Taça de Portugal, Seia.

Seb Batchelor of Fluid Fin Race Team reports on the final round of the Taça de Portugal in Seia, where brilliant riding by the team resulted in another podium finish to round out the 2014 season…

To round out the 2014 season we opted for the seemingly always good courses of Portugal. As a matter of fact there are very few races in mid October so it wasn’t a difficult decision to make to head south to Seia for the fifth and final round of the Taça de Portugal.

Coming off the back of our double podiums in Greece two weekends previously we were both eager to end the racing year on a high. I put a lot of pressure on myself for a top ride in the build up so was feeling a little tense before hand, but tried to channel that as best I could.

I may have been feeling the pressure but we were both extremely confident of how we could perform. Not just due to the run of good races and obvious physical form, but we also take a lot of confidence out of the equipment we use. It is sometimes easily overlooked, but being on the start line knowing that your bike is super reliable and functioning to near perfection means there is one less thing to think about and you can draw a lot of positivity from that. With very few bike issues this season it is a real testament to our product suppliers.

It had been exactly a month since we had landed at Porto Airport so everything was nice and familiar. This time around however it was a slightly longer drive to the race town. Seia is a small town nestled in the Serra da Estrela mountain range, a good two hour drive south-east of Porto. The area was of stark contrast to the Portuguese race venues we have been to in the past, and much to our liking was a far cry from the high-rise tatty coastal cities. 

Our extremely convenient base for the weekend was just five minutes away in São Romão. On an in-and-out race weekend it makes life much easier when you are practically staying on the start line. It was also a piece of cake on practice day, with blue skies and a nice temperature once it warmed up. Early mornings, evenings, and nights however were absolutely freezing.

The course itself didn’t disappoint despite being of a different style to previous ones we have raced on in Portugal. Instead of longer tempo climbs and descents, it was far more punchy, with short steep climbs followed by equally short descents. You were constantly on and off the gas with never any time to recover before you had to attack the next climb or sprint back up to speed following a tight off camber corner. There were also a couple of little technical features to keep you on your toes. The course designer had done a great job, especially with it being located once again on the edge of town. Post practice it was clear that it was going to be a very tough, fast and unrelenting race.

Bad weather rolled in over the mountains the night before and it was quite unpleasant for our pre race mid morning spin further up into the mountains. In one tiny little sleepy village we saw the towns folk taking shelter from the howling gale and light rain in the church, probably because it looked by far the most sturdy building around!

The unsettled weather was still lingering by the afternoon and race start. Despite the light rain that had fallen the ground conditions were still bone dry. On call up we were both gridded on the front row, all the racing I’ve done on return from my kneecap fracture has meant my World Ranking is much higher than two months ago when I came back in Norway

The gridding made all the difference as off the line we both had good starts with Hamish slipping in to 4th and me 6th as the track narrowed out. I wasn’t content to be sat that far back for the tricky singletrack and risk getting stalled up so immediately moved round in to 3rd then 2nd wheel (when the Portuguese U23 champion skidded out on an early downhill). Hamish had the same idea and followed me up.

With the first lap pace the lead group was quickly established containing most of the main players including the both of us. By the mid point of lap 1 I felt comfortable with the speed so decided to push on up the longest climb and see who in the group could respond. Things started to break up with one or two dangling off the back before eventually loosing contact.

Riding off the front and Hamish policing the group behind I felt pretty good, especially on the steeper climbs. Perhaps a little too good though as I needed to ease up a little to regain some composure and regulate my breathing if I was going to stick the full distance. Sometimes it is easy to go a little too hard early on when you start to get a sniff of a podium or even the win.

By the mid way point I was holding second position just behind Tiago Jorge Oliveira Ferreira, who was extremely strong on the back end of the course, with a three rider group including Hamish just behind. Five riders all going for just three spots on the podium.

Towards the end of lap four, of six, one of the riders in Hamish’s group had a surge to get round me just as the weather took a turn for the worse. With a serious case of déjà vu to the previous round, the rain started to come down with intent. Sections that were no problem to ride before became an ice rink, the top layer of dirt unbelievably slick to an almost comical extent. 

Sliding around, literally at times, the last couple of laps, and in places deciding to tactically run sections to reduce the risk of washing out and wasting time, I came in to take 3rd place at the finish and my third consecutive podium.

Just behind Hamish held on to an impressive 6th position despite dealing with some serious leg cramp on the last couple of laps – thanks to the repeated explosive efforts all race long and the high torque required for them.

It was another great weekend to end the season on, a very demanding course, hard racing, nice people and above all top results.