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.