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As it is usual these days, I am awake way before the time I set on the alarm clock. It is said the practice of sport rejuvenates you, but this is ridiculous, I feel like a child the night before a school trip. I am too excited to remain in bed a second more, so I get out and start the wake up ritual. I have got my cycling clothes ready in a chair, in the exact order I should put them on. First of all, the heart rate monitor band, then my Specialized long neck base layer, followed by the Endura leg warmers. They are much more comfy than Rapha’s, even after I exchanged them for a size L. Finally my Pro Team kit. Thermal bib shorts and the Pro Team jacket. Besides that I am using a thin Decathlon balaclava and a light windstopper jacket for the first hours of the ride, temperatures are still very mild, I think 4º C has been the lowest I have seen in the daytime recently.

The "salty part" of my breakfast.

The “salty part” of my breakfast.

My breakfast is “salty & sweet” in our house lingo. That means a small sandwich, made with grilled bread rubbed with a ripe tomato sliced in half and generously drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, traditional pa amb tomàquet and then some Iberian ham inside. That is the salty part. For the sweet one, any cupcake, pastry or just bread and butter with jam or nutella spread over it will do. Yesterday I skipped the sweet part but today I know I am going to need all the energy I can get. So I indulge in a small brioche spread with Nocilla, the Spanish equivalent of Nutella. I feed the dogs and walk them for a bit, which doubles as a weather and temperature check. Today is cloudy but no rain is expected and temperatures are still high, blame the super niño. I pack a banana and two mini sandwiches, one “salty” – ham and butter – and another “sweet”, Nocilla. Plus a bar and a gel.

Fuel for the ride, I am gonna need it.

Fuel for the ride, I am gonna need it.

For these rides I leave around 8.15 in the morning, when the day has fully dawned, although today’s cloud cover makes it less apparent. I don’t need many kilometres to realize that my legs are not fully recovered from yesterday’s effort. Too much riding in the big ring, I guess. I make things worse by thinking too much about it, frequently looking down to the speedometer and thinking ‘yesterday I was faster here’.  After 30 kilometres comes the first climb. Today’s route is quite similar to yesterday’s so at least the first 60 kilometres are the same. So I decide to forget about the speed and concentrate on a comfortable pace. I am less worried by my speed while climbing. When the terrain combines flat and hills I feel the urge to go faster. But during climbs I tend to concentrate on a sustainable pace. A group of four cyclists – I would guess they are older than me – overtake at the beginning of the climb. My pace is way slower than theirs. What a surprise. I don’t know what is wrong with us cyclists? When we see another cyclist in front of us our gut reaction is to up the pace a little, and see if we can catch up. I have learned to be more conservative. Why overtake if you can’t keep yourself ahead? I see how they disappear after the first bend, and I think each cyclist has their own story and it is very difficult making comparisons. Most of the time it makes no sense at all. I am on my third ride, yesterday I made a big effort, maybe they are fresher than me and are on a short ride. After all I am quite a newbie. I have to keep the focus on myself and the road ahead, no matter what other cyclists do.

Power to the union!

Power to the union!

After the climb comes some rest, the next 20 kilometres until Valls are flat to slightly downhill with some short hills climbing. So I take advantage of this to try to gain some time. I made a brief stop to eat half a banana and another stop at Valls to buy another banana, I think bananas make me more confident. I am about to cross the Prelitoral Range again, but this time I am not heading to Cabra del Camp but to Montblanc. There are two ways to make the crossing to Montblanc from Valls, one follows the river Francolí and the train tracks, the other one crosses the Coll de Lilla. I choose the first one as the route is flatter and shorter following the Francolí. From here to Poblet is going to be climbing all the way, although the average gradient seems absolutely manageable, less than 2% during 20 kilometres.

The wind starts to blow and I hate it. There is a lot of traffic too, specially big trucks. Valls to Montblanc has the most dense traffic so far in these rides. I cross Montblanc and keep going, I have to arrive and cross l’Espluga de Francolí to arrive to Poblet. The gradient is not very steep but I am hating it all the way, long straights that seem to have no end. I already see Poblet, but the road makes a big sweep around the monastery before showing you the entrance. I have to manipulate myself into thinking positively, or at least, about something else. That long straight. It never seems to end. It is just a matter of time. Look at those vineyards behind the old stone walls, aren’t they the ones we saw when visiting the Torres wineries? Yeah, the wine is called “Grans Muralles.” And so on.

Monasteries and vineyards are a good combination.

Monasteries and vineyards are a good combination.

I finally make it to Poblet. It is huge. I sit and eat half a banana and a small ham and butter sandwich. A couple of cats come by, I am sure they can sense me as a cyclist, in other words a subject that could hold food. I share with them bits of ham and I take some pictures of Poblet. It is very big but a bit impersonal, I prefer Santa Maria de Vallbona, smaller and right in the middle of town. I group text the relatives. “I am in Poblet”. And then just to my wife “legs and neck”. Pain in the legs is easy to avoid, easing the gear, going slower, but pain in the neck is another thing. I use long straights to look down and stretch my cervical muscles, keeping the wheel near the road line but it is a little bit too hypnotic for my state of mind right now.  This is another drone video made by my friend Joan:

I am on the way back and really enjoying the negative gradient getting out of Poblet. There are a couple of straights until l’Espluga de Francolí, almost 2 kilometres with an average gradient of -5%, and I average 52 km/h. There is a Strava segment that goes from Poblet to Montblanc and later I will learn I have the ninth best time. Impressive. There are only fifty seven riders that have recorded a time here though. I stop in Montblanc to buy a lemon flavoured Gatorade. I learnt to hate the blue one during Transpyr.

I am so focused in going fast that I miss the turn for Valls through the Francolí. That means if I do not do something I will get back to Valls through el Coll de Lilla, the climb I wanted to avoid. A short glance to the map yesterday showed some hairpins, a sure sign of significant gradients. In a classic stubborn way of mine, I keep going, I know it is short, but I do not know if it will be a hard climb. In the end it will be not very hard. It is 4.6 kilometres with an average grade of 5.7%. The road is very wide and the tarmac is perfect so when the descent begins I enjoy it immensely, I hit 67 km/h in a long straight, hands down in the handlebar, big ring and all the power I can squeeze from my not so fresh legs. After a bit of doubt crossing Valls I find the track again, I am again on familiar grounds, no more surprises.

I guess cyclists are welcome here, although I didn't check it.

I guess cyclists are welcome here, although I didn’t check it.

I have got 60 kilometres left and the worst is already past me. Although today I feel not very fresh, I am holding up quite well, but also I am drinking a lot. So 15 kilometres after Valls I have to stop again to buy two cans of Aquarius. I have no fear of hitting the wall but I routinely eat my gel around 30 kilometres before the finish.

I enjoy the after ride a lot. I compare numbers and see my performance in a more objective way. One thing I have learned over the time is that I am a bit on the pessimistic side while I am on the bike. So after reading my complaints of lack of freshness today, let me show the actual numbers. Let us compare the last leg of today and yesterday`s ride.

Last 32,9 km (Today) Last 32,9 km (Yesterday)
1h 13 min                1h 12 min
max speed 60 km/h        max speed 53 km/h
avg speed 27 km/h        avg speed 28 km/h

I find interesting that in those last 32.9 kilometres today I hit the maximum speed, but yesterday my average speed was a little faster. Looking at where I did my maximum speeds – a 3 kilometre downhill section – I see what has happened. I simply knew the road better today and used a faster line. As for being slower, okay  I am being slower today, but just 3.7% slower than yesterday.

I get home quite tired but happy. In a day that started with bad sensations I have managed to accomplish my goals, getting a little lost and not cracking. But Festive 500 has not yet ended for me. I have ridden 436.8 kilometres so far and there is one monastery left for me, Santes Creus. Originally, the loop to Santes Creus and back was to be 117.8 kilometres long and included a 40 kilometre of more or less continued climb. I just need 64 kilometres to finish the challenge, but it is no longer about the 500 kilometres, it is about completing my 2015 Winter Monastery Tour. If I choose the shortest route, it will be 88 kilometres long, but it will involve repeating for the third time the first and last legs of my last two rides to Poblet and Vallbona de les Monges. And I would like to change things a bit, even if it involves doing more climbing. So I get back to the drawing board – Strava editor –  and I come up with a route that is 92.5 kilometres long and has some climbing too. But first I have to make sure that I recover well for tomorrow, and that includes the special treatment.

After eating and doing the chores of the day – dog walking, laundry, ride debrief and preparations for tomorrow – I decide to use my wife’s Power Plate to speed my leg’s recovery. It really works wonders and I should have done it yesterday. But my neck is also killing me so I take my time in a fifteen minute session of cervical stretching. It also works wonders. This is something I have to do more often. Post ride recovery is very important for consecutive rides and that is precisely what I am training for.  You can do it by yourself, no need to visit the physio. Speaking of that, I miss my Transpyr post ride massages. In fact, I feel a little like in Transpyr. My wife is not here – she is working in Barcelona-  I am by myself and during the rides we communicate with each other by texting, trying to convey in a few words and some emoticons how it is the ride going. There is also a clear goal, planned and publicly announced, I am doing the Festive 500.

Tonight’s dinner is a bowl full of pasta. I cook some integral macaroni, and then I sauté them with sliced cherries, basil leaves, black olives, garlic and chilli. I go to bed quite early and I read a bit before I call it a night for good. Tomorrow is the last day and it feels fantastic.