Lisbon Faro Day 3: The End Of The Ride

 There were some moments of this today

Broken on the hill

But it ended like this

The end

As is the tradition in southern Portugal, the day dawned bright and clear.  It looked like it was going to be another hot day.  Everybody seemed very cheery in the morning despite being kept awake during the night with the local club pumping out incredibly loud techno until 1:30am.  That was followed by a bunch of German Harley riders arriving in the hotel car-park at 3am and...insult/injury etc...the local dogs going absolutely mad for an hour starting at 6am.  I'm not sure the Hotel Colina dos Mouros is going to be getting good reviews on Trip Advisor.

We had one drop out this morning because Paul's bike was completely broken.  Even given the high concentration of bike maintenance skills in the group, there was nothing we could do.  Paul, sadly, had to pack his bike and head to the airport.  See you next time Paul.

Greg looking as cheery as ever

A happy Karim.  Maybe he knew it would be over soon.

Big shout out to Mick who drove the van and managed the logistics.

Layton looking appropriately concerned about the forthcoming climbing.

My bike had been knocked over while I was in breakfast (with absolutely no evidence, I blame the German Harley riders).  The derailleur had taken a knock and that would come back to haunt me later.

We "clicked and rolled" for the last time at 8:45 and spun along in the cool morning air.  Very soon we turned off onto the small winding farm roads in the hills above the Algarve Coast.  It was beautiful.  The peloton remained pretty cohesive and the banter flowed freely. 

There were a few short sharp climbs including a short 10% drag up onto a dam.  Time for a Rouleur style shot of two lonely cyclists sweeping down a hill.

It was like this for at least 30km

Despite being rolling and beautiful, the road was trending upwards.  Not very steep but enough to sap the minimal amount of srength and stamina that we had retained after two hard days.

The first coffee stop was early.  After crossing a railway line -- always strangely scary even though  trains are a lot easier to predict than cars -- we hit Messines which was the designated stop. 

Look out!  Trains!!

The cohesion of the peloton fell apart very quickly.  Some headed down one way streets, some just stopped at the nearest (and incorrect) cafe.  I foolishly headed up into the town which was quaint and beautiful.

Quaint, beautiful, absolutely bloody massive cobbles.

Even quainter but with even more massive bloody cobbles and some bloody potholes too.

A number of us did finally make it to the "correct" cafe to find Mick.

"Any of you gentlemen fancy a tart?"

Mick distributed some of his stash of cakes, tarts, pastries and crisps.  Despite it only being an hour or so after everybody had had a 2,000 calorie breakfast, there was an almost obsessive desire to eat more calories.  Because "you deserve it".  

Bike park.

The day started to go downhill (but only metaphorically) from here.  The hot and fetid headwind which we had endured yesterday as we cycled south had helpfully swung round to the east so we experienced the joy for a second day.  

I spent the first hour on my own wondering when everybody would catch me up.  I hadn't counted on Greg having a third tart at the coffee stop.

The first to speed by me were Karim and Ashley who were on a mission.  Karim is by far the strongest rider in the group and really wanted to do an extra loop of about 20km at the top of the main climb.  To be able to do that he and Ashley needed to put the hammer down and so they did.  Ashley didn't look entirely comfortable hanging on the back but it was a brave effort.

Brave and unbowed.

The air got hotter.  The road continued to just trend upwards at 1% or 2%.  It was dispiriting and grim.  A small mechanical issue with my front wheel was a flavour of what was to come.

When I was a boy I used to drink cider in bus shelters.  Now I fix bikes.

After what seemed like a long time, Adrian, Guy and Layton caught me up and we cycled together for a while.  We ran out of water and stopped in a truly terrible cafe.

All we needed was a seat and two cokes each.

Right after this, we came round a bend and straight into a short sharp climb.  12% average, pitches of 14%...brutal.  I slammed my gear into the lowest gear and the chain promptly dropped between the cassette and the spokes.  Guy stopped with me and I got very very oily fixing the chain.  Guy headed off and I remounted and immediately did the same thing.  The beautiful hills of the Algarve echoed with some very very very rude words.  The bike was in a bit of a bad way.  I could get the lowest gear (essential at 14%) but many of the other ones didn't work.  I was also filthy.

The nearest soap and water is 50km away

The hill continued.  Layton ran out of water, we lost the van, we got sweaty, we stopped.

In retrospect, I am very surprised how happy everybody looks in this picture. 

The van arrived, we rehydrated and continued up the hill.  An eldritch Sean Kelly sat on my shoulder and intoned "Well Carleton, I tink dis group is totally cooked.  It's going to be majorly difficult for them.  Dey have been on the rivet for hours and in dis heat they're going to be majorly suffering.  Back in my day we would do 250k stages with 10,000m of climbing in Morocco and think nutting of it.  The human growth hormone helped a lot tho"

The climb was intended to end at Barranco do Velho.  Karim and Ashley were already there but there was an option to forget the final climb and just go straight to the alternate lunch and coffee stop at Loulé.  The group reformed in dribs and drabs and short discussion ensued about whether or not we would continue up the climb or just sack it off and head to Loulé.  Looking at the photographs below, I suspect nobody is in any doubt as to what the decision was.

Tim broken

"I am *not* going up any more hills"

"More hills?  You're having a laugh..."

Despite hoping that the route to Loulé was a nice downhill 15km, there were a couple of little bonus climbs thrown in to completely destroy what was left of our will to live.  Even the stunning scenery and the perfect road surface wasn't enough to offset how empty everybody was.

We had intended to have a spot of lunch in Loulé because it had only been a couple of hours since cakes and pastries and we must have least 1,000 of the 3,000 calories we had eaten since waking up.

The kitchen was closed and, apart from a couple of dodgy looking kebab shops, pretty much everywhere to eat was closed.  We found a bar which served beer and shandy (very slowly) and played the most awful music at high volume.  Even a judicious application of JJ's "angry eyes" didn't seem to influence the bar owner to reduce the volume.  🎵Una paloma blanca🎵.  Great.

A subdued and tired peloton in Loulé.

My brain was about to melt due to the non-stop river of middle-of-the-road europop...  It was only 10km down to Karim's house and the choice was between leaving early or ending up in a Loulé police station having assaulted a bar owner.

The road down from Loulé was busy, fast and may serve a dual purpose as a ersatz race track for motorcyclists and young men in pimped up cars.  I only had two buttock-clenching, rear-wheel-skid, emergency stops as cars driven by idiots pulled out of side junctions without looking.  I consider myself lucky it was so few.

Then it was over.  We cruised into Quinta do Lago, carving round the roundabouts and swooping down the wide and shaded boulevards.  Trish and Sally were there to meet us and fill us full of beer, coke and white wine.

The perfect hosts.

Greg explaining his nutrition strategy.  "Yeah, I just eat all the time".

Adrian contemplating packing his bike...

We got the team together for the final time and Godric gave out the awards.  Unfortunately I don't have the complete list but everybody got a shout out and a round of applause.  

"And the award for best awards goes!".

JJ spoke about how lucky we all are to be able to do this year after year.  It's a physical challenge and a mental challenge but, while we are not unique in doing this, the fact that we can do this year after year for nearly 14 years is quite unusual.   It is something we should celebrate.

All done

That's it until next year.

On a personal note, I want to thank everybody for being such great company over the past four days.  A big thanks to JJ.  Rarely in my life am I confident enough in somebody else's planning skills to completely abrogate all responsibility for organisation.  It's quite liberating to know that somebody else has sorted everything out.  Also, many thanks to Mick for being unfailingly cheerful and helpful.  Without Mick driving the van we would all have to carry our own stuff and, from personal experience, I can confirm that it would be a miserable experience.

Finally, thank you to the entire group who have allowed me to stick my camera in their face when they're feeling crap and allowed me to take black and white photos which emphasise wrinkles and don't do middle aged men any favours...sorry.  I've also been allowed fairly free hand in reporting the trip without fear or favour.  It has been fun doing this with such a great group of people.

We have laughed and suffered together...and we will do it again.  

Postscript:  Those awards in full.
  • Marginal Gain Award (for tech innovation) - Christopher
  • Marginal Pain Award (for tech incompetence) - Tim (*Paul self disqualified as DNF)
  • Power to Weight Coefficient Award (joint) - Adrian and Ash
  • Comedy Cramp Award - Dik
  • Best Dressed Rider  - Tony
  • Most Cheerful Rider - Guy
  • Best Newcomer - Kharim 
  • Modern Day Samuel Pepys Award - Ewan
  • Gentleman Amateur Rider Award - William
  • Back to the Future Award - Lane 
  • Best Comeback Award - Layton 
  • ‘Day Captain 2030’ Development Programme Apprenticeship Award - Greg 
  • The ‘We couldn’t do it without you’ award (joint) - JJ and Mick
  • Best Awards Speech - Godric.