“Portugal!” By Chad Haga

 

Well, I’m back in Colorado after a successful trip to Portugal! I’m just gonna give you snippets of observations and experiences from the trip. Enjoy!

I had a blast racing over there and the country was great. The food was delicious, and every town we stopped in (or bounced through on cobbled streets) was beautiful, and the general public loves to watch bike racing.

The language was hard to understand–written Portuguese looks fairly similar to Spanish, so I was able to discern many of the words. Spoken, though, the language sounds like a German or Dutch imitating Spanish. More than a few times, the language barrier had us scrambling to communicate, and we found ourselves speaking broken Spanish in the hopes that maybe it would work. It didn’t.

Trans-Atlantic flights are long, but they go a lot faster when your personal TV works. The Life of Pi was a great movie.

We didn’t get to do a ton of touristy stuff, but a few of our easy rides found us duck-walking through castles in our bike shoes. Castles are awesome! The castle at Marvao (the location of the stage 1 finish) was built in the 9th century.

Here are the race summaries I posted on facebook, along with the videos of each stage.  For some more photos, check out the cyclingnews article about the trip.

Classica Aveiro-Fatima.
Today was our first race here in Portugal, my first in Europe. As I understand it, the race was part of Portugal’s national race calendar, but not a UCI race. 171km with 3 categorized climbs towards the end. The racing was awesome. Very aggressive, constant attacking for almost the whole day. I was in several moves, including one big one that stayed away for a while. Then Salas got away on the first climb in a small group and didn’t come back until after the second climb. We prerode the finishing circuit yesterday, so we knew the climb and the run-in to the finish well. The last time up the climb, just 6km from the finish, I gave it a go but could not get clear, so we reverted to our field sprint plan. It was crazy and chaotic, and our train got broken up. With just two turns to go, gaps were opening and a few riders were slipping away. I saw Ken was about to jump to close the gap, so I took a run up his inside with 2 turns to go and he slid in behind me. With him on my wheel, I jumped into the u-turn with 700m to go and sprinted out of the turn, getting him to the small group ahead of us with about 400m to go. He moved over behind them as I dropped anchor, then dusted them in the sprint for the win. When I say dusted, I mean they posted the results with a time gap between him and 2nd place. In summary, Portugal is awesome, and bike racing is quite fun.

Volta ao Alentejo
Stage 1
My legs were great today. Going into the cat 3 climb at 150k in, Jesse and i got caught up in a stupid crash caused by others. I got going again faster than him, and was able to make it back to the group. Then I wasted a little bit of energy following moves up the climb. Hit the final climb in good position, had really snappy legs and was on anything that moved. One guy slipped away while I was boxed in, and the group spent a lot of time looking at each other. With a bit more than a k to go, I attacked and was clawed back. I recovered a little, and with 500m to go hit it again, getting clear. I blasted past the last two from the all-day break and closed the leader to 15m in the final switchback as the road leveled off with 150m to go. I didn’t have the snap to kick again, and was passed in the final meters by 2 guys. Had I waited just a little longer to attack, that race would’ve been mine. Live to fight another day….

Stage 2
Getting closer…. Crosswinds today made for an active and feisty field, with lots of groups coming and going. At 85k in, I managed to slip into a 10-man break. The winds gave us the advantage as the field splintered behind us. We worked well together until guys started to fade. With 10k to go, we still had over a minute lead. Inside 2k, I followed the first attack, then countered in the gutter going into a roundabout, which opened gaps like I hoped. Only 1 guy followed, and it turned out to be the one guy I knew I couldn’t outsprint, Stuyven from bontrager. We were committed, though, and he out kicked me in the finale. I’ve moved into 2nd in GC, and the real fun starts as the weather turns for the worst. Yeehaw!

Stage 3
Today’s stage was exciting and boring at the same time. 20 minutes before the start, we were huddled in the van as waves of pea-sized hail rained down. Then the sun came out, although we were rained on a few times during the race. Being 2nd on GC (and wearing the points jersey) meant I was to stay protected in the field all day. There were several very fast sections with mild crosswinds, so the 11-tooth got a lot of time today. The break didn’t get away until 120k in, and we slowed to a crawl for half an hour. The guys kept me out of the wind, though, and I averaged 134bpm for the whole day. The last 20k were downhill with a tailwind, so you can imagine how much fun I was having while fighting to stay at the front at 70kph. Our leadout train assembled, but was swarmed with 3k to go and then it became a fight for survival as the road plunged on a technical descent into town. Ken freelanced it, taking the win like a boss and I came in 20th or so after closing gaps the last 2k to get same time on the stage.

Stage 4
50 deg and raining hard at the start of today’s stage. We embro’d up and rolled out for a thorough soaking. It dumped rain on us for 60k, and nothing interesting happened until we reached a town with a raised railroad crossing at a very oblique angle. Guys went down everywhere, and I managed to slow significantly and alter my approach, but still ended up on the ground. Not sure what happened, maybe somebody’s bike hit my wheel. No big deal, jumped up and rejoined the field. Mild winds excited the field as we changed directions frequently along the coast, but we stayed together. Then after the final sprint of the day, Zirbel and Zwiz attacked together on a tailwind false flat climb and the Portuguese teams whose race-losing tactics have baffled us since our arrival let them go. Uhhh…you just let two big TT guys roll away with 15k downhill to the finish…. Spoiler : they would never come back. At the top, the field started gearing up for the sprint and we took control of the front to stay out of trouble. Thankfully the roads were dry by this point. We kept the pace high but under control, and the other teams let us. About 4k out, I heard the giant pileup that would whittle the field down to 40 riders. We delivered Ken (and ourselves) safely to the beginning of the technical descent into town. Rather than fight for position, I floated the turns, taking good lines and avoiding the multiple crashes. Sandy final turns persuaded Ken to call it a day–we already had the victory–and I finished same time with the group while Zirbel moved way up on GC. Tomorrow’s stage is short but tough, I can’t wait!

Stage 5
In today’s final stage of Volta ao Alentejo, we went all in to try and seize the overall from the Bontrager team. The circuit featured a fast cat4 climb that we would do 4 times. The guys were attacking from the gun, keeping constant pressure on bontrager to chase. 20k in, we assembled on the front before a good crosswind stretch that we checked out before the start. After making the turn, we put it in the gutter and went full gas for nearly 10 minutes, knocking the field down to about 50-60 riders. From that point on, nobody really want to race besides us. Our guys continued to flog themselves, but bontrager held strong. The 4th time up the climb, we put in a team attack to launch me. Unfortunately nobody followed, so we adjusted the plan to go for the stage win with me. I flatted with 30k remaining, motor pacing back up to the caravan. Because of a couple of flats and exhaustion, I only had Salas helping me into the base of the climb. Once it pitched up 2k from the finish, I was on my own in the scrum. I forced myself to stay patient and allow the other racers to pull back the little attacks as we twisted upward. The final turn was a 500m to go. The front of the race came back together just before the turn. I was 10th wheel, had momentum as the road flattened out temporarily, and the inside line was open. I’d had enough patience and didn’t want to leave it to a group sprint because there were still better sprinters than me in the group. I jumped hard up the inside, just making it past the leader before he dove into the corner. I took it hot, coming out of the turn with a 10m gap and stretching it. 300m to go, one rider caught me and started to go by. I slid in behind him, and he exploded. So I jumped again, desperate for the finish to arrive. I just kept sprinting, checking between my legs and seeing a wheel back there, but not getting any closer. So I kept sprinting, still leading. 50m to go, I refused to slow down. Then 20m before the line, an orange blur (I was crosseyed by this point) came by me. I actually found the breath to scream “Nooo!” I was caught so off guard. I nearly fell off my bike after I crossed the line. So I wrapped up my euro debut with two 2nds, a 4th, and 2nd in GC in a UCI stage race, hungry for more.

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