Race Report: Trans Portugal 2018
Trans Portugal is an 8-day extreme mountain bike endurance event in early May that covers 1,000 kilometers and climbs around 60,000 feet. Riders must be highly self sufficient and have good physical conditioning. I had to wrap my head around course check points, timed sections/cut-offs, GPS tracking, and time penalties for various mishaps, not to mention being in a foreign country. You have to be prepared for mechanicals, physical demands, weather changes, nutrition/ hydration, mental endurance, and anything Mother Nature decides to throw your way.
I committed to the event just two months prior to the start. Minnesota winters are cold and filled with snow so I scrambled a bit to prepare. It required creativity to fit in a high-volume workload while balancing my job and family life. I kept a positive spin on the limitations I faced based in Minnesota and looked forward to this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
And what better way to test some equipment? It was an easy choice to ride my 2018 Scott Spark RC with full suspension – a bike that’s not only light but versatile when handling different terrain.
Upon arrival in Lisbon, the event staff ushered participants, representing 18 different countries, to the designated race hotel. My assigned roommate for the week was from South Africa. Every detail was accounted for with a staff of 30, including a tour guide, race director, GPS logistics director, medical staff, dynamic race control, massage therapists, mechanics, catering, luggage transport staff, and more.
Although the staff was there to help every aspect of the transition from race start to the finish, it was up to the individual to pedal his or her bike. Race staff kept track of each racer via a GPS tracker that could be followed via satellite. It provided not only a safety net, but it also allowed friends and family to follow our progress and check our whereabouts.
Assistance during the race often incurred a time penalty, so the goal was to be as self-reliant as possible. I was personally challenged by the technical riding, staying hydrated, being my own mechanic and following the route. My goal was to remain open to the challenges and complete the race in one piece.
Doing an event like Trans Portugal should be on everyone’s bucket list! I hope my race recap inspires you to tackle something outside of your comfort zone.
Trans Portgual 2018 Race Recap
Stage 1: Chaves to Peso da Regua
110 km/1732 meters climbing
We departed Chaves, located in northern Portugal about 10 kilometers south of the Spanish border. Chaves is one of the oldest cities in Portugal. We passed the Rio Tamega River and saw the Castle and Roman Bridge of Chaves.
Terraced olive farms and grape vines surround Peso da Regua, and the region is well known for its production of port wine. It’s beautiful and a great way to start the event.
Stage 2: Peso da Requa to Viseu
91 km/2,656 meters climbing
One of the most scenic – and relentless – stages, we climbed right out of the gate. We ascended 20K and passed windmills and areas affected by last year’s wildfires.
We encountered monsoon-like rain, and I schlepped my bike up a waterfall of mud. By the time we rolled into Viseu, sunny skies had returned. The sunset at dinner was beautiful! Viseu was voted the best place to live in Portugal the past 2 years.
Stage 3: Viseu to Penhas da Saude
100km/3,214 meters climbing
This stage took us up and over many mountains to end at a ski resort village. The views overlooking the valley below were breathtaking. This village sits nestled right in the heart of Serra da Estrela. I knew upon arrival to the chalet that my massage was going to be great. The food at this stop was amazing! I was starting to feel the effects of three days of long, hard climbing and more than ready for a little rest.
Stage 4: Penhas da Saude to Castelo Branco
85km/1,287 meters climbing
What goes up must come down! The first 20 km was all downhill, and I took a nice header around 16km. We rode over a lot of loose shale. Compared to the previous stage, this was almost a recovery day with less mileage and climbing.
Stage 5: Castelo- Branco to Evora
188km/1,863 meters climbing
A long day in the saddle, stage 5 is considered the Queen stage. I drank a Coke from a convenient stores in a town we rolled through and nothing has ever tasted so good. One thing you can count on with this Trans Portugal Staff is if they give you a day with less climbing they make you pay for it later! It was 5 km to the start and another 3 km to the hotel after the finish so this became close to 200 km for the day!
The hotel was fabulous, and the lobby had a wine tasting event going on when I rolled in.
Stage 6: Evora to Albernoa
101km/714 meters climbing
We negotiated a series of cattle guards that you had to open and then close behind you to ensure the live stock didn’t escape. This stage wound through several acres of private land, and the staff ensures that participants respect the area. This event has been going on for 16 years and being in good standings with towns and private land owners is key to its success.
We rolled into Albernoa, and our group took over the entire resort. Cycling kits hung on balconies, fences, and poolside chairs to dry. This beautiful venue overlooked a winery, and the food was just as sweet as the venue and atmosphere. We were heading deeper into southern Portugal, and the topography and temperature were noticeably changing.
Stage 7: Albernoa to Monchique
136km/2,373 meters climbing
The day started out pretty mellow, but the majority of climbing was in the last 30 kilometers of the ride. Monchique is noted as the highest point in Southern Portugal and is famous for its natural water; delicious food; oranges, lemons, figs and olives; and cork oak trees. The town has very old cobblestone streets.
Stage 8: Monchique to Sagres
95km/1,524 meters climbing
I was beyond excited to begin our last day on the bike and finish at the beach!! It is illegal to ride a bike on the beach in this area, so we had to haul our bikes roughly ½ mile. The event organizers are insistent on this rule and will disqualify anyone who breaks the law.
I tried to time my run and pushing the bike with the tides coming and going. My body was really fatigued, and the bike seemed to get heavier and heavier as the sand caked the tires. I felt like I was in quick sand, but the views kept me going. I kept reminding myself that it was a gift to be here. No matter how demanding the race was, I didn’t want to waste a single moment or miss a good view or experience.
I’m thankful for my health, happiness, family, co-workers, support system, and the gift of experiencing 8 days with friends and those I met along the way.
- KÜHL cycling kit by Vermac
- Scott SPARK RC full suspension MTB Bike
- TREK Procaliber 9.9 SL Race Shop Limited
- Cycling rain gear by Bontrager
- MTB bike shoes Bontrager
- Tires: Maxxis Ardent and IKON and the Bontrager XR1 Team Issue
- EVOC XL Travel Bike Case
- Mad Alchemy LaFemme Chamois Cream (women’s specific)
- SRAM Eagle components with Wolf Tooth oval chain ring. I suggest a front chain ring of less than 34. Preferably a 30.
- Camelbak 70 OZ (refilled at designated water stops in small villages/towns)
- Water bottles. My bike can only carry one water bottle cage so I would use my Camelbak and one water bottle.
- Extra tubes, cartridges, tools, carried in the Camelbak
- Garmin 1030 (worked great however make sure to lock the screen especially during rain or if there may be objects touching the screen)
- Mechanics on site after each stage to service the bike if any issues during that stage and replace parts if needed
- OFF-the-bike casual wear by KÜHL
The MØVA ZIP SKORT, SKÜLPT SKORT, and the DURANGO COLLECTION were comfortable and versatile. The SKÜLPT HOODY full zip hoody was a hit, and the FLORA 3/4 was great for evenings. For off-the-bike rain gear, the lightweight JETSTREAM JACKET kept me dry.
Jill Cederholm is a member of KÜHL’s Cycling team. She is a former collegiate swimmer and professional triathlete. She resides in Mendota Heights, Minnesota with her husband and daughter. KÜHL cyclist Patti Schmidt Iverson also contributed to this report.