re-sized cycling across Portugal

A mountain bike Adventure Race has started in Portugal

Trans-Portugal Garmin mountain bike endurance race

The brainchild of Antonio Malvar and sponsored by Garmin, the American GPS company, the Trans-Portugal Garmin is a 9 day, north to south crossing of Portugal began on the 29th April and is due to finish on the 8th May. This is a formidable 1,150 km off-road mountain bike race across forest tracks, gravel roads and steep single tracks on clifftops. It is one of the toughest mountain bike stage races around and is a true ‘trans’ event as riders traverse the entire length of Portugal, from Braganca in the North to Sagres in the South.

It has full GPS assistance throughout.

This event began 20 years ago as an 18-day tour. However, it has now become known as the bike race with uphill – a total of 24,500m of vertical climbing with the average stage running approximately 125 kilometres.

CICLONATUR DESPORTOS LDA is entirely responsible for conceiving, designing, promoting and organizing the race. They have done this with great style for several years now. Nathan, a cyclist from the USA who competed in the 2008 event, said “The people who organize the race, Ciclonatur, are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met and by far the best race organization I’ve ever seen. We’re talking about 18 people whose only interest is that the racers enjoy the race and that everything is taken care of in every moment.”

The Trans-Portugal is an individual 9-stage endurance race which is open to anyone over the age of 18 and this year is limited to 80 participants, of which 65% are from countries other than Portugal. No motorised support is allowed. The   competitors race simultaneously against one another on each stage. The intention is obviously to get to the finish line in the quickest possible time each day. The winner is the person who accumulates the shortest total time after adding any time penalty that may be attributed and all time allowances deducted.

There is only one general classification for this race: no age groups or gender classifications, although there is a “handicap” system that, depending on your age and gender, get you a time percentage head start every morning.

The Trans-Portugal is innovative in the mountain bike racing world in that there are no course markers at all. You rely entirely on a Garmin GPS. Previous racers have found that it is surprisingly easy to follow the course on a GPS and far more difficult than you would think to get lost. It is possible to overshoot a turning and every rider does that a few times, but very quickly you will see that your course has diverged from the purple race course line and it’s merely a matter of turning back a few metres.

It also has a slightly different approach to the ‘standard’ mountain bike stage race.  Firstly, it’s not a team event, which is unusual for a long stage race.  Secondly, the event is over 9 days, which is a couple of days longer then usual.  Thirdly, riders stay in hotels each evening, so there is no camping at all, which is probably the reason why the participant field is kept to a manageable number.  Finally, there is no support (feed or water stations or mechanics) provided en route – if support is needed for whatever reason then a time penalty will be awarded to the rider. Harsh, but efficient!

Fabulous scenery and you can see why racers who have the technical skills to carry out their own repairs on their equipment without outside help will certainly benefit in a race of this calibre.

Make no mistake, 1,150 kms on a bike is a lot of racing, but this is a race which is here to stay with many racers returning again and again. Portugal is a beautiful country and this race gives you the opportunity to really see it, to see places off the beaten track and to have the time, if not the breath!, to appreciate them.

The first stage of Transportugal GARMIN has been cited by many as the toughest stage of the race. During the 142 km between Bragança and Freixo de Espada-à-Cinta, athletes move down the “rocky” north and have a total elevation climb of 3,842 metres. Stage 2, completed yesterday, was 110 km with 2,892 metres of accumulated climbs. Only 7 stages to go…

We’ll end with a final comment from Nathan as it’s as good an advertisement for this race as anything else I’ve read: “I think that races run on GPS really could be the future of long distance racing in mountain biking. It was worth every penny spent to go and I would recommend it to anyone wanting to do a mountain bike stage race. In my opinion it has got to be among the best because the race is a challenge, but off the bike it’s not. No camping or waiting in lines for food or showers. Great hotels and food every day.  Very personal, and you get to meet so many different people.”

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