Last month David Warren took on the TransPortugal stage race, here’s his wrap-up off the event after having some vital recovery time.
Having just arrived back in London from Portugal, the past nine days racing have become a blur and all I can do is get excited about my next event. Before moving on I thought it would be a good idea to write down a few thoughts from my experience in Portugal and to end off with a short bit about my bike.
- If you like cross country riding then this race has it all – mountains, hills, flat, river crossings, mud, sand, rock, wind, heat, rain, cold. There was no day that was the same and each day, without fail, presented a new challenge.
- Nine days is a long time and it would have been a real struggle staying in tents for that period. Fortunately we were treated to the best hotels in each of the villages that we stayed in – at the end of each stage our bags were even waiting for us in our rooms.
- The food at each hotel was excellent and plentiful, but more importantly the ‘picnic’ food post each stage, which is supplied by TransPortugal was incredible. Lots of potato based dishes (great recovery food), salty snacks, fruit, bread, cold meats, juices, water, biscuits, chocolate etc. This was one of the highlights of my day, I couldn’t wait to finish.
- This year’s event was held a month earlier than in previous years. This was primarily due to the high temperatures in June. Aside from a day and a half of rain, we had perfect riding conditions – take warm riding kit for the mountain stages and raincoats for the unfortunate days, otherwise it’s pleasantly warm.
- I had the support of my wife and mother-in-law and decided to register them on the companion package. While the riders were sweating away on the trails, companions were treated to sight-seeing, local lunches in villages and the ‘occasional’ stop to support the riders at check points or places of interest. I would definitely recommend this to anyone wanting to take partners on a holiday as this is an ideal way for them to see the ‘real’ Portugal.
- This is a very intimate race as there are only 70 riders, which means everyone gets to know each other quite well – this includes the top and bottom riders. I learnt a lot from some of the field and even got the opportunity to ride 172km with the leading pack, which wasn’t easy and I paid the price the day after – but it was worth it.
- The rider support staff (mechanics/masseuse/logistics etc) were great and now in their 8th year they all really understood what is needed – TLC for our bodies and bikes. Mechanics were inventive and masseurs were gentle.
- Some days I wouldn’t see a person for up to 40kms. Not even riders, because the field spreads out so much. One of the reasons there are checkpoints is to comfort riders, especially those that aren’t used to riding alone. I do all of my training alone so it was a real treat to have views of unspoilt land as far as the eye could see.
The not so good
- Some riders had close shaves with dogs. Most of the dogs were tied up but the few that weren’t increased our heart rates by 10% and probably helped our average speed somewhat.
- Lots of clothes washing is needed – unless of course you have a very generous sponsor. Dirty clothes in a bag for nine days would start to grow things! It would have been nice to know about laundry facilities at each the villages we stayed in.
- I learnt the hard way but listen to the local riders – Halibut cream is the best for any kind of saddle sore, some of which I am still nursing and which almost ended my race prematurely! I used Assos chamois cream from day 1, but believe me it didn’t work! I don’t usually get saddle sores so don’t think you won’t.
- 29er’s have not taken off in Europe (nor in the UK really), so if you have a 29er take whatever parts are different to the standard mountain bike or take a risk! Fortunately I didn’t need anything for my bike except chain lube – which is incredible given the battering Portugal delivered. I was however told before I left the UK that this was the case so I did have spare tyres, tubes etc.
- If you are not used to and don’t like riding alone then find someone to ride with, because this race can be very lonely if you are placed between packs.
Things I will do for next year
- I have never been to Portugal before and nor have I been to a Portuguese speaking country, which means I have no knowledge of the language. If I manage to secure a place on the race next year I plan on improving what I have learnt on this trip, like hello, thank you, please, water, sandwich, etc. Some of the water points were at café’s so it’s quite important to communicate with urgency when ordering something to eat or drink – otherwise you may have the sweeper knocking on your door.
- Although I am quite handy at fixing bikes, I intend to become an expert so that whatever problem I am confronted with I will be able to fix. For an event like this, and many others, it’s a real advantage and will save me lots of money in bike servicing. There are mechanics available as part of the TransPortugal package, but these guys are busy.
- Next year I will ensure that I have enough of my energy drink supplement, this year I ran out on day 6 and I realised how lucky I am to have found a supplement that works for me. The ‘bike shop’ at the end of each stage has the basics but nothing I was familiar with.
- I have already started looking for a small digital camera. Some of the views were breathtaking and words definitely don’t do them justice.
This year I rode my Gary Fisher Superfly – which is a 29er carbon hardtail that I found to be perfect for the terrain. I have always ridden a hardtail and am in no hurry to change to a full susser, although as expected the majority of the field rode with a bit more comfort.
I also upgraded my wheels to the Mavic C29ssMAX, which have ust rims. I popped on a set of Hutchinson Python 29er tubeless tyres on my rims (with Bonty Superjuice), which proved to be OK but I will look for something more efficient next year (weight and rolling resistance). In my box I had a set of Bonty 29-3 tyres which were used by another rider because his Continental tyres weren’t sealing properly – he loved the tyre so I might give them a go on my next venture.
My groupset was SRAM X0/X9 and came standard with the bike, as did my Avid Elixer brakes. Prior to the race I had a couple of problems with both but I am delighted to say that everything worked a treat in all weather conditions and on all terrain.
I can’t praise Antonio and his team enough – this event is definitely my top event so far. If you enjoy long days in the saddle, endless climbing, fun descending, lots of eating, nice hotels and making new friends – this might the race for you too.
If you missed any of David’s daily reports, you can read them all here.