Taça de Portugal, Oliveira De Azemeis

On completion of our mini Scandinavia tour we gave ourselves a weekend off to recover before flying out to Porto for the C1 Taça de Portugal in Oliveira De Azemeis. It was my second time this season having competed in Belas, a suburb of Lisbon, earlier in the year, but it felt good to be in the company of Seb again as he thrives on the inevitably steep tracks down in Portugal.

A morning flight meant we were to truck down the endless 50mph limits of the M1 the day before, picking up fellow Yorkshireman and racer Tom Bell along with physicist and sports nutritionist Emma on the way.

We were greeted by pleasant temperatures around 22 degrees and flashing mental images of the last time we were at Porto airport in 2011 with ‘that’ nightmare Italian team. That was a distant memory once we made our way to the self-catered accommodation and team base for the weekend and were met by the charming Fatima who was also kind enough to guide us to the supermarket to stock up on any provisions we had not brought with us. Pingo Doce is an absolutely huge supermarket, which was permanently busy and I don’t think ever closed.

Unfortunately we all got absolutely smashed by mosquitoes the first night, but nothing could dampen our excitement as we made our way to the venue on Saturday to pre-ride and train on track. Well, getting a little lost and having to ask for directions in Portuguese doubled what should have been a short 25 minute drive, but all was quickly forgotten once we arrived and the bikes were unloaded ready to go.

Once again the organisers had put on a brilliant course which included some really steep climbs and nice technical sections – steep chutes, manmade drops, a rock garden, concrete steps, and lots of loose high speed corners. They know how to build race tracks down in Portugal. Plus they always manage to find venues in or on the edge of town, which makes the event easy to advertise and attract spectators.

We were lucky enough to have a clear sunny day for practice and dusty course conditions. However when Sunday afternoon rolled around (race day) dark clouds threatened a storm. It held off as nothing more than a few spots until lap 5 of 7 and then the heavens opened turning the dust to sloppy mud and a river formed on one of the climbs and descents. Very tough changeable racing conditions.

Assembling at the start before gridding one of the main sponsors put on a mini dance show which was highly amusing and had us giving sidelong ‘what the hell is going on’ looks to each other.  I hope they caught it for the TV coverage. But soon it was down to business. I have maintained a decent World Rank throughout the year so was to line up on the front row which is always a massive advantage. Still on his comeback Seb started on row three on the extreme left hand edge and Tom was further back in the pack.

From the gun I had another great start (never underestimate the importance of start practice in training) and sat in 4th position along the first straight. As we dipped off-road and turned onto the steps section I was cut up by another rider forcing me back several places and in to riding the steps with my left foot flailing to the side to counter a big stack. I rode solidly the rest of the lap looking to bridge back to the front. Seb had a brilliant first lap and by the second we were together in the same chase group.

Annoyingly we kept getting blocked on the steep singletrack climb and Seb was stalled off my wheel meaning he had to chase back on over the next two laps while also recovering from the frantic start required from further back on the grid. The pain came with the rain on lap five as my legs started to tighten and cramp on the brutal up hills. Seb passed me on the next lap and continued a really strong ride to finish 8th. I was completely empty by the end and had to concede one position right at the finish to come in 10th. Frustratingly Tom suffered a broken rear mech cable and had to run much of his final lap, so certainly has some unfinished business from his first race in Portugal.

With such wet track conditions at the end we quickly pilled everything in the car and bombed in back to the accommodation to begin the long cleaning process. Despite the extremely high levels of post-race fatigue it’s always better to push on and get everything done before completely crashing, Torq Natural Energy immediately after the finish followed by a sugary drink helps with this. With it being a fly away race, despite our new Polaris Axial Pods making life easy for us and safe for the bikes, we didn’t have the same amount of equipment as usual to help us get the job done. However eventually everything was looking pristine again, and we packed up to fly home the following day.

Passing Sheffield’s Meadowhall, and with promises of a summary of the most up to date research on sports nutrition recovery, we waved goodbye to Tom and Emma until next time. Back home we now have another weekend off to hit some training before heading down to Greece for two C2 races on the same weekend. It was a successful trip to Portugal, and now we look forward again.