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Donkey Week, stages six and seven

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Only on Donkey Week could 276 kilometres over two days count as taking it easy, but after our mammoth stage five, the final two days of this season’s opening trip were comparatively easy.

Day Six took us from inland from Alvito to Cercal near the coast, covering a distance of 166km with 1,650m of climbing. Home for the night was Herdade da Matinha, one of the most intimate, charming and comfortable hotels you’ll ever find. In keeping with the coastal character of this part of Alentejo, the Herdade da Matinha is a secluded development of single-story beach huts built around a working stable, not far from the ocean.

 

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The final day’s 110km roll back towards Lisbon allowed the more energetic riders in the pack to burn whatever matches they had left before returning to the Palacio Belmonte to unpack, unwind and hit the town for some late night, off-the-record celebration.

The curtains have now officially been drawn on Donkey Week 2015, but it might take a while for the dust to settle … and for some livers to recover. Bring on the rest of the season.

 

Image from inGAMBA Portugal Randonee 2014

Image from inGAMBA Portugal Randonee 2014

Image from inGAMBA Portugal Randonee 2014

 

Giordana: pushing the boundaries with FR-C

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inGamba’s Donkey Week had a surprise mid-trip treat from our friends at Giordana, who sent over their new elite collection, the FR-C: FormaRed-Carbon, for all of our guests to put to the test.

The range is cut to a race fit and is designed to mould to your body like a second skin and keep you looking great and feeling strong all day.

The FR-C bibs are a deviation – in our opinion, a welcome one – from the recent shift in cycling apparel towards superfine fabrics that sacrifice comfort for lightness. The supportive, high-compression fabric used in these shorts is exactly what you need on long, hard rides and the wide, sturdy straps add to the overall feeling of a well-constructed product.

Giordana have been friends of inGamba for a long time. And not just because they make some of the best cycling kit on the market. They’re our clothing manufacturers of choice because we share a genuine passion for cycling, because we both believe in quality and because we’re both immensely proud of what we do.

Giorgio Andretta founded Giordana in 1979 with a clear goal: To offer athletes unparalleled performance by combining the best of Italian craftsmanship and style with the latest technological advances. More than 30 years later, his company still sets the standard.

We think this range performs perfectly, and represents the best of Italian manufacturing. And just as importantly, it looks cool. It’s the kind of kit that makes you just wanna pull on a fresh pair of crisp white socks, and hit the road – hard.

 

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Donkey Week, stage five

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Stage five was definitely not for the faint-hearted. It was an onerous 208 kilometres from Estremoz to Alvito, in the heart of Portugal’s rugged, sparsely populated and hauntingly beautiful interior. The elements were changeable, but the pace was as consistent as it was unforgiving. It was one of those days when you just have to knuckle down and hammer the pedals. It was the Day of the Donkey.

 

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By the time we reached our lodgings at the Pousada do Castelo de Alvito, There were some tired legs, wet kits and weathered faces in the bunch. Home for the night was a small castle built with Moorish and Gothic influences that is registered as a national landmark. Its handful of small, comfortable rooms – and a hearty meal nearby – were exactly what the doctor ordered.

 

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Monsieur Ventoux: A Legend Joins inGamba

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He was never supposed to win. Especially not on the Tour de France’s most venerated mountain. Sure, he was prized as Mario Cipollini’s sprint lead-out man, but as a climber? Forget it. He weighed more without a bike than most of his competitors did with one, and towered above them all at 1.94 metres tall. He’d had a stellar amateur career, but turned pro late, aged 28. He was an excellent domestique, but not a doyen. No, Mont Ventoux wasn’t meant for him.

And yet, Eros Poli took it anyway. The Giant of Provence was conquered by a giant from Verona with a breakaway so audacious that his rivals ignored it. They thought it was the very definition of folly. It was, in fact, the definition of panache.

It was the kind of romantic win befitting a guy called Eros. Cipo, the greatest sprinter of his generation and Poli’s team leader, had crashed out of the Vuelta and missed the Tour. Mercatone Uno were without a leader for La Grande Boucle, and so the the workers were let off the chain. It was a rare opportunity to impress at the season’s biggest event, and one that Poli took by the scruff of the neck.

 

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Attacking solo some 100km before Ventoux, the Veronese knew that he’d need a huge lead to stay ahead of the pack once the flat stage turned nasty and the road started heading skyward. He did the math. Accepted he’d need at least 24 minutes at the foot of the mountain – a minute for every kilometre climbed with an extra cushion, just in case. And then he went to work.

When the early ramps of the ascent arrived, he was leading by more than 25 minutes. His opponents didn’t know it yet, but they’d already sealed their fates. The peloton’s big guns fired, but Poli was out of range, flying in spite of his bulk and his loneliness out in front. Not even an attack from a young Marco Pantani could bring him back. He crossed the summit four minutes ahead of il Pirata. Forty kilometres to the finish, but now he had gravity and adrenaline and a lifetime of ambition on his side. The stage, and a unique place in the history books, were his.

Miguel Indurain would go on to win the fourth of his five yellow jerseys that summer, but the undisputed star of the 81st Tour de France was Poli, thanks to one of cycling’s greatest ever solo attacks. He did more that day than just win a stage that day in Carpentras; he won the hearts of cycling fans the world over. Because even if he was one of the tallest guys in the peloton, his was a victory for the little guy, and proof that, once in a while at least, spirit and guts could triumph over stacked odds and overwhelming adversity.

The following morning, La Gazzetta dello Sport called Poli’s win a national triumph for Italy. The director of the Tour, Jean Marie Leblanc, would later call him a hero. Two decades on, the French still lovingly call him Monsieur Ventoux. We’re just happy to call him a friend.

 

inGamba :: Eros Poli from inGamba Tours on Vimeo.