Monday, 26 April 2010

Iberian Adventures - part 2.

I’m not sure how to begin to explain what the Saturday race was like – I’m still trying to digest everything we saw! 110k, 80% off road, 3970m of climbing (and descending) through some of the most amazingly remote scenery and terrain. The area we were riding in was very sparsely populated, but the villages we did ride through were like stepping back in time…chickens, goats, sheep and cows running around the streets and ox pulling farm carts along the roads. We also rode through an abandoned village called Drave which sat at the bottom of a gorge only accessible by a fantastic techy, rocky descent and climb back out with a pretty sheer drop off the side of the (which very few folks other than Chris and I rode…all those toothy descents at Ciclo paid off!). The village was very isolated, but had a lovely stream to re-fill water bottles and camelbacks (and dunk heads in because it was about 30 degrees by this time!). We also rode across rocky moorland plateau, roman cobbled tracks, pave roads, knee deep snow melt streams, buff singletrack, dried-up stream beds, scree slope descents, medieval packhorse trails… name it, we rode it. All the little churches we rode past seemed to play fantastic tunes with their bells, which sent us off on the next climb. Top that all off with encouraging shouts of “Forca!” from locals and other riders, it was quite amazing.

We were both so awe-struck by what we saw that we ended up stopping periodically just to take it in and take photos. Obviously that’s not the best race strategy, but it was a bit of an adventure too, so we didn’t mind.

It was a big old day’s riding and we both really suffered with the heat. I was at least a little bit acclimatised after my week in Spain, so didn’t suffer quite as much as I had last year, but Chris was really suffering by mid-afternoon and we had to make frequent stops at any stream or fountain we came across so that he could dunk his head in to cool off.

The organisers knew that we’d be suffering with the heat, so they periodically appeared by the side of the trail to make sure that we were okay. When we eventually rolled over the finish line, we got a big cheer and big hugs and smiles from them all. We had taken a lot longer to complete the day than we had expected, because we had to slow right down in the heat (and also because we stopped several times to take in the views and take photos), but we had still managed to pass lots of other riders, mostly because we were able to ride most of the techy stuff and make up a lot of time that way. So we certainly weren’t very high up the leaderboard, but we were far from last…there were still teams coming in after dark!

We decided that because we’d taken so long to do stage one and Chris was badly de-hydrated and broken because of the heat, we wouldn’t really be able to finish day two, then make the 6 hour drive back to Spain. So, instead of racing day 2, we took the tourist option and went sight seeing before heading back over the border to Spain.

So, Portugal beat us again, but we’ve decided that we’re definitely going to go back to try the Geo-Raid again next year with a bit more time for travelling before and after the race so that there’s less time pressure.


Iberian Adventures (Portugal 2 – Jac 0)

Jac's been on holiday. She calls it racing but we think it's just an excuse for an early tan... ;)

After last year’s mixed success at the Trans Portugal, when one of the riders I met there suggested I try the Geo-Raid, the idea of another adventure was just too much to resist. However, the logistics were a bit more complicated that I hoped they would be.

The Geo-Raid is a 3 race series organised by Ciclonatur (the folks who run the Trans Portugal, which in itself indicates a bloomin’ good race and great hospitality and food). The series consists of 3 two-day enduro races all of which are pairs races. Like the Trans Portugal, there’s no course marking – it’s a GPS based race. Also like the TP, the race is handicapped. The idea is that everyone should finish by a given time in the evening, so depending on age and gender, you’re set off at different times in the morning, with the fittest, fastest young lads being set off last. The series is spread across the spring, summer and autumn, with each race being held in different areas of Portugal.

After not very much persuasion, we opted to have a bash at the first race (mostly because we knew that the races later in the year would be much, much hotter and, after the heatstroke at the TP last year, that would be an issue!). The first race was based in a small spa town called Sao Pedro do Sul in the north central mountainous region of Portugal. Both of the two days start and finish in the same place, so we could make Sao Pedro our base for the weekend.

However, as I said, logistics were a bit of a problem. After we’d entered the race and started looking at how we’d get there, we discovered that there are no flights from Scotland to anywhere other than the Algarve in the very south of Portugal. It’s an awful long drive from the Algarve to Sao Pedro on not very great roads, so that wasn’t going to be an option. What we came up with was a grand plan to fly direct to Madrid, hire a car and boot it westwards to Portugal. We figured it would be about a 5 or 6 hour drive from Madrid to Sao Pedro, so, for a weekend, vaguely do-able.

But when I realised I’d not be able to do my usual spring trip to Ciclo Montana in the south of Spain as well as a spring trip to Portugal, I had to get my thinking cap on. I came up with a bit of a plan which worked out… just. I flew out to Malaga from Glasgow then headed up to the Sierra Nevada for 6 days of “uphill traversing” and “toothy” singletrack descending with Mark and Jacky (although Mark factored in a lot more uphill traversing to give me some extra training for Portugal…. thanks!) before heading to Granada airport to catch a flight to Madrid where I met Chris.

Everything went smoothly and we managed to meet up in the massive Madrid airport, get the hire car and start the drive across La Mancha, Castile y Leon and across the border into Portugal. As far as road trips go, it was pretty good! Dramatic mountains and flat plains, oh, and the massive monument in El Escorial (built by Franco in a similar style to the giant Jesus in Rio).

The drive took a lot longer than expected, so we didn’t arrive in Sao Pedro until almost 10pm… just in time to get lots of hugs from the Ciclonatur folks, build the bikes, sign on, cram some food in, then bed. We were starting at 07.32 on the Saturday morning because of our handicap (me being a girl – not that being a girl is a handicap, but…) so not much time for socialising.

On the start line, my usual doubts set in when I saw the other teams. There were 8 teams all setting off at the same time as us – 7 mixed teams and one male team who were a bit older. The other mixed teams all looked REALLY fast! The usual leg check showed up some really strong (and all very tanned) looking legs and well as team kit that implied some pretty pro riders. Oh and there was also one girl with a tat on her calf…a sure sign that she’s a strong rider (you wouldn’t get a tat on your calf unless you were confident that your muscle tone was good!). Hey ho, my Minx jersey was MUCH prettier than their team kit and much more recognisable…it is more recognisable in the photos on the Geo-Raid website!

We ended up with an 8 minute time penalty before we started though, because our GPS went a bit wonky and started trying to tell us how to get from home to the start line. So we had to try to fix that before we started. Anyway, once that was fixed, we were off....

To be continued...

Thursday, 15 April 2010

To spend your days in the sunshine

Sunshiney rides and ice creams, get 'em in while you can.


The weather

Isn't it odd? Its bright and should be warm but its cold. But the trails are dry and the roadies are out in force.

I went on my first 'Chaingang' on Tuesday. Was dropped twice but fought my way back. First road race this weekend.

Am I excited? No I feel rubbish - under the weather. Why do we always talk about the weather?

So i'm having yet more rest days (surely they're only rest when you're not doing sport?) and hope I feel better by the weekend.

So frustrating.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

new adventures in lo-fi

blissful weekend after blissful weekend.





more north.

common denominator? good friends.

onwards, into summer...


Wednesday, 7 April 2010


A Scottish Minx writes...

Because it’s been so snowy up this way over the last few months, it’s been kind of difficult to get out for any big off road rides – the hills are still pretty snowy! So, after months of being limited to trail centres, I needed somewhere different to ride.

So a few weekends ago we caught an early train from Edinburgh to Dundee to start the First Big Ride Of The Year. The plan was to ride the Fife Coastal Path from Dundee back to Edinburgh over 2 days.

The Fife Coastal Path is a 150 kilometer, mostly off road, trail that goes from Newport on Tay in the north of Fife all the way to North Queensferry in the south of Fife. The trail follows the Fife coast, as the name suggests, through Tentsmuir Forrest (which was an area of sand dunes which was forested by POW’s during the 2nd World War), past Leuchars RAF base, through St Andrews, along some isolated beaches to Fifeness, then along the south coast of Fife through some pretty little fishing villages in the East Neuk like Crail, Anstruther and Elie, then on through the more industrial / old mining parts of south Fife, through Kirkcaldy then on to North Queensferry.

Since we were travelling by train to the start, we had an extra few kilometers from the station in Dundee over the Tay Bridge to Newport on Tay (it’s probably not really more than 3 or 4km, but since Chris managed to leave his helmet on the train, we had to ride about a bit to find a bike shop before we could get started….my new Favourite bike shop, Bike Worx, opened half an hour early to serve us…how nice is that?). We also had an extra 20 km or so at the other end from North Queensferry back to home in Edinburgh.

Since we still have limited daylight, we decided to make an overnight stop in Elie and sample the delights of the Ship Inn. We stayed in the wee B&B next door to the Ship Inn, so we didn’t have to stumble too far to get dinner and a beer on Saturday evening (or to far to go home when we started falling asleep in our beer at 8pm!).

Since this was the first big ride I’ve done since last Autumn, I had completely forgotten that you’re meant to eat lots. So I bonked big time on Saturday. It didn’t dawn on me that I’d bonked…I just thought my legs had given up and I’d lost any fitness I had, it was only when I sat down despondently to look at the view and had some of the tonnes of food I’d stashed in my pack and pondered how I was going to manage to get to Elie before it got dark, that I realised that I had hardly touched any of the food I’d brought. Oops.

Somehow we managed to get lucky with the tides this time and we were able to ride almost 10 miles along pristine (ish), deserted beaches over the 2 days with nothing but views and our own tyre tracks in the sand. The only down side of that is that riding in sand for that long is pretty hard going, but it was worth it.

We were super lucky with the weather too and actually managed to take of some layers on Sunday. It wasn’t anywhere near warm enough to try exposing any skin to get some colour into our blue legs, but reducing it to 3 layers was a real treat!

With just 30 km to go, I managed to get a monster thorn in my front tyre… monster, in fact, that it went right through 2 sides of the tyre! The weather gods took pity on us though and made the sun shine even stronger and the wind die down completely while I fixed my tyre and got a new tube in.

Once we crossed the Forth Birdge, I could almost smell home, but there was still 20 km and that hill at Barnton before I could get that mug of tea and cake that I felt I’d earned. So near yet so far but we made it and the cat was ever so please to have us home again.

Next? My bags are packed and I’m ready to fly out to Spain tomorrow morning for a week of riding big hills before heading back to Portugal to have another go at racing there. Not the Trans Portugal this time – a 2 day enduro. Hopefully I’ll get a wee bit of sunshine but not quite as much heat as last time!