I don’t like writing about the last day. It was the same thing in 2015. I left the last day’s report for months, unwilling to empty the cache and be done with the experience. A last thread connecting my experiences to the present.
But the time has come and with all the riding I’ve been doing since the race it’s fair to say that new experiences are coming much faster than in 2015.
The last day is not a happy start. I am sore. I see a hockey player at breakfast who is very sore. Very saddle sore. I am free of that kind of pain this year. On the other hand, my legs and head and eyes and heart are all tired. All wanting to sleep in, even when the alarm jolts me upright on my little cot at 6am.
There is still work to do every morning, and every morning the challenge feels a bit harder as the fatigue sets in. Getting organized is crucial. There are 50 things to think about every morning and every night. I would appreciate an assistant. Perhaps that’s the answer next time.
Administrative duties notwithstanding, the day is clear and the mood is festive at the start line. Some truly happy folks. Some truly hideous bike gear. Not your watermelon suit obviously Grant. I have envy. The setting is something magical, in the old courtyard, the flowers, the cobbles.
We roll easy to start, then hit a longish climb up some double track, steep enough to dismount at some point. It’s good – get the legs spun out, the lactic out. Feels better already.
There is some deep valley heat sink to pass through and a couple of road climbs. The tarmac sears my mind. I long for cool single-track. I get hot tepid single-track. Flat tire for Dead Goat. He has a very long walk to the next checkpoint.
Some of us group up and we zip along at a decent pace. Eventually, I lose the pack again, drop back and find ice cream. I load up on sugar, then proceed to my favorite spot on the race – the beach! On the way I pass a café full of riders – maybe 20 or so. I jeer and taunt them as I go by, to my amusement and that of other patrons in the café. I know there’ll be payback, I imagine them scrambling like enemy fighter pilots ready to pursue. For now the rocks are out of my backpack, and I’m flying, having fun.
The coast is so inviting in this part of Portugal – really rugged, clifftop, wide open dunes, something similar to beaches I used to hang out in Australia. Would love to peel off the race gear and dive in. Maybe sometime! At least the moment is worthy of some pictures, and Eric and Rob and I walk across the beach like happy Canadian geese.
On the brutal steep climb out of the beach I get passed (of course) by the South Park crew, then the fast Canadians. Then a couple of S Africans. Ahh, if only I hadn’t wiped out so hard on Day 4 – right? Sure inner sissy bike rider, sure. I don’t really care about losing a few places, because it won’t change my overall standing now anyway. And regardless, am going as fast as I can anyway. Am able to climb the steep chutes up to the main road this year. Extra granny gears helping so much.
We round to the road, back on tarmac for one last long climb to the home stretch. The general region of Sagres welcomes us via a series of long, empty beach roads. Double tracks lined with scrub, sand and wind turbines. There are hippies in vans, babes in bikinis, overweight campers in lawn chairs. I love the incongruity of the scene. I want to stop for tapas and play boules to a thrash metal soundtrack.
The final miles are a headwind headache. Hunger has returned. I need more ice cream! I see a rider on the final road way off in the distance. I power down on the final road and catch my old friend from Day 3 who is much less irritated to see me today. I tow and we weave the final few km’s together and I have a last cursing fit at the complex final series of turns, losing minutes figuring it out.
Finally, at long last down the beach road to the finish. I’m numb inside but the pictures later (thank you Jackie) show a very happy, very contented face. We pose for finish line pics, we taunt each other. Such a great feeling of comradery.
The party is cranking and the beers are flowing. Food is everywhere. We’re all in and out of the ocean. Clothes abandoned. We should just stay here and BBQ into the night. But sadly, after all the speeches and congratulations, we have to pack our bikes up, check into our rooms and prepare to return to Lisbon the next day.
It’s a drunken comedy getting back to the hotel. We get lost again. Bikes are fallen off, things are dropped, but we all make it back in one piece eventually. It’s hard not to laugh about these things now. After the chores are done, we sit outside, maybe 20 or 30 riders, drinking, relaxing, relieved that we don’t need to ride more tomorrow.
Dinner is excellent – has a banquet feel to it. Lots more speeches, and then the organizers recognize every rider, calling them up in reverse order of standings – whether you completed the whole race or not. I think it’s a fitting tribute to everyone’s effort. It’s easy to sit now and think it’s just another bike race, but the reality is that so much effort and planning and preparation goes into the event that it’s important to take a moment and recognize this. I think the organizers succeeded very well in this regard.
I’m delighted to receive my 42nd place finish – it’s a finish in the top half or all starters, and even though I know I can still do better, I also take pleasure in knowing I did so much better this year than last time.
Who knows what 2019 will bring. For now, the evening is ours and we enjoying sitting up late and celebrating into the night.
Obrigado e boa noite!