Destination Porto…. sadly easyjet and seemingly every other airline serving Europe couldn’t function as a result of the weather and a new ticketing system at Luton and Stansted so after a nearly 2 hr delay (for an hour 40 min flight)
we arrived to a deserted customs hall… well devoid of working ground crew anyway…50 min later we have our gear and meet up with Pedro our guide for the week.
Its a small group and there is a definite feeling that it’s all a bit new to our host but he supplies us with home made quiche and some local points of interest as we work our way into central Porto(a near on impossible task as a result of the complicated one way system)
Andrew an intrepid cyclo-tourer regaled us with his memoirs of when he was last in Porto and mentioned how he stayed at a hotel that stuck in his mind as close to the most appauling he’d had to endure on his many and varied travels… as we drew up at the exact same venue which was to be our base for the next 2 nights… it didn’t bode well
We were allocated twin rooms which Andrew and I were convinced was incorrect as we had assumed we had singles but let it slide as we wanted to build our bikes and shake off the travel gremlins. Our chosen venue for bike assembly was the dining room (obviously) which wasn’t quite what the proprietor had had in mind so when he arrived all hell broke loose in Portuguese and we had to decamp to the garage…. handily located on the other side of the main square up a side street.
Pedro then took Andrew and I on a port (the drink) tour which was quite fascinating although the guides English was delivered with a strange lilt that made her quite hard to fully understand…
despite this we had a good time and took in the waterfront charm that is emphatically Porto.
The rain had returned with a vengeance as we set off for our dinner in a strange almost fast food type restaurant where we had the local delicacy frachescino….. . which I can firmly say must be an acquired taste, one I shaltn’t be acquiring any time soon☹ and then back to Porto’s answer to faulty towers.
The joys of which were only just beginning to reveal themselves as the rest of the hotel had been taken by a group of Italian students who came in from the various clubs in dribs and drabs from 02.30 to 04.15 making so much noise in the process that none of us got any real sleep at all, this they repeated the following night just for good measure😡🤔😲
Despite the rain and wind the following day we set off for a flat shake down ride along the coast.
Firstly riding to a local bike shop for a bit of brake maintenance on Ian’s bike.
We then had to ride back down the wet cobbled streets to cross the river which was an unwelcome wake up call for us all🤤
Once on the route it quickly became apparent that my rear mech hanger had been bent in transit which meant I only had a handful of gears to play with but as it was flat that wasn’t too much of an issue…. one of group Owen, called it a day and did his own thing after an hour or so which we all felt was the right decision and frankly as the rain got worse and the wind a little more emphatic we rather envied his choice
Anyway we got to the end of this sand spit that was our chosen coffee/ lunch spot and then repeated the desolate ride back finishing with a traffic enhanced sprint up the cobble stones to our garage/ hotel
Fortunately dinner that night was epic and we all had a fantastic meal regardless of what we chose which picked up the mood of the group no end. We also popped our heads in to the train station which has the most stunning tiled depictions of Porto’s past.
All was good until our Italian contingent repeated the previous nights onslaught with similar enthusiasm and sadly almost identical timing😣
Despite the breakfast being totally in keeping with our surroundings we packed our bags and left the hotel from hell for putt next destination Villa Real which is situated 3/4 asking the durro valley. Being all equipped with the latest gps tracking device (mines a Wahoo elemnt👍😚) we endeavoured to start the ride… only to be told by Pedro that the ride with GPS file didn’t begin at the hotel but rather on the river bank outside the city which left us riding a quickly devised route on Andrew’s Garmin up and down the cobbled foggy streets of Porto at rush hour…. things could only get better🤤
things did get better although not totally dry the ride along the river was in places stunning with fabulous vistas and sinuous descents followed by gentle climbs.
Pedro stopped several times along the route to give us water and food and take a few pictures for his site.
After lunch which was windy and rather cold I changed the rear hanger and was then able to use all the gears sram had intended…. timing is everything as we had a rapid trundle along the rivers edge to Pinouh
and then up into the foot hills that led to our final destination… we were all worried about the demands of this final section of the ride but our concerts were for nothing as it wasn’t that hard and finished the ride off very nicely in Vila Real… although true to form the route failed to take us to the hotel but we were at least in sight of it when the route terminated.
Rest day and Andrew who like us all had had very little sleep the previous two nights ducked out of the ride which left the three of us to head out with Pedro meeting us at the finish to bring us home again.
Much hillier that one might expect from a recovery ride but living in the mountains does tend to mean you’re gonna climb something which ever direction you take.
The rain was early in the ride and although over cast it didn’t ruin the ride bringing us eventually back to the venue of our lunch stop the previous day., from which Pedro drove us home… all happy to have got out and stayed fairly dry in the process👍
From a very shaky first night food wise the restaurant choices have been excellent with all of us enjoying something on the menu
(I’m piscatarian and Andrew is gluten free) …..having said that , the following day saw the lack of Owen as part of the team , having been up most of the night(less said about that the better)😲
This was the queen stage of the week with three sizable climbs…. not wanting to be put off too much I don’t think any of us looked at the ride in much detail… I’m still unsure if had I done is have been any better off but the magical mystery tour began as w e’re quickly becoming accustomed to some way from out leaving point on the other side of town and we were straight into the first climb…. which we were all unprepared for as it wound it’s way up and over the mountains(snow was seen in the distance for the second time on the trip😨
Over zealous local dogs became an increasing feature with one dog in particular guarding his corner with much enthusiasm.
Andrew was in his element climbing much line Alberto contador (out of the saddle) for long stretches…i was struggling but that’s why I’m here to do more and hopefully get a little stronger as a result
and Ian was taking his own time but cresting both the climbs we did… Andrew and I suggested they Pedro ride with him instead of challenge us to a climb fest as essentially he was the tour guide and guide was his role… we both thought it odd that we needed to even mention this but having done so he sheperded his remaining client to the summits
Having descended climb 2 we had lunch and then meandered towards the final climb of the day .
Along the way my drive train got stiffer and stiffer and finally refused to turn….i thought the bottom bracket had gone but after Andrew gave it a close examination it appeared that the locking nut on the cassette had come undone(this is almost impossible to achieve… in fact loosening them can take several attempts from even the hardiest mechanics)…. needless to say we didn’t have the tool to fix it with us. After a little cajoling we managed to convince Pedro it was his responsibility to source a solution to this problem, which eventually he did having erroneously set off in the wrong direction initially.
This search and rescue took well over an hour and when we had tightened the offending nut it was obvious that Pedro had had enough and wanted to call time on the days ride.
I for one was not at all happy about this….especially as it was my bike that had caused the disruption 🙈but both Andrew and Ian were happy enough to go along with Pedro’s rescue plan of getting his mum to drive out and pick us up…. so that was what we did, Ian and I both making sure we topped the days kms up to at least a century(Andrew is a Miles man so couldn’t see the point🤣)
The cavalry arrived with the rain and I don’t think any of us were too upset about the foreshortened ride as we wound our way up the final climb in the van. It went on forever and ever and in the driving rain resembled the Scottish highlands to me at least. 😲
The call to finish early was certainly the right one but it was a true test of Pedro’s character to carry it off…. again failing to plan etc…. he seems rather to reactionary and not forward thinking enough to deal with these issues but this was a very unlikely scenario so I guess we can forgive him that. 🤔🤔🤔 it was Friday the thirteenth after all😲
One of the discussions in the van on the way home involved the sign on procedure for the Grand Fondo on Sunday… Pedro’s initial intention was to drive us all there so we could register….. Andrew and I quickly nixed that ad he elected to take out documentation with him instead freeing us up to do another recovery ride.
Sunshine……. they first sighting of the golden orb and we rode off to a view point
This was far more what we had all expected both ride wise but more importantly weather wise….. had my legs wanted to play ball it would have been prefect.
Preceding this we took the temperamental Italian
to the bike shop for a final check over which the charming owner did for nothing after Andrew explained the finer details of the problem….. not sure I would have managed the same result without him… in fact his presence on this tour is undoubtedly the reason I remained on it and didn’t just get back on a plane home so thank you sir for making up for so many of the gaps in this week’s itinerary 👍😉
On our return we grabbed a which shower and then went out for a pizza at a place Ian had discovered whilst having the morning off the bike…. hugely popular with the locals we had to wait for a table but standing in the sunshine really wasnt much to ask.
Later we had our pre race dinner at another local vila real restaurant where the speciality was meat…i guess it was inevitable so I had the staple choice on these occasions… an omelette
Early start meant early bed
Montemuro gran fondo
We left the hotel at just after six for the torturous drive to the race venue in Cinfaes…. it rained the whole way but at least the snow that had been sighted at the top of the climbs had been washed away🤔as a result
Visibility was poor but there was a certain sinking feeling as we drive down one of the many climbs of the day.
Initially Pedro parked in a carpark on the outskirts of town but with a little encouragement from Andrew and I he reluctantly drove closer too the action and more importantly the coffee and toilet options.
We got ready and the rain fell less heavily but as we made our way to the final pen it stopped so it wasn’t long before race capes were stowed away and we began to wonder if our clothing choices were going to work .
Eventually our pen crossed the start line and a quick whip around the town, over speed bumps and the obligatory cobbles left a sea of bidons and mechanicals right from the off
We all ….bar Owen managed to avoid these , he sadly had one of several mishaps which finally resulted in him walking the final 2 km with his bike on his shoulder having swapped a wheel, had several punctures and as a result missed the cut-off for the gran fondo ; had done the medio fondo instead…. Poor guy , seemed to have all the bad luck going which he cheerfully shrugged off…. not sure I’d have managed such a l’aise fair attitude had that been my day so chapeau matey…… it’s a real shame because Owen is one of those lucky buggers who has bags of natural talent….a real souplesse on the pedals and he never really got a chance to use it….. keep at it mate this is your sport … no doubt👍
Back to the race…. as the pace began to settle down and groups began too form I found myself ding a riding interview with one of the motorbike photographers for about 3 mins which was quite an effort… sadly it was heavily cut but I appear in the final video chatting briefly and riding(if you look carefully) in 2/3 other clips so that was exciting
The locals were out in force to support the race and those in cars were all prepared to wait as the rolling road closure swept through
The food stops were very well appointed and mostly in the right places, the signage was very clear and the standard of the marshalling was also top drawer
The hills……. these were extreme both in their frequency and their steepness…. with many a seasoned campaigner having to result to shank’s pony for the final ascents….i like Andrew am of the ‘ you never get off you only fall off attitude’ so managed all the climbs aboard the pin 🚵♂️
There was a slight smattering of rainfall on one of the descents but that came to nothing and I now rode with a very strong rider called Hugo
who had been there or there abouts on the last couple of climbs but stunned me most of all by catching me on a down hill…… that very rarely happens ad I like to think it’s the pine thing I do well on a bike…. anyway we helped each other out as we kept the pace up and really started reeling in a few of the small groups that were masking they’re way towards the finish…..
The final 6 kms was up hill back tip the city streets we had started in with the final 2 kms on the cobbles again…i lost a couple of places on the climb but came in just under 5 hrs which I was pleased with….. it was all I had on the day and that is all you want to feel. Pedro eclipsed that time by 40 mins which gave him an ave speed of 29kmh which was super speedy
My effort put me 10 th in the old gits category and 106 th overall … can’t complain about that.
Andrew had a more measured day coming in 20 mins later and Ian a while after that but he’s a massive bloke and new to this lark so double chapeau to him(in his outcast cycleclub kit👌)
We drove back and agreed to meet up at 1900 for dinner which wad at a venue new to Pedro but had been recommended to him…. the food once it all arrived(they forgot to order Ian’s) was great the service worthy of several P45’s ….. the icing on the cake was Pedro treated us👍👍👍👍
We said our farewells as Ian and I were riding back to Porto in the morning but Andrew had to go in the van and Owen was driving himself back to Gibraltar with his disgraced colnago in the boot
After the now routine breakfast Andrew disassembled his bike and ian and I set ours up for what looked life the best weather day of the whole trip 😎
Not wanting to rub that in any further we said our goodbyes and headed off… up hill of course😂
The route planner for the first time on this trip actually started at the hotel…. we couldn’t believe it and we were soon whizzing along back to the durro valley and along the river back to Porto….
it was a lovely day …exactly what we had all imagined the whole trip was going to be like so we both enjoyed an easy pace with plenty of photo opportunities to maximize the positive vibe to the end of a rather mixed week.
Once in Porto the sing in the satnavs tail was a hideous climb in traffic which then put us on a diversion …. over cobbles obviously….. as if this wasn’t bad enough we couldn’t locate Ian’s hotel…. this was the closest I saw him get to losing his shit but we got there in the end.
I then set off in search of the appropriate metro station(yes you can take bikes on the underground)
After mastering the ticket machine I waited on the platform for ever until the appropriate train came along but at lest thus gave me time to figure lout where to be when the doors opened so I could get the pin in the best place for the 16 stops to the airport😲😲😲😲
My phone had died….. 😡on which was the email regarding my intended hotel for the night…..i got of the train and rode around eventually deciding to just wing it and ask at reception in the most likely looking place….. bingo I lucked out and my first choice was infact the right one…. Pedro had left my bike box and luggage and it was time for a shower and to put the pin in her travel box.
That done I had dinner and despite my very best efforts to get an early night I’m writing this blog as I can’t bloody sleep…. might have caught a bit too much sun I think 😎😎😎😎😲
Early flight and back to work by 11.00…. if all goes to plan…. so til next month Portugal that’s a wrap thank you and good night…. what’s left of it☹