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What is a Donkey?

You might be wondering what exactly this Donkey Week business is about. It’s inGamba, but cranked up to 11. More miles, more speed, more wine and a whole lot more trash talk. It’s probably not your average tourist’s idea of a cycling holiday. Donkeys need a strong liver, a thick skin and a good sense of humour. And if you’ve taken it easy over the winter and you haven’t got the legs, you better hope you’ve got a strong arm, because you’ll need to hang onto the side of the car pretty tight if you want to be pulled up to the group.

This week has traditionally been inGamba’s “test trip” to kick off the season in Italy, and this is the first year it’s happened in Portugal. But even though we’ve left the Bel Paese behind, but an old Italian saying still explains everything perfectly. It goes: “Chi nasce asino non può morire cavallo.” And they’re right. If you’re born a donkey, you can’t die a horse. There’s no hiding what you are or trying to change into something else. Donkey week is what it is. Hard, fast, full of laughter and late nights and wine and tomorrow’s memories. Maybe that’s not for everyone. But if you’re a donkey, you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Joy of QOM

It’s my favorite time of year again; time to prepare for the annual inGamba Tours women’s trip. This exclusive inGamba event has become the thing I look forward to each winter—the thing in my mind motivating me as I climb through the damp landscape of Oregon, the thing I daydream about while hand-cranking homemade pasta in the kitchen.

I even wrote an article about it after last year in Peloton Magazine.

Women’s Week is a pretty simple concept with a fairly spectacular result: ride with other bike-loving women through the heart of Tuscany for a week and enjoy everything the region has to offer along the way.

The cadence is something like this: pedal, eat, drink, laugh, massage, eat, laugh, drink, sleep, repeat. (Please note the ratio of consumption to exertion.) For those that love the bike the way that we do, it’s the perfect balance of challenge, beauty, recovery and indulgence.

João Correia and I concepted this trip after we met in 2012 and, as we enter our third season, Women’s Week has exceeded all of our expectations. I could regale you with tales of sweeping vineyard vistas and daily massages from a pro tour soigneur, but the real magic of it is something much more simple and much harder to plan; connection. Lively dinner tables, late night glasses of Chianti on the back patio, knowing sideways glances shared in the thrill of a buttery and swooping Tuscan descent:

“We ride hard, we attack, we talk smack, we offer a wheel, we teach and allow ourselves to learn, we grab a pocket to siphon a bit of power from the one who’s hurting us, we regroup or circle back, we stop at a bar for espresso and lie, lizard-like, on the sun-warmed tiled porch. But most of all? Most of all we laugh. We laugh so hard we have to stop pedaling. We laugh so hard we blow accidental snot rockets. We laugh so hard we have to ask the soigneur to massage the muscles in our faces.”
-peloton magazine, 2014

The women who have joined my on this trip in previous years have become fast and lasting friends with good reason; experiencing the #bestweekever together forms bonds that don’t fade with time or distance.

Please accept this invitation to join us in 2015 for a week that will leave you energized, refreshed and giddy (not to mention incredibly fit).
See you there?

– Heidi

 

Donkey Week, stage two

Stage Two of inGamba’s Donkey Week rolled out of the enchanting town of Alcobaça and starting climbing almost straight away towards the holy city of Fatima and then on through the interior’s rolling landscape to Serta and a former Franciscan convent turned boutique hotel.

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When it comes to ways of exploring a country, it’s pretty hard to beat a wine-fuelled luxury Randonee on race-ready Pinarello Dogma F8s. The second day of this week long extravaganza was shorter than the opening leg, but the hot weather and hotter pace meant that it was no less intense.

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Which isn’t to say that there wasn’t time to enjoy a lengthy lunch – and some of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen action on TV – in the idyllic medieval centre of Tomar. And once we hit Serta, there was nothing left to do but unwind and enjoy a traditional feast and a Fado concert – Portugal’s traditional music – late into the night.

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Donkey Week, stage one

The inGamba season opener is officially underway. The first 24 hours in Portugal involved new and old friends, 160km on the bike with 2400m of climbing, a 15th century palace-turned-hotel, a 12th century monastery, midnight mass, a lot of sangria, some unsuccessful attempts to leave the wine alone and go to bed early – and one successful marriage proposal. It seems inGamba does romance just as well as we do riding.

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Beginning under blue skies on the beach in Cascais, the first stage of the Donkey Week Randonee rolled north along the Atlantic coast, past the birthplace of Portugal’s legendary cyclist Joaquim Agostinho and the medieval walled town of Óbidos towards the finish line in Alcobaça, where the first king of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, founded the town’s famous Gothic monastery in 1153. There, once massages had been taken care of, a long and lively dinner of traditionally prepared seafood was followed by some team-building beers in the town square. Because it would have been rude not to.

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Next up, a 120km Easter Sunday pilgrimage to the holy city of Fatima and on through the mountains towards the Portuguese interior and the idyllic town of Sertã. There are worse ways to spend the weekend.

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