Day 3 Alfaiates to Ladoeiro
112km & 2712m climbing
Winner time: 4hr 24m
Chris time: DNF pulled at CP3 after 83km and 5hr 40m of riding
Well, the bikeshop dude arrived nearly at midnight, after a 200km drive! A shiny red Rockhopper was on the stand. I took a quick ride around the car park to make sure it vaguely fitted me, thankfully it did. So my credit card was given a workout on a remote terminal in a car park around the back of a remote country hotel in north east of Portugal. All very strange. Ricardo and I swapped some parts from the Rig to the Rockhopper and I was ready to roll for Day 3...
Which came around all too soon, and as it was a later start of 10am the temperature was up to 30 degrees already. We rolled out and after 10km of gentle fire roads we hit the first series of climbs. Nothing too serious, but the still air and heat was making me set a cautious tempo. At the first checkpoint we would enter a section where there would be no villages or water fountains for the next 50km as we follow a remote and mountainous section of the Portuguese - Spanish border, so I decided to top up supplies at the village before the checkpoint. One of the pesky things about E-trex GPS units is that they are damn slow to redraw your position if you are moving slowly or the satellite signal is compromised by things like buildings and narrow streets. It meant I could not find the tap marked as a water waypoint in Foios, rode around in ever decreasing circles until I eventually found a tap in a wall. Unfortunately it was attached to a hose which was being used to flush out the inside of someone's Lada Niva. I asked the Flushing Man in my appalling Spanglishugese if there was anywhere to get agua and he pointed me to a tiny doorway at the back of a courtyard. In through the bead curtain I go to end up in a tiny bar with two old boys sitting chewing the fat with the equally ancient proprietrix, who after some pointing, smiling and a smattering of apologetic Spanglishugese I get a full camelback. In go a couple of Nuun tabs and off I go to continue the stage.
This is one of the most stunning rides I have been on - the climbs are long but not too steep - jeep trail and once we get to the ridge line that is the border the views left to Spain and right to Portugal are truly amazing. Trinidad Chris and I ride along and we stop for a photo, he descends quicker than me but pinches on a rocky corner. He has all he needs to I roll on. The trail contours along until a sharp dip before a steep climbing pitch. There are a few people standing at the bottom of the dip, as I roll through there is a grim silence among these riders, looks like someone has been injured although I see no casualty. Certainly the deep drainage looks like it would be an unpleasant surprise. Many km later I pass Antonio coming up the trail in his Touareg - off to the rescue.
With the heat and the remoteness of this stage the organisers have arranged a neutral water stop at CP 2 after 42km. A welcome stop and chance to get cool water as we have a wide furnaceous basin to cross to the next climb out around 20km distant. The heat kicks in here, it is pretty nasty, got to keep moving to keep cool, but minimise effort to reduce cooking. A fine balance that is not easy to achieve, especially when faced with a steep winch up a fall line trail to ascend almost 300m in the direct heat of the sun, no shade, no respite. This is what I was worried about but I am not cramping as I was on day one so I am drinking enough and I still feel ok to keep riding. Later on the other side of this hill we drop to the base of a fortified hill town - Monsanto. At the base there is a tap offering the most truly joyful experience - running cold water. Despite dunking my head under for a minute or so the heat quickly dries me and I am conscious of the time. I have been riding ok, but my stops have been longer to try and cool down. The Roman cobble climb to Monsanto is a nice diversion, in the shaded side of the hill I can pedal up and remain reasonably cool. After getting lost in the town trying to find the next check point I head down the fun Roman cobble and granite descent to the next plains section. This is a fun descent, my new bike is perky enough on all points of sail but the Tora forks are a piece of shit - the right leg has steadily been pissing oil over the front wheel. Still, it means I don't need to mess around with the lock out and they track accurately enough. Turns out the damping cartridge has a well documented failing, rectifiable by the Gods of Warranty.
Another long undulating section in the ever increasing heat - I am struggling to cool down and the water in my bottle could be used for making a nice mug of tea. I pull into the wee town of Idana a Velha and find a cafe for some ice lollies and cool water. Once I cool down from near fainting to just a bit warm I carry on. Oh, it just gets worse! There are gusts of breeze which should be cooling but the air is super heated - like opening a hot oven. And I still have at least 25 km to go. I eventually roll up to the third and final check point at km 86 and I have missed the cut off. Wheels off the bike and into the van for a Lewis Hamilton white van experience - I am so relieved.
At the hotel Louize is rummaging through the broom wagon contents for the gear of the guy who crashed earlier - she identified his helmet as it was the one in two bits. He was ambulanced to a hospital 200km away and Louize needed to go an pick him up with his broken collar bone and fractured hand. Not the same side, of course...
I tried to eat as much as possible for dinner, but the heat had buggered my appetite and ability to force food down, so some bread and a glass of vino later and it was time for another hot and restless sleep in a lovely hotel.
Day 4 Ladoeiro to Castelo de Vide
106 km & 2337m climbing
Winner time:4hr 7m
Chris time: 6hr 14m [41st]
I remember riding with American Jason [winner of The Scottish Lotto] for the first hour or so at a hot pace as my legs felt ok and I wanted to get as much of the easier trail out of the way before it got too hot. I don't really remember much else about this stage except the last pull up to the finish town of Castelo de Vide was a bit of a beast in the heat. The hotel and town were really nice, and somewhere I'd love to return to for a good nose about. Half way through and not feeling too bad despite the long hard days and bike related disappointments.
Jac and I were wondering more about tomorrows 160km monster and at what checkpoint we would get pulled at... off to sleep after a good buffet dinner and catch up with some of the adventures of the other riders.
Day 5 Castelo de Vide to Monsaraz
160km & 3048m climbing
Winner time: 6hr 21m
Chris time: 9hr 55min [49th]
Day of reckoning. This is the biggie distance wise, and pretty chunky in the climbing stakes too, although the worst is over in the first 20km. This day has been causing us doubts since we heard of it despite most returning riders saying its not a big issue. Actually, they were right. It was long and a long time in the saddle, with lots of fernickerty wire gates to dis-assemble and then re-string with increasingly weak arms. Apparently last year a slight female rider had to leave some of the gates open with a post-it note attached apologising that she had not the strength to shut the gate. The riding was good from the get go - cool cloudy weather had most folks reaching for arm and leg warmers, some even had gilets and waterproofs on board. It was around 20 deg c! and only going to get warmer - a couple of sharp climbs and descents on old cobbled track got the legs going. Soon enough we transitioned into pasture lands [with all the gates] and the trails and occasional road section were straighter and flatter. Not challenging, but stunning riding through always interesting countryside.
At around 145km we could see Monsaraz - our four star hill top refuge for the evening, the climb from the plain did not look too onerous. Unfortunately we had to get over about 3km of old Roman road. Think of General Wade's road over Rannoch Moor - capture how you are constantly pummelled at any speed - like that but worse. Really horrible. Then a short haul up to the town and straight over the other side to the increasingly welcome META banner and a few platefuls of buffet potatoes. Hmmm... potatoes.
That was a tough and long day, and I was slightly surprised to have finished at all. Jac rolled in about one plate of potatoes later equally chuffed and exhausted at completing the longest day. Thoughts swiftly turn to how much recovery can be attained for tomorrow's 140km of 'Portuguese Flat' - gentle undulations, generally with a stinker of a headwind. Probably not enough.
Day 6 Monsaraz to Albernoa
140km & 1754m climbing
Winner time: 5hr 36m
Chris Time: DNF died of boredom at CP2 after 2hr 29m and 51km
Jac headed off forty minutes before my start time, and I thought she had the bike lube. I could not cadge any from anyone so had to improvise and use some olive oil left over from yesterday's buffet. Seemed to work ok. This phaffing around meant I missed my start time, the start line 'closes' 15mins after the last group goes to accommodate any last minute disasters. This meant I also missed out on tagging onto a bunch for any of this stage - crucial as it is predominately road, flat and into a headwind. As it was I did around 2.5 hours of solo time trial passing Carlos and then Trinidad Chris.
I start to get really bored. I want to start riding in shapes that spell out rude words on my GPS track, but I don't know any Portuguese swear words. I then realise that I should have a cross bike for this stage. Oh, please make something interesting happen...
At the second checkpoint I decided enough was enough - I came here to do some mountain biking not sit on my pummelled ass for the next 6 hours riding along the side of a field into a headwind. Fuck no. So I bailed. Ana and I headed to the nearest red-neck cafe for a quick coffee and sandwich while Marta manned the checkpoint to await the final stragglers. What is the definition of a red-neck cafe? I'd say a local caff / bar in rural town where all the men-folk congragrate for a blether, wee glass or two of something at any hour of the day and there is a A1 size blister pack hanging behind the bar where there is offered for sale a variety of sharp pointy knives, all elegantly displayed around a deck of cards. Best coffee of the week, though.
My weakness [I like to think it was a strength of resolve] was to prove tempting for Chris and Carlos too. We all jumped in the broom wagon for a rapid blast through the countryside towards this evenings plush country club accommodation. We stopped off at the last CP around 20km from the finish in time to see Joao, Franz and Tom Letsinger boot through. Boys are rapid.
Jac had a rough day, she started strong but stared vomming and feeling rough-as and had to pull out about half way through feeling feverish. We both hoped she would shake it off after a sleep tonight.
Day 7 Albernoa to Monchique
135km & 2873m climbing
Winner time: 6hr 16m
Chris time: 9hr 8m [44th]
Unfortunately Jac is still feeling well below par and has a nasty cough - she books a ride in the van with Louize for today.
On paper this looks like a cake walk compared to the rest of the week. Hell no. This is arguably the toughest stage - a rapid flat blast out of the prairie lands to the rolling hills that suddenly become humid eucalyptus forest with loamy, muddy trails and some showers [blissful rain!]. A spot more dirt and tarmac road, and a bold crossing of a main line railway later and we are at the base of a large ridge of hills rising steeply into the clouds. This is 115km into the stage and there is no around, only up. For 200m followed by a descent and then another 200m ascent, this time mainly on tarmac, but steeper. Then more climbing and my mind is a jumble of frustration that I have to keep climbing and vague panic that I don't know where I am headed in the jaggedy jumble of steep ridges and hill sides. When ever I see a road sign for Monchique the GPS tells me go to the other direction. I have to trust it although I don't want to. On yet another steep tarmac pitch I catch up with Kim Bear who is verging on a bonk, I help retrieve some Clif Blocs from her Camelbak and we ride on for a short while, until I get the sense that we are close to the finish. And I just want to finish. To stop. To make it be over.
I soon catch up with Dutch Saanders and Colorado Greg and we roll along for a bit sharing the nav duties - if the direction on the GPS is not clear then one person heads off one way and the rest wait at the intersection, until the GPS makes it clear which way is correct.
After a short road blast and a number of wrong turns we spy the META banner down below us - brakes off and honk in the big ring to get under that fucker as soon as possible. NEED POTATOES NOW.
Today has been a good ride, with some of the most fun riding in the last 40 km, shame about the first 45km death march through the fields. Although it is Portugal, and I do need to 'Trans' it, so I should probably learn to shut up and keep pedalling ; )
Once I get some food down me I start to take in my surroundings. Monchique is a spa resort very much in the same vein as Port Merion, only not quite as mental. Lovely place, lovely accommodation. Awful coffee. More restless sleep with added cramping. Uugh. Tomorrow will be good.
Day 8 Monchique to Sagres
95km & 1766m climbing
Winner time: 3hr 44m !
Chris time: 5hr 12m [43rd]
Woo Haaa. I am so happy to have got this far - disappointed to not have done the full distance and to have picked up some expensive bike problems, but not disappointed with what I had somehow managed to achieve. Quietly chuffed, in fact.
Anyway, I still have 95km to ride today. It seems like such an insubstantial distance compared to the rest of the week. So brim the camelbak, dot in a couple of Nuun tabs, pack up the gas tank [thanks Eric, they have been ace] with a fistful of Torq gels, some bars and a couple of pre-opened packs of Stinger Sweeties, fill the water bottle then jump on the Rockhopper [well, hover, until the ibuprofen switches off some of the signals coming from my chamois regions]. Wait for a couple of the earlier handicap groups to head off then get called forward to the line. Tick. Tock.
Off we go. There is some climbing, some descending and some of the bit in between. All I really want is to get to the sea, get to the fun techy singletrack and get to that last welcoming beach at Sagres. In between I buddy up with Californian Doutchan whose GPS has been switching itself off repeatedly. I even manage to fall off for the first time all week - head first down a steep slope after catching a pedal on a fun bit of traverse-y singletrack. No damage, thankfully, and an appreciative crowd.
After seeing the sea we are on the look out for Sagres, and about 20km out we can see it. I get the red mist, big ring and head down, again I want this to be over, especially as the last 10 km of dirt roads have full width corrugations on them, or sand traps, or both. Into a car park for the fort at Cape St. Vincent over the pavement and onto a short section of jarring rocks above the finish line - well, I can see the finish line on the wee screen on my bars but its not until I turn around the corner of a beachside restaurant that I can see the META banner for the last time.
Joy. Relief. I'm greeted over the line by Antonio. I think I tell him he is a very bad man, but in a good way. I find Jac, and then the buffet, or possibly vice versa and melt into the post race euphoria and chat as we wait for all the riders and the sweep to roll over the line and take a dunk in the Atlantic.
Over. Done. Apparently harder than La Ruta, much more enjoyable than the TransAlp, much less camping in the rain than the TransWales/Scotland. It was a privilige to be part of the rolling family unit that is the TransPortugal for that week, to ride through a beautiful land. To do the country justice I would need to return and pass at a more contemplative pace. To do the race justice I would need to get a lot quicker to be able to get sufficient recovery time in the evening and reduce the amount of saddle time.
So, if you are quick then keep your eyes open for entries opening later in the year - it sold out in 6 hours last time and there will probably be fewer places this year. Do it, its good.