Manon Carpenter: Portugal Chronicles 2012
A Portuguese adventure with Madison Saracen World Cup Team rider Manon Carpenter, her dad Jason, Laurie Greenland and Joel Moore.
Words and photos: Manon Carpenter.
Right, I wasn’t really planning on continuing with the Dirt Chronicles this year but seeing as this might be my last trip away with my Dad for a while, and a few people have asked about the Chronicles I thought I would write about our latest trip to Portugal...
P.S. Again, sorry it’s so long I did try to keep it short!
In January, when I was stuck at home on the turbo trainer (dog sitting for my Nan!), I started planning a pre-South Africa training trip somewhere with some sun for a week of DH to get up to speed. I was trying to decide where to go when a friend from the Algarve sent me a message about a Portuguese National in their hometown, São Brás De Aportel. We had stayed with Rui from Faro bike club (Moto Clube Faro DH Racing Team) briefly 2 years ago and my Dad was really keen so after a bit of deliberation, the flights were booked and we were going to Portugal!
Thursday – Icebike
We were flying out on the 24th from Stanstead, which tied in well with Icebike, a bike show Madison hold annually where the team was going to be presented for 2012. Two of our friends, Laurie Greenland (first year youth) and Joel Moore (elite), were also coming along to Portugal so we had an early start to pick them up on the way to Madison HQ before the traffic kicked in!
Whilst I hung out at Madison with the team for the day for photos in the new kit etc., Jase and co. headed off to Woburn Sands dirt jumps for the day. I think we were all slightly jealous but the boys made up for it messing around on a bmx in the car park in the sun for a bit with Phil Atwill showing off his skills; in his skinny jeans and jumper he looked like a right 80’s kid!
There was also a fair bit of messing around during the photoshoot... Unfortunately, I missed Phil walking on his hands down at the Warehouse!
In the afternoon we had our team presentation in the new kit, where we had to answer some questions, and new additions to Saracen or Madison products such as Steve Peat, Blake Samson and Chris Akrigg were interviewed.
Last year I made a bit of a fool of myself by fainting in front of everyone during the presentation so this year I was happy to find they had seats for us to sit on during the interview!
Hiding out in the new kit before the presentation with Jack and Phil, the other boys had streaked across the car park (kind of) and were hiding in the back!
At Icebike it’s always fun to have a chat to everyone who you don’t normally get to see and as there was a free bar there were a few antics going on; unfortunately I missed the sledging race down the stairs but from the video Kellie showed me it looked pretty gnarly - one of the guys had done a full on over the bars to tarmac but seemed happy enough!
And they always have the team launch on the last day of Icebike, which coincides with the Karaoke tent they have on the last night... Last year we got persuaded to do a team karaoke (which was so cringy I haven’t been able to watch the video yet!) but luckily a few of the boys had to leave early and as I was going to Portugal the next day for a race, I also had the excuse of not being drunk enough for karaoke! As we were walking to the bus back to the Premier Inn I did hear a very ropey Bohemian Rhapsody...
Joel laughing at my World Champs report
There were Saracen catalogues at the launch and on the bus back to the hotel, Jase started reading my report from Champery World Champs out loud and everyone had a good laugh at my expense – I don’t know why but I can’t stand reading back or listening to reports I’ve written or interviews I’ve done so I spent most of the journey back with my hood well over my ears!!
We were flying on the Friday morning and as usual it was pretty stressful. We had to stop off at Madison on the way to pick up some spares for Portugal, including a bike box as Jase had decided last minute to take his hardtail and Laurie’s BMX as well to mess around on so we took a while getting going and then there was a 50mph speed limit all the way to the airport.
All in all, by the time we got to the airport we had about an hour and a half before the plane left. This would have been okay except pretty much everything went wrong once we got there; bikes and bags all weighing too much, queues for extra baggage ticket sales taking forever, my GoPro setting off security and only 5 hours sleep made the airport experience even less enjoyable...
We also had issues on the other side. As Laurie was under 16 years old and was travelling without a parent, the guy at security thought Jase had kidnapped him and was threatening to send him back to the UK!
Anyway, once we got out of the airport and saw the sunshine, everything was good. Rui was ready and waiting for us with the massive bike club truck and we went to check out the race venue.
Having not ridden my downhill bike much, I just wanted to use the race as an opportunity to get used to racing again and to get used to racing on clips...yes clips! This winter I’ve bitten the bullet and put clips on all my bikes.
I’ve never used them before so thought I should have a good go to see what they’re like and I can definitely see the advantages for racing. The race track was flat out, pedally and ridiculously dusty so after being at home all winter it was a bit of a shock but just what I needed.
Track walk with Rui
Joel found a ‘Bigtime Acorn’ hahaha.
It was a really chilled out and fun weekend. All the guys we met from Faro bike club and the Avalanche team were really nice and everyone has a laugh out there. It’s so different to UK nationals; at lunchtime they have an hour break and a BBQ! Normally at home I generally only eat chicken and fish, and I knew from our trip to Portugal two years ago that they eat a load of meat out there but it still didn’t prepare me for the amount of Pork and Steak I ate that weekend. On the second day I had heartburn!
Lunchtime Portuguese style... They eat a hell of a lot of protein out there and love their beer and wine.
Picture by Mtbfoto photography
Whilst I was looking for photos from the race I found this guy! The finish line jump was small but really fun for messing around on and there’s a lot of funny photos of guys pulling stunts but this guy is the best by far haha.
Jase and I both won our categories, Lorena Dromundo from Mexico who had come over to stay with us for the race weekend came second, Laurie who was testing an Orange Patriot just missed the youth podium and Joel, sponsored by Mojo suspension came 13th in Elite so it was a good race for all of us.
Joel wasn’t so happy with 13th, he’s a really good rider (got 6th overall at Llangollen Nat Champs last year) but will probably be the first to admit he isn’t fit enough yet; he’s on the case though.
Post race run!
Another cool thing they have at Portuguese Nationals is a team event, where everyone’s points count towards the Team result. The guys who won it at this race were so funny, they didn’t stop bouncing around for about ten minutes but it was wicked to see how everyone in the team made a difference!
In the local cafe/bar they have all the team trophies from the past ten years or so; it’s great how proud they are of the team’s achievements as well as their own.
Monday Rest Day
On Monday we were all pretty tired out. Icebike and the race weekend had caught up with us so we decided to have a day off, ish. We’d heard there was a pumptrack in town so we went to have a play in the morning and then set off for the beach in Faro. We didn’t have a vehicle until the evening so we had to get the bus to town and then to the beach and Jase decided to bring the BMX, which might have been a good idea if they’d let him take it on the bus to the beach!
Barspins waiting for the bus
We got it to Faro but seeing as it was another 5km to the beach and we couldn’t take the bus, we were kinda stranded. After sitting around for half hour deciding what we were going to do, we went for a wander to find something to amuse us until Rui finished work...
Have you ever seen a trim trail? They’re hilarious. Exercise machines in a public place, but some of the exercises really don’t look suitable for a public place!
Training session in Faro!
Laurie playing on the Bmer.
It was only a couple of days into the trip when we started to realise just how fussy Joel was with eating. I kind of knew he wasn’t the best of eaters from when we’d gone to the Forest of Dean a few weeks earlier and he said my tuna pasta and sweet corn looked healthy, but we had some real fun with him in Portugal teaching him about and feeding him fruits and vegetables. I think me and Laurie might be exceptions and kinda food snobs because we’ve always been fed healthy food, but for starters Joel had never seen a fish with its head and tail cooked on a plate! His diet mainly consists of pizzas, chicken nuggets, fish fingers and fizzy drinks so he completely freaked out when one lunchtime this got put in front of him...
After a while he got fed up with my cooking and was stoked when he found some chicken nuggets in the supermarket. Only problem was there was no oven to cook them in... My food on the left, his on the right! (Mine’s not finished obvs.)
We tried our best to educate him throughout the week but by the end of it I still don’t think he knew the difference between a courgette and a cucumber!
DH, DH and some more DH!
The main reason I wanted to go away was to get a solid week of DH riding in and on Tuesday it was straight into the gnarliest DH track in the area. Rui had hooked us up with Freeride Portugal, a company ran by John, a really nice guy who organises DH holidays in the Algarve and Lousa who sorted us out with uplifts for the whole week.
Uplifting San Miguel
The tracks in the Algarve are so different to back home, it’s unreal. Fast, rocky and loose tracks were what I wanted and it’s what we got! The uplifts were really good as well so you could get plenty of riding done in the morning, stop for lunch and get a load more runs in the afternoon. We had three guides for the week: JP the lifeguard, Guilherme and Portuguese John (Joao) who showed us all the tracks and basically just came and had fun with us for the week!
Ready to roll.
On top of San Miguel! Joel (bottom right) was too scared to get to the very top so I had to show him how it’s done – I’ll be honest it did make my legs a little weak though!!
On the Friday we all went to the highest mountain in the Algarve, Monchique, apart from my Dad who was working on a project back in São Brás, to ride some seriously rocky tracks. After a slow start, it ended up being a really good days riding and really useful as well. Joel had been working at Mojo suspension and throughout the week had helped me play around with my suspension to get it how I liked and he also helped me sort a few things out with my riding. The tracks over there really highlight things like braking in the middle of corners and although I knew I was doing it, it took Joel to ride down behind me to force me to let go and realise what a massive difference it makes!
When we got back to São Brás we all headed over to see what Jase had created on his day off...
I think Jase had started scheming as soon as we got to the pumptrack on the Monday morning. They’d done what they could by hand but with the space they had, with a digger and some time there was definitely potential so when we went to Rui’s house one night, they started planning the pumptrack makeover! Rui had sorted out a digger for Jase for the day on Friday and he got to work...
After one day!
It was dark by the time Jase finished and I think he’d been supplied with plenty of beer and wine throughout the day, so he was pretty drunk by the time we went for food in the evening after Monchique but São Brás pumptrack had undergone the JC treatment and in one day it was ready to go!
On Saturday we were up early to go bust out some DH runs with everyone who had been at work or school all week and I think after a week of DH we were all pretty worn out – especially Jase who was suffering from the day/night before! We got quite a few runs in but both me and Laurie crashed and hit our hands, and I don’t think I was the only one to be relieved to be in one piece after a flat out week!
After a break for lunch (where Joel picked all the spinach out of his soup - ha!) we headed over to have a quick look at the pumptrack before setting off in the direction of go-karting! The pumptrack was looking good and just needed a bit more watering before it would be ready to go in the evening.
There was quite a bit of expectation for go karting; JP was supposed to be pretty handy at it, Jason always gets the fastest lap and Joel is supposed to be the Mojo champion of go-karting so everyone was eyeing each other up throughout the week... and I was just hoping I wasn’t going to be last like the last time I went in Mont Saint Anne!
Start line, ready to go.
And guess what? I beat both my Dad and Joel! My Dad did get the fastest lap time but he spun out first lap and everyone went past him, but really neither of them had any excuse, I beat them fair and square! Haha. Laurie insisted he was better ‘cos he got a faster lap time than me and Joel but really he was just trying to regain some status ‘cos he got lapped ;)
I was fourth overall followed by Joel and my Dad with JP coming in second. My lesson in braking before corners definitely paid off – slow in, fast out!
After go-karting it was straight to the pumptrack for a late evening session. There’s a video on my Facebook page of our first few laps
It got dark pretty soon but we got a few good laps in!
Sorry about the quality - it was getting dark! Me on the step up, step down.
After pumptrack we headed over to Rui’s for Cataplana, a Portuguese dish full of seafood and meat – a typical Portuguese protein fest! It was really good though, and Joel had chicken nuggets and chips cooked especially for him so he was happy! At least he was until Laurie spilled red wine all over the chicken...
Sunday was a rest day. We slept pretty much all morning and then headed to the beach. It was really hot when we left São Brás but as soon as we got out of the car it was full on gales on the beach so it was pretty cold!
Joel and I had made a bet the day before who was going to get in the sea first so I was ready to go as soon as we got out of the car and I would have won but he could run faster ): However, as soon as he belly flopped and got his head wet he was out of there! The waves were pretty good so I thought it would be rude not to stay in really. I think JP thought we were mental though as he only ever goes in the sea in the summer when it’s more like 30°C!
Laurie digging trenches at the beach – we tried sunbathing for a bit but after twenty minutes or so we had to give in and admit it was too cold haha.
Laurie on the supercross track!
We had lunch to warm up after a final swim in the sea and then headed back to São Brás for a last few laps of the pumptrack although my arms and legs were feeling pretty useless. Joel, who hasn’t ridden a BMX for years was getting pretty good by the end, (maybe a little bit sketchy on the dust berms!) and Laurie managed to manual the whole of the second straight.
I managed to get my legs to work by the end of the session and was going alright until I binned it in the berm on the last lap – definitely worn out! Then it was back to JP’s for packing up the bikes and cooking the only food we had left, which was tuna, pasta and sweetcorn – the only meal I made all week that Joel didn’t complain about!
Monday – Flying home
After an early morning everyone was trying their hardest to sleep but Ryanair seats are probably the least comfortable seats ever!
It took us pretty much all day to get home after dropping my bike, Laurie and Joel off so it cheered us up to see our dogs Alan and Basil who had a mad five minutes when we got back!
Massive thank you to Rui who organised the whole week for us, and everyone who looked after and ran around after us last week! Thanks to JP, John from Freeride Portugal, Joao and Guilherme for riding with us and showing us their tracks.