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.

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