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Donkey Week, stages three and four

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Stages three and four of inGamba’s Donkey Week were ostensibly the calm before the storm – stage five is a 208km monster – but ended up being two monumental, heroic and outrageously fun days in the saddle.

Day three was “only” 112 kilometres starting in Sertã on a ”flat” parcours that had some 1,900m of elevation gain, over a series of seemingly endless rollers. That brought us to Crato, a small town built around a Knights Hospitaller fortress, which we called home for the night.

Our fourth day covered 166km and 2,400m of climbing to Estremoz, a town close to the Spanish border that’s famous for its marble, its black pigs and its castle – where we bedded down after a feast of local delicacies.

These have ben long, happy rides alongside some of the most incredible cyclists – and the nicest people – you’ll ever meet, with the kind of support that would put a lot of pro races to shame. With inGamba, you’re never far from a fresh bottle, a snack or a fast and steady wheel to draft. We believe in riding hard – and making everything else as easy as possible.

 

 

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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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