Friday, 9 June 2017

Tour of Portugal - Day Three

Day three was a much shorter affair at just over 100km with a single special stage, this started after a twenty kilometre road section and as the day seemed bright and warm many riders were eschewing jackets for MX shirts. I thought better of it and layered up. This turned out to be a wise decision as much of the road liaison was along a high ridge and it was certainly a bit on the chilly side!

Arriving at the special stage start, I had time to remove my extra gear and stash it in my rucksack before starting. The special dropped off the ridgeline and then contoured the edge of the valley twisting in an out of stream cut defiles in the slope, which soon meant that rounding a headland to cut back into the next, I spotted the rider who started one minute ahead of me, on the opposite side of the defile passing a distinctive tree. When I reached the same tree I looked back across to see the rider one minute behind was just rounding the headland, so it would seem we were maintaining the time gaps.

A short while later the same happened, as I rounded the slope, I spotted my “minute man” passing a pile of boulders beside the track. When I reached them I looked back across but could see no sign of the rider behind! So it would seem I was either gaining on the rider ahead or at least getting away from the rider behind (or hopefully both).

My question was soon answered when I again spotted the rider ahead, now a lot closer as we climbed back onto the ridgeline, I caught him at a confusing five way junction where he was clearly hesitating and studying the road book. I had already worked out where I was going so swept past him, turned right and followed the ridge upwards. This was significant for me as although I have been passed many times in special stages, I’m not sure I’ve ever passed anyone before. Soon after the track switch-backed up onto the very top of the ridge on a wind turbine access track and then turned sharp right to descend again…. And I overshot the turn!

Luckily I had spotted the turn so only lost a few seconds whilst turning round; on the descent I passed another rider, so was feeling good. After this there followed a long section, through scrubland, open country and then into a more populated valley and through a few tiny villages. The navigation was tricky and I had to concentrate hard but was definitely in the grove and making good progress. The route climbed again to another ridge where I spotted three riders ahead of me, two together and one slightly ahead. I started to reel them in as we topped the ridge and climbed alongside the ubiquitous wind turbines on the ridge line. The track was very rocky and I was unable to catch them before we again dropped steeply off the ridge to descend again. The descent was steep, rocky and twisty and I got caught behind the two riders who were descending a fair bit slower than I wanted too! I eventually got past one by the old expedient of stuffing him up the inside on a bend and then the second rider on the next bend. Now for the third, whilst I had been momentarily held up he had got away, however I didn’t catch him as the finish of the stage was at the bottom of the slope, where I pulled up a few seconds behind him!

A long liaison followed, with some tricky sections, especially a nasty bend on a sharp climb over rock steps and loose rocks, I was now riding with Tony Whitehead again and he shot round the bend and over the steps with no problems on his 300 smoker, I got round the bend OK but had selected too low a gear so managed to pull a wheelie over the steps and chucked it away on the exit. Tony walked back down and helped me get the bike up and going again, “to reclaim a small bit of karma for my assistance the day before” I hung around for a while to get my breath back, admire the view and attempt to help a fellow rider try and get round on a KTM 990 Adventure… but it simply wasn’t going to happen! He eventually decided to go back down and head back on the road, I walked back up to my bike that I had left at the top of the slope and had to stop for another rest to get back my breath again, it was very steep and very hot!!!

After that I joined three other riders and we descended down until we reached the road and then headed back to Pampilhosa, a ritual jet wash at the garage and then it was a rush to get everything packed up and the bike prepared for loading on the truck.

The results were duly published and I had managed to claw my way up to 17th Place, not quite as good as last year (13th) but top twenty will do me OK.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Tour of Portugal - Day Two

Day two was another long stage with only two special tests. The first was a short ride out of town and started on a ridge, we had left the start on one minute intervals but the special was started at two minute gaps. Inevitably there was some bunching up and a bit of a wait ensued, now the warm sunny day didn’t seem so warm or sunny having gained a bit of altitude!

It wasn’t too long until I got to start and the stage started as a fairly smooth dirt twin track descending the other side of the ridge to the one we’d climbed. A very tight right hand hairpin bend soon appeared and scrubbing off sufficient speed wasn’t the easiest job, judging by the skids marks running to the edge of a substantial drop, I wasn’t the only one to find this out.

The track continued steeply downhill to the next bend, another sharp hairpin this time to the left. As I approached I spotted a figure sitting on the side of the track with his head in his hands but no sign anywhere of his bike, seeing it was my friend Tony Whitehead, I stopped to assist knowing that I could get my time back (as it would be recorded by the GPS tracker) but this wasn’t my first priority at the time. It turned out Tony had overshot the bend and cartwheeled off down the slope. He was unhurt but simply exhausted by his efforts to try and drag the bike back up to the track.

Now a KTM 300EXC two stroke isn’t the heaviest of bikes but trying to drag it, push it and even pull it with the aid if a tow rope back up the slope was a mammoth task. We were eventually helped by another rider and to be honest I’m not sure we’d have managed without his assistance. I eventually got underway again and the special went pretty well with no navigation issues. The second special stage of the day was less successful, after a good start when a slightly ambiguous “tulip” on the road book meant many riders missed a turning off the main track during a climb up to a ridge. The diagram seemed to imply that you stayed on the main track and there was a fork off to the left, whereas on the ground the main track carried on with a slight bend to the left whilst the correct route forked off right. The road book did helpfully include the information that the turning was “difficult to see”  and that it was “downhill” (the main track was climbing steadily) and the track was “mauvais” (bad); it was certainly all three of those and to my mind there was no doubt I had taken the correct route. It did give me a bit of pleasure to see loads of tyre tracks heading up the hill and only a couple turning off.

What followed was a very long, winding and very rocky track contouring along the side of the ridge to eventually reaching a cross roads in the track that was marked on the road book and confirmed my route choice. It transpired that those who missed the turning took a much faster track over the ridge to meet up again at this point, so all received a ten minute penalty for their error!

After my good start I did have a moment of doubt later in the stage which cost me a few minutes to check the route but otherwise I was going well until approximately 2km from the end of the stage, when my road book stopped working and refused to scroll forwards even manually. It transpired that the rubber drive belts had come off and got tangled, jamming the top roller. I had the choice of stopping and trying to fix it (but didn’t know what the problem was at that time) or chancing to luck and following tyre tracks. I chose the latter and it worked OK for another kilometre until I arrived at a cross roads with tyre tracks going in three different directions!!! I chose to go left but this turned out to be wrong, so I back tracked and took the right hand route but that too turned out to be wrong, so went back again and took the third option, straight on and soon arrived at the stage finish! In the event it hadn’t made a great difference to my position as so many people got penalties but could have been a chance to significantly improve my placing… c’est la vie!

A stop at the nearby “Cock CafĂ©” and I met up again with Tony who bought me lunch for my assistance earlier in the day! We then rode together for the remainder of the liaison stage until shortly before the descent into Pampilhosa da Sera, when I took the wrong turn at a slightly complicated junction. After a couple of turns I realised Tony hadn’t followed me so stopped and killed the engine to listen but could hear nothing. I then decided to head back to the junction but the bike wouldn’t start! Repeated attempts had the battery starting to struggle until I suddenly realised….  It was petrol! After 150km I had obviously run onto reserve, a quick turn of the tap and it fired up straight away. I headed back, found the right track and headed back to the finish at the hotel via the petrol station for a refuel and a jet wash.

Evening maintenance was again straightforward, a top up of the engine oil, some oil on the chain and I was going to change the air filter again but realised the remaining “clean” air filter I had brought in my spares box was in fact a dirty one. The filter on the bike looked cleaner, so it stayed on there. I changed the front brake pads as they were getting a bit worn, they most probably would have been OK but I decided better safe than sorry.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tour of Portugal - Day One

After all the wedding shenanigans It’s finally time for a report on this year’s Tour of Portugal, so here goes….

A slight change of format for this year’s Tour with no prologue on the Friday, instead we were straight into a long day with two special stages. The terrain was good and fast flowing with some very tricky navigation at times and whilst I didn’t get lost I did have a couple of occasions when I started to doubt I was on the right route and doubled back to check, only to discover I was on the correct track. Indeed on each occasion, had I continued only a few hundred metres I would have reached a distinctive junction that would have confirmed I had taken the right track? I product of a year without any road book practice I guess.

A long day ended fairly uneventfully with the one problem being the side stand pivot bolt coming loose, luckily I spotted it at a fuel stop and it was easily resolved.

As noted the second special stage was pretty much the same as the first and I arrived back in Pampilhosa da Sera after 230km, after finishing at the hotel, I did a quick run down the hill to the petrol station to refuel and use the jet wash, the bike wasn’t particularly dirty but it does make maintenance that much easier.

 I ended the day in 18th place, not exactly ideal but still in the top third of the field I guess.

Apart from the aforementioned side stand issue the bike ran faultlessly and needed very little maintenance that evening apart from a top up of oil which is a regular feature of running an eleven year old bike I guess and a clean air filter, which wasn’t strictly necessary but because I could, a check of the brake pads (all OK) and some oil on the chain and I was done.