Extra post: Gala dinner and rogues gallery

Following an exhausting 600km slog across the Iberian peninsula, riders were treated to a gala dinner celebrating their achievement at Taylor’s Port in Oporto. David Cox, the Chief Executive of The Benevolent, travelled to join the riders and thank them for their efforts. During the dinner David was presented with the Tour of The Douro official lycra, as well as asked to be custodian of the lederhosen until the next charity ride takes place.

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(I think the Major is having rather a good time…)

This blog wouldn’t be complete without a little look behind the scenes at the Tour of the Douro. It wasn’t all polished professionals and slick cycling, oh no. Here are a few things you haven’t yet been shown…

Adrian ‘Major’ Bridge swotting up during his Bodegas Roda tasting

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Alan ‘Sir John’ Montague-Dennis greets the tour lederhosen with a mixture of joy and fear

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Graham ‘Dodders’ Dodridge ready for any hill Spanish geography can throw at him

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Leave this to the communications department; “does ANYONE know where they have gone?”

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We all need somebody to lean on…when the knees give way

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Victor ‘Gladiator’ Charcan; “my name is Maximus Decimus Meridius…”

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The Tour of the Douro version of a Mexican Standoff

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No respect for Gram’s Van; “I said no shoes inside the van you lot!”

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Emperor Hawes addresses his subjects on the final evening

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Day Five: A final dawn raid…

6am in the Douro Valley. The sun breaks over a far hill, casting its warming glow over Quinta de Vargellas. Riders enjoy a hearty breakfast and freshly squeezed estate orange juice before receiving their briefing for the day. A light walk to the river bank, then a sharp, arduous, winding climb to kick things off with a bang. Faces dropped, knees quivered, tempers flared. This was going to be tough, but the glory of successfully riding 600 kilometres and raising £25,000 for The Benevolent prevailed and any dissenters were soon brought back into line.

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The start to day five was the most calamitous so far of a remarkably incident free tour, with one tiny sideways tumble into a ditch, a set of locked brakes and the first puncture of the week. All riders successfully powered to the top of the steep inclines for a quick tour around the Quinta da Nogueira winery, before freewheeling right back down again to follow the course of the Douro river to the town of Regua, the final stop for the tour.

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Arrival at Quinta de Tourais became a highly organised military operation, with all riders in pedal procession descending the driveway in glorious fashion. And quite rightly so. Completing the Tour of the Douro required gargantuan effort, months of training, mental fortitude and thighs of steel! Well done to all those who took part, this has been a memorable experience for an extremely worthy cause. We are grateful for all your efforts and good humour throughout. Now, has anyone seen Alan’s bike lock key…?

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Day Four: “You ride, we van!”

Normal service resumed! 3G reception in the heart of the Douro Valley is somewhat non-existent… You thought you’d lost us! No such luck.

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Cycling. Uphill. A lot. This has featured prominently in the Tour of the Douro so far, which has required a lot of support; knee support, back support and…van support?! A quick mention to the support team who have been ever-present, catering to the riders every whim and wish with Graham’s van (inspiration for the verb ‘to van’, which he does with remarkable aplomb) and the pickup, providing Lucozade, snacks, encouragement, loud music and roadside dancing when required. Heaps of infectious enthusiasm, even running with the riders on occasion…

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Back to the serious business of riding. Day Four of Tour of the Douro saw a regimented early morning departure from Miranda do Duero, headed for the magical Taylor’s estate Quinta de Vargellas, the promise of a relaxing swim across the river and a refreshing white port and tonic awaiting those who conquered the torturous undulating terrain that lay before them.

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Breathtaking vistas kept the peloton spurred on as awaited them around the next bend diverted attention from the degree of incline…! The relief, however, did not make things any easier for riders, with knees being taped, muscles screaming, and the introduction of roadside bottled water showers to prevent overheating. With temperatures reaching 35 degrees centigrade, the Tour of the Douro was certainly hotting up.

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The determination and perspiration of day four certainly paid off, with a final hill climb resulting in a breathtaking 360 degree vista from Spain to Portugal. Riders arrived at the Taylor’s Quinta de Vargellas estate for the night and were immediately inducted into the traditions of the property; swimming across the Douro (a mere half a kilometre there and back), the Douro Drive (drive a golf ball across the river – only one was victorious on this occasion) and after dinner boules in the pitch black night, before stargazing at the big sky above. A tough day suitably toasted.

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Day 3: no pain, no gain.

As day three of the Tour of the Douro got under way, riders were becoming anxious. Roads were becoming more torturous, hill climbs more arduous, and weather conditions more debilitating. Where others may think clear blue skies and blazing sunshine are bliss, for riders they make everything all the more uncomfortable and difficult.

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Whilst conditions might look quite picturesque, knees were being taped, muscles were being strained, and the entire peloton was beginning to feel the strain of the task at hand. Leaving from Vallodolid and crossing the last remaining plateaus of Castilla y Leon in the morning, riders descended from Spain into Portugal, welcomed by a punishing hill climb to Mirando do Duero where day three’s ride ended.

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Whilst the weather may be unseasonably favourable, and the scenery remarkably breathtaking, today reminded riders that true hard work to raise money for their chosen charity was the glue behind the efforts of the Tour of the Douro. The final hill climnb into Mirando do Duero being tackled with particular aplomb by Mentzendorff Managing Director Andrew Hawes; a border crossing and a photo opportunity atop a huge hydro-electric damm facility were clearly not enough to stop this man powering to the top of the hill in the name of The Benevolent!

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Day two: A victory for Victor!

Last minute route change!

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Day two saw the riders leave Burgos, the historic capital of Castile, and head into the wine region of Ribera del Duero, across wide open plateaus which hid some torturous uphill climbs. In the heart of the Ribera del Duero region lies Bodegas La Horra, a second property belonging to Bodegas Roda. A much deserved break for lunch and small sampling of the wines was enjoyed.

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Heading for Valladolid, it was after a heroic 175 kilometres of riding that our guest rider, Victor Charcan of Bodegas Roda, finished his cycle. This makes him the longest surviving guest rider of all 8 Mentzendorff Charity Rides, so huge congratulations to Victor – especially considering he hadn’t even seen the bike he was riding prior to the tour, let alone spent months training!

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Fueled on by last night’s dinner of roast suckling lamb (thank you Phil Brown), the riders now face a dash for the Portuguese border…

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And they’re off!

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Tour of the Douro riders in front of the Bodegas Roda winery preparing for the official off, including our guest rider Victor Charcan from Roda! What laid before then was 85 kilometres including 900 metres of climbing to a max altitude of 1200m above sea level traversing the Sierra de la Demande mountain range as we left the Ebro Valley depression and La Rioja behind us and entered the Duero/Douro Valley catchment area.

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The peloton clicked smoothly into place and stayed together until the mountain road kicked up…..

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Compulsory pre-tour winery visit…

Upon arrival in the town of Haro, in La Rioja Alta, the TOTD riders and team indulged in a little leisure time before getting down to the hard work. Bodegas Roda welcomed all for a tour and tasting in their magnificent facility overlooking the town.

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The owners of Bodegas Roda conducted a tour and tasting for the assembled team, introducing their marvellous wines including; Sela, Roda 2008, Roda I Reserva 2007 and the iconic Cirsion 2010, which was paired magnificently, and controversially, with chocolate, olive oil and salt.

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