Well first I guess to say the race is amazing. What's makes it so good are the open and friendly people and the amazing landscapes wherever you go. It's so hard to describe, but nothing is a problem for the staff and during the racing everybody helps each over where needed. Ok, so it's a race but when you see someone crash you stop. When they have a bike issue you stop. It's competitive but not at the cost of having some fun to.
If you come you will meet like minded people, people who race various rides all over the world. What's makes it special is you will stay life long friends with some of these people and you will see them again somewhere in the world.
Several amazing feats by riders. I think Peter had six punctures in one day, Danny who crashed and broke his chain. Fixed it to pedal off and then the chain fell off on the next descent. He had to walk back up the trail to find it before getting further help to get it fixed by another competitor. Special mention to Eddy, broke his rear free hub and ran with his bike just getting on for the downhills for approx 30km. They tried to fix his bike (which he took a penalty for) and then later on had to take a 2nd penalty when they gave him another bike. He then rode a bike with wrong pedals which he couldn't clip into for the rest of the stage. He made the time cut for the day and still finished in 15th place.
In regards to the race itself, it's very tough. The number of competitors that after the first stage looked completely worn out was high. Several looked completely exhausted and two were taken off to hospital because of dehydration. The stages are long, can be physically exhausting and most people get some aches and pains somewhere. Although it's physically tough I would say the mental aspect is the more important piece. It's so easy just to step off and say that's it I'm done.
Back to the bikes his year, manufacturers must be doing something right. Only one broken frame (Chinese special I think) and I would say in general less issues across the bike fleet. A few spokes gone and a few chain issues but the biggest issues again are tyres. Two years ago everybody seemed to be on Schwalbe, last year Continentals and this year it seemed to be Maxxis. What ever you bring make sure they have tough sidewalls with extra protection. There was a real mix of bikes and a lot less Epics this year. More 26ers than last year too. A real mix of hardtails and even full 140mm bikes with dropper seat posts.
In regards to the race format it's great. It's tough to chase everybody each day from the back each day but it does give an oppurtunity for everybody. The good riders are still able to come through and win the stages and place high on GC. I love the follow a GPS track format. It's so easy to go wrong when the brain is not functioning. Also the self sufficiency part is great. Don't carry enough spares the it's your own issue. The organisation will fix your bike if required, but you will take a time penalty.
In regards to the course this year. Well I've ridden it three times and I would say he trials were in the best shape this year. Some of the climbs were so tough but this year it seemed easier. Less rocks and rough stuff on the same trails. The two new stages were ok. A bit to much road in them but you can only do so much.
In regards to the hotels and food. Some are average and some are amazing. I would say most have very good food but as always one to two are very average. The Hotel in Monchique is awful. Closer to a hospital than a hotel. What amazes me is that although they have WiFi and aircon most of the time it doesn't work. That includes the 4-5 star places.
Portugal as a whole is awesome. It's fairly cheap and easy to get around. Enough English is spoken and the food is cheap and very good.
Lastly me. Will I be back for a fourth time? Not sure just yet. Body feels good post finish and very happy to be on the podium. Much higher than I thought I would place. I've got some training improvements I could make and easily loose another few kilos from me and a hardtail bike would make me a bit faster at the expense of some comfort. Very happy that mentally for the whole nine days I was in the right place. I had bad days but it didn't show that much and I still placed well. Some days were must do very well days and I survived and managed this well. The flatter days with a headwind were days not to loose your head. I could have ploughed on alone and ridden 100km on my own because the group was a bit slow. I however saved my energy and used it to my advantage in the following days. I suffered where I needed to on Joses wheel and this alone made a huge difference.
What next? Spend a good few weeks chilling out and much more time with my Family. Back to base training and not much of it! Next race is a few weeks away but not a priority on my schedule. Be nice to have a race and have a bit more fun. Doesn't mean I won't try but it does mean I can use it for the experience and keep some speed in my body.