Racing The Algarve with British National Champion Ben Thomas

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10.03.16 at 12:34 pm

This past weekend I raced the UCI category 2 Algarve Bike Challenge, a marathon stage race taking place over 3 days. It’s the 4th year the event has taken place and I thought it was about time I checked it out. It was my first visit to southern Portugal, the Algarve is known for its beautiful coastline and sunny climate, and I was hoping the trails would be just as good.

The event was a pair’s race so I teamed up with Austrian Uwe Hochenwarter who rides for the Craft Rocky Mountain Pro Team. We’d never met before but after chatting over the winter we were optimistic about our chances. The event lasted 3 days and included a night prologue, plus 2 marathon stages covering a total of 188km’s.

The first stage was a short 2.5km prologue dash around the narrow twisty cobbled historic streets of the host town Tavira. Taking place on Friday evening the Exposure Lights were needed. The streets were lined with spectators either supporting from the cafes with a coffee or surrounding the more technical sections of the course. There was also the odd cat to dodge, can’t crash into a black cat, that really would be bad luck! Uwe and I didn’t get a chance to pre ride the prologue course so some sections were a bit of a surprise; we definitely lost a few seconds to our GC rivals but knew a few seconds today would mean nothing after the following days 100km stage in the mountains.

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At a moment like this it’s important to not lose your head, just keep moving and hope for some kind of recovery

There was a nervous start to stage 2 with everyone keen to get to the front before we turned off the tarmac. With 100km and 2300m of ascent there was no need to get carried away too early. Uwe and I quickly found ourselves settled in at the front with 5 other teams including JBG 2 Pro Team and Texpa Simplon. JBG went off the front after about 25km and weren’t seen again. A couple of teams had crept ahead of Uwe and me but soon we moved up into second place with both of us feeling good.

50km in Uwe hit the wall, boom, no more power! There was no choice but to back right off. That’s the dynamic of pairs racing. At a moment like this it’s important to not lose your head, just keep moving and hope for some kind of recovery. Also around this point both of us had a big crash on a river crossing. The crossing was one of many and looked simple enough with a concrete base but the flow of water and greasy surface ripped away our front wheels. We both hit the deck. It’s pretty funny now looking back as we both had a good swim at that point but it could quite easily have been race over. Luckily we only suffered some lost skin.

We were down to 7th place but got back up to speed for the last 20km. After 4 hours 30 we crossed the line only a few minutes down on 3rd place. All to play for again the following day, a podium was still possible.

He was the hammer and I was the nail on this day!

Sunday’s final stage was shorter at 85km but with more climbing. The ascents were fairly gradual for the first kilometres, again I felt great but we’d agreed to keep it steady. The middle half of the course was a nightmare for me, it wasn’t that I was feeling bad but I just don’t have the torque for the steep climbs like Uwe, for sure he was the hammer and I was the nail on this day! As the agonisingly steep hills went on and on we gained a place or 2 as others punctured on the rocky loose descents. Whilst other struggled on the descents we gained the time back we’d lost on the climbs.  With my new USE Ultimate RIP handlebars my Turner Czar is now set up perfectly for me; with 9 degree bend and 5mm drop they really helped my confidence on the downhill’s.

The last 15km’s were much more my style with short punchy hills and some great rocky trails including some tasty singletrack. Team Primaflor-Orbea had latched onto us; they knew all the cheeky lines so had clearly been out on course practising. We needed to drop them and put some seconds into them before the finish to overtake them on GC. I was back taking turns on the front putting in a good few attacks to weaken Primaflor. We dropped them on the final climb but were somehow caught by a flying Berria Factory UCI Team. We raced Berria all the way to the finish line but couldn’t put enough time into Primaflor to overtake them on GC. We finished 5th on this stage.

JBG 2 Pro Team took the overall victory, Team Texpa Simplon were 2nd, Berria Factory UCI Team 3rd, Primaflor-Orbea 4th. Then Uwe and myself in 5th. Algarve Bike Challenge turned out to be a great few days of racing. The course was excellent, the organisation super slick and the course marking the best we’ve seen. The Algarve stood up to its reputation of beautiful coastline and sunny climates, the host town of Tavira is well worth a visit. We leave with some good early season racing in our legs, some UCI points and a big motivation for the next races.