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.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Trans Portugal – Day 4 – Unhais Da Serra to Monfortinho

Another day and another crash.  If your trying to do well then the first rule is stay on your bike.
We started again and it was much about 13 degrees or so and thankfully not raining.  There were several non starters this morning with yesterday taking it’s toll.  Quite a few guys high up in the GC didn’t  finish yesterday and one didn’t start today.  If you don’t start a stage or finish it you are a non finisher and ranked below all the other.  You also don’t get the finishers T-Shirt

The torrential rain overnight however had left massive puddles everywhere.  We started at 9am and within the first 2-3 km where in a narrow farm track (river) with deep puddles.  I was riding the centre and slipped off into the puddles balance wrong and handlebar hit the stone wall and threw me at about 20km/h.  Head hit the wall and brambles and shoulder took some impact.  Other riders having to dodge me and bike and asking if I was OK.  Untwisted handlebars and  checked bike.  Both GPS’s still attached and drink bottle still there.  Everything looked straight so set off again.  I then remembered that I was wearing sunglasses.  Thankfully undamaged and still in the brambles 20 metres back.

Not too much damage but scrape on elbow and a few bloody bits around my faces.  I suspect just from the brambles.  Very sore thigh which I hope the masseur will sort out tonight.  Speaking of which they do a great job making you feel slightly human again each day.  The quicker you get in each day the faster you can have a massage, wash your kit, eat dinner and go to bed.  Seems like not enough sleep each day.

I was angry at coming off and set off after the pack.  They were never to be seen again.  In fact I think I rode 107km by myself.  I had a great day riding.  Scenery was great.  Weather was even better.  Up to 28 degrees and sunny.  The course was perfect for me.  Not to many hills and all that were there were short.  A power mans day.

The mud was an issue and I stopped at the first water point to try and get the gears working again.  Hosed down the bike added some lube and the chain promptly chained sucked to the granny ring on the next climb.  The clay was so thick not much would sort it.  The rivers we had to cross later finally later sorted it.  However no lube meant the bike was very noisy and squealing like a pig for the next 20km

I’ve learnt in Trans-Portugal that if you see an amazing village in the distance you are going to visit it.  The 2nd thing is that all these villages are generally on a hill.  White houses with orange roofs and just spectacular scenery.  We climbed to an amazing one called Monsanto today.  2km up a steep roman track with big boulders.  I had chain suck right at the bottom and had to stop and lube the bike.  The climb was a bitch up, but worth it.  Quick water stop at the top at 80km and back down again over another roman road.
I finished in good shape today and had a good day apart from the crash.  Getting the mechanics (who wash and clean and service the bikes) to check mine over.  New creaking from the front afterwards which always makes me nervous.  I’ll be looking for a crack later again.  Although MTB’s can take a beating always better to be safe.  One of the Portuguese chaps showed me his cracked Carbon Fibre frame today.  New one waiting for him tomorrow to swap out but he has another day riding on the broken one yet.

Think I finished 16th today which is good.  Hopefully we shall climb up the GC 1-2 places.

Trans Portugal – Day 3 – Guarda to Unhais Da Serra

Where to start.  An action packed day.  Almost wished the whole day didn’t happen but hey, you can’t stop inevitability.  It was windy and cold when we left.  The forecast was for cold wind and rain.  Well I would go as far to say the weather was almost as bad as I’ve seen.

I had a different game plan today which was not even try to keep up with the fast boys and just let them ride off into the sunset.  After feeling terrible yesterday I had to have a better day.  They split after the first small hill at about 5km and left me but they were riding a lot slower than previous days.  I rode off down the road and low and behold the whole bunch had gone the wrong way.  And were riding back along a different path to get back onto the course. 

They disappeared again at the next climb and we had a long run down a Roman road that was very technical.  Lots of fun for me.  Did see some ones bottle cage lying in the path minus water bottle.  Had to stop at the bottom and attach GPS again as it was falling off.  The first big hill of the day was 10km long.  Climbed it OK on my own and the body was much better.  Somewhere near here we ascended into the mist.  And with the mist came the rain and the wind.

Basically rode from 25Km till 60km on my own.  We had a head wind for most of this with mist and rain.  You could see maybe 10 metres in front of you and couldn’t tell if the ground was up or down.  Mostly up.  The first 10km climb was really three climbs with short downhill sections.  The last step was a pig.  There was no way you could ride it and it was up to 22% steep, muddy with deep puddles and foresty work as well as deep sand.  It was horrible.  I must have walked a fair bit of this and I suspect most others did too.

The body still felt ok and we had a long 10-15km descent before the big climb of the day.  I hooked up with Andrew a South African and we stuck together for quite a bit.  We hit the big climb at 75Km and struggled up it.  Andrew eventually rode away from me towards the top.  I’d miss timed the finish again and thought it was 103Km when in fact it was 108km.  When I hit 93km and the checkpoint and saw we still had another km of road climbing it was pretty low.  Worse was to come.
I hit the last downhill tarmac.  Raining so you couldn’t see.  Loose boulders in the middle of the road and it got cold.  I mean really cold.  To fast to pedal so the body cooled down.  Couldn’t feel my hands so couldn’t hold the handlebars.  Then the shivering started.  I mean shaking so hard that the legs and arms were shaking.  15km downhill at speed and freezing.  I made the hotel and was shaking uncontrollably.  Someone helped me get my gloves and shoes off, and first stop was shower with all clothes on.
I finished 23rd in the stage today and am fairly happy with this.  Lost a chunk of time to others (an hour to those near me).  I dropped to 18th on GC after this  but I believe more than a 3rd of all riders pulled out today or didn’t make the last checkpoint on time.  Not a bad result really.  Lets hope for better weather tomorrow.  It’s supposed to hit 30 by the end of the week !!!

I also must say the hotel here is amazing.  It’s a mountain resort with huge pool complex.  The views are probably amazing and we’ve been told they are but aside from mist I’ve not see it yet.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Trans Portugal – Day 2 – Freixo to Guarda

Well the day was nice and sunny and fairly warm.  We had a late start at 10am but didn’t get to sleep in as the “hotel” was very small and quite noisy.  In fact the hotel was closer to a B+B but still quite nice.

The first kilometre had a steep sharp little climb and from out bunch there was only 10 or so left.  The pace slowed until the first climb and I was only 20 metres off the back.  Straight into a long downhill tarmac section and I was gone.  The bunch of five to six that were left were going for it.  We hit a narrow gorge at about 10Km and I had lots of fun bombing past riders that were walking down.  Very technical and tight and twisty.  The climb back up was the first real hike a bike section of the event so far.  Still had the group in site but had to let them go.

Rode from here with a Portuguese chap and a South African (Stuart) also out of the group.  Stuart had crashed somewhere earlier but caught us back on the first 6 Kilometre climb.  The pair of them left me for dead in the next small village at about 30km.   A brutal climb to the top of a castle on a hill where another Portuguese rider Rodrigo was filling his water bottles.  I did the same and jumped back on.  I waited for Rodrigo and was very glad I did at about 40km I was spent.

I was not in the best shape by now and basically spent the whole day clinging to his wheel.  I kept telling him to leave me but he stayed.  We made fairly good time but I just had not power and couldn’t do anything about it.  We passed a lot of riders and the terrain was fairly flat but hard work.  Easier than then mud but just not easy to get a rhythm going.  Especially when you feel like rubbish.

We passed a few riders who were higher on the GC than me in with about 30km to go.  Felt good but Rodrigo finally left me at 15km to go. It was a long technical climb which I thought I did fairly well on.  I was cruising down the other side and two riders who were lower than me and I’d left 50km before me came through like a steam train.  I hung with them for 10 Km or so and just couldn’t do anything more.  I dropped off again and they finished a few mins in front of me.

So I finished 18th again today but actually managed to climb to 16th on the GC.  Fairly happy with that although I’d rather not suffer like that again.  Tomorrow is a big day and has two huge climbs in it up to nearly 1800 meters.  One of them is 18km long.  It’s expected to be cold, foggy and raining so I think we will all suffer.  The plan is to take it much easier and just let the fast guys go tomorrow.  The last hill at 75 km with is 18km long is where it will matter.

Trans Portugal – Day 1 – Braganca to Freixo

Well where to start.  I guess with: I survived.

We didn’t get to start till 9am.  Some of the other riders because of age or sex got to start over an hour in front of us.  Not really fair but anyway.

Our group set of and the pace was just fast.  Before we got to the first climb at 10Km or so I was out the back.  I didn’t expect to be able to climb with them up the 5km hill at 10km so just let them go.  I thought it was only 3-4 riders but probably closer to 7-8 got away.  Maybe the right move but maybe the wrong.  We picked up the first group that started 6 mins in front on the hill anyway.

The first 40Km was with the majority of the hills and I just seemed to pick up riders for a bit and then be on my own again.  At 50km I caught three Portuguese riders who were together and I hung with them.  Not much action apart from watching Jose try to catch up on some swimming lessons.  The puddle was maybe 50 cm deep and I think the only part that stayed dry was his helmet. 

We have had a heap of heavy showers the few days we have been here but thankfully not today whilst we rode.  The trails however are very heavy going.  Almost like someone had been spreading glue.  We stopped at 80km and refuelled with water as well as bikes under a tap and cleaning the drive train as best we could.

Somewhere near 80Km I bit the dust.  Flat piece of road and hit something I didn’t see.  Both hands of the handlebars and the handlebars across my stomach.  Was trying to eat the front wheel for 2-3 seconds before losing balance and biting the dust.  We were doing a reasonable speed as well.  Not a single graze which was good.  That made 3 from 4 of our group who had crashed. With no injuries.

Myself and Jose lost the others on some technical slab climbs and pulled out a gap.  After this the pair of us rode together and finally started picking a lot of riders up towards the end.  I had energy low in the last 10km and no more Gels in pockets and had to stop for another from my bag.  I lost Jose here and he finished a min and half in front of me.

Good day in all and I’m 18th. My actual time was probably in the top ten.   Fingers crossed I’ll pick up a few more places the next few days.  The winner of today was the ex Olympian.   Rode the whole stage on his own and finished a mile in front of the anyway else.  And he has handicap and starts 6mins in front of me!!!

Almost forget to mention the scenery.  Lots of small villages that are very run down but so picturesque.  Cobbled streets and stone buildings.  Lot of run down/falling down houses in the village’s right next to normal houses.  The locals almost seem to be peasant type farmers and things seem very simple.

No mechanicals today apart from very poor shifting because of the mud.  Tyre choice has been good so far and did cope with the mud just fine too so that was a bonus.  Fingers crossed the rest of the week will continue in the same vein.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Trans Portugal - Day 0

So the big adventure for the year begins.  Mammoth day to get here yesterday.  Up at 4am for a 6am flight and then walked around Lisbon for a few hours before Lunch.  Bus at 4pm for the 6 hour ride north to Braganca which turned into a journey from hell.  Lots of road works and multiple stops along the way in some torrential rain.  9 hours later and at 1am before we hit the bed and there was some very tired people including me.

This morning has been spent eating and putting the bike together.  Thankfully no dramas with bike in its new bag and super easy to use.  Multiple briefings on the race rules, the GPS units and tomorrows first stage interspersed with good espresso.

So there’s about 60 riders here and all a bit of organised chaos.  Some riders took 20 mins to put bikes together and there was another chap shop had a bare frame which must have taken him at least half a day to put together.  Lots of bikes worth maybe 5 times more than my old thing.  Some of them very brand new looking.  The bike of choice seems to be a 29 inch hard tail which weighs almost nothing.  Tyres seem to be Racing Ralphs or Race Kings.

The GPS units are very simple and the GPS and your race number is the most important thing.  The race as described is not actually an MTB race.  You can travel any means you like via human power.  You must stay on the course and the only way to verify this is your GPS.  The 2nd thing you need for whatever reason is your numbers.  If you have a problem with your bike you can leave the bike and run the rest.  Hate to do that for 100Km in cycling shoes.

The riders.  Well there’s a huge mix from all over the place.   We have an ex Olympic representative and a young gun that races pro in Cyclocross.  I met an old guy (61) who weighs the same as me and has nearly the same power to weight ratio.  A few husband/wife teams and a quite a few woman.  Guys from Japan, South Africa, England, Belgium, Netherlands, Norway, Canada, America and even another Kiwi.  They all look lean and fit and fast.  The interesting part is the handicap system.  Some of them get to start an hour in front of me and that includes the 61 year old who’s probably just as fast as me.  Not sure anybody will see him after he starts.

Tomorrows first stage will be interesting.  Just over 142 Km with 3842 metres of climbing.  It’s apparently on of the hardest days.  We went out for a brief run today of 10km or so just to shake the bikes down and work the GPS.  The trails look good but very muddy.  Had brief periods of torrential rain the last few days and I think more is forecast.  It’s going to be very dirty and muddy I suspect.  Not to nervous yet but I’m hoping for no mechanicals and no crashes.

Tomorrow we shall find out.  Time for a big sleep.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Liege Bastion Liege


Where to start.  The biggie of all the courses so far this year.  I was a bit apprehensive of this one.  I'd read on the offical website that it was 4788 metres of climbing.  Elsewhere they said it was 3317 metres (Strava).  My GPS recorded 3379 metres of climbing (7888 metres with Elevation Corrections turned on !!!). The weather was expected to not be good and it turned out just as predicted.

When the weather was OK.
I went with a friend this time and we aimed to be on the start line for 6:30am.  A hurried breakfast and checking in for our numbers and we didn't roll out till 7:20am.  I had high hopes of a very good day but the weather and head wind out put paid to that.  The route through Liege was tricky and at the official start line we hit the first hill.  For a change they are real.  Whats interesting is I don't think theres a flat piece of road on the whole course.

There's one labeled climb on the way out to Bastogne called Cote de La Roche.  Well it was much the same as 20 other hills from Liege to Bastogne.  The one exception is it was longer.  We had already climbed and descended 1000metres before the first named climb.  The ride to Bastogne was cold and very wet with light rain/heavy rain and even the old bit of hail.  Myself and Patrick made fairly good time and stopped at a refreshment stop for a few minutes to replenish.  After this it got even colder and wetter.  Both of us were struggling to warm up and hit the big chain ring with a tail wind for the route back.  It took as least 30 mins to warm up and after this the temperature even climbed from 6 degrees to maybe 12 and finally the sun came out for a bit.

Someone has to lead the way
The first tester was Cote Saint Roch at 20% steepness over and 1150 metres long.  We both made it fairly easily and Cote De Wanne followed.  A small break before all the hills kept coming.  Cote de Stockeu was long at 21% steepness max and 10% average over it's 2300metre length.  Strait back down to the bottom of the hill (how demoralising) before hitting Cote De Haute Levee.  This is my sort of hill.  Max 10% average 6% and 3500 metres.  I can climb this type fairly well.  I lost Patrick here for a bit and was wondering if I should wait or go.  I was on the back of a few guys moving quickly so kept going.  He came back to me 15 mins later or so with a good bunch in tow. 

Patrick leads the way
For whatever reason I struggled for a bit after this.  The temperature had dropped from 12 back to 6 and I just didn't have much left in the tank. The first 150Km where we had averaged a quite quick 29.something was taking it's toll.   My guts ached a bit and I knew I had to keep eating and try and get my energy back.  For a change Patrick started leading on the hills.  He'd been through an earlier flat spot as well and after gulping down a gel he had recovered.  I tried the same but it didn't seem to help much.

The next few climbs Cote du Rosier, Cote du Maquisard and Mont de Thous passed without to much troubles.  The temperature even climbed back to a pleasent 16 degrees for a bit.  The biggie was next.  Cote de la Redoute.  At 1700 metres and max 20% with an average gradient of 10% this is the hardest.  It's open and exposed and you can see the top.  At 233km into a 270km route it's tough.  both of us made it, Patrick in his 39x25 whilst me in my 30x23.  I swear God invented triples for hills like this.
Proof that you can suffer up Cote de La Redoute and still have time for a smile

The next two hills were much easier but there's not much time between the hills after this.  Cote de la Roche aux Falcons at 249km and Cote de Saint Nicolas at 263km.  Of ourse the torrential rain started 30 minutes before the end.  Once you have climbed the last hill you kind of think wow that's it. I've done it. Then of course theres a ten kilometres drag to the finish in pouring rain over undulating terrian.

This event is not one to under estimate.  Each of the Classics I've done this year was different.  I struggled more with this one than the others.  It's just very sapping and and there really is not much rest anywhere.  After doing this I'd stay the Tour of Flanders was almost easy.  We completed the course in just under 10 hours and averaged only 27.5  This was a lot longer than I'd anticipated.  After seeing my times for the hills I must say not to bad.  Top 10-15% except for Cote da le Redoute.  Have to be happy as the whole course was just so hard.

Well a week or so of light riding and I'll be in Portugal hopefully in nicer weather.  I think I've done all I can to be ready for Portugal.  Especially since I live in the flatest country on earth.  The hills and off road riding will make a nice change and hopefully I'll do OK.

Victory is ours