Taça de Portugal 4, Belas

After the British National Series round at Margam Park, Wales, I had a short three day turnaround back in the Alsace to cram in a little training before flying out to Lisbon for round 4 of the Taça de Portugal.

Belas is effectively a suburb of Lisbon which made the venue extremely accessible for both competitors and spectators. It would be my third time racing the Portuguese national series and every time the courses have been fantastic. Once again I was not disappointed. The first half of the lap held most of the climbing broken with some nice natural, and in places steep, descents. One chute dropped in off a man-made wooden ramp and headed straight down beside a partially buried metal pipe. In practice I was persuaded by spectators to try the more dangerous (and marginally more direct) right hand line on top of the pipe which proved suitably sketchy and was not repeated in the race! The second half of the lap climbed back over to the city side of the park and looped around to create punchy climbs on the bank facing the feed zone.

We stayed in an apart-hotel in the center of Lisbon that was ideally situated only a few minutes drive to the race venue, as well as Lisbon International Airport (crucial for our extremely early depart on the Monday following the race), and Parque Eduardo VII. With the race starting at 3pm on Sunday I had the time to go for a little spin around the park in the morning and check out the big screen that had been erected for The World Cup (football) and sight see some of the city by bike. Lisbon further boasted the best double espressos we’ve had for a long time.

Given my solid result down in Wales a week before I was keen to build on that for a top performance in Belas. Unfortunately I must have picked up a cold on the flight back to France because by Thursday I was feeling pretty ill. I made the decision to still travel to Lisbon, lowered my expectations a bit, and hoped that it would clear up enough to still ride pretty fast.

I held back and rode very easy in practice on the Saturday and by Sunday, although not 100%, I was certainly improved enough to race. My World Rank was high enough to grid me on the front row which always makes a huge difference, and once again I had a great start. To make things more challenging it bucketed with rain for about an hour before the start that made the track unbelievably slippery on the first lap. I was sliding all over the place on both the climbs and descents trying to find grip, but once the sun came out the course quickly firmed up and was running faster than ever.

My legs were pretty good but I was feeling the effects of illness and was content to sit just inside the top 10 for the first two laps. As the race progressed I seemed to be holding pace well and started to overhaul riders in front which gave me a great moral boost to keep pushing hard. I crossed the line at the finish in 7th, another solid result, which I was pleased with given my poor health in the build up. It’s always an uncertain how the body will perform in competition off the back of a physical injury or illness, but often once the start gun goes your mind defaults into race mode and overrides everything else.