From the top of the climb, the juxtaposition to the terrain back home in Wiltshire is even more distinct. Looking south you can glimpse the coastal town of Olhao through the glaring winter sun and the Atlantic Ocean. To the north are the low clouds and endless rolling mountains of the Algarve which cover close to five thousand square kilometres. It’s these mountains in which we spend the majority of our time on the bike immersed. The standard five hour day will encompass a range of skill and power sessions including climbing, descending and motor pacing all to hone and perfect our unique attributes.
It’s only been 4 weeks but it already feels like home here in Tavira. The seaside town is far from the Cote d’Azur or Italian Riviera but the acceptance from the locals at the swimming pool, gym and the vast array of coffee shops has been surprisingly quick. Everyone is interested in what you’re doing and informing them with the Italian/Spanish/Portuguese hybrid language we use goes a long way in integrating us into this small local community. Cycling, it seems, is a justifiable and well respected career choice in the south of Portugal.
Besides the obvious and undeniable foreign positives (for example the consistently warm weather), life is far from a picnic. The regimental and rigorous lifestyle is draining both physically and mentally. I don’t miss home itself, more the comforts that come with a predictable home routine - but learning to tolerate change and adapt to new challenges is a part of life we all go through during our lives.
It’s barely been 31 days but I know there’s no place I’d rather be at this point in my life. Sure, there are difficulties and sure, there are times where I doubt my mental capacity, but the journey to becoming a professional cyclist is a long and turbulent one – one that requires endless sacrifice and suffering but most of all, patience.
For now, the silhouette of San Miguel looks on from a distance, the panting of cyclists just an echo of reality.
Dave Rayner-funded,Jack Billyard (Zappis Racing Team) is currently training in Portugal ahead of his first full time season based in Italy. A first year Under 23 rider Billyard won the Souther Region Junior Road Race Title in 2015.