Sunday, 28 August 2011

Since the Volta a Portugal em Bicicleta (Grandissima).

It's nearly two weeks since the Volta. I'm back up to 74kgs, from the 70kgs I had during the Volta. I've trained very little, but well. I have only one race left on the road, it's a circuit race tomorrow. I hope I can get around okay and maybe get a few euros to take home.

Although bike racing hasn't been at the fore front of my mind, I've been working hard and I've been quite stressed -just the way I like it.

Bike racing has this thing, that it's thrilling. There is nothing like it anywhere. It's got everything: high speed, challenging, self-sacrificing, a "brother in arms" type camaraderie even with the opposition. It's dangerous, very dangerous, the money is shit, but it's something I love. When a cyclist isn't bike race they need some way to get their "fix". It used to be nights out on the tiles, mountain bike races and any other crazy sporting events that were going. But now I want to build a life and having this as my objective also has tantalizing challenges that keep my "thrill buds" quenched.

The first challenge I guess is that I want to continue racing. The fact that my season ended in mid-august is something that hurts me. It's the same for most of the Portuguese peloton, but I really would like to keep things rolling well into October. I'd love it if I had a Tour of Britain of a Tour of Bulgaria like previous years. Those years I would finish and really feel like I needed the rest. To continue racing I need a contract for 2012. There are interesting developments in this regard, but I will not sell short and if I don't get something that justifies the effort, I will switch back to another sport at which I have previously excelled. So you'll see me on a bike in 2012 no matter what happens.

The other challenge is that I've had to move out of my first real home: My adorable cottage in Pé do Cerro. I will miss this place so much. Here I lived in peace, at a pace of life that suited. The place did me good and I excelled in everything I had to do. Ironically I can say that the difficulties that forced this decision are passed, but I promised never to allow those difficulties to return, so I let that decision stand. I will Pé do Cerro and the friendly people of Santa Barbara de Nexe. I will miss the interesting spring flower, the miles of paths through the "Barrocal" and the wild life: the rabbits, chameleons, snakes, the hedgehog -even the mouse in the closet. I will miss walking and running with Cruella though the countryside. I am going to Alfanzina, the family home to live with my aunt and my grandmother.

There is no such thing as security. People climb to the notion in ridiculous fashion, when all they are in fact doing is passing the buck on to someone else. Six years living on the edge and a week in coma taught me that life is to be lived to the maximum and to do this one cannot be risk averse. It was with this in mind that on Friday I got up and set up a business. Of course it's designed so that I can be professional athlete and own it without a problem. Hopefully it'a a way I don't have to spend from now till December wondering how I am going to sustain myself. Hopefully it's a way to share the place I love, through activities I adore, while I can "build a life" through it.

And that's it. I will write up things relative to the Grandissima a bit latter.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Etapa 8. Seia-Torre 182.8km (4.5 vertical km)

This stage was worrying everything could be won or lost. I had quite an arduous task, which was to get over the climbs and help in the in between bits, then rest for the final climb. This went very well and everyone on my team performed their role perfectly. We won the stage and improved our lead in the GC. Job done, but we still have 330km till Lisbon!

Thanks Ricardo Mestre for being a good leader. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

Etapa 7. Sabugal-Guarda 35.3km +.6 k accent

Today we had a longish time trial.

I was in rest mode and that is what I did keeping my heart rate well bellow threshold the whole way. In fact, including the minute just before and a few minutes after my average heart rate for the exercise was 147BMP. Which is good! It leaves me fresh to help defend the yellow jersey my team mate Ricardo Mestre earned today.

Ricardo went a good deal faster than me of course, in fact he went a good deal faster than anyone. I never imagined he would dominate this TT in such a way.

Anyway, once tomorrow is over I will feel more relaxed, although things will be fairly tough all the way to Lisbon. My luck is that I am feeling quite good.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Etapa 6. Aveiro-Castelo Branco, 215.6km + 3.015 vertical km

Today I had a rough day. It was 42ºC and I drank and drank in order to fight the heat. This was fine for the first 3 hours, but I then got a very upset stomach. I had terrible pains and could not eat or drink. I went to get water at the car and inform the boss, to which he replies that I must go to the front soon and get to work reeling in the break. I wasn't happy with this, I was really uncomfortable. What was more sad about this was that I was well. But I and two team mates were able to cut the break aways advantage from 7:50 to 3:00 in about 30kms.

Then I was caught up behind a fall. An old team mate, Alejandro Marque broke his wrist. I was quite sad about that. Chasing back on was not an option as by the time I was free of the carnage the peloton was a good 500m away and in my sorry state I didn't feel like suffering!

The stage was won by Gavazzi of Lampre, which was good since Lampre haven't really shown themselves much till today.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Rest Day, Volta a Portugal

Today has been painfully boring. One does nothing on rest day, which is harder than it sounds.

I woke up earlyish, or should I say my room mate woke me. He must be the type that can't stand being alone or something, as I still had another 30mins to sleep. I found this extremelly annoying. I had a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon and sausages; not your athletes breakfast, but I go well on it and it's what I eat nearly every day at home. Given my job, it's better to be a bit fat (4% body fat vs. 3% of a GC contender).

I then went training. I went alone because I had already recieved my go slow orders for the Time Trial (TT) and it was the TT the rest of the team went to see. I just didn't fancy all the fafing about, given whatever I do in the TT will be wrong (too slow, too fast, etc, etc). Ironically our sprinter is set to go fast, for the purpose of time checks.

I went to an amazing place right up a mountain. It was called Linhares. I had these incredible stone streets, it was like cycling into the middle ages. I felt I was in ancient Lusitania. I hope to explore this area well one day.

Out side of this I have just been bored out of my mind. I've just looked at e-mails, the Facebook and did some stuff so that I can transfer my to a new server where I will rebuild it in the week after this race. I'm also trying to get to grips with excel, which is quite painful!

I stare at the phone occasionally and think of calling the one or two contacts I have on other teams. I really would like to continue cycling, but not here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Etapa 5. Oliveira do Hospital-Viseu 150.3km, 1.97 k accent

Todays stage was much easier than any of the previous. Our rivals Barbot were knackered after the tit tat (mainly driven by them) of the previous stage. Today I felt good. It was hot (38ºC) but I like the heat. The only challenge is drinking about 1.5-2L of water per hours. If you can manage that you, you can perform well even in extremely hot conditions. I didn't have much to do, just occasionally get water and a brief stint pulling on the front. At the end I felt good, but I punctured about 10km from the end when the peloton was flying along at high speed. I got back on and thought job done, but then there was a series of splits in the bunch on the final decent and I got stuck there... At 90kph and trying to conserve as much energy I wasn't going to bridge that gap! I must have lost a minute or two today.

The race was a sprint finish. Our sprinter Samuel Caldeira came 8th. He was spared from our earlier work which was to mark Barbot which annoyed me, because usually who picks up the tab is I. The race was won by Andrea Guardini

Monday, 8 August 2011

Etapa 4. Lamego-Gouveia 182.4km + 3 vertical km

Todays Stage was particularly tough. The beginning was ferousiously fast. My job was to get into the groups and I did this very succesfully, but for some reason nothing stuck for the first 70kms. Eventually, after a lot of energy expended a break got away and I wasn't in it. Oh well. The rest of the stage I just tried to save as much energy as possible. I dropped of the bunch on the final climb with this intent.

My team mate Nelson Vitorino came an excellent 2nd. José Toribio won from the break.

Etapa 3. Viana do Castelo-Senhora da Graça 150km + 2.96 vertical km

Yesterday, we had a relatively easy stage. I was supposed to rest, but yet again I was put on the front working -on a day I was told I should rest. So that was typical. Nine guys on a team and I pick up most of the bill. The “leaders” did okay however on the final climb, while I rested, keeping my heart rate nice and low all the way up.

I can't wait to leave and pull my “British” money and my “British” talent away. Note, I am not in anyway “nationalistic” I was born to an “Irish” mother and a “British” father in Portugal. In Gattaca, the main character derides and works against “Genoism” -discrimination based on ones genes, and I say, 'if only!!'.

Portuguese cycling is ever more jingoistic, ever more poor. This is not for me I am afraid. I love racing my bike and I love Portugal, but being treated like a foreigner in the country I was born in is a bit much. Racing bellow my standard and being incessantly held back means I cannot work with these people: 5 years and not a single opportunity – merely the opportunity to work. And I am very good at my job.

If there's light at the end of the tunnel, it's that Hernâni Broco who won on “Monte Farinha” was treated for years and years as a worthless “worker”. Even been excluded for many years from the Volta squad when he raced on Liberty Seguros. So there you have it, someone treated no better than a work horse is now having his pay back.

Parabéns Hernâni. 

Ricardo Mestre came second and my team  David Livramento put in a tremendous attack which could have succeeded, but it didn't unfortunately as he was caught 400m away from the finish.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Etapa 2. Oliveira de Azemeis-Trofa 184.4km + 3.75 vertical km

Today was rainy, cold and very dangerous. I had quite a lot of bad luck initially, including a near miss with a fall (I did a 180º spin, but kept it up; you'd have to see it to believe it) and a puncture, which was in fact just an under inflated tire; I was feeling paranoid after the spin.

So yeah a lot of high speed chasing and some climbing at 45kph pretty much right from the gun. When I got to the bunch I saw a break up the road with a climber team mate and jumped across. Things looked ideal for the break to stick, for the first 40km things did turn over nicely. But from then on, the others just sucked my wheel and I took every mountain pass and all the wind in my face for 60km. Eventually 125km Caja Rural took over. I was knackered and didn't force too much. I am wary of the tremendous length of the race and I knew that break wouldn't stick; I did my duty in forcing the teams behind to be worked over. But what I really wanted was David Livramento to win or place high on GC to provide an x-factor to the race: the guys got real talent.

And that was it! It was an easy race for those on the wheel. I worked my balls of. I finally bonked (after going slowly for a long time) on the final climb. But a 60km solo across those mountains in that rain was excellent.

Sérgio Ribeiro, who is in scintillating form won the race on a tough 6.6km mountain top finish. I came in 14:05 after. Over leaders did their job well also and all placed in the top 10. Things are looking good.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Etapa 1. Trofa-Oliveira de Azemeis 187.7km. Volta a Portugal.

Stage 1 was long and very fast. It was also dangerous with many riders in the peloton riding dangerously. I was prepared to smack a few I got so irritated with the incessant frights throughout the stage. Common courtesy was thrown out the window, no holes or danger were pointed out. The worse for this were the Spaniards and the Italians. The Italians from Lampre you could tell were not happy to be racing the Volta. The Spaniards (Andalucia) were just plain selfish, as if there were no other riders but them.

I raced quite well, I had no specific task to do, but did the normal duties like getting water, protect the leader when he'd let me. Still the race was quite hard. I finished somewhere in the bunch.

The race was won by Sérgio Ribeiro and didn't have much else of interest happen.

The full classification can be found here:

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Volta a Portugal Prologue

Prologues are not my thing: I am not explosive, nor especially technical, I lost a lot of time in the last two corners. I will also have my work cut out over the next two weeks, hence I was very careful tackling this 2.2km prologue.

Not to say it went badly; I was very happy with my performance. 3:26.00 I think which is 22s of the best time by Hugo Sabido, but I was still happy. I felt good and enjoyed it. It was one of those days that I simply enjoyed riding my bike. Sabido flew, watching the replay on telly I could see he's in fantastic form.

The team is okay, I see a few problems, but in general people are calm and looking after each other. The management isn't being too pushy or over powering. There are some tensions I can see building and I am sure things after the Volta will be interesting. Our new president is very good and has sorted out the clubs finances and deals with problems very well, he's a no bullshit doer, not a sayer. I hope he has the patience to continue.