This little corner of the Algarve is somewhere the Potters know well but this was the first time that AQR had offered guiding in this area. And what a perfect setting it was us to hone our skills with a combination of fast and loose or techy descents alongside some short and sharp (and long, sharp, leg and lung busting) climbs. And river crossings….
Day one started with a bike-set up session led by Ian Potter. After running through some of the basics in the ‘classroom’ we headed out onto the trails to see the importance of this in action with the first of many ‘climbing challenges’. It was amazing to experience how much a change in stem length or height of the front end changed how well many of us climbed up this steep loose section of trail. I for one have really benefited from Ian’s expertise here; I’ve spent 3 years convinced that the front end of my bike is too low trying longer forks, higher stems and bars to little avail. And now I’m riding flat bars, a flipped stem and minimal stack headset and what a difference it makes both up and down hill. (I won’t dwell on my reaction when Ian first suggested this to be but it’s safe to say that I’ve since retracted my comments!)
We were also introduced to a local café and there range of cakes including the infamous figaloo. A cake, as the name suggests, made of figs, and figs, and more figs. My excuse is that it wasn’t really cake but a natural source of vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates which I required after a day’s riding to ensure my body was in tip-top condition for the next day.
For those of us keen / stupid enough day 2 started with a morning run and dip in the pool with Kate Potter. This all sounds rather idyllic until you realise the gradient of the hills and the temperature of the pool! But it was a lovely way to start the day – fresh air, perfect temperatures and a smug feeling of having achieved something when everyone else is lounging in bed. The other plus is that it helped us all justify extra helpings of breakfast, ideal!
The day then properly started with a ‘bikers’-bodies’ session led by Anne Dickins, not only a Cotic AQR racer and 24hr national champion, but also a physiotherapist specialising in core control and how we can use this to improve how our bodies work on the bike. It’s amazing how much time and money we spend looking at how our bike can improve our performance but ignoring how we use our muscles to control ourselves on the bike. Again this session continued out on the trails with Ian and Anne videoing us all on another one of those ‘climbing challenges’. Both Anne and Ian used these videos to help them and us identify what tweaks to bikes and bodies that we might benefit from.
On day 3 the much awaited sunshine appeared and it was definitely worth the wait. The skies were a glorious blue and the trails quickly changed from their fast gritty damp state to super-fast dry and dusty. The overnight rainfall meant for some additional challenges in riding across streams that suddenly appeared on the trails. Apparently this crossing is ride-able…
On our rest day most of us took the opportunity to have a 1 on 1 assessment with Anne who identified which bits of us were working well and which bits not as well (or in my case not at all!) on the bike. By using those videos taken earlier in the week and simple demonstrations on the bike Anne even managed to convinced the most cynical of us (I’d love to mention names here but in the interests of team harmony I won’t, well for now anyway….). Later in the day we headed out with Ian and Kate for more skills practise – skidding, cornering and switch-backs.
The rest of the week followed in a similar vein. More glorious sunshine, more great trails, more tips and tweaks to our bodies and bikes and more figaloo. We also benefited from sessions led by Kate and Ian discussing nutrition, training and race psychology and race preparation.
We all headed after a fantastic week’s riding having learnt loads with a noticeable improvement in our skills. I’ve even started working on my cyclists’ tan line, not bad for March. Now I can’t wait to keep getting back out on the trails to keep working on all those tips and tricks I picked up, even the UK sun has started to come out to help me on my way. All I need to do now is find a recipe for figaloo.
Photos courtesy of James Dymond, Kate Potter and Hannah Reynolds.