NORCHA

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Day One at Norcha – Cities Tours and Saddle Sores

Rob Howard / 23.09.2021See All Event Posts Follow Event
Race leaders team Alpha Dental
Race leaders team Alpha Dental / © Rob Howard

NORCHA started today in the city of Braganca, following straight after a short briefing for the teams. This was simply displaying an outline map, with Race Director Pedro Pinto briefly describing each stage and giving frequent reminders that taking downhills too fast would result in ‘flying’. 

Teams were not given any maps either, they received the first one, for the opening urban orienteering stage, on the start line, and get a new one at each transition.  (There is a strict, and slightly bizarre, level of secrecy at Norcha, which means we can’t share the course outline diagram with you, even though teams have started.) 

On the start line in the city centre the first maps and route book were face down on the ground in the central plaza and, after a countdown from 10, teams picked them up and ran off to find 11 checkpoints around the city centre, including sculptures, civic buildings, parks, and of course the town’s famous, fortress castle.  Here teams climbed to the top of the tower, passing through corridors furnished with armour and tapestries, to reach the final ladder, which was steep enough to leave many puffing hard. 

Once back down there was a short abseil off of the Castle wall to complete.  The original thought was to have a bigger abseil off of the tower, but this was impractical to manage, so the small one was put in as a fun activity.  Even so it was a challenge to inexperienced racers and one of the Dutch team ‘Splink Your Life’ decided to take the steps down instead.

The main stage for the day followed, a 60km ride on country tracks and roads to the first host town of Vinhais.  The route passed through parts of the Montesinho National Park and it was a scenic, tough and enjoyable ride, through huge areas of chesnut groves, riding on dry, sandy tracks and at times on tarmac rural roads.  

Towards the end of the stage there was a checkpoint with an archery challenge, set in the landscaped grounds of an ecological park.  Each racer had to fire one arrow and being in a race they tried hard to score highly, but NORCHA is more about the taking part than the competition, and no one seemed to know how or if the scores would be used.  It was probably just a fun interlude from the ride.

There was 1659m of climbing on the ride, and that was what many of the teams commented on at the end of the stage, that and the heat.  The temperatures were around 27C  during the day and finding water on the way was important.  Owen Boyhan of team Base Camp AR of Ireland said, “We were struggling in the heat, but found a tap by a big chesnut tree and that was a godsend and gave us a second wind.  Some of the climbs were hard going too and the one into Paco seemed endless.”  The team settled down for big toasted sandwiches and cokes before setting off on the next trekking stage.

Daniel Murphy of Afterwork Athletes said, “There seemed like a lot more climbing than we expected and it didn’t help we had 3 mechanicals and a flat which I rode on for 5 km before we finally fixed it.”  He was favouring a strapped and sore knee after the ride.

While his team were preparing to leave the OMM Nordisk Germany team rode in, and Micah Mackay just sighed deeply when I asked what she’d learned so far in her first adventure race. She has been mentored to prepare for the race by Nathan Fa’ave and said, “You can only so much by email and then you just have to learn on the job, so I am so lucky to have this team who are showing me the ropes and answering my silly questions.  I’ve learnt so much from them already.” 

The team were efficiently transitioning while she spoke and one of them said, “It’s a big step for Micah to jump straight into an expedition race first time out.”

The last team to finish the ride, coming in at dusk, were Team Highroad Adventure, a team who are all new to expedition racing.   It seemed like they might have missed a checkpoint where they were supposed to take a photo, but they were in good spirits as they prepared to set off for the long trek in some intimidating weather.  By dusk brooding, dark clouds had filled the sky and lightning was forking over the hills. 

The Race Director had highlighted  this 47km trek as the toughest stage of the race, and one which would spread the teams as they all tackled it on the first night of the race.  The leading teams had some daylight for the first few hours, and it was Alpha Dental who lead, followed by team Jakob and then Uruguay Ultra Sports.  There was not much between them however, and there werea bunch of chasing teams close behind.  Before heading into the mountains they had 3 checkpoints to find in Vinhais, but it is only a small town and they were just a few hundred metres from the transition.

With 1951m of climbing and some testing navigation, the long overnight stage was going to test all the teams, and with the storms and heavy rain now falling it was will be a night when their resolve, navigation and team work will be put to the test.

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