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26-05-2024 | Wouter Fioole

Gran Fondo Medio Tejo: everything but medio

After participating in four gran fondos in Portugal, "medio" is not what's on my mind. The gran fondo organizations here can be described as very good and excellent. The courses are magnificent, and the scenery is beautiful and more beautiful. In that respect, I don't understand why the gran fondos here are mostly a national affair. The vast majority of participants are Portuguese, with the remaining 5% consisting of Brazilians (logical due to the colonial connection), Spanish, British, and one Dutchman: me. Having completed two gran fondos along the Douro, it's now time for one around the middle section of the Tagus: the GF Medio Tejo!

Cyclists participating in the GF Medio Tejo, Portugal

Ferreira de Zêzere is a typical Portuguese town, situated pretty much in the middle of the country. From here, around 1100 riders set off for a mini-, mid-, or gran fondo. As described in the report of the GF Torres Vedras, everyone starts at the same time from mandatory start boxes. The order of registration and payment determines which start box you are in. I stand with number 864 in the second-to-last start box. By now, I know that no matter how hard I start, I am not going to see the head of the race from this position. So I have resolved to mainly enjoy the ride, ride hard, and see if I can jump to a new group on the climbs.

Doubt

The reason all the distances start at the same time is that you can still change distances during the ride itself and be included in that ranking. Normally, I am 100% part of ‘team Frank’, which always chooses the longest distance (with the exception of the ultrafondos). But the vast majority of participants in Portugal are more ‘team Victor’. Doubt shoots through my mind and body as I see the junction sign coming up. Do I go left for 145 kilometers and 2,700 meters of elevation over a terrain that is a combination of the Amstel Gold Race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège? Or straight ahead and opt for 103 kilometers and less than 2,000 meters of elevation? Or.... do I choose the nice 72 kilometers with still 1000 meters of elevation?

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Fear of missing out

The reason for the doubt is simple. During the GF Torres Vedras, I broke down so badly on a climb of over 2 kilometers at an average of 12% that I honestly don't feel like doing it again. Especially since I recently fell quite hard. And in the gran fondo, there are two of the total 13 climbs with these same numbers. In the medio, only one, and with the mini, I would avoid them both.

Cyclists riding through scenic routes in the GF Medio Tejo

Before I know it, however, I am steering left of the majority of my group. Just under 200 others also take this route. I don't want to be left with a feeling of 'if only I had...'. And I haven't regretted it for a moment. I still ended up grinding my way through the climbs pretty OK. The middle stretch, where we actually meandered along the Tagus, was impressive. Wonderful roads, climbs, ambiance, and views. It had a totally different and distinct character compared to the other three gran fondos I've ridden so far, but again, superlatives fall short. No plans yet this summer? Select Portugal as a destination, pick one or two gran fondos. They certainly won't be "medio."

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