Thursday, 25 June 2009

Played it 'til my finger bled



Last night was round 3 of the Lotts wood summer evening series of XC races. So a little later than planned (sorry guys!) we loaded up Lisa's car, with Jones at the wheel off we set. I didn't take a bike as this would have resulted in me racing and I am trying to be sensible at the moment! So instead I took my Bell.

We arrived in Time, met up with Deano. And off the boys went to warm up whilst myself and Lisa went to scope heckling spots on the course.

At 7.30 the horn sounded and off the racers went and off we set to heckling spot 1 through the brambles and nettles. as the race progressed we were able to meander around the woods taking in several chances per lap to get some encouragement in due to the fantastic use of the woods to create such a tight and twisting course. One of the marshalls didn't seem to be to keen on the fervent cow bell ringing and voiciferous support we offered to the riders so we rang the bells a touch more franticaly and shouted a bit more :-)

5o minutes later the winner crossed the line in the form of The Boy Gary Jones with Deano rolling in shortly afterwards to claim 3rd spot(I think but the results have not been published yet) All in a top evenings fun was had by all.
Roll on the next round.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Puffer Lite

This weekend...

PufferLite.

Weather looks ok-ish

Should be able to hoof it down the road on sunday to the Moontain Caff in time for the brekka menu and a snooze at the OBI carpark...

Anyone else fancy/need a lift that way?

Monday, 22 June 2009

Abort, Retry, Fail!


Sometimes things seem to happen for a reason. For the last month or so I have had moments on a bike where I didn't feel as if I was firing on all cylinders. Most of the time was able to write it off to not enough: sleep/food/drink. Then my body refused Coffee so that and reading an article on Singletrack and doing some 'net searching on the rash on my side I went to the Doctors. It would appear that at some point (possibly whilst drunk in the Scottish Highlands) I made an unwanted acquaintance with a Tick and from this I appear to have now got Lymes disease. The antibiotics seem to be working but it has meant that I had to bail on doing the Dave Lloyd Mega challenge this weekend just passed as anything more than about an hour in the saddle leaves me feeling like I have ridden a century.

So to make up for this I decided to go out for a bivvy on Saturday night, the evening rolled round I jumped on my newly fettled fixed(a week off work left me with time to play with bikes more than normal) and off I pedalled to the north downs to hopefully watch the sunset and fall asleep in a nice meadow. I arrived at my choosen spot to see heavy cloud rolling in from the south a light spattering of rain in the air and too much cloud to witness the sunset! Nevermind, I rolled out my sleeping kit, discovered how slippery a wet thermarest can be when you are in a bivvy bag on the not ideal gradient. The rain left and the midges arrived so hunkered down and shielded as much as possible from the bity ones I drifted off to the land of nod.


Only to awake a couple of hours later to the realisation that my mind had decided sleep was not an option, I lay there for a while, witnessed two shooting stars and a saterlite whiz past. Then decided I was probably best aborting the mission and riding home. As I was packing my kit away a pretty horrific scream emerged from the woods in the distance, I doubled my packing speed fired up my shiny new Maxx D (cheers Rory!) and tried to get out of the woods as fast as possible on damp chalk and 23c road tires (geriatrics shuffling for the bus have been seen to move faster) From this point on the night improved massively, I love riding around deserted roads late at night, the temperature was spot on, the sky crystal clear and I was riding my bike :-)

Bikes are amazing!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

feet in the clouds

Just finished reading this fantastic, inspiring book by Richard Askwith. An exceptionally good read about the world of fell running, first published in 2004.



One chapter near the end felt especially relevant to bicycle racing. It very vividly demonstrates how important the mental side of things are in accepting and combating pain and overcoming being daunted by the prospect of having to endure it (think how you feel just before the start of a cross race for example, knowing the next hour is going to hurt like absolute hell).

It also shows it's possible to get to a state of mind where you can become convinced you will succeed and from this everything becomes a little easier, all worries and doubts cast away.

Bloody hard buggers, them fell runners..

Thursday, 18 June 2009

racing. but not as we know it.

Couple of new events that sound AWESOME*:
Kielder 100 - hundred miles, not km, y'hear - enter here.
Singletrack Weekender - classic trials / Dh / XC on one bike, over two days - enter here.

Ladies and gentlemen, let's race our bicycles.

* NSFW

Dave Gorman

Anyone fancying a bicycling excursion out Ardnamurchan way to catch Dave Gorman's latest tour [also pedal powered].

Anything that happens in a barn that is followed by a ceilidh has got to be worth a giggle...

Friday 25th September 2009.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Motor Pacing.

Awesome ride home from work yesterday. Got tucked in behind a bus in the queue for a level crossing. Thought I'd try and stick with it till my legs went pop. Managed to stay right on the bumper all the way to the next village where the bus took a different route. Amazing buzz! Road riding often has little excitement when compared to riding off road but some cheeky motor pacing is a real blast. All you focus on is the brake lights and the engine noise of whatever vehicle you're following, you got to be ready to hit the brakes pretty sharpish when someone wants off the bus! Didn't have a computer on my bike but we were easily doing 40-50 mph, and it felt easy, such is the reduction in wind resistance from the double decker. Look out for buses to chase it's the most fun you can have on a road bike.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

TP Days 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 & 8

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]

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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]

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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

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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]

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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]

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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.

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Friday, 12 June 2009

TP Rules, Days 1 & 2


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.

Stages:
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" of frame death was heard loud and clear, but I kept on as the seatpost seemed to be holding it all together with a reasonable safety margin. Wee supra-rural villages, local fairs [with the race moto lead out guy pushing the old dears out of the way of the racers], hills, descents, hills, descents and more climbs. Some entertainingly technical, some fire road and some tarmac. All in stunning scenery and never a dull moment. The heat sunk its teeth in not long after the start but a steady pace meant I managed to keep some control, but not without a few crampy moments and cool downs at various shady spots. I passed Erik the Canadian a few times today as he was lying down under various trees. I slowly got into my groove of eat on the hour and half hour and keep tipping electrolyte down my throat.

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...

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The 2009 TransPortugal. A wee bit of back story...


The 2009 TransPortugal...

A wee bit of back story... since hearing of the TransAlp and Ruta de Conquistadores I had always fancied the challenge and journey of a multi-day point to point bike race. I'm not sure why I never got around to doing anything about it until now... Anyhoo. Last year while Jac was enduring the muddy hell that was Sleepless in the Saddle she got chatting to a fellow soloist - a certain Mr Paul West - Endura test monkey, occasional contributor to Shred magazine and all round nice chap. Unsurprisingly their conversation veered towards warm, dry and more enjoyable things to be done on a bicycle and Paul told of an event called the TransPortugal - a small beautifully crafted event that cossets its entrants off the bike as much as it brutalises while on. Cutting a bold route the length and breadth of the country starting in the mountains and ending on an Algarve beach, stopping at plush hotels each night for a good feast and soft bed. Sounded pretty damn good to me. An extra tweak was the use of GPS for navigation and course timing - nice that we would not be bound by bits of red and white stripey tape.

So Jac and I did a little more investigating and we went for a ride with Paul and one of the chief race 'facilitators' Louize, who had recently moved to Perthshire. Over some hot chocolates and cakes she explained the finer detail of how the race is run and persuaded us to get some entries in.

A couple of emails and a fistful of high denomination Euros later we, and 67 other uh... athletes of 12 different nationalities were planning how to get good at [or even able to] ride 1000km over 8 days.

One of the other competitors admitted during the week that he had entered because he saw there were a couple of 50 year old women competitors and thought 'How hard can it be?'. He found out pretty quick that he should have asked how hard those ladies are...

Cue a number of months of trying to do as many big rides as we could, and get as much bike time as possible. Even still we both had doubts about what was going to happen - mainly because we had no real idea what to expect terrain wise, how we would be able to cope with the weather [mainly the heat], how the hell GPS works, nor what the other competitors and race 'vibe' would be like. My biggest concern was definitely the heat - there is little chance of getting any experience of riding in 30 deg C. heat in Scotland. Well, none, actually. So a week of bonus climbing and long-ish rides in Spain with actual sunshine and heat courtesy of Mark and Jackie at CicloMontana gave us both a bit more confidence.

All of a sudden at the end of April we made the final entry payments, our flights to Lisbon were booked and we had 4 weeks of last minute flapping around, mainly involving endless bike maintenance, buying lots of food and tyres, not riding, drinking, being ill and bodging gps brackets from jubilee clips and random parts.

Friday 29th May we flew out early to Lisbon via the fascinating parallel universe that is Heathrow. Needless to say we arrived in Lisbon with the vague promise from the nice baggage handler chap that our bikes would be arriving on the next flight due later that afternoon. BA strikes again... We were met by Jose and Patricia who were collecting a large pile of bike boxes in the arrivals concourse and shortly put us in a cab bound for the Hotel Barcelona to meet the other racers and board the coach for a long 6 hour trip from Lisbon to the Day 0 hotel in Braganca in the far north west of Portugal.

Day 0 - Braganca to Braganca : 0km : 0m climbing
After a long-ish lie we got some brekka and then set about building up the bikes, meeting other folks and getting our race packs and GPS units set up with the route. It was at this point I noticed a teeny hairline crack on the seat tube and top tube weld of my Rig - Similar to ones on some of my previous bikes. There was not much I could really do about it, and it was it was rideable, so I gambled that it would not get worse. Everyone went for a short ride about 7pm to follow the GPS route to the first village around 6km away and make sure everything worked. Jac and I headed out and instantly we were pretty warm, a short tarmac climb had us sweating and we decided to turn around for the hotel after grinding to a halt on the first dirt road climb after 7km because of the heat. It was mid 30's centigrade and almost 7.30 in the evening. Hmm... this ain't good. After dinner we shambled into the already underway briefing which Antonio, the race director did in Portuguese and Louize translated into english. Or vice versa. Nerves were definitely jangling.

Day 1 - Braganca to Friexo de Espada a Cinta: 141km : 3878m climbing
Winning time: 5hrs 47mins
Chris time: 9hrs 52m
...

To be continued...

Monday, 8 June 2009

Bristol 12.



Bristol. The bike fest. Last year, i had decided that it was a target for this year.

What's not to like? Well organised. Fast racers. Good friends. Excellent rooty and rocky singletrack. Almost guaranteed sunny weather...

This year started with some heavy rain. To be honest it had been so dry and the ground baked so hard that this wasn't a major issue - as long as it stopped. For the supporters (to the vc-m crew - thanks all!) maybe not so good!

The course consisted of a le mans start into a double track climb, before a short decent down through the transition area, and into the singletrack. After a few minutes of roller coaster fun on the narrow gauge, it spat out onto the drive way of Ashton Court, and a short, mellow climb before descending rapidly into the trees. Some fun winding trail led to 'the bridge' - a notorious Bike Fest feature with an 'over' bridge, and an 'under' bomb hole that you rode after a f a s t descent where care had to be taken on some slippery roots burried in the ice-like mud - into a climb to the bridge feature.



After that, a slog round a singletrack to the side of a quarry then a rapid, high octane descent - punctuated with a punchy climb - into another winding singletrack through trees before back out into the open and climbing into the start/finsih area.

Points to note on the course: The bridge, even after a 5am effort to cover it in chicken wire, and then through the race with wooden grip slats, was pretty hair raising. The bomb hole began to fill with mud, making it a significant effort to get through without stepping off, whilst avoiding other riders. The slog after the bomb hole remained very sticky and energy sapping through out the race. The only recovery was the drive and the climb up the doubletrack, making it a pretty cardiovascular effort all in all. Laps came in at 40-45mins or so.

Unfortunately, a combo of rain and motorway issues delayed a lot of riders from arriving early enough for the 9am start. Instead the start was delayed to 9.30 am, making the race an 11.30 hour effort. No worries.

The VC Moulineers were well represented in all categories with Gareth in singlespeed solo, myself in open solo, shaggy from the 69er collective and phil in pairs and Marty joining chipps in the old buggers' pairs race.



The set up for the run showed that the rain hadn't turned too many folk away...and the queue for the first singletrack and then the bridge brought us to a standstill.

Before too long i got up to speed. The plan for the race was to 'not stop'. Sounds simple, but often a lot of time is wasted at the 'tech' area taking on fuel and making sure the bike is working. I was riding a singlespeed, so no worries there, and i had decided to use hammer perpetuem and nuun laced bottles through out, meaning all i had to do was stop to replace a bottle.



Lap 1 i saw phil speeding past further on - "tear the course a new one!!" - and had chance to chat to marty in the queues. Into the second lap, and i managed to not get too frustrated at the general level of riding on the course. It was slippery, and it is technical, rooty and rocky riding. You have to take it on the chin that the week end warriors are going to struggle at times, and if you want high percentages of singletrack, then passing will be limited.



Then puncture! i think from an errant wire on the bridge. Odd because the tube dropped 15 psi then held. When i got to a good situation to fix it, i checked for a thorn, and popped a new tube in and went for the co2. Oddly this caused the nozzle to jam open and the presta valve to jam open. The slippery mud, wet and freezing effect of the co2 must have been some sort of magik-bad-juju. after a lot of faffing, i eventually got it sorted, as marty sped by and made sure i was good to go.



The next few laps turned into a blur as the riders spread out and the mud dried as the precipitation stopped. Around lap 8, i rode for a while with matt carr from the 69er collective, and then once we crossed the halfway point, with gareth, who was having some issues with leg cramps. My feeding was going well, and the legs were feeling strong, but my back was beginning to spasm whenever i put any hard effort in. For the next couple of laps i tried a myriad of things to try and minimise the pull on the back. I walked the middle section of the climb up to the bomb hole, to allow time to stretch and decrease the overall climbing, and tried to sit and spin through as much of the technical stuff as i could. Speed dropped but comfort increased. Then i ditched the glasses as the course wasn't spitting so much mud, and after i could see to pick better lines, the last 3 laps sailed by with minimal spasm. Until half way through the last lap when i square-edged a rock in the bomb hole and punctured the front again!

I came in with 30 mins or so to spare but knew i couldnt get another lap in before the close (only laps finished before 9pm counted) and overall was very happy with how things went. In terms of *this* race, i kept it going continuously, and the nutrition and hydration was pretty close to perfect. The riding kit (thanks endura!), chamois butt'r and bike gave great comfort and the support was heartening.

5th in open, 16 laps and ready for the next race. Steve the ringer (aka the pencil) won singlespeed solo, with gareth jones in third. Marty and chipps were 4 seconds off fourth place and everyone else put in some sterling work!



Thanks for the photos love.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

transportugal days 7+8

Chris marquis txts;

"Day 7. A bit late as it was a monster day and i needed food and a sleep. Full on. Nice to save all the climbing for the last 45 km.
Day 8. Suns out. Finished. Sitting on the beach. Never has 95 km ride felt so short and insubstantial. More later."

Saturday, 6 June 2009

trans portugal day 6

Chris Marquis writes;

"Day 6. Long, flat and lots of roads and farm tracks. I missed my start time by a few minutes trying toget some chain lube. Had to use olive oil. Bailed at checkpoint 2 after 50km.
50 km of solo time trial. Horrible (unless you are into that sort of badness). Time for a cheeky beer and snooze before Jac gets in."

Friday, 5 June 2009

School night larks

Sometimes you don't need all the singing and dancing of a big race to have fun. For several years now there has been a grass-roots XC series run through the Summer at Lott's Wood near Amersham in Bucks (only a few miles pedal from my house). It's a small piece of woodland bordered by a country lane on one side and the railway on another (you can hear trains passing as you race), but the guys from local club Summit Cycles have put in a great deal of effort and there's now a course of almost 3 miles snaking through the beech trees.

Despite this being the tame Chilterns (I love it here, but extreme it ain't), the course has a quite a lot of fun packed into those scant miles; three deep bomb-holes, loose and evil flints, bar-width tree gaps hit at speed, hairpin after hairpin and several vicious (but short) ups. Suffice to say, it's seriously smile-inducing, Star Wars speeder bike territory.

Last night was round two of five (races are every third Wednesday from mid May). What's also good here is the range of riders - the field has more than doubled this year with 99 riders turning up for round two and they range from first timers to seasoned pros (local boy Paul Lasenby raced here last year). There are many categories from Elite to Fun.

Racing starts at 7.30pm and is roughly 40 minutes for the lead rider plus a lap which at the moment is amounting to less than an hour for the winner and four laps. think cyclocross effort + singletrack fun and you get the idea.

It's all extremely friendly and low-key with one EZ-up where the race organiser (Simon North - a lovely chap), his wife and young racing son base themselves to tot-up laps and cheer people on.

Phil Moore and I have so far competed in the first two races, hoping to do the whole series if work doesn't intervene.

Our Evil Adversaries® in this endeavour are local team and friends (off the race course) Team Singular lead by their fiendish Antipodean owner, Sam. So far their whippet Steve 'The Ringer' Webb (also known as The Pencil and The Gazelle for reasons too obscure to be interesting) has been doing well. In fact he's won both rounds so far. Easily. Short of sabotage he looks set to continue to fly, but Phil and I and hopefully a few other Southern VCM will take the fight to these vermin in sky-blue.

So far Phil has finished 2nd and 3rd and I've finished 3rd and 4th. Occasionally bloodied, but always smiling.

And what's more, it's on a school night. Bring on Round 3. Ding, ding!

trans portugal day 5

young gun Chris Marquis reports;

"Day 5. Ok, 165km mainly off road makes me feel tired. Long and not too climby except for the start and finish. Finish on a hill in Monsaraz. Scenery is amazing. Zzz"

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

new race weapon!


Just put a deposit down on a new cx frame/forks, an Ibis Hakkalugi frame and Alpha Q CX20 forks. Should be here within 6 weeks. Getting excited already.

A big thankyou to Ian P at Stif for helping us out.
Hopefully I might be able to get it below 16lb complete. Or maybe i'm dreaming. Pretty much convinced i'm going to shift over to Sram from Shimano - if I can get my paws on some of the updated Force gruppo in time for cross season. Going to keep my Tune/Reflex tubulars wheels and aim to build up a second set of the same, not sure about finishing kit - the bike tart in me says matching bars/stem/seatpin. Hmmm... Quite tempted to try eggbeater pedals - anyone use 'em and got any thoughts?




Got the small matter of trying to sell two bikes in the mean time. Think my Jake the Snake crosser and my Chameleon jumpy bike are going to have to fund all this...

pics from bikerumour.com
Now, if I could just get myself heathly again sometime soon..

Trans Portugal text

from Chris Marquis

"Much cooler and cloudier start today. Legs feel like they did some miles. Finished stage too. Which is nice. Off to eat lots."

Day 4

Trans Portugal Update

News in from Chris Marquis via text;

"Day:1 crack frame jra at 13km out of 145. Ride on with seat post holding frame together. Hard and beautiful ride. One too many false horizons. Finished.
Day 2: Sat it out to await a new bike. Helped pack and unpack the luggage van. The crew on this are stars. The riders have it easy. Watch the sprint for the line. Then watch mere mortals roll in in various states of fucked-ness. Eat potatoes. Shiney new ride appears near midnight from somewhere. More later..
So many hundred euros lighter I set off again for day 3.
Day 3: Later start of 10am. At least 30 deg by then. Awesome ridge top riding for 30km along the border part, the first broken bone victim. V.good biking."

I'll get the latest up as it arrives,