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Cyclist Blog – Steven McDevitt

Steven McDevitt’s Road to Lisbon

Steven McDevitt has been keeping a regular blog of his Road to Lisbon journey to date.  It captures that trials, tribulations and jubilation of his cycling journey as we travel from Celtic Park in Glasgow down through the UK and over into Spain and onwards to Portugal and our final destination of Lisbon.

Celtic Park Launch – watch our amazing drone footage available here (credit Alan Stewart)

 

Wednesday 10th May, Maryhill

Pre cycle – arrival in Glasgow

When you fly with a bike there’s always a frisson of nerves. You might be comfortably ensconced in the cabin with a G&T, but what’s happening to your pride and joy down below? You might have coccooned it lovingly in pipe-lagging and bubble wrap before boxing up but, until you reach your destination, you have no idea whether the baggage handlers have been using  the box as a Frisbee. Or a trampoline.

Scanning the Team Road To Lisbon WhatsApp feed, it appears such pre-journey jitters are universal. “Will my bike be OK?” “Have I packed too much?” “Too little?!”

Thankfully, after some careful unpacking, it’s not in any more bits than it was when I put it in the box, so thanks to flybe for their TLC.

A quick re-assembly job, bolt on some extra green and white bling (bottles!) and the shamrock good-luck charm from my other half, Clare, and we’re done. Wispy, named for Lisbon Lion Willie ‘Wispy’ Wallace, passes the ride-round-the-block test with flying colours. She’s ready for her Celtic Park debut.

 

 

 

 

Sunday 14th May, Meriden

Cycle Day 1 – Celtic Park – Langholm 84Miles / 4732ft

Cycle Day 2 – Langholm – Ingleton 96Miles / 8854ft

Cycle Day 3 – Ingleton – Glossop 82Miles / 11051ft

Cycle Day 4 – Glossop – Meriden 101 Miles / 8533ft

It’s been an eventful three days which have conspired against any blog updates since Thursday.

Friday was the date of two half-an exquisite mornings cycling through the beauty of the Borders and Cumbria, then a lunch stop after which things all went a bit pear-shaped, with a violently upset upset stomach, dizziness and nausea which meant I had to complete the last 30 of the 95 miles in the support vehicle. Probably caused by sunstroke and dehydration the previous day. I lesson for our sizeable cadre of peely-Wally Scottish cyclists to stock up on factor 50 before we hit Spain.

After a night’s fitful sleep in a youth hostel dorm stuffed with snoring cyclists, it was time to hit the road again. Probably the biggest day of the trip 85 miles and 1100ft of climbing from Ingleton in the t’Yorkshire Dales to Glossop in the Peak District

The route took in some spectacularly bleak scenery, from the Oddly treeless Forest of Bowland, via a refreshment  stop at Marsden Moor, where a van was doing a roaring trade in ice cream cones despite the freezing wind, to a punishing slog of a climb up to Holme Moss summit, following in the tyre tracks of Chris Froome and other giants of the tour de France. The tarmac still bears much of the graffiti from cycling fans Urging their heros on, and you don’t have to be Chris Froome to be inspired by it.

Another welcome aspect of the stage was the level of interest and random generosity of total strangers we met during our stops-a couple of them gave cash donations upon learning what the trip was about

The final descent into Derbyshire with some of the finest miles of ever had on a bike.

White clouds scudding across blue skies above a landscape of reservoirs, lakes and emerald green hills – none of which were going to have to be climbed until the next day.

Sadly I managed to drop my phone in the loo at our accommodation in Glossop – maybe all that clutching the brakes on the final long descent left me with no strain to my fingers!  So the device I was blogging, photographing, storing navigational files and pretty much everything else on is now kaput. My old spare phone has had to step up off the subs’ bench.

 

 

Monday 15th May, Newbury

Cycle Day 5 – Meriden – Newbury 100 Miles / 5836ft

It’s Monday morning, it’s raining, it’s the rush-hour and we are in the suburbs of Coventry. Not the most auspicious of beginnings for a second hundred-mile ride in two days. But then, they’re all going to work and we are all going to Lisbon- and that gives the green and white peleton a bit of extra zip.

With the previous days consternation over navigation having been mostly ironed out, our group settled down to a  business like pace as we struck out south in search of better weather.

The undulating Warwickshire terrain eventually receded to be replaced by something far more picturesque- the olde-worlde village names and the honeyed-Stone mansions which dot the chocolate-box scenery of the Cotswolds.

It was here that we had our most sobering reminder that, while cycling can be the most fun way of getting from A to B, it’s an inherently risky activity. just 50 yards before our scheduled lunch stop, we happened upon the alarming site of one of our teammates  lying in the road swaddled in  sleeping bags, being tended to by one of our support crew while ambulance sirens blared  in the distance

That, unfortunately, was the end of the road to Lisbon for our colleague Stephen W, who is now recovering in hospital from wrist and hip fractures  after skidding off his bike.

His is the worst of the considerable physical challenges our team have had to face this week, with some team members having to take time out to recover from shoulder, neck and back issues.

It’ a reminder that the task we’ve set ourselves is a considerable physical challenge and that, no matter how many people actually complete the entire 1300 Miles of the trip, we should all be proud of our efforts.

Post-lunch, on the flat country lanes of Oxfordshire, Team Lisbon started to really gel with a concerted effort into an unrelenting headwind.  Our group utilized a technique called chain-ganging, whereby a group of riders take turns at the front where wind resistance is strongest, and those behind ride in close succession and benefit from not having to expend so much effort.  When it works well, its something akin to magic as you can cost along into a howling wind, barely having to pedal.  Great fun!

That sped us along through the Berkshire downs to Newbury where a grateful bunch of cyclists devoured their own weight in Chinese buffet and a couple of stragglers veered off course and ended up in the pub till well past bedtime with the Bhoys from the Newbury CSC.

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 16th May, Portsmouth

Cycle Day 6 – Newbury to Portsmouth 62Miles /4264ft

A mere 64 miles in order today, which would have counted as the full day cycling not so long ago.
Greenrock cracked the whip this morning and made sure we were all up, out and ready to go by 07:00 hours. As in Isle of Wight resident I can relate to the absolute necessity of arriving in time to catch a ferry, so I was happy to be rolling through the pleasant country lanes of Berkshire and Hampshire at this early hour

The day was not without its navigational gremlins as some team members, eager set a pace that would get us to Portsmouth on time, rolled ahead downhill and out of here shot of the pilot i.e. me. This resulted in more time being lost while we regrouped and got back on track. Our colleague Peter Ledwidge had been appointed back marker on the route for the day and helped adjudicate on those frequent occasions when the “off-course” alerts on your various Garmin devices started going off for no apparent reason.

After some pleasant meandering through what was, for me, an increasingly familiar landscape of chalked downland, we crested Porchester Hill and got our first glimpse of the south coast at Nelsons other column. Hooray! From there on it was downhill all the way with some sublime views over Portsmouth harbour and the Isle of Wight.

The congested approaches to Portsmouth made for some hairy moments as we negotiated several lanes of a traffic system clearly designed for motorised traffic with cyclist very distant afterthought.

 

 

 

But relieved grins and high-fives abound as we rolled into the ferry port and completed the UK leg of our trip.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday 18th May, Cervera de Pisguera

Cycle Day 8 – Santander – Cervera de Pisguera 82Miles / 7729ft

Sometimes you go to a place  and the weather is so horrible you can’t remember it with any fondness.

For me Santander joins that list. The weather was phone the whole way across the Bay of Biscay to our faulty towers-esque accommodation on the outskirts of the city near the airport.

The left broke with us in it they run out of beer after 1 1/2 friends and both coffee machines report in the morning. I wouldn’t be hurrying back!

But things like the song says can only get better and so it was to prove in the course of what was one of the best days any of us have ever had on a bike.

Our first refreshment stop was soon after the succession of dual carriage way is and rain debate which shadow the Atlantic coast had abated.

After that, the rain eased off  and the scenery and terrain  took a turn for the spectacular which ramped up all the way at her destination in Cervera de Pisuerga.

The road snake its way up, over and down through a spectacular succession of limestone crags, dams, lakes and distant, snow-covered ridgelines.

Morale was posted along the way I not just the weather but by a few gusto choruses of the Celtic standard “Glasgow’s green and white” which boomed back and forth between both ends of the Peleton as we ground our way up to the summit at 1300-odd metres.

Accommodation in Cervera was a cut above the faulty-towers tribute act we left behind in rainy Santander and it will be a well-fed and rested group who strike out tomorrow for a 90-mile foray into Spain’s somewhat flattered hinterland.

 

 

P.S. happy birthday to our RTL team member Ciaran Johnson, who has done more than his fair share of organising and facilitating this trip of a life time for the rest of us.

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 19th May 2017, Villalpando

Cycle Day 9 – Cervera de Pisguera – Villalpando (97Miles /2436ft )

I had a notion, I suspect we all do, that there is no such thing as cold weather in Spain. It’s all bullfights, sun loungers and spaghetti western soundtracks.  Well, the news from Cervera de Pisuerga at 7:30 AM is that you couldn’t be more wrong. despite pulling on my entire armory of arm warmers, leg warmers and shoe covers, I was chilled to the marrow for the first hour of today’s ride and bitterly regretting my foolhardy decision to leave my full-fingered winter gloves at home.

Thankfully the morning sun rose and conspired with the blood from our pumping legs to stave off the threat of hypothermia until our first food stop.

After the hilly heroics of yesterday, todays terrain offered a very different challenge.

97 miles of arrow – straight roads over a pan-flat plain with a few occasional ripples it’s not a terrain that many cyclists who train in the UK would be familiar with  and team Road to Lisbon were no exception.

As with every other day, the nettle was grasped with both hands and our group of seven quickly settled into a rhythm of two abreast chain-gang riding, which affords all but the frequently-rotated front two considerably respite from the wind resistance.

Shortly before lunch stop at Sahagun it became apparent that our pilgrimage to Lisbon had become intertwined with another, far more well – established one – the Camino de Santiago.

We passed many a peregrino sporting the scallop shell insignia which signified their intent to go all the way to Santiago to Compostela, the spectacular cathedral in Galicia reputed to house the remains of the Apostle, St James.

More of the same awaited us after lunch. Clothing layers were dispensed with as temperature rose to conform to the blue skies and the endless sunshine we all imagined would pave the way along the Road to Lisbon.

 

 

 

Our destination of Villalpando is never going to be a tourist hotspot but we were warmly tourist welcomed nonetheless – some team members even managed to gatecrash a neighbouring village fete when blown slightly off course in search of sustenance en route.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 20th May 2017, Ledesma

Cycle Day 10 – Villalpando – Ledesma (82Miles / 3107ft)

Before I came on this trip I would baulked at the  idea of cycling 80-plus miles in a day.  “Too far! Too long! My bum, neck and shoulders will be killing me!”

After nine days on the Road to Lisbon, anything seems possible on a bike. All you need is good company, simple sustenance and the certain prospect of a beer in the sun at the end.


The weather and terrain of the Castilla y Leon region help. By turns dead flat and gently hilly, each new horizon offers up a watercolorists’ dream of subtle contours swathed in green and gold, splashed liberally with the red of wild poppies. Buzzards and kites wheel overhead while storks colonise bell towers  and chimneys with their huge nests.
Roads are largely smoother and grippier than in the UK, which enabled the by-now polished operation of the Road To Lisbon peloton to devour the 80-odd miles from start to finish of today’s stage at a cracking pace.
Ledesma easily outstrips any of our previous destinations for beauty. It’s  an ancient hilltop town accessed by two stunning bridges over a lake and crowned by a castle of sun – bleached white stone.The team wasted no time settling in and by the time early evening rolled round,  a succession of Celtic songs echoed round the shaded piazza in front of the sympathetically restored hostal we’re staying in.

Particular credit has to go to David Shearan, whose Geordie brogue belted out more verses of the Willie Maley song than I ever knew existed. If he ever goes on Mastermind with Celtic as his specialist subject, he’ll destroy all comers.

Tomorrow we say adios to Spain and hola to Portugal!  The heat of Lisbon is building.

 

 

 

 

Sunday 21st May 2017, Sabugal

Cycle Day 11 Ledesma – Sabugal (87.4Miles / 3704ft)

Today’s major milestone on the Road to Lisbon was cross the final frontier.  Sadly, after today’s stage from the lovely little hilltop town of Ledesma to Sabugal, its equally picturesque counterpart across the Portuguese border, we have run out of new countries to visit.

Part of me now wishes Celtic had added the World Club Championship to its quadruple trophy haul in 1967 so we could sail across the Atlantic and finish the ride in Buenos Aires.  Mind you, not the part of me that spends 6-8 hours in contact with a saddle every day.

Today’s stage started off with about 30km of attritional, lumpily-surfaced roads which left your fillings jangling and your wrists aching – a shock to the system after the ribbons of pristine tarmac which have been standard issue on the Iberian leg of our trip thus far.

Thankfully the landscape continued in a similar vein of contented cows grazing a semi-wild scrubland dotted with stands of dark oak trees and the roads smoothed out.

The dry stone walls added an oddly British atmosphere to the landscape, although the cartoonish silhouette of the ever-present storks reminded us that we were much further afield.

There followed a brisk and mostly flat or seemingly downhill section which sped a disciplined peloton of 14 or so riders to our lunch stop just past Ciudad de Rodrigo – the last major settlement we’d pass on the Spanish side of the border.

True to form, the border, marked only by a couple of signed and a change in the colour of tarmac on the Portuguese side, was at the top of a long, snaking climb.

A breakaway group got there before the one I was in and a guard of honor of cheering teammates roared us on across the frontier.  The same courtesy was extended to the trailing group, then a frenzy of picture-taking and backslapping culminated in a trademark Celtic huddle in the middle of the road.  An emotional moment.

From there a series of swooping descents with one last sting-in-the-tail climb swept us into Ledesma, where we found our Celtic had clinched a record-breaking unbeaten domestic league campaign in front of a spectacular full – stadium ‘tifo’ honoring the Lisbon Lions.  Rival Rangers added to the burgeoning pile of tributes by finishing their league campaign on 67 points.

All in all, a great day for Celtic fans, a great day for cycling and a particular highlight among the many there have been on The Road to Lisbon.

 

 

Monday 22nd May 2017, Proenca-a-Nova
Cycle Day 12 Sabugal – Proenca-a-Nova (93.9Miles / 6229)
Of all the things Celtic fans could have sung about, ladies, beer, heroes etc, “the HEAT of Lisbon” was the defining characteristic that made it into their song.  Today, with two days’ riding south and west still between us and the Portuguese capital, we found out why.

The day started innocently enough as we climbed out of Sabugal and into the Serra Malcata – a nature reserve of thickly-forested, smallish mountains. On a slightly overcast and humid morning, it felt a bit like being in the Trossachs when they’re trying on their summer clothes.
As the first climb ticked by I got chatting to Shane O’Meara, who asked if I was up for a bit of a Joust on the mountainous stage that lay ahead of us.

I’d only spent one day riding with Shame – an enjoyable cut-and-thrust of racing up and among a group of similarly able riders between Ingleton and Glossop.

We had our joust on the biggest hill of the day, a huge grind up to the appropriately named village of Alpedrinha. While I got to streak ahead on some stretches of climb I was inevitably reeled in on the way down where my cautious tendencies kicked in and Shane’s carefree approach saw him speeding out of sight.

After lunch is that carefree approach saw him speeding out of sight away down the wrong road, leaving me with a choice of following him or retracing my steps to the right one. Having got safely from A to B and beyond following Greenrock’s excellent route mapping on way to Portugal, I chose the latter.  I messaged him to let him know he was off course and wished him luck.  He eventually got back to the hotel around the same time as the rest of us so his homing instincts are obviously sound.
It was the best point in the day that heat really kicked in. South and west of Castillo Branco, landscape and vegetation changed markedly.
A landscape of fragrant, piney scrub dotted with all the olive groves, vineyard and citrus plantations told us we are in a place that gets a lot of hot weather. The cacti sprouting by the roadside underlined the fact.
As I trickled up the remaining hills and the sweat trickled down me, I managed to latch onto group stopping in a petrol station for a Coke or ten, and we then scorched down and inched up the remaining hills.  We arrived at our accommodation to find it was the first of the trip with its own pool and a grateful team of shattered cyclists slaked off the sweat of the day by plunging right in.

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