Portugal's Granfondo Senhora da Graça under the storm
Words : Edson Costa & Charlie Coquillard / Pictures: @GranfondoSraGraca
The bicycle race that wasn't meant to be
Senhora da Graça is one of the most emblematic places in Portuguese cycling. It is one of the mythical climbs of the Volta a Portugal (Portuguese Tour) and surrounded by some of the best scenery in the country. To top it all off, the roadside crowd is always present and vibrant. A truly incredible cycling event.
As emblematic as the race is, amateur cyclists also have the opportunity to challenge themselves and conquer this mythical climb. And can virtually race next to some of the big names in cycling. After having been postponed and canceled multiple times due to COVID-19, the Granfondo Senhora de Graça was one of the first sportives to go ahead after the pandemic. I was so excited to compete again, but I realised pretty early on that it would not be an easy day. The weather forecast a week before the event was not encouraging, predicting unstable weather with rain, high winds, and temperature drop.
On the race eve, with so much uncertainty about next morning's weather, the first challenge was choosing the garments to take. Long or short sleeves, leg warmers? Vest or jacket, windproof or waterproof? There were so many unanswerable questions that I ended up putting everything in the bag to choose only the following day when I'd be on the race site.
A Nightmare come true
I stayed 2 hours drive away from the race site, so I opened my blinds at 5AM before getting on the road. My worst fears were confirmed. It was rainy and windy, and it stayed that way during the 160KM I had to drive to get to the race site.
When I finally arrived in Mondim de Basto, the rain stopped, giving the other competitors and myself a bit of hope that it may not be as difficult as we thought. But I am an experienced mountain rider, and I knew that the weather would most likely be a lot worse at the top than in the valley. So I decided to pack in the rain jacket.
It was wet, very wet.
The calm before the storm
The race started at a good pace, and the first two climbs of the course were done quickly and almost without rain.
That was until we reached the first significant difficulty of the day, the climb to Alto da Barra. Then it started pouring. The higher we went, the worse it got. Rain was coming down heavier by the minute, wind gusts got stronger, and temperatures dropped below 6°C.
As hard as the climb was, the challenge was the downhill. 20 minutes of cold, gusty, wet descent. Riders were falling like flies. Crashes, hypothermia, quite a few riders went DNF in that part of the course; it really was a battle against the elements.
As hard as the climb was, the challenge was the downhill. 20 minutes of cold, gusty, wet descent. Riders were falling like flies.
Crashes, hypothermia, quite a few riders went DNF in that part of the course; it really was a battle against the elements.
Never forget your rain jacket
At that moment, I was grateful to have packed my rain jacket, which ended up giving me extra comfort against the rain and the cold. The 2-way zips are undoubtedly one of the most impressive features of this jacket, allowing me to regulate the temperature very effectively, sometimes opening the bottom zip, sometimes the top, and other times closing entirely as soon when the rain was heavy.
The last push
The elements calmed down for a little while but returned just when I reached the foot of Senhora da Graça. "right on time" I thought. That was the moment to give everything, enjoy the climb and use all the energy I had left to get to the top.
The feeling of accomplishment when crossing the line was terrific, I felt like I was on TV. I had seen so many great riders and legends cross that line, and here I was, doing it myself for the first time.
This was definitely a special place. It was, without a doubt, one of the most challenging days I spent on the bike, but it was also one that will be engraved in my memory forever.
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