Friday, December 7, 2012

This blog is no more

Well after failing to post for months...I've moved countries from the flatest to probably one of the steepest.  Therefore this old blog is dead.  I've moved onto a new one right here...

Will post something soon.  Lets just say the weather is not conclusive to cycling at the moment with at least 10cm of snow each day over the last week. New bike over a week old and still waiting for it's first ride....

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Trans Portugal – Post Thoughts

Bikes – There was a huge range there.  I would have said 80% were 29er’s and of those a mix of hard tails and soft tails.  In the top 16 I think there were only two 26inch bikes.  The most popular brand by far was Specialized and a fair few of them were SWORKS.  I saw multiple bike failures of various sorts.  Cracked frames around seat posts and around front mechs.  Another issues seemed to be forks and rear shocks.  A load of people had newish bikes or had them serviced by monkeys.  The new bikes weren’t used enough and had various problems all the ways through.  Leaking shocks, no grease in bearings or the like.  Make sure you have used and abused your bike far before it gets there.   I would say that if you want comfort a full suspension bike is the right way.  I would go for reliability over weight.  If you don’t finish a single stage you effectively don’t finish the race.

Tyres – Fit new tyres to your bike.  A lot of people had punctures.  I had one and another that did seal.  Tubeless is a must.  You need to carry at least two tubes and a puncture repair kit would be good.  Some guys had multiple tube failures whilst fixing punctures.  Again a tyre boot is a must.  Some riders never finished because of a torn sidewall.  Also trust the brand that you use.  You want a tyre that is fast but able to withstand harsh use.  The mechanics were replacing at least 5 tyres a day on the 60 bikes.

Crashes – Best avoided.  So easy to get carried away.  I crashed three times.  One of them was nothing and just a quick trip down a bank into the brambles.  Once whilst just riding along a flat gravel track.  The last one was more serious.  The worst crashes I saw was always surrounding water and mud.  Lot’s of deep puddles.  It’s best to take it that bit easier than you expect.  One crash could cost the whole week yet slowing down a bit on rough sections will only costs a few seconds.  I would guess that at least 25% of riders had a fall somewhere.  It was probably higher than this.

Lube – you will need to carry some.  Some days we did more than ten river crossings.  Rain grit and mud was everywhere.  I think I had to lube my bike at least once half way through a stage each day to shift properly.

Backpack – Fine balancing act of what to carry.  Camelbak, multi tool, tubes, tyre boots, puncture repair kit, food, tape, pump, phone, GPS Batteries, Money and a few minor bike spares such as chain links and mech hanger.  Sometimes hard to tell what you need.  I carried to much food most days and will swap to a lighter multi tool and CO2 pump next time.  I would also say a bag which you can fill the camelback from the outside is a good time saver.

Fitness – Depends on what you want to achieve.  There were some riders that just plodded along each day to make the cut off times.  Some of them didn’t look that fit and some were not very fast but most made it each day.  The quicker you got back to the hotel each day meant that you got to have a massage first and to bed first and got more sleep before doing it again the next day.
The Race  - Exceptionally organised.  A great bunch of people who are very friendly and help full in all aspects.  You turn up with your bike and aside from riding, eating, sleeping and washing yourself and clothes that’s about all you need to do. Everything else is taken care off.  If you needed anything special just ask and someone will sort it for you.

Portugal – Awesome place.  Awesome scenery (Not the Algrave).  Lots to see and do whilst there.  Some of it was picture postcard and exceptionally varied terrain.  Some villages are just stopped in time with old man and woman just sitting around in the streets drinking and smoking.  Olive trees, Cork trees and grapevines everywhere.  Huge meadows with awesome wild flowers in purple and yellow.

Animals - The Dogs were huge!!!  Most just barked but a few gave a very good chase.  If they started to chase, stopping and getting off your bike was the best option.  At this point most lost interest and left.  We saw quite a few snakes and lizards.  There was a load of storks everywhere with their huge distinctive nests.  The cows had huge horns and looked like they were form Africa.

Final Position – Got to be happy with where I came.  No hill riding and not much time on the MTB in training.  I screwed up a few days and did good on a few days.  Hard in the first few days to know who to ride with and what to expect.  As the week went on I managed better each day.  If I do this again I’d want a lighter bike with bigger wheels and a few kilos more of me as well.  Got to be able to stay with them on the hills to make a higher position.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Trans Portugal – Day 9 – Monchique to Sagres

Last day.  A bit of a relief.  The bodies tired and sick of eating to fuel the body.  Everything aches but Only 4 or so hours and 99km of riding to go to make it.

We started again at 10am and thankfully the weather was a bit cooler.  The scenery down this end of the country is not so pretty as further north.  Not sure why all the Brits come to the Algrave except for the weather. 

We had a small steep climb right at the beginning.  Not my favourite.  Some of the big guns literally took off.  They were gone within the first 5 metres never to be seen again.  I made it up over the climb with the usual guys who were all in the top 10 GC.  There was only five of us today.  I was conscious I had 2.5 mins to make on John who was above me on GC.

At about 20Km I though we’d caught him as he started each day 6 mins in front of me.  I pushed on and led the group up a few climbs to make sure he didn’t grab onto the coattails and get a free ride.  The boys were telling me to calm it down a bit and I should have listened a bit more.  At about 45km we caught the rest of the group that started 6 mins in front of us.  Lo and behold there was John.  I did a double take as though we’d passed and left him 25Km earlier.  I had the wrong person earlier in the day!!!  Just shows the mental fatigue that creeps into it.   

I was fairly broken at this point and the next climb straight off the back of the boys.  It was just ride to the finish now.  I knew I just had to keep a steady pace to keep 16th.

The route took us down onto a beach.  We had to run 700metres across it and then go straight back up some hills.  Very demoralising.  Once you get to the top it seems to be straight back down to the bottom and on the way down you see a big climb in front of you and sure enough straight back up again. 
I ran out of water at 80km and was suffering.  Along came Antonio running like a big Portuguese steam train.  I hooked onto him and we literally and we had a tail wind and were peddling about as fast as you could go.  Big ring and smallest sprocket downhill for 15km. The last 5km was long.  I let Antonio go with 2-3Km left and was happy just to roll over the finish line in 26th place for the stage. 

Very glad to have made it to the finish.  I stayed in 16th Place on GC and the few guys that I rode with most days were as high as 2nd on the GC.  Most were in the 5-10 range.  Felt very sorry for Rodrigo who had turned his GPS on in the garage and not got a satellite lock.  His GPS had turned off and they penalised 5 hours.  He slipped to 15th on GC because of this.

The feeling of having made it has not really sunk in just yet.  The body is tired and just needs a rest.  I’m sure it will happen in a few days.  Only 40 from 60 actually finished.  Temperatures ranged from 4 degrees to 40 on the bike and I’ve never been so hot or cold or stressed whilst riding a bike before.  Most of it is a mental game rather than physical.

Would I do it again?  Not sure.  Ask me in a month when some of the pain has faded.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Trans Portugal – Day 8 – Albernoa to Monchique

Another nice day.  We set off again at 9am for 138km in the blazing heat.  For a change the pace was fairly relaxed.  There was again a big group and over the coming 30km various riders dropped off until it was the standard 10 or so riders.  Some of the guys in GC started to struggle on the first climb and dropped off.  I also dropped at about 50km.

Kept the head down and kept going and we came to the first water stop at 55km or so.  The group in front of us was there and some that had tailed from my group.  A quick water stop and I grabbed the coattails of what is called the Portuguese train.  Always seems to be the same riders together each day and they sort are in the top 6-12 on GC.  A good bunch to hang with.

We had the next big hill that was 4km long at about 70km and I dropped again.  I didn’t give up and myself and Edgar slowly caught them and at the top of the climb I was back on.  Straight down before back into a nasty hot steep gully with only one line.  One of the Portuguese guys was swearing and cursing at his bike which was not changing gears very well.  The weather got warmer and we stopped again at maybe 75km for water and then again at maybe 95km.  That was three stops and we still had 50km to go.

Just after the water stop I had almost no air in my rear tyre.  It had sealed but not enough to continue riding.
I stopped and through a bit more air in it and continued.  I’d lost the train but got 2/3 of the way through the stage with them.  The body was screwed now and the temperature was close on 35.  I followed Greg who’s in his 60’s I think and was so screwed I didn’t notice when we went the wrong way.  We must have done 500m to 1km the wrong way before we looped back.

I left Greg after this very annoyed at myself.  Guess it just shows that when you are screwed you really don’t notice the simple things and just ride your bike.  The first big climb and I mean big was at 108KM.  It was the toughest climb of the week so far.  It was a wide track and got rocky towards the top.  A couple of km’s in the heat and my Garmin measured close on 41 degrees.  I nearly stepped of the bike in the first 200 metres but glad I didn’t.  It was a long grind.

The next hill was at least on tarmac but again out in the exposed heat.  I ran out of water up here.  That is I’d drunk close on three litres in 30km.  It was sapping.  I saw the last check point and thought that was it.  Cafe would be close by and the downhill to the finish would start.  Bad move.  Another 5-10Km which felt uphill, before the cafe at 122km or something.  Stormed in and out under some stress.  Coke and 1.5 litres of water.  Didn’t fill my camelback and should have.  Only had the 500ml bottle on the bike which went far too quickly.  It was empty 10km later.

Was still waiting for the downhill to begin as the route profile showed.  Turns out it didn’t really start till 5km from the finish.  A blessing.  The last bit would have fun but I was too screwed to enjoy.

Rolled over the finish line in 16th place and dropped to 16th place in GC.  Got fairly handy gap till 17th place in GC and only 2.5 mins behind 15th.  John who is in front of me had a good day and kept with the Portuguese train a lot longer and jumped me.

Roll on tomorrow and the last day !!!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Trans Portugal – Day 7 – Monsaraz to Albernoa


 Wow what a day.  Fast Fast Fast.

We started at 9am again and it was already 25 degrees.  Big downhill section on tarmac to start.  16km of it.  About 10 riders out of the 20 in our group put the hammer down.  I just sat at the back and let them do it.  We caught the over 40 year olds who start about 7 mins in front of us inside the hour.  The group was suddenly about 25 riders.

We hit the first obstacle about 30km in.  A big river which was nearly waist deep.  And out the other side a climb.  I hung in there but was off the back with another chap who just happened to be very very high in the GC.  We tagged teamed our way back to the bunch which was not only about 10-12 riders.

Again I hung in the back and the bunch slowed a little.  Two more guys joined us but about 10km later were gone.  In fact I don’t really know what happened but basically half the riders just appeared to sit up on a climb.  Suddenly it was just three riders with me tailing off the back.  I sling shoted Rui to try and get him back on and joined the back.  Rui dropped of the back and it was just four of us.    I lasted another 10-15km and at 95Km I was gone.  The water points were at 103km so the plan was to fill up and wait for the fast boys behind. 

I was in fairly bad shape and needed some recovery time.  I made the water point and three girls were filling up.  Rui caught me at this point and had filled two water bottles and bailed before I had a chance to finish filling my camelbak.  I spent the next 30 mins trying to catch the girls.  Yeah they are fast.  Finally caught them and sat with them for 20km to recover.  I was still waiting for the fast boys and needed more food.
15km to go and they still hadn’t caught me and one of the girls was tailing off on some of the climbs.  I had a quick chat with them and said I was going to get moving.  I dumped them after a gate for the last 15km.  Took a gel or two and put the pedal to the metal. 

I finished 8th !!!  Six minutes in front of the fast boys who are way higher than me on GC.  The girls were another 15 mins or so back.  A great day but paying for it now.  Have two very sore knees and a sore Achilles.  My ribs are still sore from a crash a few days ago.  Fingers crossed nothing to bad but I have to finish.

Will have to see where I go on the GC but doubt it will change much.  Only two more days to go to survive.  Roll on Sunday !!!

Trans Portugal – Day 6 – Castelo de Vide to Monsaraz

Well I thought I had done OK yesterday and had finished in 20th place.  After the GC was published I moved back to 19th!!!  How disappointing.   

In case I haven’t mentioned the reason is handicaps are applied.  This means each day the old guys get to start up to an hour in front of me.  Some of the woman get 45 mins.  Kate is beating me for times on most stages.  What this means each day is we have to set out and chase all the bunches or people in front each day and it can be difficult to judge just how fast to ride.  It also means that get it wrong on a day or someone has a good stage it’s easy to go backwards on GC quite quickly.

Today’s stage was the biggie.  166Km of it and it was hot.  I mean very hot.  I measured 39 degrees on my Garmin today.  We started again at 9am and it was already 20.  By 10 it was 35 and by 2-3 it had hit 39.
The start of the day was a 2km steep climb up a roman road.  Not my favourite way to start.  It tales a while for the body to warm up and I prefer to start slow.  Thankfully the bunch missed the turn and I hit the climb first.  I have to say I did very well.  To the top in 4th place happy that I would make the break with 3-4 other fast riders behind me.

Of course luck doesn’t happen all the time.  On the way down the other side I had my first mechanical issue so far.  A front flat.  It took me at least 5 mins and probably more to throw a tube in and get on my way.   I think I was now dead last !!!

A very low point followed.  163km in heat to ride on my own...There were also 36 gates to open and close.  After my crash a few days ago I’ve got a very sore but probably owned bruised rib and I don’t have the strength to open and close the gates on my own either.

I rode steadily on my own passing  single riders at a time.  I wasn’t in a hurry but was looking for something to get me out of the hole my mind was in.  Unbelievably I caught a small group with Antonio in.  He is one place above me on GC and I was very glad to have made that group.  There were 4 Portuguese riders and Edgar a Mexican.  I lumbered along with them safe in the knowledge that at least I could have an easy day.  I looked back after a bit and I was on my own.  The Portuguese had stopped for whatever reason without telling us.  I passed Stephen who was higher up the GC than me and sitting in the middle of the trail with a front flat.

At 40km I stopped at the days first water point having already drank at least 2 litres.  Edgar passed me here and I caught him again and we spent till 90km together.  At 93km we stopped for water and at a Cafe and threw another 1.5 litre of water in the camel back and had two cokes.  Andrew who I’ve ridden with the last few days was just leaving.  Edgar wasn’t quite ready but I’d waited enough so left to pursue Andrew.
Andrew has been super strong the last few days and had ridden away from me on the climbs a few times and beaten me.  Myself and him teamed up and basically rode all the way to the end.  We went through 2 more stops with more water and more coke at each.  I think maybe 7-8 litres of fluid today!!!
The scenery was awesome and rolling green hills with big trees.  Also lots of flowers out in the meadows.  We also saw quite a few snakes and heard even more.  Also lots of geckos and lizards out and many many cows with big horns.  The bull that was making huge noises was interesting.  Glad it was in the other field.

Andrew was struggling a lot more today.  On one of the hills he was back a bit and I waited.  The next hill he was off again so I thought I’d gun it.  I’d forgotten that the stage ended in a steep climb but didn’t want Andrew to get the better of me.  I had maybe 10 seconds on him by the convent which signalled the start of the 2km climb.  I did Ok for a change up here and made about 4 mins on him by the end.

So I was 20th again today and move up to 17th on the GC.  Fairly happy with this.  Especially since it started so badly.  Just shows that you should never give up.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Trans Portugal – Day 5 – Monfortinho to Castelo de Vide

Where to start.  First the good news.  I moved to 15th in GC overnight !!!  18 minutes behind the 14th place rider so some work to do.

First morning that has been scheduled to be hot and dry.  And boy did it get hot. We started again at 9am and had 144km to do.  Two nasty climbs in the last 30km but a fairly fast stage.  I stayed with the fast guns today for 15km until the first very steep little bit.  I’m guessing my 12kg bike and small wheels compared with them on 10kg bikes and 29 inch wheel is a big advantage.  They are also racing snakes and I’d need to loose another 10kg to look like them.

So I was off the back and Antonio who was in 14th place on the GC was also off the back even further back.  I decided to chase like hell and try and get back on.  5km of pain and I’d bridged back to the guys !!!  All was going fine until 30km. 

Crash !!!  For a change it wasn’t me.  Big puddles and the first guy had come through and a branch had flicked back and hit Marco.  Marco was 2nd or 3rd on the GC until yesterday when he got a 90 min penalty because of his GPS not recording.  He was still 8th or 9th and he went down hard at maybe 35km/h.  Christophe who is fairly high up in the GC rode over his bike and crashed and then Stu hit Marco and crashed.  The whole group stopped to help except two riders who the rest of the group is now not impressed with.

I had dinner with Marco last night and his aim was to win the thing.  We actually rode through his back yard yesterday morning.  We were going to phone for help but Marco wanted to continue.  We eventually left Marco after a good 10 mins making sure he was OK and I’ve not seen or heard from him since.  Hopefully he is OK and finished although I do have do say I think he will be hurt and not start tomorrow.

I stayed with the fast boys who were now down to about 8 riders and Andrew.  Andrew’s from the group in front but I’ve ended up riding with him quite a bit the last few days.  We both finally went off the back at 80km on the next big climb (it wasn’t that big) of the day.  It was about here that it got hot.  My GPS recorded 37 and still showed 33 in the shade at the finish.  We had both run out of water.

The first stop was a BP at 103km for a can of 7up and two litres of water.  Whilst we were there several other riders we had passed stopped as well.  We helped one of the guys fix his chain and refuelled.  It’s always important to use your time wisely at stops.  A pee, grab food, lube chains.  One of the things that we have to do is open and close lots of gates.  Much quicker with two riders than one.  One takes both bikes and the other sorts the gate.  And whilst you are stopped have a pee or lube the bike.  So many river crossings can mean the lube only lasts 10km.

Myself and Andrew took turns all the way to the finish.  There were two memorable bits.  A 25-30% climb that was unclimbable and a roman road climb up to a castle on top of a hill to finish.  Andrew rode away from me here and finished a few seconds in front.  Those big wheels are easier on the rough stuff.  After I crossed the finish line I tried to have more water only to realise in 40Km I’d drunk two litres !!!

Not sure where I finished just yet but probably in the twenties.  It might be enough to sneak another place on the GC but we shall see.  Not sure what’s in store tomorrow and I don’t really want to look either.  The days seem to be all to short with having to do washing have a massage and eat.  Sleep is the thing that just seems to short and I’m still not used to not sleeping in my own bed.

Lastly two tips for the day.  Even when it’s really hot make sure you zip your top up.  Wasps make a habit of flying in and getting stuck.  You wonder what that pain is when they start stinging.  Two were removed from my inside my jersey at the BP by Andrew.  Also remember sunscreen.  My legs and arms are very brown yet my hands are white from the gloves.  Starting to look like a freak.