On the road, day 1: pedElle 2017 sets off from Porto
Day 1 of the Legal & General Real Assets pedElle began with beautiful blue skies over Porto. Forty-three women from the property industry gathered outside the hotel for the fifth edition of pedElle and rolled out through the narrow cobbled streets into the sunshine. The riders headed down to the river, out of the city and up into the Douro valley where the scenery was lush and verdant, with a wide river below, and vineyards and terraces on either side of the valley. The two rows of plum-coloured jerseys moved as one peloton through the countryside, like they’d been riding together for months rather than hours.
After a stop for coffee and a great selection of Portuguese cakes in a shady cafe garden, the next stage began with a long, winding and sweeping descent; the first of the ride and possibly the first ever for some riders, down through the valley and over a dam. Almost immediately, the main climb of the day was upon them. The surroundings and the views provided the perfect backdrop for the climb, with huge wide open vistas, occasionally interspersed with cobbled old towns – a very uncomfortable riding experience for any length of time.
Lunch, at Tendais, was in a cafe with views of more mountainous peaks, topped by wind farms. It was a chance to reflect on the morning’s cycling, to get treatment from the sports injury therapists if needed and, most importantly, to refuel.
The third stage was the longest and toughest of the day at 66km and 1,100m of climbing. The group climbed for another 10km and at the top, enjoyed a brief stop to take in the view before donning layers to tackle the long, winding descent.
The stage continued to roll through a variety of terrains and landscapes, from the mountainous to the rural, from small villages to pine forests, passing bemused locals as they went. Towards the end of the day, everyone regrouped for the final few kilometres into Viseu and arrived into the hotel tired but elated. It was one of the most challenging days of any Club Peloton ride to date, but everyone was in good spirits, buoyed by their achievements. After a warm down stretch, they were treated to drinks and a live pianist in the hotel’s beautiful lobby, before dinner and a well-earned rest in readiness for day 2.
On the road, day 2: pedElle pedals its way through Portugal
Day 2 of the Legal & General Real Assets pedElle 2017 begas, like Day 1, with clear blue sunny skies. But it was a chilly start as the group rolled out of the hotel after a big breakfast, and there were a few nerves at the scale of the challenge still to come despite the previous day’s achievements.
However, Portugal’s scenery did not let anyone down and the morning’s first stage was another stunner. The terrain became more rugged as the riders made their way south-west from Viseu, with vineyards giving way to olive groves. Winding roads over dams and reservoirs distracted anxious minds and helped settle nervous legs into a steady rhythm. The pace was faster and smoother and the previous day’s first-day jitters were all but forgotten as the riders concentrated once more on the task in hand.
The morning’s coffee stop was on a peaceful terrace overlooking a reservoir and it was with reluctance that everyone moved off to take their place on the road again. However, the next stage delivered yet more stunning scenery and as the peloton wound its way through a valley bottom dotted with white houses, the riders begin to practice through and off, rotating through the group smoothly and evenly. Through and off allows everyone a turn on the front but also assures a chance to recover on the way back, as well as allowing riders to mix and chat as they move through the group.
Cycling is hot and tiring work and as the temperature began to climb the morning’s combined stages of 106km began to take their toll. After winding its way through a forested gorge, the peloton arrived at Condeixa a Nova for lunch on the restaurant’s terrace in the blazing sunshine surrounded by orange trees.
After lunch the terrain changed again; limestone gave way to red sandstone and became more arid and dry. Practising through and off again, the group makes its way through flatter and more gently rolling hills, consisting of agricultural and industrial landscapes, covering another 41km with ease in the mid afternoon sun.
The final stage of the day was a short, sharp 30km, a welcome distance after 146km already spent in the saddle. After negotiating the busy, post-rush hour run into Leiria, the 43 cyclists were treated to a well-deserved al fresco dinner in a beautiful square overlooked by the castle in the old town. Two days and 328km done, the peloton was ready for an early night in preparation for the third and final day of pedElle 2017.
On the road, day 3: pedElle arrives in Lisbon
Day 3 of the Legal & General Real Assets pedElle 2017 began with breakfast eight floors up, overlooking Leiria’s hilltop castle in the early morning sunshine. Despite tired legs, many of the riders marvelled at their cycling achievements on pedElle so far: the longest distance they’d ever cycled, the most metres they’d ever climbed. Most were looking forward to the day ahead: having come further physically and emotionally than they ever thought possible, the end was now, almost unbelievably, in sight.
However, Portugal still wasn’t finished with the women of pedElle and the day was shaping up to be a hot one. The cyclists headed out of Leiria for a 30km run to the Parque Natural das Serras de Aire e Candeeiros where the climb of the stage awaited. It rolled onwards and upwards for 5km, every now and then throwing in a short, sharp gradient to test everyone’s legs. The views from the top made it all worthwhile though, with the national park, in all its arid beauty, laid out below the riders. From the top there was a sweeping descent to the morning coffee stop, where excellent coffee, freshly squeezed orange juice and pastel de nata were consumed with relish.
The second stage of the day was, by comparison, much shorter and less steep than the first, but it it did not feel any easier as the temperature rose to 30 degrees. After a couple of short climbs, the stage settled into rolling climbs and descents through more arid terrain, with incredible views on either side. But the heat was really starting to take its toll on the riders and lunch at Cartaxo was a welcome break from the blazing sun.
Any lingering thoughts for anyone at home that cycling in Portugal is a jolly holiday should by now be firmly dispelled. The third and final stage of the day was long – 74km – and relentless in the blazing sun and 32 degree heat. It featured an incredibly tough climb, where in places the gradient reached 14% – in the heat it was a truly brutal experience. At the top everyone did their best to cool down and take on more food and water before the descent. The huge wide open vista down over the Tejo estuary nature reserve showed the riders where they were heading, but the final 35km into Lisbon was a tough run and seemed to go on forever through multiple roundabouts, industrial districts and the urban sprawl of outer Lisbon.
But finally – after 500km and 7,800m of climbing – the end was in sight as the peloton rolled its way into busy Saturday evening Lisbon. Joy, jubilation, tears, laughter and relief came in equal measures as riders celebrated their achievements on the sea front with a glass of bubbly courtesy of Helix.
Dinner that evening was a chance to reflect and to thank those involved. Now in its fifth year, pedElle has gone from strength to strength since it was founded by Jennifer Ross of Tibbalds and Claire Treanor of Treanor Consulting, bringing more and more women in property into cycling. It has also, over the years, raised incredible amounts for Coram. This year’s total currently stands at £34,000 and the money raised will be used to help vulnerable children find permanent new loving homes through Coram’s adoption programme.
Last year became known as ‘the snowy one.’ It is quite likely that this will one will become known as ‘the hot one.’ It has, as Jennifer Ross points out, been “the hardest pedElle ever,” but without a doubt every rider pushed themselves further than they ever thought possible. Everyone who took part should be proud of what they have achieved.