Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Classica Vila do Conde and Memorial Bruno Neves

This past weekend I had my first "strech of the legs" since an acute infection. Not sure exactlly what it was, only that it was pretty rough and culminated in a fever.

Classica Vila do Conde:

On Saturday as part of a mixed professional and amateur team, I raced a fantastic little race known as Classica Vila do Conde. The Portuguese calendar is full of these "1.12" ranked races or "clandestinas" as they're called, toungue in cheek by the cyclists. Many complain they are not mediatic or serious enough, to justify their time. I like them a lot, as are a fantastic school of cycling and tremendous fun.

This race was on an easy circuit, with one hard climb. This was a short climb, but steep and on cobble stones. Infact there were cobbled sections through out the circuit, spicing up an otherwise easy event. The climb was too short to cause any real damage with any of the splits that occured quickly being annuled by my team. This meant that entering the finishing 2.5km circuit around the town we were guarunteed a sprint finish. And through Cândido Barbosa we won the race.


Memorial Bruno Neves:

This race was a memorial, to a cyclist who died during "Classica Amarante" just under a year ago. I was perhaps two wheels away when I saw Bruno Neves fall. It was something so inocuous, I presumed it was just a silly clipping of wheels with a nervous under-23. As it happened, it was a sudden cardiac arrest something which some young people are lyable to suffer and athletes more so, due to "myocardial hypertrophy" (if my memory serves me right); abnormal growth of the heart muscle.

The race was 155km on a very hilly ~30km cicuit with an abundance of pot holes, round abouts and tricky corners. Not my kind of race being hilly and technical.

Early in the race the pack was split with a massive group going of the front. I was one of the last to bridge across. Four of my team mates unfortunatly found themselves on the wrong side of the divide, but we were reasonably well represented in this numerous group of about 25, with three.

Liberty Seguros quickly siezed control of this group and promptly put the "peleton" chasing behind out of the race. And then began what for me was a slow death, kilometer after kilometer in the heat on these infernal roads, with well trained climbers making me and my new motor pay for over 3 weeks of not training properly.

There was another split forced by Liberty, 60 km from the end, 9 riders of the front. I probably had the legs to go with them, in terms of speed. But I bonked (bonking in cycling refers running out of glycogen; fuel) so it would have done little good to be up the front.

However my team mate Henrique Casimiro was up there and nearly won the race against the formidable Liberty squad. He came in 2nd, all of his own doing as there was no one there to lend him a hand in the last 45km.


Saturday, 4 April 2009

G.P Llodio & Volta ao Alentejo:

G.P. Llodio:

This race was very tough. Most of my team are based in the Algarve, one of the warmest, sunniest places in Europe. The Basque country on the other hand is basicly northern Europe. It was cold enough to hail, but not so cold that we avoided getting wet. The scenery was dramatic and beautiful. We raced through the green Pirenean foot hills, over hung with clouds and a snow line only a few meters further up.

We placed a man in the break away; Alejandro Marque. He was acompanied by two local Basque men riding in the colours of Euskaltel-Eusquadi, but still managed to win the "sprints especias" and "metas volantes" classifications, with only the mountains classification escaping his grasp. The best over all from our team was André Cardoso in 9th possition.

I was pathetic in this race and disappointed becuase up to this point I had been having an excelent season. I did not finish and was quite eaten up with disapointment and wondering why I was particularly weak.

Volta ao Alentejo:

I was very aprehensive about this race given my peformance a couple of days before in Llodio. But I went with the full intention of doing my absolute best for my team. But it turned out I was infact quite sick, as I got a fever on the 5th that lasted another 2 days.

Stage One; Vila Nova de Milfontes-Odemira, 159km :

Constant breakaway atempts were made for the first 2 hours of the race. The pace was incredibly high, a 50kph average speed. The terrain was the beautiful but desolate south western corner of the Alentejo. I didn't see much scenery, mainly just the wheel in front of me. The pack split going through a particularly hilly area between São Teotonio on the coast and Saboia inland. I and three team mates closed this gap, as in our company was Cândido Barbosa, one of our team leaders. The front group raced along at top speed. They wanted to gain as much of an advantage over pre-race favourite Hector Guerra. He had been issolated in my "chase" group, left without any team mates to help him.

Three riders had mean while got away, Maxime Bouet (Fra) Agritubel, Glen Chadwick (NZl) Rock Racing and Vitaliy Kondrut (Ukr) ISD. Palmeiras resort/Prio/Tavira, Liberty Seguros and Madeinox/Boavista were put to work to reduce their lead, but a moment too late and the break succeded. With Maxime Bouet winning the stage and siezing the yellow, leaders jersey. The average speed was an incredible 45kph.


Stage Two; Ferreira do Alentejo – Montemor-o-Novo, 209.9km:

This was the longest stage in the race 209.9km conecting Ferreira do Alentejo and Montemor-o-Novo. It headed out mile after mile across the seemingly endless plains of the Alentejo. Agritubel controlled the race from start till 20km from the end, the only eventful ocasion being the suicide escape by two riders early in the stage. My team and I siezed control of the race on the on categorized climb in the race and quickly killed the breakaway and any atempts there after. We pulled the race along at 55-60kph for the next 5km till just before Montemor, at this point I droped of, spent. This left just the quick and the strong of my team in comand, to launch a sprint for our up and coming sprinter Samuel Caldeira. He duelly won the stage.

He was disqualified from his first ever international victory. A Liberty Seguros rider, Filipe Cardoso made a protest saying his sprint was "irregular" and that he was blocked. I make no coment but include the following picture and ask: Did the protesting rider have enough space to come past? It's worth noting that the finishing straight was 150m long of a wide, fast, left hand turn and therefore everyones tragetory was slightly "curved".


Stage 3 Beja-Beja, 19km:

This was stage was the defining moment in the race. A 19km time trial. It was won by possibly the best time trialist in Portugal, Hector Guerra. Tavira's hopes lay with David Blanco. Also a fantastic time trialist. David arrived home in 6th possition. He lost the race in the first 7-8km on a long flat road with a tail wind. However, despite his chain falling and a couple of missed apexes he lost no time on the harder, more technical part of the course.

My race was a "rest" day, I was under orders and even followed by the boss to make sure I rested up and kept everything bellow threshold, so I could be put to work in the mountains the next day. I lost three minute. Which left me quite chuffed.


Stage 4: Alter do Chão - Nisa, 164.7km:

This was the "queen" stage, consisting of 6 categorized climbs. Including the infamous "Cabeço do Mouro" familiar to any rider who has riden for a Portuguese team. This stage was bound to be attacked, as Hector Guerra had only a slim lead on the race.

I responded to the first attacks and was in the front group when I imbecilicly cliped wheels with rider in front, lost my balance and drove into the ditch smashing the front wheel to pieces and doing a double sommersault, eventually landing on my face. I was left with a few grazes on my face and I wasn't particularly worried, but was withheld from continuing with the race by the team doctor, whom was playing it safe as I was complaining of sore balls, after a near crotch impact with some part of the bike. Apparently testicular trauma can be quite serious. And even a niggle warrants caution. Thankfully all is ok, injury wise with only a few scrapes on the face. Potentially worrying had I been born beautiful.

As predicted the race split to pieces in the tha mountains and my team had all our team leaders in the front group and two sprinters. Cândido Barbosa won the stage with my team mates all with raised arms crossing the line. A fantastic sight.

We later celebrated with some espumante and although sad I my poor performance, I was so pleased with our victory.


Stage 5, Vendas Novas – Évora, 169.4km:

A school boy error... I didn't follow this race as I went the masseuse whom I thought was going to hand up food at a midway point in the stage. Instead, I just saw the finish. It was a cobbled climb about 300m long, but easy enough for a sprint victory which is exactly what happened, thanks to my team mates controling things for Cândido Barbosa, who made it two stages and points jersey!