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03-07-2024 | Wouter Fioole

Granfondo Serra da Estrela: Portugal's Marmotte

In the same weekend as the French La Marmotte, the "Marmotte of Portugal" also took place. From the start in Seia, what's on the prato do dia is literally just climbing and descending: 174 kilometers and 4500 meters of elevation. Well on paper then. The finish is at the highest point in mainland Portugal: Torre at exactly 2000 meters above sea level. The Granfondo Serra da Estrela proved to be a true test.

Gran Fondo Serra da Estrela

The 30 kilometers of descent back to the start are there just to get back to the car. With a race course of 145 kilometers and over 4,500 meters of elevation, the Gran Fondo Serra da Estrela would score about 98 points in our CWix500, pretty much comparable to the benchmark Marmotte, which comes in at 100 points. Nicknamed Skyroad Gran Fondo, this makes it literally and figuratively the highlight of the granfondo circuit in Portugal.

No good day for a bad day

It is not a good day to have a bad day. Right from the start the road goes up and I notice that my heart rate also shoots straight into the red. A stressful week, slight illness, and especially the Portuguese cuisine that has caused some extra kilos unfortunately have their effect. So instead of trying to stay in the wheels, I immediately choose my own pace, hoping to have enough left to decently reach the iconic golden domes on top of Torre. This final climb is 20 kilometers long at an average of 6.5% to the highest point in mainland Portugal.

Cyclist approaching the climb to Torre

Torre can be reached from many directions, but at this eleventh edition of the gran fondo we conquer it from Manteigas. In the very technical descent towards it, you can already see the first 13 kilometers of the climb in every hairpin. It is one straight line of asphalt, diagonally up the mountainside. This sight immediately explains the nickname Skyroad and frightens me a little. I have not been fresh on the bike for a long time.


The thirteen kilometers of climbing right from the start, followed by a smaller climb of four kilometers and a gradual climb of seven kilometers, still went fine all in all. Especially after the nearly twenty kilometers of easy descent, I entered Vide after 60 kilometers still in good spirits. Before we could start the climb to the finish, however, like the old Portuguese explorers, we first had to survive Adamastor. In our case, that's a total climb of 21 kilometers at an average of 6.5%.

Cyclist climbing Adamastor

Adamastor, according to Portuguese mythology, is a kind of wind god who resided around the Cape of Good Hope. Portuguese sailors first had to brave and subdue his force of nature before setting sail for the final destination of the voyage. Adamastor has been described as a hideous phantom of unearthly ugliness. The last nine of these 21 kilometers are so steep and difficult that this stretch is called the Adamastor. Regular stretches of above 15% make me particularly uncomfortable sitting on the bike to grind myself uphill. At the same time, it is horribly enjoying the challenge and the stunning scenery.

Balancing between renunciation and enjoyment

According to mythology, the sea calms down after overcoming Adamastor. It should be a smooth journey to the final destination from now on. Unfortunately, that is not really the case. A descent is followed by another bit of climbing sooner than hoped for. Only not four kilometers as indicated in the lap book, but the road goes up for a total of eleven kilometers before the descent to Manteigas really begins.

This is where I got quite a mental tick. I was already grinding, the fog was limiting my views, and I was increasingly looking forward to another twenty kilometers uphill. It had been a long time since I had such a hard time during a gran fondo. Fortunately, the star mountain range (Serra da Estrela) actually makes up for everything. A hidden gem of a cycling area in Europe. So I try to especially enjoy the fact that I can and may ride here. I eat, drink and look at all the natural beauty around me. I forget about the pain in my legs and manage to find a reasonable rhythm in the middle of the final climb.

Cyclist enjoying the Serra da Estrela

The last four kilometers to the finish, however, it gets steeper again and I begin to look more and more like Adamastor as Camões described him. Like "a hideous phantom, grotesque and enormous in stature, with heavy jaws and unkempt beard, frowning from shrunken, hollow eyes", I grind and pull myself uphill. With the golden domes of the radio towers as my redemptive aim, I cross the line completely devastated.

What a feast, what a route, what a gran fondo! Forget the Marmotte, come bike in Portugal! Next year I will definitely be here, but hopefully with better legs, at the start again.

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