a racer.

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photo by: IndoMaluku