I'd never been to Madeira so I wasn't really sure what to expect from this race but it's safe to say I was pleasantly surprised. The island is beautiful, very green, steep and technical. It's a lot like Scotland but with winter sun. We arrived on the island a couple of days before the race so had an opportunity to do some sightseeing and to enjoy a couple of the local restaurants in the main town of Funchal. It's a very popular tourist destination but still manages to retain a real authentic feel. The people were very friendly and the food was great.
The night before the race we had the Compressport Q&A session and the community run where Julien Chorier and myself had the chance to run with some of the local runners and other competitors through the streets and indoor market of Funchal, a nice way to relax and loosen the legs ahead of the race.
The race itself is an 80km loop, starting and finishing in the centre of Funchal and taking in 5100m of altitude gain along the way. It's essentially 2 big climbs from sea level to 1800m and back down with a few more ups and downs along the way. The race organisation had arranged an apartment for us 2 minutes walk from the start line so around 5.45am we walked down to the start and on the stroke of 6 we were off. The first few kms are flat along the sea front until we reached the bottom of the first climb. Fairly quickly we were down to a lead group of 5 or 6 runners at the head of the race and it stayed this way all the way to the top of the first climb and most of the way down to the checkpoint at halfway.
With 40km and 1 major climb to go I knew before the start that this is where the racing would really begin. As soon as we left the checkpoint Julien started the attack and within a minute we were alone at the head of the race. It was a pretty steep climb and after a few kms I had to back off and allow a small gap to open. I kept Julien in sight all the way up the climb, focussed on eating enough and staying hydrated. By the end of the steepest sections the gap was 3 minutes but as we arrived at the checkpoint close to the summit it was back down to 1 minute. We left the trail to join a road at this point. We were up in the clouds so the visibility was down to about 100m. I could see Julien no more than 30 or 40s ahead. I put my head down and pushed to try to catch him before the summit. A few minutes later I realised I couldn't see Julien or any course markings for a while, I carried on for a couple of hundred meters more and still nothing. I had missed the turning back onto the trail! I turned and ran back the way I had come and sure enough, the markers were there. Frustrating but it was done. I got my head back in the race and set about trying to close the gap.
At the next checkpoint on the descent Celeste told me the gap was 6 minutes thanks to my error. I was descending well so felt that I still had a good chance to win. The descent was a really nice mixture of technical trails and smooth fast running through forests, villages and open mountain. I was moving really well and after around 5 or 6 km of descent a spectator told me the gap was less than 3 minutes, game on! With another 5km of descent then 6km flat I was confident I could pull back the remaining time. As we left the mountain and forests behind the course was following small waterways and winding down through steep village streets. I was pushing hard and must have lost focus because a couple of local girls started waving at me and pointing back up the hill. I'd missed another turn! I was only 300m off course but it was a very steep 300m back up hill to the turning which had been obscured by a parked car. I knew the lost time was probably too much to make up but I tried to take back as much as I could. By the time I saw Celeste at the checkpoint with 6km to go the gap was 5 minutes. Too much to make up in such a short space of time along the flat coast so I just enjoyed the remaining kms and finished 2nd.
After the race we had a nice dinner with the whole Compressport crew to round off a great weekend. Thanks a million to Celeste for being there in every checkpoint, to Mauro for driving Celeste all over the island and to Patricio Fernandes and his team for a great race.