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.

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