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24-03-2023 | Frank Jansen

Algarve Bike Challenge: Three days of mountain biking in sunny Portugal

The Algarve Bike Challenge is a three-day MTB stage race for duos. This year the event celibrated its tenth edition in the south of Portugal. CycloWorld was there with two teams. On paper it sounds like a dream: three days of mountain biking in the sunny and warm Algarve towards the end of winter. Spoiler: that turned out to be true!

Photo: yours truly in action.

We opted for the premium package as recommended by the organization, which also includes two hotel nights. We are sleeping at the beautiful Hotel Albaroca, along with dozens other MTB fans. The hotel is an old converted tuna factory about three kilometers from the start/finish line. Everything is well arranged; there's even a 24-hour guarded bike park.

Special evening prologue

The party starts on Friday evening with a short evening prologue of only two kilometers, right through the historic center of the host town of Tavira. The town is about forty car minutes from Faro airport. The course is a mix between twists and turns, a climb, a maze through a park and fast descents over steps.

Because the prologue starts in the evening, we can afford to leave the Netherlands only that morning. We even have time to explore the course in the afternoon, which is absolutely a paramount. Meanwhile, we hang out in the extremely nicely set up finish village, do some small talk and then return to the hotel for a bit of rest.

Photo: meandering through the historic center of Tavira: very special.

In the evening, it's time to race! In each heat, three pairs start. Two kilometers sounds like nothing at all, yet my teammate Ruurd and I are completely demolished when we cross the finish line with blood in our throats. We win our heat and start the next morning somewhere in the middle of the field.

It's quite clear that everything is tightly organized. With Swiss precision the evening prologue is finished to the minute. Collecting the start numbers also goes smoothly, and on top of that you also get a nice jersey. Bands and DJs provide the musical entertainment.

Two versatile stages

On Saturday and Sunday it's time for the stages. The courses are tough, but not impossible. That's fine, after all, it's only February. On both days the sun is shining brightly and the temperature is over 20 degrees, what more could you want?

Photo: Koen (Team CycloWorld 2) in the descent.

Both rides start and finish in Tavira. For us only at 9:20, so getting up in the middle of the night is not necessary. At 65 kilometers and 1500 meters of elevation, the Sunday stage is a little shorter than the Saturday stage of 87 kilometers and 2000m+. Both stages are quite similar. In the first half there is mostly a lot of climbing on wider gravel roads. The climbs vary in length between 500 meters and 6.5 kilometers. The second part of the rides is much more technical, with tricky descents and lots of singletracks. For us intermediate MTBers, the course is actually just right, although it is sometimes much harder work for my teammate on his hardtail than it is for me on my fully with dropper.

Photo: full speed down.

Energy can be refilled along the way at several very well-equipped feed stations. It is also possible to lubricate your chain, which is more than welcome given the many river crossings.

Photograph: Ronald (Team CycloWorld 2) through one of the many river crossings.

The field of participants is quite mixed. Of course there are some top riders at the start, but the majority consists of 'ordinary' mountain bikers like us who are not necessarily aiming for a result. It strikes us that MTB riders take much better care of their equipment than roadies. People ride nicely polished and often expensive bikes, and it is remarkably quiet at the equipment stations.

Photo: wasted over the finish line.

Sunday Ruurd and I cross the finish line of the final stage around 2:00 pm. We finished in the middle of the Masters (40+) class. More important: we enjoyed the beautiful course and the often phenomenal views. And that includes Team CycloWorld 2, which rolled in a little after us.

Photo: payback for the hard work.

There was still time for a quick (but ice cold) Sagres beer and a tasty recovery meal. Then we pressure washed the bike and cycled to the hotel, where we had to pack our bikes quickly because at 4 p.m. the taxi was already waiting to take us to the airport. With clear tan lines on our arms, we arrive back in rainy Holland late at night. A short, but very powerful trip to never forget.

All results can be found here.

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Practical info

  • Date 2024: not yet known, but probably end of February.
  • Start/finish: Tavira, Portugal.
  • Prices: from 125 euros if you register early (2023 prices).
  • Accommodation: there are plenty of hotels in Tavira and the surrounding area. The organization's premium package is highly recommended and will cost you only 110 euros p.p. extra.
  • Travel: flying to Faro is possible almost every larger European airport. By car could be an option as well, depending on where you live.

Plus and minuses

+ Beautiful and challenging course that is not overly tough
+ Excellent organization
+ Great value
+ Very good chance of nice weather
+ Easy to travel to (provided you fly)
- No coffee bar / barista at the start
- Photography could be better 
- You'll have to wait another year for the next edition

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