National cyclo-cross champion Helen Wyman leaves the frozen fields of Belgium and gets some endurance training in with two weeks in sunny Portugal.
Having started my cyclo-cross season at the beginning of September, which seems like an age ago, I knew I was in for a long season. So I’d always planned a short racing break for an endurance training block in a warmer climate.
Having always done this at home in Belgium previously, I was pretty excited about the possibility of no frozen drink bottles and wearing less than 20 layers for a four hour ride in the kind of conditions you come to love and hate in Belgium. Following the advice of Peter Kay, I visited Teletext and located the cheapest break I could find to a country with a warm climate and Portugal came up top.
We arrived in perfect sunshine and 23-degree temperatures at 10am in the morning to our four-star resort on the cliff top with sea views. I wasn’t quite sure if someone was playing a practical joke on us as it’s not very often you get such a great hotel for so little money, but five days later and no one has kicked us out yet. This trip actually costs less than the taxi cost me last time I had to get home from the airport without a lift.
I’ve never been to Portugal before but everyone we had spoken to said it was amazing training with really quiet roads. The only alarming advice we were given was ‘watch out for the dogs’. Anyone who knows me will know my slight fear of dogs, especially when I’m out riding and really don’t want to get eaten so I wasn’t actually looking forward to this part.
So off we went with a rather shoddy map in hand to investigate the terrain. We saw some wind turbines on a range of hills and decided that was the direction we were going for. Just before we started our first ascent we rode past a small house on the edge of the road with a rather large scary looking dog. I noticed him just as we got level and he was running at full pace towards us. Just as he got to the edge of the gate in true comedy style the chain run out and jerked him backwards a good few yards. It’s fair to say Stef actually told me how funny it looked as I was already a good 200 metres up the road still at full sprint pace.
From the top of the hill we had seen a really nice looking lake so on the second day we decided to ride around this on what looked like good roads on the map. Knowing there are quite a lot of gravel roads we thought we would be okay by following the signposts even though it was getting more like mountain bike trails on a road bike. Ten kilometres later we saw the lake and it looked truly beautiful although the descent on the still gravel track didn’t look quite as inviting. As we tried to find a real road again I was beginning to wonder if the ‘Hills Have Eyes’ was actually filmed in Portugal and maybe I shouldn’t have dropped Stef on the last climb until I finally heard a van and headed in that direction.
For anyone who has never been training here, it is amazing. We are staying near Portimao on the south coast of the Algarve. It’s been 20-25 degrees everyday since we have been here and the roads are empty and in really good condition. There are hills and valleys to ride in as well as the coast roads, and the coastline is truly beautiful. To top it all off last night we went to a local restaurant called ‘All Beef’ (a vegetarian’s delight) which has to be the nicest restaurant I have ever eaten in. In true Master Chef style ‘it was luuuurveeely’.
Unfortunately we have to return from this paradise next week and back to northern European weather. I have two races in Germany followed by Koksijde – one of my favourite World Cup venues – back in Belgium a week later. I’m actually very excited as most of my family are coming to watch and I can’t wait. Till then.
The Hills Have Eyes: all alone in Portugal