It seems as though there’s a new massive mountain bike stage race popping up every year in a different corner of the world; each one gunning for that prestigious title: ‘Toughest Mountain Bike Race’.
While that title was held by Costa Rica’s infamous La Ruta De Los Conquistadores for many years, I think it’s safe to say the bar has been set much higher over the last decade. There are a handful of contenders, but I would argue that in 2017 that title belongs to Europe’s Transportugal.
This 1000km, 8 day race starts at the northern border between Spain and Portugal and spans the entire country to the southern most tip of Europe in a small village called Sagres. Each stage is entirely unsupported and racers must rely on a GPS to navigate the course through open city streets, highways, dirt roads, and trails. Water must be obtained through various taps and springs along the side of the course (coordinates of safe water are marked in the GPS) and food must be carried or purchased at cafe’s along the way. Weather, wild dogs, goats, cattle, tractors, slippery ancient cobbles, and constant surprises are just a handful of the variables you’ll encounter over this epic adventure.
My weapon of choice for this 625 mile race? The KTM Myroon Prestige with a Factory Edition Fox Step-Cast fork and new SRAM Eagle drivetrain. The only changes I made to the bike included a Stages Powermeter and some beefed-up Snakeskin Schwalbe Thunder Bert tires. Despite being pretty rough and technical in many sections, I prefer the efficiency and simplicity of the hardtail, especially for races as long as this.
The first stages feature some of the best mountains in Portugal, concluding at the highest point in the country at nearly 6,000ft. This is also one of the most popular wine regions in the country, so the majority of each stage was spent racing through vineyard after vineyard. With the sun shining and after 350km of racing, I was comfortably sitting 3rd in the General Classification and my light Myroon helped me win a handful of KOM sections on the bigger mountains.
These stages are where things started to change for me and many others. We started the 4th day with a 5000 ft descent in 30 degree temperatures, fog, and rain. Entering into the flats, the mileage began to increase each day. While race time was expected to decrease due to the faster speeds of the flat stages, a brutal headwind combined with endless mud made for multiple 7 hour days on the bike. After a puncture early in stage 4 and stage 5, I was left to fight the headwind alone each day desperately chasing back into the shelter of the group.
On stage 6 we were met with the worst of the rain. Temperatures were in the 40’s, but the relentless precipitation left the first 40km of the stage under multiple inches of water. Knowing I needed to make up time, I attacked from the start hoping to put a good gap between myself and the other GC contenders before we reached the pavement and dry portion of the stage. Things were looking great as I made it through the first 20km of slop unscathed with a 5 minute gap to the next group. The rain even began to let up and the sun started to peak through just as I felt a terrible crunch followed by my cranks flinging free. Broken chain… After 300km of mud and wet sand, the chain finally gave out. The first time I’ve ever broken one in a race.
I quickly pulled out a link and started to get it repaired. Unfortunately my fingers were so frozen at this point it was a struggle. As group after group went by, another racer pulled off and helped me fix it (thanks Russel!) Back rolling again, I’d spend yet another day all alone in the wind, trying to catch back on to the group.
On stage 7, the sun made another appearance. Adding to the good news, we were headed back into the mountains. With nearly 800km in my legs, I felt surprisingly good at this point in the race. At the 90km mark of the days stage, I made a break for it with 40km and one big climb to go. Myself and one other were able to stay away setting the fastest time on the stage.
Stage 8 was a similar story, with more sunshine and everyone’s spirits relatively high given the final stage of the massive event. At 70km I made another break and solo’d to the finish on the beach in Sagres.
After 1000km and 60,000ft of climbing, I finished 6th in the General Classification in my first Transportugal. I was hoping for more, but such is racing. I’m leaving Portugal with many new friends, an even stronger admiration for the country and people of Portugal, and a huge boost of fitness that I’m looking forward to taking back home with me.
I hope you’ll join me on my next Nature’s Bakery fueled adventure!
Instagram – @TrevorDeRuise
Next stop – Belgian Waffle Ride!
Photos ©Pedro Cardoso/Ciclonatur