XTERRA Portugal, the second of 12 majors on the XTERRA European Tour, takes place in Golega for the first-time this Sunday.
XTERRA Managing Director Dave Nicholas is on-site to give us an inside look into the new venue…
XTERRA Portugal is being held in the village of Golega. Golega, prounounced gool-ga, is quite famous in Portugal as the Horse Capital. Each year, for the past 95 years, the National Horse Fair is held here bringing over 500,000 visitors to watch the show and compete.
Beautiful farmland surrounds the village with corn, potatoes and tomatoes being the big crops. Rather like a mini-California valley. Tens of thousands of tomato plants are up and showing buds, the corn is a few feet high and the wonderful Portuguese sun is making it all glow.
The course is two laps of a swim in the village lake. The army has put a pontoon bridge across the lake at a local park; which will serve as T1&2. The town has hired a skimming boat to take out the algae that grows naturally and organizers have made steps in the bank for swimmers to exit. The bridge will serve as both part of the swim and the way out of transition on the run.
Speaking of transition: Organizers have made custom slots for over 400 bikes. They have cut and trimmed branches and driven them in the ground about 2-3" apart. They work like a charm. Roll your front or rear wheel into the slot and your bike stays upright and secure.
We'll see the bike course today, but the first few K are through the village including a 100m ride through the horse stadium where the riding competitions are held each September. It is one big lap in the countryside and returns through the village back to T2 where runners will take off over the bridge and out into the farm fields, under bridges, along the river and eventually back to Golega where the finish will be in the center of town at the old church square.
The place is starting to hum as athletes begin to arrive. One huge feature is the Portuguese youth triathlon championship which will be held at XTERRA on Saturday. Over 400 youth are entered.
I'll have more on the fabulous food and what a great value Portugal is for travelers. We had lunch at a local home yesterday and Belgium pro Yeray Luxem had his plate full at least 3 times. "I am not sure if I come for the food or the race" he smiled.
The weather is getting a bit warmer in the high 70's in the afternoon. Forecast for race day on Sunday is in the 80's.
The village is now hopping with bikes riding all over the cobbled streets and narrow paths. Out on the bike course we found several direction arrows taken down and tossed - odd how that happens so often in Europe.
The bike course is well marked and with painted rocks in some places and painted on poles at others. No moving them !! The first few K are through the village and if you think that's simple - it is not. There must be 15 tight turns through these centuries old, narrow streets. Quickly into the country with double track into rough, farmland, back to single track, through streams and then back on dirt road until you begin the short steep climbs and loose descents. A true XTERRA bike course.
The run, while flat, has its tough pieces. Within the first K there is a 45 degree cement canal wall with a 3' drop at the bottom. Organizers have put big, thick ropes to assist. I am sure the real athletes will probably just jump it - this old man took the rappel ropes. Through the culvert under the road first constructed in 1872 and then out into the farm fields and alongside the river.
The farms and fields are simply drop dead gorgeous. Farmers put corn next to wheat, next to tomatoes, next to potatoes. The colors and rows are amazing. Typical of small villages, the older men gather at a bar and sit outside and solve the problems of the world. Unlike the major metropolis' of Europe these small villages harken back to a simpler time.
The restaurants are all aware of XTERRA and greet the athletes with enthusiasm. We went to a real bullfight on Thursday. In Portugal they do not kill the bull. In fact, it's kind of neat in when the show is done, the doors to the ring open and about 6-7 gorgeous cows come in. The bull snorts, checks them out and when the cows leave the ring, the old man man - tired and wounded and a bit bloody follows the babes out, the doors close and everyone applauds.
Rego opens tomorrow and the kids races start in the afternoon.