The fifth of 14 stops on the 2019 XTERRA European Tour takes racers to Golega, a small yet famous village in the heart of Portugal.
Pronounced “gool-ga”, Golega is widely known as the ‘Capital of Horses’ and every November attracts more than 100,000 visitors to a 10-day festival dedicated to the worship of the Lusitano horse. Just over an hour from Lisbon, the white-washed homes with red tile roofs sit upon thousands of acres of farmland producing corn, potatoes, and tomatoes along with roaming herds of sheep and the shepherds and dogs who keep them together.
This will be the sixth season of racing for XTERRA Portugal, heralded as one of the most culturally-stunning events on the world tour by competitors for its scenery, food, wine, and celebrations. It is tradition at this race for the male and female race winners to be escorted by horse and rider to the finish line, a beautiful tribute to the towns culture and quite an honor for the winners themselves.
To tell us more about the challenge of the race itself, we turn to XTERRA elite Morgane Riou…
The swim takes place in a pond that is cleared of weeds and algae by the local municipality in the run up to event. Athletes complete two loops of 750m separated by a short run. The temperature this time of year is very warm, and with the race starting in the afternoon it will likely be a non-wetsuit swim, however, always be prepared as final water temperature and wetsuit decisions are made 60-minutes before the start.
Upon completing the swim, you will run to transition where your bike will be waiting for you racked in a home-made wooden bike stand – a unique and wonderful touch by the race organizers. The bike course is one of the longest on the European circuit, but the 37km loop can be broken down into different sections:
0-8km; Nice flat gravel roads heading out of the town, a chance to recover from the swim and to warm up ahead of the more challenging sections of the bike course.
8-26km; A really rolling section without any real flat parts. There are some very steep uphill sections which only the best athletes will be able to ride, combined with some technical and twisty single-track descents. It will be important to control your effort along this section, the longest uphill is only around 5mins, but the constant up and down nature of this section can put you into the red if you’re not careful with your pacing.
26-37km; You head back towards T2 along the same gravel road you used earlier in the race. Athletes will more than likely be riding alone at this point and this section can often be a headwind, so hopefully you have saved some energy! This part of the course offers a final chance to eat and drink before entering the second transition.
The run course here is very fast! 11km of flat running alongside the river, weaving in and out of farm and plantations. There are a few obstacles to deal with, a rope-drop down a wall, a tunnel (complete with a water splash) and a few hay-bales to climb over. Much of the run is shaded by trees, which will be appreciated by all athletes at this point during the day. The last 2km of the loop runs through the town, where you’ll be cheered home by the people of Golega.
In summary, this a tough XTERRA course because of the technical and long bike course and the heat. If you are a strong mountain biker, you can expect to do well in Portugal. Just ask Ruben Ruzafa, who is undefeated in Portugal having won all five editions so far! And make sure you enjoy some Natas after the race!
Here, Morgane shares two key training sessions in preparation for XTERRA Portugal…
Bike: Technical Climbing
You can incorporate this into any of your training rides. Find a steep hill with a rocky, dusty, and sandy loose surface. Ride the climbing concentrating on feeling the grip through your rear tire. Sometimes less is more when it comes to effort, distribute your power evenly through the pedal stroke to avoid the rear wheel spinning.
Run: Develop flat run speed
Warm up: 10-15mins easy running
Main set: 6 x 800m @ 90% of you Max HR + 90secs rest
Use a running track if possible, or a flat section of easy trail with no distractions to keep the pace high. Consider doing this session when it is hot to get used to the heat you will find in Portugal.
Warm down: 10mins easy running
|All-time XTERRA Portugal Elite Champions|
|2014||Ruben Ruzafa/Coralie Redelsperger|
|2015||Ruben Ruzafa/Kathrin Mueller|
|2016||Ruben Ruzafa/Helena Erbenova|
|2017||Ruben Ruzafa/Brigitta Poor|
|2018||Ruben Ruzafa/Brigitta Poor|