After racing Algarve Bike Challenge last year it was an easy decision to return to this event which was taking place for a 5th year. The host town of Tavira is a great place to visit and the residents welcome the race with open arms. The organisation is of the highest quality - excellent website, slick registration, precision course marking, marshals at every junction, amazing trails. The weather is sunny and hot… oh wait, no perhaps not always… but most of the time. You are by the sea which means gelato is close by. There’s UCI points and prizes on offer to attract top riders. Do I need to carry on?
Arriving in the small traditional city of Tavira riders can choose from 1 of 3 official event hotels, Vila Galé Tavira, Vila Galé Albacora or Cabanas Park Resort. All 4 star hotels are well suited to hold the 800 participants plus family, friends and team staff. A 24h bike park, bike service station and massage area are in available in each hotel.
Algarve Bike Challenge is a pair’s event over 3 days with a prologue and 2 marathon stages. Pairs racing can be brilliant but you are only as strong as your partner. I’ve ridden with possibly the best pair’s partner in the world but sometimes things don’t work out. When you or your partner get ill there’s nothing you can do. Here I was racing with fellow Brit Tom Bell, we’d raced together successfully at a different stage race last year so I was confident that we could perform well and after finishing 5th overall here last year I was confident we could at least match this result.
The race venue including all starts and finishes, bike wash and bike park is located right in city centre. A pasta party after all stages was hosted by the ancient fish market. A perfect place to host an epic challenge as the Algarve Bike Challenge! Tavira is arguably the Algarve’s prettiest town with its authentic Portuguese charm.
The opening stage takes place on Friday night around the city streets traversing cobbles, steps, steep climbs, café chairs, etc. It’s only 2.5kms and about 5 minutes long, we agreed it wasn’t worth breaking our new Simplon bikes or ourselves so if we lost a few seconds in the prologue it was ok because there was 2 big marathon stages to follow. We did as planned, not losing much time and had a blast racing through the dark cobbled streets with our Exposure lights.
Onto day 2 and a huge storm hits Algarve. Torrential rain and gale force winds overnight and in the morning the organiser was forced to change the course and move the start time back from 9.30 till 11.30. Right choice as by 11.30 the sun is back out. The course changes meant the organiser could divert around some of the river crossings which was fortunate as the water was running down the mountains pretty fast! Off the start Tom was immediately hitting the red line but the lead group was disappearing, something was wrong, we were going backwards quicker than we were going forwards. Tom was on his limit, I was cruising. This shouldn’t be happening. Tom had picked up an illness somewhere, maybe whilst traveling and with energy levels low were weren’t going to win this race. Once I’d got over the initial disappointment I actually quite enjoyed the stage taking in the views and riding some fun trails in the sun. Tomorrow was a new day, another opportunity.
Tom was feeling a bit better the morning of stage 3, we agreed we’d go his pace and hope we could salvage a reasonable result. We started steady, approximately 20th UCI team by the first or second feed and I thought Tom would then be able to light the afterburners and we could storm our way up the through the field in the final half of the stage. Sadly it wasn’t to be, his body was never going to recover.
At the front of the race Frans Claus and Joris Massaer had a 2 second lead going into the final stage over Team Texpa Simplon. Whilst it was the Team Habitat of Kevin Panhuyzen and Frank Beemer who took the final stage it was Claus and Massaer who took the overall. Frans has had a strong start to the year and continued his run of form winning Algarve Bike Challenge. “During the last stage we enjoyed the trails a lot, which are embedded in the beautiful wild nature of the Algarve. With a fast first stage and steady second stage we could keep our yellow leader jersey. Before the start we didn't expect to win so of course we are both very satisfied with this great UCI victory.”
Panhuyzen and Beemer finished 2nd overall, with Wolfgang Kreen and Joao Moreira for Team Irbal/LoveTiles/Kaiser in 3rd.
In the Women UCI category Celina Carpinteiro and Susana Alonso weren't strong enough to hold the attack from Anne Tauber and Lisa Mitterbauer who won the final stage win and the overall victory. Carpinteiro and Alonso finished 2nd overall and in 3rd place was Charlotte Davies and Merce Pacios.
So our race didn’t work out but I still had a great time. It was a good few days training and a nice way to test the new bikes and equipment. I now go back into a big block of training before the next couple of races in early April.
The Algarve Bike Challenge is a special event in a truly amazing place and an event I’d recommended to anyone. After the final stage finish I actually headed back out for some bonus miles on the road, 2 hours later I was back at the hotel with a big smile on my face, I love this place.