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".
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!