The race rules, bear with me there is a bit of detail - but that adds to the mental challenge side of things.
The TRANSPORTUGAL GARMIN 2009 is an endurance race that is open to all participants, regardless of gender, age or nationality. It is a multi stage in line race that crosses Portugal from the North to South.
The participants race individually on a compulsory predefined ground track, they are not allowed to use or be helped in any way by motorised means.
So, if needs be you could start on foot, donkey, bike or pedalo as long as you have a race number, your GPS and don't contravene any of the outside assistance or navigation rules.
Individuals race as individuals, not as pairs or in a team. Once on course each day no outside assistance may be taken, but you can seek it out from other racers or random passers-by.
Individuals race in one class, time handicaps are given to competitors on basis of age and gender - if you have a handicap you start earlier, and, if you cross the line first, you win that day as you have the shortest accumulated time.
This element is rough if you are too young or masculine for a handicap and cannot pin it off the line to keep on the tail of the young guns. To excel at this one needs to be of an excellent vintage...
There are cut offs at each of the 4 or 5 daily check points, as well as the stage close time. These times are a derivative of last years winning time for the same stage. Miss any of these and all your effort for the day does not count. While strictly enforced they are generally quite achievable unless you are completely blown or having a rash of mechanicals. This year, particularly in the first few days, the heat affected a lot of folks and caused a large number of folk to not complete at least one stage.
Broadly the idea is to turn up and pedal like fuck until you hit the next nice hotel or, ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.
Day 1 Braganca to Friexo de Espada a Cinta
139km & 3878m climbing
Winner time: 5hr 35m
Chris time: 9hr 52m [49th]
A beautiful day in the saddle. On the first climb one of the riders asks if he can draft me, as he asked nicely and we are grinding up a dirt road at 8km/h with a gentle tail wind. I say I have no problem with that, and cannot help but think this week will offer him a steep learning curve. A minute or so later the voice of learning enquires "so when does drafting start to make pedalling easier'...
At km14 mashing up a steep ramp the little "ping"
Even I have a limit to the number of false horizons I can cope with before it starts messing with my head - and I hit this with around another 30km to go. In false horizon terms thats around 3 of the buggers...
After hooking up with Portuguese Mario who had broken his GPS bracket and wanted a nav. buddy we finally rolled into Friexo de Espada a Cinta. While I chowed down on some buffet potatoes, crisps, bean and tuna salad, chourizo and a few cans of iced tea the race heejins Antonio and Jose had a look at my bike and pronounced that it was frankly too damn weird and broken for them to be able to cobble something together. So I could call it quits now, after one day or they could help me buy a new bike tomorrow - either way I was not riding on day 2.
Day 2 Friexo to Alfaiates
115km & 2351m climbing
Winner time: 4hr 34m
Chris time: DNS
After a restless sleep in a lovely little inn 2 km out of town Jac and I rolled down to the start for her second day of torture. As the race was slightly over subscribed this year the accommodation in Frieixo caused a few organisational and logistical nightmares. Some folk were in a hotel in town, we were in an Inn 2km up the road and a bunch of folks were staying in Spain 10km away. It transpires that there is a 100 bed 4 star hotel on the outskirts of town which was completed and fully furnished and commissioned 2 years ago, but due to some local politics no one has been found or allowed to manage the place. Gnnnnnn... Anyway, despite the frustration that the disparate accommodation causes everyone accepts its for one night and gets on with the task of riding bikes.
Except me. I take some photos and then hook up with Louize and Anna to help with the baggage hauling. If you read any of this and reckon the riding is tough then you should spare a thought for the staff - they work their asses off to make this a special event - and for Louize and Anna that means picking up all the bags from each hotel, sacking them into a large transit van, sliding a broken bike in on top, driving gingerly down some crazy steep hairpinned country road, into Spain for some cheap diesel and arriving at the next nights stop. The mechanic team are already setting up the 'META' finish line banner. The GPS girls have got the laptops out of the Peli's and set up in a shaded spot ready to download that days set of track logs from finisher's GPS units. The buffet tent is up, spuds a-cooking, salads a mixing, drinks a-cooling. The masseuses are rolling out their mats. Antonio is slightly manic, orchestrating the Checkpoint checkers and sweeper wagons. The riders are out there sweating their asses off in 'The Oven'.
Today is another 2 site accommodation day, but the other place is just up the road, not in another country but we still have to empty the van into 3 piles: one for the rooms in the hotel, one for the rooms around the back of the hotel, and another for the folks staying up the road. Under Louize's expert delegation myself and one of the quick dutch rider's mum slowly but surely create three accurate piles of luggage which are magically secreted away to appear [99.9% of the time] in the correct person's room.
No camping, and your luggage appears in your room. That is worth the entry fee right there.
Not long after finishing the luggage-athon I hear the sound of the lead-out moto. Moments later Frans the blonde belgian dude and todays yellow jersey pips home-favourite Joao to pass under 'Meta' first in a furious sprint finish. They both look remarkably fresh.
As the remainder of the field make their way home by bike or in the broom wagon I ponder what to do next - I had decided that I had spent way too much cash on this escapade as it was and that buying another bike was an extravagance too far. But sitting chatting to folks made me want to keep going, not give up. So Ricardo the mechanic threw me a lifeline - some guy had a Stumpjumper in stock for €1500 and he would drive it to the hotel tonight. I had decided that it was about €1000 more than I was willing to spend. Apparently he had a Rockhopper available too - about €800. And in red. In my size.
Red bikes are always faster. Its the Law. I said yes and sat down to wait the arrival of the bike shop dude...