Descents are always fun.
We passed through the hamlets nestled in……… sheltered valleys. The dry stone walls that capture a level piece of fertile land or a paddock with olive trees and sheep grazing in the shadow of its branches.
Within minutes we had arrived at Fatima. A small town with a huge open square where pilgrims gather in front of the Basilica for open air mass. We rested in the shade of the poplar trees, lit candles to absent friends and discussed an alternative route home; some of the group were looking a bit tired.
Talking about lunch, we had better get a move on. It’s a forty minute ride to the table we had booked.
The restaurant owner had cleared the bags of potatoes to one side so we could store our bikes in the kitchen stores. The restaurant was full with Sunday diners who come from far afield for one very good reason. They cook the most succulent chicken, homemade sausages, partridge and pork cutlets on a huge charcoal brazier. And it keeps coming to the table until you say enough.
We hobbled down the wide stone steps into the restaurant clad in our somewhat sweaty team kit and much to the amusement of the other guests busily feasting on the days servings.
Within minutes of sitting down the food and wine began to arrive. We dined, laughed, drank and even sang a song until dessert arrived which, quite frankly, finished us off.
We drank our coffees upstairs at the bar and played a few raucous matches at the table football before eventually ambling our way back to the bikes. There was much groaning and straining as each rider gathered themselves for the ride back home. We sauntered off down the road, a ragged crew of slightly dishevelled and overfed riders wobbling their way back into a rhythm.
It took a good twenty minutes to regain our composure as we took the easy way home, shorter and avoiding any of that heart pounding, climbing stuff.
We eventually rode our way to a good pace; or was it that we had a gentle breeze to our backs? Whatever it was, we formed up two abreast alternating at the front and allowing the more tired members to cruise at the back. Thoughts of the final sprint entered my head and I began to plan whilst I took my turn at the front – I’m not competitive!
Whilst in Portugal I have been fortunate enough to ride with some of the best; from former pros to national champions. They’ve helped me with my training and fitness. But, most of all, they’ve looked at the way I ride. They taught me how to tactically use my abilities. This kind of stuff is like gold dust!. You can’t read this in a book or a magazine. You have to experience it and today I am going to put what they taught me into action. I might not be the strongest but I can be tactical.
Anyway, enough talking about it, the final ten kilometres had arrived and the group was picking up the pace and splitting the peloton in two. I had just finished my turn at the front and was more than half way down the line, when the front decided to let loose! I kicked hard.
Some of the others tried to hang on but the day’s ride (and lunch) had taken its toll. I hopped my way from straggler to straggler until I was tucked in at the back of the lead group and holding on.
Timing was crucial; must be in the front five if they split. They split. I kicked down again and passed the back two to draft in as we pace lined the next five kilometres. The pace moderated and I took my turn at the front. The big man was at the back and I reckoned he would end up at the front with one of the quick guys behind him in the last kilometre. The rest of the sprinters had eaten too much for lunch and weren’t involved. Good. I actually stood a chance of success!
Everything I had learnt was being put into action. Tuck down, elbows in, sit forward, relax and concentrate the power through the legs. I don’t know what speed we were doing but it was fast.
The final kilometre was straight and the road wide.
As I finished my turn I eased back on the pace line and we dropped another rider. I swallowed in lung fulls of air as the big man took the lead. The rider in front of me began to wobble so I passed him and slipped in as close as I could to the last two.
The leader, who rode for a professional team in his younger days, was tiring and, as he eased back behind me, I made my move. It was too early I know but I figured with 500 meters and only three of us, it was better to break now than end up leading on the final 300. I lifted out of the saddle, clicked up a gear, braced my core and pushed down with everything I had.
I swung across the road and left the other two without a draft. Each one for themselves now as we stretched across the road, side by side.
I could just hear the shouts of encouragement from the very back as we raced to the finish. My legs were screaming in agony. Heart pounding. Lungs burning. I inched ahead. I had nothing left. The other two had even less.
I’m not competitive but winning does feel good. We might not be in the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia but we can pretend. That’s what cycling is about. Having fun with your friends, feeling good, inspiring others whilst aspiring to be better.
It’s also why I spend most of the year in Portugal, immersed in its cycling culture. The gorgeous and frequently overwhelming landscapes. The food and its people. A quiet people with a passion for a quality of life most of us in our complicated lives have all but forgotten about.
Team Director at Volta Pro Tours