Tuesday, 30 June 2009

BC Bike Race Day 3 - better luck next time

We started fast on some beautiful twisty singletrack, with more to follow, then more.  Big gravel climb worked me like a dog, Devin helped me move along even while blowing up.  Short version was that a) I was hurting, and b) I guess the only thing that matters at this point is giving it what you've got.  We got into some awesome downhill single track, and that's where it went downhill.  Devin and I got apart, and though within voice contact, it wasn't good enough to hear the flat he had and tried to fix.  He got that going then took a wrong turn down the road, but that shouldn't have happened because we should have been right together - my bad.  Unfortunately down the road his Stan's sealant didn't seal the sidewall hole.  Tube time.

I stopped a ways up, then backtracked to another intersection.  At this intersection two things happened - I saw how many people were making the wrong turn and cutting off 10-15 minutes of the course.  Sweet time bonus for them.  I told the first group that and a guy said "whatever".  Nice.

Second thing over race radio was 10-2 (Devin) down the gravel road.  I was told he was riding back up and for me to stay put.  Made sense.

After a while, that changed to "he's at the dam, you go ahead and ride down there".  That doesn't exactly make sense, but I didn't spend much time thinking about it now.  That went fine, until I came up behind a rider on the trail on a single track section.  He heard me, asked if I wanted to pass, and I said sure, but no rush, since I'm kinda wandering about without Devin.  He said sure, when the trail widened, he'd make a little space to let me by - perfect.  He pulls right, says go for it, and when I pulled left, 18" stump right there.  Bike stopped really fast, Bakke ejects at whatever relatively quick singletrack riding speed is.  Lots of dust and dirty and a little sore in the back, but no scrapes.  He did the "whoa dude you ok?" thing so I assume he didn't try to kill me and probably didn't see it.  Lucky.

So when I got down to the dam, nobody thought he was there or even heard he was "supposed" to be there, and said that I should go on.  So I muddled onward, feeling like I was dazed and confused from the crash and lack of partner.

Eventually Devin caught me on some nondescript gravel road where I was pulling two guys along.  We exchanged stories for a bit and got down to business.  I was hurting but onward we went.  The last few kilometers were momentum sucking hard singletrack with tight turns and roots.  Perfect.  Turns the effort into a whole body workout and substitutes pure aerobic and legs for more emphasis on total body balance and momentum... Stuff I love.  Devin had to ride conservative as his tire had slightly less pressure than preferred for a tube.

Somehow miraculously we apparently didn't lose too much time, I don't understand how with all the free 12 mins from the people who missed the one area, plus the 25mins likely of lost and stopped and asking for help, we still ended up 14th.

Pat and Geoff had a great day even with Pat ripping off his derailleur, but fortunately close to the end.

Shawn and Craig had their best day yet.

The Bee was third again, and despite the gaping hole in her leg (small but deep hole) she says her riding is improving every day - which is what this race does and is what counts most.  This is a crash course in single track excellence.

Monday, 29 June 2009

BC Bike Race Day 2

Today was fun, lots of technical climbing.  I rode "normally" and Devin rode blazing fast.  Lots of technical climbing, I love that stuff.  Like this race entry is a couple thousand bucks or whatever, but it's worth a million.  Seriously.  Unless of course you don't like real mountain biking.   

After adjustments, yesterday we were 14th.  Today we are 12th.  We rode in with Jeff and Mical - awesome riding partners.  Mical - you don't

Pat and Geoff are 2nd today.

The bee is in third today too.  Legend in the making.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

BC Bike Race Day 1 - testing the limits of XC

Teresa's cafe seemed so good yesterday that we decided to follow the same routine the is morning.  I was full from sushi last night and ate only half my meal, then it was back upstairs to do final cramming to get everything into our bags without zippers popping.

Busses got us to the start with ample time to get ready and spin our legs.  The first few kilometers were a drag race up a paved climb.  I dread this kind of thing... not always, but I haven't been riding that style much lately.

Pat set the record straight in the start chute: know thyself, know the trail, no prisoners.  The guys around him just had these blank looks on their faces, they didn't know what to say to that.

News flash: when the race organization scares everyone with a "choke point" on the trail, nobody wants to be behind that.  The start was fast.

News flash that's harldy a news flash: Devin climbs like a rocket. 

News flash that's harldy a news flash 2: I'm not a rocket off the start. 

My legs felt like lead, my throat tasted like blood, and my lungs wanted to cough.  I settled into a tempo that was functional and dealt with how the three aforementioned items affected my conscience.  Settled into a pace that was functional, then realized it probably was fine regardless as Mical was right there and Geoff Clark too.  Things started to turn around after the first downhill, gave a little recuperation time and a confidence boost.

Fact:  north shore mountain biking is world class technical.  It's badass fun, if you're up for it.  It's not to be taken for granted, and it's not easy.  Being a competent technical rider from elsewhere gave me a decent shot, but it's pretty unrealistic to show up here and ace it if it isn't your back yard.  Every minute of it was awesome, I love the challenge.  My left bottomed out probably 15x, even when trying my best to keep it half smooth.  The number one cause of volunteered dismounting was wet skinnies.

We blew through the checkstop and started the longer second climb.  Devin rode the climb for two men, literally.  By the top of the climb we passed Alyson Sydor, and when I say "we", I mean Devin's engine passed them on our behalf.  I sincerely thank him for this effort!

They sprinted and passed us back before the singletrack, but Alyson's partner didn't ride the singletrack quite like she does, so after a few minutes we were ahead again.  The number of volunteers out was amazing to guide people over the features, and man was there a lot of awesome trail features.  Rock drops, skinnies, burmed corners, and cobblestone ramps, etc.  Pat even took a "non-recommeded" teeter and ended up temporarily at Geoff's eye level before the teeter dropped. 

Devin and I exited the woods and rode in with Normon Thibeault.  Shawn and Craig were the next spot ahead of us, so even if we felt rough, it couldn't have been that bad of a day.

We checked the results and found we weren't listed, but soon had that fixed as everyone knew we came in with Norm's team.  Thanks timing crew, and thanks Drew Bragg for being the man who knows most of the riders out here. 

Life is good - massage, warm weather, sunshine, and unreal trails, friends all over and a great dinner.

Tori is on the podium today too!

BC Bike Race Day 0

Devin, Craig, Shawn, Tori and I started with a great value breakfast.  Teresa's Cafe had choices Adam through Fred - we all got Adam.  Simple way to structure a menu.  We intended to be virtually first through the lineup to check in for the race, but got minorly foiled on that front, got caught in the lines, and stretched it out to a 2 hour process. 

It wasn't too bad spending that long signing in, as it's basically like seeing family again.  Riders from La Ruta, TransRockies, the ABA, and wherever else we've crossed paths are here and we're all catching up.  Life is good.

When packing our race bags, Shawn and Craig realize they have too much sleeping bag and not enough cargo hold, so we do a mid day warm up ride to MEC.  Good warmup other than a path crash that took Tori out with some dude here riding the other way.  Fortunately all ended fine, but not the way to start.

The race overview meeting had some notable takeaways.  We will be riding technically challenging trails tomorrow, including Severed Dick, where world famous downhiller Wade Simmons will be there at the top to wish us well on the way down.  Those who aren't comortable with North Shore riding are encouraged to stop to lower their saddles.  2 climbs, 2 descents, short day.

The other notable for tomorrow's route is there's a bottleneck a few minutes into tomorrow's course.  The organizers asked for everyone's help - those with big engines please gun it off the start to stretch out the group.  Those in no hurry please hold back.  Now that's an aweseome way to get everyone hopped up.

We got some of our new deadgoat jersies courtesy of Gerry brining them out, so we're flying the team long sleeve jersies at dinner.  Our group, plus Gerry, Tom, Pat and Geoff tried our best to put an all you can eat sushi buffet out of business, then disbanded for our various dessert experiences. 

Between check in, riding, dinner, dessert and sitting in the lobby, today reminded me the bike riding adventures are an exercise in hilarity.  Everyone has so much to add all day it ends up being a day long riot.

Last but not least, Tori surprised me with a can of new energy drink to try, in all seriousness, called Tropic Thunder Booty Sweat.

Friday, 26 June 2009

BC Bike Race 2009 just around the corner

Today is the travel day out to the coast for most of our BC Bike Race gang, and quite a gang it is this year.  I think I know 25 people doing the race - lots of veteran stage racers, we're like a travelling Hotel California.  The two soon to be vets are Devin and Shawn - really no doubt in my mind they'll love this race, it's impossible not to.  This is a real mountain biking race, skill plays just as much a role as fitness.  Hard efforts are rewarded - with little visits to heaven.

Part of me is worried.  I'll have zero problem with the length or the suffering or the technical, it's just day one that worries me.  Not in the true dread sense of the word, just the history repeating itself thing.  Statistics show I'm a poor starter.  Evidence shows that's no real surprise - my in between bike races lifestyle isn't easily confused with looking too "pro".  I think my fitness is good as measured relative to riding with Craig, and I don't have a time change or large temperature change to rub the blame on, so we'll just have to suck it up.  Investment banking be damned!

On the bright side, this race is technical.  Oodles of technical.  Cycling Darwinism and riding stage races with owners of big engines as partners has improved my technical over the years, as there's no motivation for letting your fingers off the brakes and leaning a degree more into a turn than delaying a red line seize up by a few more minutes.  I vividly recall a gravel logging road descent with switchback turns last year where at 55km/h we were using the inside 3cm and the outside 2cm of gravel just to hold speed nicely, all in the name of staying near Nutbrown and letting my heart rate drop 2 extra bpm.  Simple survival tactics.  I'm taking tires with more side bite if that says anything...

Last time Tori did BCBR, she did it on a team, and scheduled to do it "light" on the technical side.  Not this year... it's start to finish, one girl pedalling.  It'll be challenging, rewarding, and downright fun.  Given enough entry skill to make this race at least feasible, there's not many ways to get your technical up a few notches in 7 days. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

City of Calgary Bicycle Pathway Speed Limits

This week is the annual City of Calgary bike path "crackdown" designed to ensure the denizens are safe. Certainly a worthy cause.

Having said that, many worthy causes become diluted or misguided when mixed with bureaucracy.

A reminder from physics is that kinetic energy equals half the mass of an object at rest multiplied by it's velocity squared, or K=1/2mv^2. K therefore also approximates "how much it could hurt when the object described by K runs into you". For the remainder of this exercise, I won't even delve into awareness (ie. time to recognize a need to divert course or brake) or braking distance (time to rub off some kinetic energy) or skill (ability to divert course successfully), which are large factors in the real world. We'll stick to velocity, as bureacracies best function by making rules, and for rules to be effective (and revenue generating), measurement is key.

Bicycle going 10kph as mandated in certain pathway zones, with the total mass of the bike and rider assumed to be 100kg, has a kinetic energy of 385 Joules.

If that same bicycle is going a more reasonable 20kph as mandated in certain other pathway zones, has a kinetic energy of 1,543 Joules, or 1.543 kJ. Note this is 4x as much (velocity doubled, and it's a square relationship).

A Smart car "fortwo", approximately 1,000kg including a driver, driving 30kph through a playground or school zone within striking distance of our next generation has a kinetic energy of 34kJ. Note this is approximately 90x as much as a bicycle rider's potential to inflict damage.

What about a 2,000kg minivan/SUV driven at 34kph through a playground or school zone, because 30kph is a little slow, and the driver might be a little late, so need to hurry a little, but not fast enough to really get busted too bad. That's an 85kJ situation... or about 220x the destructive potential of a bicycle.

Which is the most frequent event? There are more cars than bicycles, and plenty of school and playground zones. Not to mention more SUVs and minivans than Smart cars.

Dare I even mention awareness again? How about braking distance - a huge relationship to kinetic energy, and bicycle brakes are notably efficient. Or how about skill of evasive maneuver? Moving a bike one foot to the left to dodge a potential collision vs. an SUV...

Which events lead to a greater severity of injury? With all due respect to Lonn and his compound fracture, and the subsequent bicycle collision at the same location a month later that resulted in a broken jaw... how many dead or permanently marred vehicle accident victims would trade their state for a broken arm, even with bones temporarily exposed?

If one took a frequency distribution and multiplied it by potential for destruction (injury), times the likely severity of those injuries, where would the danger zones be mapped? Well that seems self evident.

If a bureaucracy was faced with scarce resources, but the task of keeping the citizenry "most safe" with those resources, wouldn't they be allocated to the areas that do the "most good"?

Nope, that's not how bureaucracies work.

I was pulled over and chatted with by the bylaw officers just to let me know how I was affecting societal safety in my own little way. They even brought up Lonn's incident as justification for keeping the speeds low, because obviously that blind corner, no center line painted, under a low bridge by the zoo is directly applicable to the 20' wide, straight, plain visibility path by Eau Claire.

It seemed to me that discussing the physics of moving objects and the irresistable gravitation of bureaucracies to rule by measureable quantities that may have a proxy correlation to risk with this bylaw officer wasn't going to change the fact that at 6:45am on a sparsely used pathway, I should be riding only as fast as joggers.

For the record, I'm not a pathway blazer intent on proving I can hold over 35kph the whole way home, although they definitely exist... I usually ride about 20-25kph. I use a bell in vain as a good portion of the pathway user community is equipped with bell cancellation devices (iPods).

I'm just happy that we're all moving towards a greater level of safety, and that enforcement of bicycles helps us all.

Hey cops, remember that time I called in with the licence plate of the car who was a) taunting me, then b) tried to run me off the road, and you said that's too bad, because as long as he had tinted windows he was effectively safe with his licencse to knock off cyclists, as I was unlikely to be able to identify the actual driver if I saw him? I'm sure the liklihood that it was the registered owner was pretty low... isn't that good enough a standard to send multinova tickets out with? Oops, sorry. Bureacracy is fine with contradictions, especially when they facilitate revenue.

Thanks. Next time take a picture of my tax dollars being flushed down the district 1 police station main toilet and send it to me, maybe that'll have the same effect.

ps. I'm still bylaw ticket free, unlike that danger at large I live with who got two tickets a few years back. So I'm officially opining from the sidelines.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Check the Legs

Sunday I worked on bikes till noon while drinking coffee... an alltogether great way to spend the morning. Checking in on Dallas' success and combing the net for little details was awesome... but eventually I had to run down to the office for a few hours of "utterly important sensitivity analysis"... or something like that.

Talked to Craig about my plans to drop by mom and dad's for father's day, so we decided to work that into a little Nose Hill Park excursion. Craig wanted a post Canmore Canada Cup spin... he and Devin and Shawn look like they all put in solid race days out there.

Riding with Craig is never a walk in the park, but we were in the same postal code on the climbs, which was a good sign. Hardest riding I've done since getting back from Portugal, felt pretty good to do a little check of the legs before BCBR.

BC Bike Race prep

Saturday Tori and I rode up Pneuma and down Race of Spades for a little BC Bike Race prep. We were both very impressed with Pneuma - thanks Jon and Moose Mountain Bike Trail Society. My new favourite climb there. Even made me think about the days when I have recreational time to ride 2-3 days a week out in the mountains and how I should get a 6" travel 30lb all mountain bike to blast around on.

I happened to come across this picture of Jon and I from last year, and Tori wants to be on the skinny, not walking beside it, so it was time for a little practice session. Nothing says easy time in a race like rolling past someone at a resting heart rate who has to carry a bike through the forest.

Tori did well, riding a few things I thought she wouldn't ride, and seeing the fun in riding that kind of terrain. Moose Mountain has so much to offer. I felt sluggish after my work week that saw the 40 hour mark passed by Wednesday at 10am, but legs felt decent.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

First ride in a week

Devin and I rode up Moosepackers and down Race of Spades today, interesting experience.

I'm slow and tired still, this was the first wakeup after hammering to the beach at Sagres then doing absolutely nothing for a week, other than a 20 minute commute home yesterday.  I felt like a tractor being started up after winter - could ride all day, but only at a slow pace.  Legs are fine and such, I'll just spin it out lightly for a few more days and rest, nothing to worry about.

Devin was slow too, but that had more to do with the Stanley Cup playoffs than anything else.  For the record, I was slower.  Is stage racing worse for you than beer?  The sample size is small, but that may be the conclusion from today.

There were a lot of people out riding, which is always great to see.  I was surprised at the number of groups of middle aged women riding together... maybe I shouldn't be, but it still strikes me as something rare to see mud covered 35 year olds with pigtails tackling technical trails together.  No complaints on that front regardless.

Race of Spades is always fun.  I like riding downhill fast, and the trees give you the stormtrooper on their speedbikes feeling.  I like the skinnies, although my mojo was off a little today.  And I like the variety of jump sizes, some of which make sense for a 4" travel bike with Stans Olympic rims.

All in we rode 90 minutes, which brings my our ride/drive ratio dangerously close to a race weekend.  If any other BC Bike Race teams saw us out there, they're now safely assuming we'll have a hard time making the time cutoffs!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

TransPortugal wrapup

I'll probably miss ham and cheese sandwiches for a while after the latest Euro excursion, dinners are fantastic and elaborate, but the rest of the days, cafe stops, breakfasts, etc. are much better if you have a penchant for the basic ham and cheese sandwich.  Portugese soups are a notable standout, this country does soup impressively.  Foods are very natural and underprocessed in general.  Security of person and belongings is a non issue.  Suffice to say, it's about a hundred times better than the "is this cooked enough" or "should I drink this water" or "watch my bike while I go into this cafe for water" mindset...

TransPortugal is a great, long, hard race.  I've never done an eight day before, so it's probably correct that I've never burned more calories in my life than in this last eight days.  The course profiles don't really indicate challenge as they don't show heat and headwind - it's a lot of work to ride a mountain bike 1,000km any way you slice it.  If you're convinced that you'll be disappointed by not spending time riding technical singletrack - maybe this race is to be avoided.  If you can find a paradigm where absorbing more than what's under the bike tires is the focus, this one is fantastic.  Or dare I say it... not even really "racing" and just booking in an easy or partial day and some photo stops on the way through to ratchet up the tourism/enjoyment factor.  The age/sex system really mixes up the field nicely (or more accurately focuses differientiation based on ability) .  The racing itself is challenging.  Every day the (typically fastest) younger group is the last off the line to chase down who they can.  If you're 41 (larger time bonuses, the one at 36-40 isn't much) or over and haven't slowed down, you've got this thing nailed.  Geoff Clark/Pat Doyle/Gerry Mccuaig/Jack Funk come to mind.  Craig would also kill it with a little less time advantage, in fact if the organizers knew him they should probably keep him back an extra couple of minutes ; ) The women thing is a bit mixed - on the days where they head out very early in small groups, it works if there isn't a headwind.  For people like Trish it'd be key if there was a few 6' tall Dutch women to draft!  Jon would be able to ride well with the top couple of guys and try to chase down the Craig types all day. 
It's beauty is in its size of only 69 racers... and they said they'd shrink it again next year down to closer to 50-60 after trying slightly larger this year.  It facilitates meeting everyone in the race, and through the wonder of Facebook have a larger world wide cycling friend network because of it.

The organization and its people are excellent.  Punctual, organized, and friendly.  They seem empathetic by nature and want to help you, know you, see you do well and befriend you.  The riders just ride bikes, eat great food and sleep in great hotels, no other worries.  The post race refuel table is terrific.  I hardly got past the bean/corn/tuna/sliced olive with olive oil, vinegar and sea salt salad each day.  A recipe made in heaven as far as I'm concerned.

Mechanical service is included except for notable parts, they don't count every bolt or cable, just things that legitimately have cost.  It's there to help you through, not as a profit center. 

I don't know how they swing the hotels they do, it certainly doesn't seem to a profit driven approach by the organization as much as its their desire to provide you with a fantastic experience.  The riding and site seeing definitely does that.  The food and accomodations nicely compliment the memories as well.  Our last day residence was a minimalist ultramodern structure in all white, we all felt a bit bad washing our dirty clothes in the bathrooms - it felt ethereal and light, like heaven got a modern renovation done and replaced classic architecture with modern. Perched on the oceanside, it was dee-lux.  I noted the non-group rate posted behind the front desk for a basic room (if you can call them that) was €175/night, which if I'm tracking our exchange rates at all right over the course of the trip puts us near $300 CDN... So maybe the economic slump has them begging for group bookings.

Two thumbs up overall!  Start saving those Airmiles...


Our bus ride from Sagres was pretty quiet, lots of people nodded off for naps.  Upon arrival our bus driver decided he didn't want to make the stop to the hotel as well as the airport, so just went to the airport.  He had some schedule to keep and was being a bit of a jerk to the race staff, so when we went on to collect our luggage and stand at the side of the street a bottle of water accidentally found itself spilled on his seat for the next part of his trip.  Such is life.

Rest of us who didn't fly out that afternoon took taxis to the hotel, only €5, so no biggie.

This is the first time in two visits to Portugal that I've spent any time in Lisbon.  The two Trinnies, an El Salvadoran American, a Philipino American and I took two subway lines then walked around to see the sites in the old part of Lisbon, drank little coffees, beers, and ate internationally standard Indian food for dinner to satisfy our spicy cravings.  Good times had by all and neat city to see.

I ended up sharing my hotel room tonight with a fifty something Colorado based rancher, Greg, who had done the race too and hadn't made a reservation.  He's a total character.  Said what he was thinking without much of a filter.  The Portugese race staff all spoke English in varying degrees of fluency from basic understanding to throwing in surprising words like vertigo and ventriloquist... Funny how those two cropped up during the week.  Having said that, Greg created more than one Portugese face that said "did he just say what I think he said?" as their first instinct was to misjudge their translations... Anyway, Greg likes adventures and seems to have an income and free time balance such that he can seek them out, reminds me a little bit of Jack Funk.

I left early for the airport and found Lisbon cabbies to be generally as confused of a group of people as the rest of the world's cabbies, kind of funny how universal that is. 
Leon is a going on 55 year old Dutch guy who's a good mix to aspire to along with guys like Greg.  Leon is a serious cyclist, and has stories from every race around.  The Russian's nicknamed him Yoda as he bears a little resemblance, plus he's old and wise - helped the Russians with some bike basics one evening.  I asked Leon one night at dinner "Leon, have you been bike racing hard your whole life?".

His response in a germanic tone of factuality "No, only the last 45 years." Sweet.  When the lead group of ten would catch him out on the trail he'd jump into the draft right away and say "ahh, the cutthroats are here, let the suffering begin".

Although I thought the race organization was exceptional, I welcomed checking in to the Lufthansa counter this morning.  Speaking to a German airline employee for no more than 30 seconds gives me a comforting feeling that things are going to work out when they're running the show.  If I'm ever booking connections I'll always favour a leg on Lufthansa.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 8

Portugal: 4.  Erik: 4.

I hate starting from drastic underdog odds, but at the end of the week I feel I evened up the score on this race at least enough to feel respectable.

Woke up tired this morning, but a few coffees out of the space age coffee machine did the trick.  It seems the different hotels seem to have an arms race going on how fancy of a computerized coffee maker they can have.

Didn't warm up at all, just stood with bike at the line.  Today's start was to my liking - zig zag high speed gravel descent for 1km right away so I could work my way through the euros without burning any matches... 300 meters out I had the late hole shot.  I won't tell them my tire pressure secret, I don't think they know how I carry more speed through the corners.  Come around a final right hand sweeper and it's granny ring for a long technical climb full of rubble and loose rocks.  Awesome - none of this pack of 15 hanging around all day.  By the top of the climb we're already reeling in the 2 and 4 minute advantage starters, and Joao is the only one ahead of me from our group.  We start a long gravel road descent with sweeping corners, and the two Belgians l like chase on so we can ride together today, as well as Frans.  Everyone shifts up to keep pedalling hard at high speed, and...

... the rest of my day goes a little more moderately.  My rear shifter pod is frozen, busted, toast, can't get it to move for the life of me.  Even took my pump off on the descent and tried beating the piss out of it to see if anything would move.  Nada.  So much for hammering out the day with Dries and Thomas, I was totally looking forward to that.  I don't feel so bad part of the way down when I pass the yellow jersey fixing a flat.

I assess what this is going to mean for the day.  I've already passed a lot of people.  My rear derailleur is right in the middle cog in the cassette, so that's decent enough.  I have three gears and 90km left of hilly riding with a headwind (when the Portugese coastline is all cliffs, but we dip down to 3 beaches, you can guess there's some climbing). I'm gonna make it through with this torture test one way or another.

We exit the gravel onto a rolling paved section.  By default, I mash gears on the hills and spin out quick then tuck the decents, but I'm still making good ground and picking off more riders.  It's actually fun, and the fact that they're looking at me like I'm nuts gives me more energy.  People that I pass right near the crest of a hill get on my wheel and draft my tuck on the way down and the flats.  I resovle to blow them off each upcoming hill and switch them up for a new set.  If nothing else, it's fantastic leg strength, spin, and interval training.

We get to the base of a long gradual climb with a strong headwind... and when I'm talking strong headwind, I mean the Portugese thought I was a good enough headwind here all the time to a) run a bike race straight into it, and b) line the entire top of the hill with wind turbines to generate electricity.  I'm having fun though and in all honesty it's better than a tailwind that'd have my gearing spun out.

At one point I have to pump up my rear tire a bit, and the yellow jersey and Luis come by, so I hop back on and ride with them for quite a while.  Frans looks at me like I'm nuts to attack him on the hills until he sees I'm just working with what I've got for gears.  He laughs.  We end up having a good time for the next hour or so as his English is good, and he doesn't seem to be in a hurry today.  Luis takes us on a wrong turn right before a climb up the cliffs, and once we get back on track there's 10 people hike-a-biking in front of us.  I figure that hiking steep cliffs on a traverse straight toward the ocean means we're about to ride one of those narrow singletrack ledges soon, and I sure as hell don't want to do that behind these 10 people.  I do a slightly off trail hike a bike at my own pace and a smooth cyclocross mount to remedy that... and straight ahead it's just the Atlantic staring me down.  Superb!

Hang a left before crashing down 200ft of rock face and wind along the ribbon trail, it's awesome.  Turn left back inland and push gears up some monster climb which I had to partially hike a bike up.  This set us up for the forewarned drop of doom loose rubble descent, which was 150m of straight shot awesome downhill.  The best part was, we climb the opposing hill perpendicular to to the descent, so as I climb I can look over and watch the complete mayhem of the next 10 guys, it's worth every penny of admission.  One bites it near the bottom in the bushes, another two half way down, others panic and try to use one leg as an outrigger... I'm loving it so much I yell across the valley.

Up the climb on the other side, Frans catches back up.  We ride together for about 45 minutes, it's fun.  We talk bike racing, upcoming events, this race, life in general.  Finally we get onto a false flat downhill and I'm to spun out to ride with him, so I'm on my own.

There's a few more technical sections along the cliffs, a paved climb I ride up at some stupidly low cadence, and then we're into the headwind aiming for Europe's most southwest bald ass rock with scrub vegetation before we turn left to Sagres.  I'm alone the whole time until the last few kilometers where I see two guys gaining on me.  I don't really want to get passed, but I'm spinning for all I'm worth.  We've got only 3km to go, and about a kilometer ahead on straight road I see the grade kick up - I can't wait as it's my only hope.  Once there I spend the rest of my energy in the last two kilometers, first pushing up the pavement in my big ring, then forcing the big ring through the singletrack down the beach... with the gap reopened nicely if I do say so myself.

So I ended up 12th, which I'm happy with considering the 3 gear scenario.   I recovered with a Sagres beer and a dip in the cold Atlantic.  Couldn't be happier, this is a hard race.  I felt teriffic this morning and strong all day, glad I was I having an up day to help deal with the gears, if I felt poor it would have been a real challenge.

Only 5 minutes post finish all the suffering seems long lost in my memory and I can only savour the positive parts of the experience.

I'll be back for sure sometime to complete it, I don't like unfinished business.  I've learned a few tricks along the way to ease the experience, but really comes down to proper preparation - and for something this size, all I can think of is the famous "ride hard, lots".

Love the country, the people, the sights, the food, the amazing hotels and the suffering.  This is the hardest race I've come across yet - the long daily distances on tough terrain don't make it easy at all... and that alone is reason to love it more.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 7

Portugal: 4. Erik: 3.

Looking at the route profile, today's 133k just looks bloody hard. Guys who've done it before say it's stupidly hard. And we're going in the exact same direction as yesterday - yes that means headwinds.

I knew this race was big, bigger than others I'd done. So I packed well in advance, and got both my bags right up to 50lbs, with any additional space being taken up with food, food and more food. Guess what? My race food supply is dwindling. Today I tried a few creative things. I ran out of high calorie Boost, usually those extra 350 calories fuel me well on a long ride. On the scale of this race they seem like little quarter tank top ups out there somewhere around noon. Instead I brought a bunch of soup, it's a bit like a potato puree. It worked fine. And a sandwich.

First things first - I get my replacement GPS and I let my tire pressure down from Euro bone jarring roadie pressure to something I can work with. It was heavenly today having them right all day.

Right from the start, Joao (by the way, this is soft g sound like second g in garage, with approximatly "oo-ow" or "oo-ou" after - really smooth transfer between the sounds) pinned it like he meant business, and never pulled in behind a draft. We all just held on. Going through windy, hilly fields, pretty soon it was down to about 10 guys. About 20 mins in it downpours, raining sideways in our faces. Did I mention nothing in this race is easy? I can't believe this stuff, seriously. I could care less, I have plenty of chain oil, it's still warm by my standards, and I can ride mud. And I feel totally recovered and like I'm on fire.

About 40km in I set the race on fire, accidentally of course. We got to a fun downhill, and I let go of my brakes. Half way down there was a right turn... I missed it with my replacement GPS and it's special 10 second screen refresh delay... and all the Belgians followed me for 25m before the yelling started. We turned around and saw Luis and Joao made the right turn, and now Luis was pinning it into the wind and sacrificing himself to launch Joao. Sweet move. We turn around and now I'm riding with 7 Belgians who's race I've helped mess up a little. Once we get on track we hit a road... I do one hard pull for a few mins right away in front of the yellow jersey as a "sorry, my bad and I know it" move.

The rest of the Belgians start doing hero pulls till they blow, it's a total shit show. After my pull I'm just redlined hanging onto the back. 15 mins later we catch Luis, and it's only Dries, Thomas, myself and Frans left. We do a long climb, and I end up on Frans' wheel again. He pins it on the flats and I'm on... nice. I think this could actually work out well... until we hit some gravel, he actually hears that I'm behind him, looks and sees me, and doesn't seem to think he needs my company... Ok that's understandable. He turns around, and what I thought was pinned must have been more like half throttle, holy shit. I see how this is going to turn out really fast, so I sit up and eat, waiting for the others to come the 100m back up to us. He holds that pace for a while - we're on a straight dirt road, and is gone like there's no tomorrow.

I ride with three Belgians and Luis for a while, until we get to some rollers where they're determined to shake Luis off. I hang on, it's hard for another 20 mins, but we're in a huge headwind section and they seem satisfied that he's going to me f-d on his own out there now. The last 45 minutes have been like a cross country race.

Half our later we get into a beautiful valley system, pick off a bunch of the earlier starters, and then on the long downhill lose the one Belgian, so it's down to Thomas, Dries and I. I had wanted to duke it out with them all week, and I guess you have to be careful what you wish for. We're at about 80km and I've been riding bloody hard all morning... But we settle in and have fun. The climb hard and descend relatively well, I'm being beaten like a rented mule and am digging deep just to stay in contact (plus my patented I'm tired as f--k manouver: skip the brakes on the way down). Their navigation helps me a lot relative to my super delayed GPS.

Eventually we cross some train tracks and approach a water stop, and Thomas is yelling. His rear derailleur cable is frayed and broken, and he's asking if I can help fix it. Dries and I look at him and say that'll be a tough one by the looks of it. I'm sad that I'll be alone riding for a bit, but happy that I get some recovery time at a pace I choose. Turns out that they couldn't fix it and he decides to ride in with three gears - front cogs - and the rear in the derailleur's relaxed position of the lower cog. We're 40km out and haven't done the biggest two hills - that's not gonna be fun.

I leave, but they catch me again soon. His chain is bouncing around so they stop to take out a few links, so again I'm on my own. I don't see them again till half way up the first huge climb.

The climb is long and steep, nothing else to say. Hard but rideable. I'd see them behind me, but Thomas was running it. That guy is crazy strong. On the better grades Dries would push him a little and he'd stand and pedal in his way too high available gearing.

I crested first and didn't see them for the next 15km of pavement. The climb went on forever, it's like they want to show us all the mountains. It was ridiculous.

Eventually they caught back up... those two are really stong, I actually don't understand why they haven't been riding more aggressively all week, they seem to have the engines. We did the last descent together, sketchy as can be with all the wet rocks from the intermittent showers that pummeled us. Their GPS' are better, but their descending not quite as good, lots of tire locking and skidding. Eventually I just said let's focus on not crashing and we can ride in together, I thought they'd slide out on a corner or something. I'm not sure exactly, but we most likely crossed simultaneously in 7-8-9th or 8-9-10th. I think a lot of people won't finish, as the first 100km just soften everyone up for a serious dose of suffer at the end. Whoever completes this stage in the cutoff time should get an "hard man" shirt. With the sideways rain, high winds and these two ridiculous giant climbs, this stage was like a slaughterhouse. I'm glad I felt good this morning because I needed every ounce of it. Joao won, and my mistake launched the attack. That guy has got some serious power and reserves.

This whole race is downright crazy, and that's a fact. You know how La Ruta says it's the hardest? Total BS. This is like doing two of the 4 day versions of La Ruta back to back and carrying all your food. No exaggeration, that's just straight out how it is. It's completely nuts. I thought I was signing up for a normal race, in this nice friendly beautiful country. But it's like I woke up and found out Cory Wallace's long lost Portugese cousin designed a course that he thought might really push Cory close to the edge for 8 days. I'm seriously thinking about doing the cafe stop version of the race tomorrow.

The only thing that tricks you after finishing each day into thinking you're not totally crazy is the hotels and food. These hotels are nice. How nice? Like let's say you were coming up on your 25th wedding anniversary, saved up for a really nice trip with your wife and wanted to impress her... like that kind of nice. Quaint, beautiful, all cobble stoned and old but with modern renovations. The dinners are white tablecloth, 25 item gourmet buffets, local wine and olive oil and vinnegar on every table, with a full set of silverware and glasses... like you're glad everyone else in the room is wearing post race clothes too cause otherwise you might feel two notches underdressed. It's pretty unbelievable. I thought the race fees seemed a little high, but now I see they're a total steal of a deal.

Friday, 5 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 6

Portugal: 4.  Erik: 2.  Like a spring classic?

Today was very windy (straight headwind for 6 hours) and Portugese flat - no elevation change but a hundred rollers along the way to sap your strength.  I have no idea what the spring classics are like, but I picture them like this.  Overcast and riding around fields, on not smooth roads for 5 hours, so you just hurt real bad, break up into groups, and then 2km out wind it up for a finish.

About half way in we crossed a river, I was with the leaders and they rode the river bad, don't know why I thought it would be a good idea to stay on their wheels ; )

Up the hill on the other side, I rode with them.  At the top they looked back, saw me, and were like WTF.  I sort of felt the same when I shoulder checked and the rest of the group was a minute down the hill.  We rode off.

A while later, the TT types had caught up to us and we had a good group going for the wind.  When I say wind, this was like riding into a Chinook on a mountain bike all day.  It was horrid, and I usually don't mind a good wind challenge.

Over a few rollers the group broke up, and the leaders pulled away by a couple meters.  My mistake of the day was that I didn't tag onto their wheel again.  They rode a survival pace today and I could have done it.  Only fear is if they blow me off somewhere and I'm left alone.

Rest of us went along, but slower.  With the handicap starting system, we had caught everyone except Tom and Matt, and I now knew that once the leaders caught them, they'd stay away in 4 man group, as even Joao and Frans want some respite from the wind... Rest of us were riding for 5th.

I stopped for water at some point where nobody else did and TT'd back on.  I should have got more, man these guys are like camels.  Some cranky Belgian got on my wheel when I was chasing.  I gave him the arm flick to ask for a pull twice, didn't get one.  I verbally asked (nicely) and that didn't work either.  Ok so I figured this was dead weight, attacked, and left him in the wind on his own.  I wonder if he's having fun, haven't seen him smile yet this week.  I wouldn't be enjoying it if some jackass canuck just left me out to dry in the hurricane!  I quit being philisophical at that point as I knew he'd do the same to me if he could, such is racing.

Somewhere in the next 40 mins I lost my GPS.  With the group and farm roads, I didn't have to look at it much, so no idea where.  Sucks... I think finishing without one is a 3 hour time penalty.  Oh well, I'll just ride out the race.

We do enough fields until I'm about to lose my marbles.  It's like mental torture.  I'm sitting at the back for a minute and eating something light as I've been out of water for the last 25km of the race, and things start going fast.  I thought we might be coming up to a fountain as guys want to be first to fill and depart.  I ask buddy next to me and he says 2km left.

Well... I look up and the two nicest Belgian dudes (Dries and Thomas) have the group strung out into ones and they're 15m ahead.  Some people didn't even try the acceleration out of our group of 9 I think so it was delayed getting back to me.

Ok, I know this drill.  Head down and hammer.  I pick all but 2 Portugese and the two Belgians off easy.  Takes me a few seconds to catch the Portugese, then I blow by.  Head down and hammering, I look up and don't see the Belgians, even though I'd re-closed it down to probably 15m (they're working together and opening it up).  Right... I don't have a GPS, and the last system of turns I have no idea how to make... kind of anti-climactic to wait in the last hot section after dropping most of them... anyway I wait for the Portugese and they attack each other and seperate.  I go with the fast one, and tell him I'll follow him in as I have no GPS, he doesn't have to worry.  We hammer up a road like there's no tomorrow since he's afraid the other guy will gain, but I don't know why as he's losing ground.

There's a bunch of people shouting, and he starts sprinting like mad.  I stay on his wheel pretty easily, then see a big arrow on the pavement, and the banner far away.  I ride past him and make it for the banner pretty easily ahead of him, shoulder check for good measure, and see the poor dude for no apparent reason take a wrong turn, he must have not seen the green finish setup.  Either way didn't really change things.

Antonio is at the line and tells me I got 7th, the Belgians had just rounded the corner and were slowing down at the back of the finish area.  I told him I may have finished 7th, but you're not going to be happy because that GPS I rented is out in some farmer's field, so I'll really be last or whatever.

And he said what matters more - "but at least we see you have good legs".

I'm going to err on the side of carrying more water (I'm already carrying a lot) but these guys just run dry, and I want to save those TT's for the end, I want to duke it out with those Belgians... they're not on that big team and are fun guys. 

On the training side, I'd say today was a high quality effort.  This race is 1,000+km long, and it seems like they've planned it all out to give you about as few "free" kilometers as possible.  It's just work from go to finish every day, geez.  If it isn't heat, it's a 143km into a fierce headwind and endless rollers!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 5

Portugal: 4.  Erik: 1.

The Blues Brothers said it best in 1980...

Elwood: It's a 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, a half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark out and we're wearing sunglasses. 
Jake: Hit it.

I found the keys to my engine and fired it up.  No sputtering, just ignition.  I was an oxygen and fuel pump.  I hit it.  Side note is I'm fresher than the rest, but hey, I'll take a fun day when I can get it.

The morning started overcast and stayed that way.  Forecast was a high of 23C.  Right now it was probably mid teens.  Armwarmers and knee warmers were everywhere, but not on this guy.  Getting on my bike my behind hurt like there was no tomorrow - had protective bandages for the skin, but under my sit bones the skin that's normally like one inch thick is twice that, like I'm sitting on goose eggs.  I'm guessing there's some inner tissue issues going on there.  Great.  Two shorts, different saddle, and 100 miles of compression should do the trick.

The first 10km had something like technical.  I was effortlessly riding in the lead chase group on the climbs, and ditched them on the descent.  Some guy was talking about road bikes, but didn't make sense.  Another guy told me he was saying I was making it look like they were riding road bikes... big engines, but they ride absolutely terribly downhill.

I kept plugging along, finding new people to ride with.  Was seeing faces I hadn't seen all week.  Got into a group with a Brit and an American, then a train of Belgians and a Portugese caught us.

Two points of note.  If you're 3m ahead on a trail and make a wrong turn, the Belgians try to go as silently as they can on the right turn, none of this "dude trail's over here" kind of camraderie stuff.  They're cut throat, must be in the cycling culture there.  Secondly -  they blatantly litter, same as at TransRockies.  I've been smiling all day but chewed a group of them out, all black jerseys but couldn't tell which one did it.  Of course that's the point in time they decide that they don't know English, even though they can hold an hour long conversation.  I got looks of disdain.  Sometimes timing works out though...

Today was "the gauntlet" with like 15-20 jerry rigged farmer field gates we had to open and close all day.  Last night we went through full etiquette - open and close all or you're DQ'd.  First guy open, last guy close, group leaves together.  You can leave open if you can make eye contact with next rider.  First couple we went to, Belgians aren't exactly waiting after going through, one of the Portugese guys kept saying the keyword we were all supposed to remember at last night's briefing - "fairplay".  They didn't seem to care much, so after a few more I'd just yell "faster" and laugh.  Funny.  I don't care, I'm the guy who's dead last cause he can't ride a few days at a time, I'm just surprised at these guys when I get up close enough to see them.

Eventually I see the next gate across a field instead of hidden away.  5' high barbed wire both sides.  I sprint for it, chuck my bike over, and hop it.  They roll up and are f-d.  They give me dirty looks from the other side as I mount and ride away.  I don't see the harm in innovating (isn't cyclocross their sport?) so eat it!

I do that for next few gates to pick up 3-4 minutes and have a great few hours riding on my own.  I ride with a super strong French guy for a while, and when we go by a bull charges a barbed fence and knocks down a crappy little post.  I'm actually a bit worried, as half the time we're riding through fields of them without any fences between us.

We log miles like they're going out of style.  Fast, fun, easy.  Spin, spin, hammer.  Somewhere along the way at one of the gates 2 hornets bit me.  Ouch.

The same group caught me when I softpedalled into a headwind for a while and were hammering, so I jumped on and didn't work any harder, and went nearly twice as fast.  I can't wait to duke it out at the finish, my guess is 3 of them have stronger legs...

But, with 20km to go, my chain shifts into my spokes and I lose the group.  Nice... now I'm facing a TT to the finish on my own.  I'm game for that I guess, just need to remember not to use granny in back as my hangar is a little bent.

There's a few gates, so I pick up time there.  Part of the last 20km is mini cobbles.  Everyone suffered, but nobody seems to use UST at 25psi.  I coasted along like butter and caught a couple guys who blew when the lead group started attacking each other.

So I ended up 8th.

I think I need to find races where it starts at normal temps and rises 2-3C each day.  That whole heat/dehydration/salt bonk whatever it was thing is really, really unpleasant.  Maybe I'll get it right some day.

At least the people I've met here see I'm only a partial failure rather than a full failure since I can actually ride a bike (at least sometimes!).

We're in a totally cool age old hotel on a hillside farm, my room is probaly 600 square feet, has a 6' by 6' fireplace and a living room, and a pool outside.  The main room of this building has a domed brick roof in a room that's probably 5m across, ours is a log criss cross roof with tiles over it.  They just don't build 'em like that much anymore... Or maybe they do and I just don't see new Portugese construction.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 4

Portugal: 4. Erik: 0. But that's just results... today was actually a good day by most measures.

Waking up this morning, I think to my self: are there really 5 days of riding left? Holy cow. I'm already up to La Ruta completion time for on the bike out in the sun exposure. I feel pretty beaten down and low on energy. I think Dallas is right on the not enough sodium, even though I'm taking much more than I would at home. Sort of explains my cravings too. I think what's happening is that once my ratio of intake goes down, my body doesn't want to digest or process more fluid or food that's dilutive to equilibrium (whatever that equilibrium is, but presumeably related to sodium at this point) as I've been hankering for mustards, dressings, chips, etc. I've been lasting 4 or even 5 hours ok, but after that stomach just shuts down. I ride the rest on internal reserves, although I eat more. I end up peeing 5 times after dinner and through the night when, I'm guessing anyway, all the salts and dressings I slather on my dinner alow my body to get back to fluid processing again. I can stretch that successful 4-5 hours presumeably by improving intake ratios or timing, or obviously with less sweat inducing temperatures. We'll see, I'm hunting around for better ingredients to take out on the trail. I just don't have enough practical experience with long long days in hot hot weather (I'm not even sure that's something I desire to become experienced at... I cringe at the thought of putting more of those behind me).

I think some of the fatigue was the three days of heat and bike torture, but also the hotel room was hot last night, so I didn't sleep too well. I feel like I could sleep for another 6 hours. Or a week. The sky is overcast but I'm refusing to be optimistic, have fell into that cruel trap already. It feels sort of cool out, but I think the thin coulds will be burnt off.

I'm hungry for breakfast. Walking down there my behind really hurt - not a good sign considering I haven't sat in a breakfast chair yet or my bike saddle. Ate a big dinner but woke up really only because my stomach was growling. I see two new casts at breakfast, a Frenchman and a Portugese. One hand, one full arm.

Today is a 102km I think. Tomorrow is 163km and the following is 140km. Plan for today is to ride easy as I possibly can. I don't care where I get to, even with it being a shorter stage. I know I need to accumulate some reserves for the next two days as I feel pretty empty at the moment.

I started off with very little race food in my pockets, I was going to find whatever I needed out there. I brought a ham and cheese sandwich I made at breakfast, with extra salted butter. I rode entirely at a low aerobic recovery type pace, much of the first section with Oliver. Felt nice. Cooler and net down hill on farm roads, kind of stuff I like hammering when I feel good because it minimizes the effect of having a small power to weight ratio. Didn't eat till noon, then chowed down my sandwich on a coasting road section, no hands and looking at the mountains it was the best seat in the house.

Came into a town and found a non-GPS marked fountain so I stopped to chill out. As I gazed across the street from the seat by the fountain, I saw the creator had plunked down a peach tree right there. About a week before ripe, but pretty spectacular none the less. As I sat here Oliver, Christoper and a Frenchman came up too. I ate 5 peaches and departed.

We seperated again shortly, I ride hills a little faster than them, but it didn't matter as the next town was 6km away. I told Oliver as we entered that I was going to look for a cafe, he said he was going to drive on and try to finish today.

I saw a bike parked along a wall, and heard accordion music. Looked in and Ryan, Trininidadian #2 was in there. Christopher was on his way too. We stuck out as the only lycra clad geeks among olive and fruit farmers. Ryan was drinking coffee, I asked the old lady for a sandwich... but no sandwiches. She saw the dismay on my face, and soon enough we were talking sopa. I was using all my aces today apparently with the peach tree and this, but somehow I ended up in minutes with a giant hot bowl of cebola sopa, onion soup. No cheese like French onion soup, but rest was same in concept. Only this had three times the onions and the salt was fantastic. Had two little cokes and a bit of the giant can of tuna the Trinidadians bought. The man stopped playing the accordian and came to give me a bigger spoon, as his wife had just given me a little coffee stirring spoon. I couldn't think of a better lunch stop.

We split up a bit over the next few km, Ryan and I rode the hills together and waited for the other two behind us... until Ryan had a mechanical. Same as what happened to me in the garbage dump with Jon earlier this year - riding and next thing you know your derailleur is upside down on top of your cassette and you're basically up sh-t creek. Hearing a Trinidadian describe how he felt about this is priceless.

I helped him get it into a single speed, he wasn't too apt with tools, and he asserted that my effort was a half hour faster than he would have done. It sort of worked, enough to get him to the next checkpoint. Suspension travel and lateral play from standing up didn't help though, so it wasn't a perfect solution.

Christopher rode into the checkpoint with us and was going to try to finish. My behind was immensely sore, I've stood about 1/3 of the day so far, and just grimace when sitting. Ryan noticed and said he was having same problem. He said he'd have to buy me a beer for fixing his bike, and I said I'd have to buy him one for being a riding partner. It helped that at the checkpoint the three others waiting there were all women who said they wanted to go to a cafe. I think I got in enough distance to help continue my metabolism adaptation without digging a hole further - about 65k.
Next stop after dusty checkpoint was cafe by fountain. Antonio #3 was our driver, he's been a great guy so far and coninued to impress. We stopped for minted limonade, something like a pizza roll, a couple more little cokes, chicken pot pies, etc. Good stuff all around.

Cleaned my bike today as I obviously got dropped off before it was closed, got a massage (maybe missing yesterday was part of why I felt so crummy?), and had a good snack.

Sitting in nice air temps next to a pool at a 4 star hotel up by a castle... this feels about right.

All I need to do tonight is find my other saddle, some remedy for my behind, and eat a good dinner. I'd love to nap this afternoon but the time still doesn't feel right for shuteye even if I'm super tired.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 3

Portugal: 3. Erik 0. The severe beating continues.

Woke up feeling decent this morning, not cramping, but was tired so slept in as long as I could. Belly felt stuffed still so for breakfast I had a Boost and a banana in bed. It was nice starting right from our hotel and having simple morning logistics. I was cautiously optimistic as today was net downhill and felt cooler to start.

We rolled out at 10am and I found myself easily holding a decent pace. It was probably mid 20's for the first 90 minutes, and I was moving forward through the earlier starters on the first long climb despite setting out with the simple goal of riding easy and steady. I had a stitch in my side for 25 mins that I've never had on bike before, but after the first descent it went away.

We rode ridgelines up near where Tori and I rode a couple years ago - they cut fire roads in to limit the ability of forest fires to jump across I think. One way was view to Spain, other to Portugal. I was eating well and it was being burned well - felt great just to have everything working. Climbs were rewarded with loose gravel descents, not long but a nice relief, much like the top of Moose mountain going down to Moosepackers. Every descent I'd pass a few more riders, not really my objective, but if I'm pedalling up something I want to coast down it. All in, best feeling so far of the trip - fun riding and fueled body. Unfortunately somewhere in this zone a guy broke is collar bone.

I slowed down after descending from the ridge to ask the guy behind me how far to next checkpoint with water, and turns out it was just over the hill we crested. I drank one whole bottle of electrolyte, refilled it so I had three, ate, and left feeling pretty chipper.

Little did I know the sun was staring down at me seeing my glimmer of hope and about to crank it up a few notches... like god was playing whack-a-mole. The next 60 minutes shaped the rest of my day. It was like sitting in a hot car with the heater blowing in my face. It was a gentle up grade, and I just kept shifting down to try to keep my effort below what I could keep my temperature in check with... and I got right down to walking speed in a hurry. Funny thing was that nobody was passing me, I think everyone was stifled there. The wide valley we were crossing had few trees, I found one about 2/3 of the way across. I stopped and just tried to get my sh-t together, it helped a little. I crawled onto the opposing slope and kept looking at the cut lines fearing which one we'd take - the checkpoint 2 people just said "across, then straight up". I tried to stop for some shade, but we were going through a reforested area with short trees, plus the sun was pretty much straight over head. I put my bike down and crawled into the bushes for a couple minutes, as I was trying to cut my stop time today. 2 minute shade breaks were helping.

Straight up it was. Reminded me a bit of a La Ruta death march. Turned a corner, saw 10 people on varying parts of the ascent, and started climbing. In home like temps this would be a great training climb. Here with no air moving and the sun over me was torture. As we climbed, the trees were larger, say up to 3m. I'd try to go 100m between stops. Upon reaching the top, the traverse road had full trees on the other side, so there was plenty of shade for a rest.

We quickly descended the other side, and I happened to pass a few of the people who asked if I was ok when sprawled in the shade.

From there, we crossed another basin to the town of Monsanto - a rocky mountain in the plains with a town and castle perched beautifully on top. Of course we couldn't cruise by and see it from a distance, we had to ride up it.

The course there was full of hotness amplification tools. We rode on white quartz like what goes in ashtrays that was so reflective of the sun that the bottom of my forearms is burnt (I can't figure out any other probable explanation of why the inside of my forearms are burned). We rode through quaint farm fields in between ancient charcoal black stone walls with trees and bushes on both sides - clearly designed to eliminate all breeze and to absorb as much solar radiation as possible. We got a few stretches of new pavement which were just baking. I stopped when we pulled off to the old cobble path that led up to the castle for a longer time.

Needing some sort of highlight for the day, I started riding the part they declared as hike a bike. Actually not that tough, but I burned a few matches for sure with exerting myself in the heat. At least we were on the shady side of the mountain.

The town is pure old-Europe impressive. Houses built right into giant granite rocks, steep narrow streets, little cafes. As I'm grinding up to the top, I see a fountain cut 6 feet back under the next switchback of the road. I drop my bike in a nano second and walk into the cool stone cave and dunk my head under the cold running water. There is no greater reason to ride a bicycle in Europe than for the magic of this experience. It's pure heaven.

I make a few turns through town and realize all the shops sell ice cream and finding potato chips is going to be hard. I cruise through the checkpoint, and barely brake for the "forewarned extreme technical descent". Only problem is that 20 mins later I notice my bottom water bottle is gone - it's held through every chattery descent so far...

And of course when I notice this it's because I reach down to chug some hot tapwater out of my bottle as the plains are again a white sand path inferno. I realize this isn't looking too good, so I slow my pace and keep moving, occasionally stopping under the few shade trees I can find. I've drank my two bottles and saved just a third, knowing it does more good in me, but I also don't want to be bone dry and start freaking out. Even still I have managed to keep cramping at bay.

People start passing with my reduced pace, and I tag onto a group of six. A friendly Brit whom I've been chatting to at dinner offers up half a bottle of water - I pour it from his to mine while riding on sandy double track without spilling a precious drop. He compliments me on pulling that off, I thank him profusely and drop off the pace to drink it and survive. I keep him in sight over the next few rollers, and 15 mins later when I'm still not at a checkstop I see water running across pavement far to the right, near a field. I scope around and find a fountain. It's like an oasis, I spend 15 mins there and still no other riders pass. One nozzle is broken so it mists into the air - sitting underneath it is so refreshing that I don't want to leave.

I eat about 2/3 of my remaining gel and realize there's no way I'm going to have enough fuel to make it in. Rolling out, I guess that I'd need a solid TT to make it in by cutoff time, and that's just not in the cards. A French guy catches up and tries to talk me into working with him, but I'm empty. We go through a 3 building villiage, one of which is a restaurant with a its roof built into a fountain/cooling system.

Without hesitation, in I go. Coke, chips, ham and cheese sandwich with lots of mustard. I love the processed mustard here - probably because I only eat it when pure salvation is needed, but for whatever reason I'm totally in need of tangy/spicy these days. Too bad they didn't have snails too.

The last 30k in weren't easy - there aren't free kilometers here. From the restaurant it was paved downhill into a big headwind, felt like a blowdryer was blowing in my face. I came around one turn and a giant tree branch was down across the road, looked like a fresh break, certainly hadn't been sitting there for a week. Later I confirmed that some late riders had seen it too but not the earlier ones... so it was windy enough to knock branches down.

On a long straight section through some fields we rode by an aquaduct, it was about 18" wide and after a few km of staring at it I figured I should lie down in it. Felt great, but I was dry after 10 mins of riding again.

I think I'm the last guy in today again, all the others coming in as late as me seem to be on the van from the last checkpoint. I came in about 45 mins past cutoff, which I think is close to another 8 hours out in the sun.

Didn't cramp, so I guess that's good. First bit felt good. I'm just waiting for a cooler day to make this more enjoyable... so far when the thermometer rises it just becomes a suffer fest to make it through the day. On top of that, I just noticed too that I didn't even get credit for making it to checkpoint 3 yesterday... not that it really matters, but it's hard to "throw away" those kilometers that were so arduous to complete.

My room mate said it accutely well in a forthright, Australian accent way - "I think I'm suffering from severe exhaustion".

Monday, 1 June 2009

TransPortugal Day 2

Portgal: 2, Erik, 0.  Portugal wins by knockout. 

Breakfast was scheduled for 7:30 with bus departure at 8, neither really happened like that.  I'm glad I brought some cereal as the standard breakfast was white bread, ham and cheese.  Lots of long faces around the table.  My fingers and legs and such were getting twinges of cramping still, not what I'd call a good sign.  The skin around my knees/quads was wrinkling when I stretched, it usually doesn't.

Start is at 10am.  At 9:15 I survey the park and everyone is sitting in scraps of shade, especially the dogs.  The air isn't moving, and the little Portugese guy who looks like a pirate and was throwing up on trail yesterday said it's hotter than usual.  We're climbing a lot today, and they've warned us to take a full water load up the second climb.  Forecast calls for 34C, and the Portugese call that climb "the oven" because of the way the valley concentrates the heat.

Hi granny ring, pleased to introduce you to the 24km climb.  I should have brought a white umbrella. 

The first climb is steep, and starts 1 minute in.  At 18 minutes I come across the first guy I see at the side of the trail standing in the shade.

Not much to report until the descent, the first half of which is like the twisty Logan pass road, but the way cars cut corners, every corner is covered in gravel.  Actually quite sketchy.

After that we get to the famed single track section with crazy descent on old rock stairs that's death if you fall off the ledge.  I guess that works on the euro mountain biking scale.  It was fun, but I can't join the chorus on praising its infamy.  Bumpy and standard, didn't even need to slow down much.  Worst part of it was not the technical, but a monster bush that took a swipe at my left side with thorns and has my arm and leg looking like I got in a cat fight.

From there things were downhill on pavement to the Duoro river, and downhill in general.  The descent knocked my memory card loose in my GPS, once I realized I waited for cyclists, didn't see any, couldn't navigate to the route as it's held on the memory card.  Backtracked and found some TransPortugal guys to help me out.  10 mins of troubleshooting because loose card isn't suspected.  I carry on and try to find others to ride with, head into the base of valley town for water before entering "the oven".

The oven lived up to its name.  Talk from a few guys with techie watches corroborates to 39C.  Who knows... All I can say is it was hot, and my arms and body had no sweat on them, it just evaporated right away, pretty tough.  Climb up through olive tree fields, then across a high savannah like plateau - savannah like both in general landscape and the heat waves everywhere.  I kept saying I'd pull over under the first shade, but it never came.  Finally I found a tree and lied down.  I didn't recover perfectly from yesterday, and it was taking it's toll.  I'm dehydrated, but my stomach is processing fluids and foods slower than I'm sweating/burning calories.  I think the heat, time of day issues, and long racing just shocked the system.  In theory an IV would have been nice to rehydrate as my digestive tract was having a hard time with that task.

Lied down by the classic rock wall and solitary tree for a while, then made some headway to the next town, where I lied down along a stone wall in the shade.  Made it to the next town with a park with fountain... and predictably lied down.  From there it was a hike a bike up to the castle, where Cassie and Patricia were manning the checkpoint, I dunked my head under the fountain and lied down.  Things weren't going fast, I was running on empty as I wasn't really digesting.  Cassie gave me directions to the nearest cafe, where I ate a bag of spicy Doritos and sat on the porch overlooking the countryside, contemplating what I was going to try to do to get my sh-t together.  I stayed there for 45 minutes.  I felt ok but not great at the end.  The salts helped me be thirsty and drink, and my only non-chip option was ice cream bars which didn't sound appealing.

Left the town, and the slow refresh on the GPS let me go about a km down a steep road before realizing I missed the turn, so had to huff it back up the hill.  It was pretty easy terrain from there, flat wine country mostly.  Even a tiny bit of power could sustain a good speed, but I was riding 30 mins then lying down for 15... would force feed and rest.

At one point I calculated I had 55k left and 3 hours, which would need a steady pace to complete... and I haven't been a steady pace kind of guy so far, more like a crawl, stop pace.  Not even really riding, just plodding.

I spun a steady gear, not hard, but eventually just emptied myself out.  I lied down and pretty much knew that was it, even after five mins of lying down, I still had zero interest in eating.  I dozed off for a while, and next thing I knew a goat that got out of the field came up and was eating grass by my foot.  Pretty funny actually.  I got up, petted it, and rolled away. 

10 minutes later I was at check stop 3 and they said time wasn't on my side to make it.  So there we had it, DNF'd my first stage race.

On the bright side, they drove me to a villiage restaurant to chill while some others were being searched for.  I chowed down with the wine farmers who were drinking beer.  A half hour after stopping my appetite came back (a coke helped) so I had 2 chorizo sandwiches, one more coke, a mango juice, and a plate of snails... the farmers were eating them, the bartender saw me looking at the plate with curiosity (I thought it was nuts) and brought me some.  They were good - garlic butter cooked.  Had the little antennae on them and fully in shells.  All that set me back €7.

I got picked up and we did cleanup duty - northern climate whities were suffering today by my observation.  The two Russians were done, the Scottish girl, and a couple of Portugese too for good measure.  Sounds like quite a few didn't make the cutoff time.  We got back to the hotel, and I still had appetite to chow down on olive oiled and salted potatoes, bean salad with tuna, coke, and assortments of other post race snacks.  Pure glory!

Dinner was a teriffic buffet style affair.  I think Tori and I drove by this hotel a few years ago, we're right by Sabugal.

I think I'll recover better tonight, feeling decent right now anyway.  Race crew is saying tomorrow is hot again, then only 24C on Tuesday.  I'll welcome that.  I'm actually not all that bummed, in some ways it stinks, but I care less about the officiality than just turning the corner and having some enjoyably hard days on the bike, in substitute for these sufferingly/failingly hard days.