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DHI European Championship 2018: the Aldeias do Xisto and the Serra da Lousã have some of the best trails in the world

DHI European Championship 2018: the Aldeias do Xisto and the Serra da Lousã have some of the best trails in the world
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The DHI European Championship took place in Lousã, from 6th to 8th April, and reinforced the notion that this mountain range has some of the best tracks in the world for downhill and other cycle sports.

Six. This was how many gold medals Portugal collected at the European Downhill Championships (DHI) and how many times the National Anthem sounded on 8th April 2018 in the Serra da Lousã, where the competition took place. See the complete list of winners here.

Remember that the European DHI Championship, which will be held again in the Aldeias do Xisto in 2019, is yet another event forming part of Cyclin’Portugal, which promotes the Aldeias do Xisto as a prime location for all kinds of cycling, whether for competition or for leisure. The project is the result of an agreement between the Aldeias do Xisto, Central Portugal Tourism and the Portuguese Cycling Federation and is supported by the Secretary of State for Tourism. It also involves local authorities and economic stakeholders as part of a strategy to internationalise the destination and make it well-known for being “bike friendly”.

A trail of strong emotions

The weather was not the people’s friend, especially on Sunday, the day of the final. There was a truce with the rain during the morning races, but in the afternoon it was pelting down, making the track worse and holding back the race and the cyclists’ performance. Attendance was also down, with the audience consisting mostly of the athletes’ friends and family.

Aldeias do Xisto travelling shop’s awning was too small to accommodate all those who sought shelter. A group of athletes, including Márcio Ferreira, the new European Masters 35 champion, gathered there. They compared performances, analysed track conditions, predicted the results and exchanged views on the best places to buy parts and maintain their bikes.

Even so, some families made a point of watching an event of this dimension, and one which reinforces Lousa’s important position in terms of sports infrastructures.

“How do they have the courage to go down this?”, asked Jorge, aged 7, expressing the very thought that had crossed our minds when we arrived at Louzanpark and the final part of the trail, which emerges from the heart of the Lousã Mountains.

The tone of the question and, if one may say so, of our thinking, was seasoned with the same ingredients: awe and admiration. It was 2.43 kilometres long, with an average descent of 14.3% and maximum gradient of 29%, ranging from 626 to 154 metres high. A design that could only result in strong emotions.

Jorge was one of the reasons why Susana Santos was at Louzanpark, together with her husband and son. “The kids always like to see this and ask to come”, she explains. What is more, it was a good initiative for the village, so she got the kids together and headed to the venue.

Miguel Carvalho had the same feeling. He lives just a few metres away and could not miss it. He applauds the fact that this and other events are held in Lousã, for the life and excitement they bring. In addition, he is a mountain biker and is used to inhospitable weather conditions. He was accompanied by Francisco, his 10-year-old son, who is already a bike fan. “I made a mini track at home so that I could practise”, he told us. For now, he’s joking, but... who knows what the future holds?

It was precisely as a joke that Alfredo Mateus started his hobby of photography, but nowa “it’s getting serious”. He is also a fan of bikes and likes the Serra da Lousã. The European DHI Championship allowed him to combine all this so he had set off to observe and photograph the cyclists and bikes in the Louzanpark. Travelling to Lousã is routine for this amateur photographer from the Alentejo, who now lives in Coimbra. “The Serra da Lousã has a lot to offer”, he muses. So much so that he even has some plans to take more people there. “Small groups”, he hastens to add. He is in favour of sustained, controlled growth, as opposed to mass tourism which can create problems, as it did in Barcelona and even Lisbon and Porto. And, of course, always counting on the local communities, as is the case with Aldeias do Xisto, the work of which he recognises and applauds.

Lousã One of the best places in the world for DHI

Tiago Fernandes, Bruno Afonso and Fernando Aires came to support their teammates from the Aldeia da Ribeira Sports Association(Santarém), who took part in the Championship. In fact, if it were not for professional obligations and an injury following a training session, Tiago and Fernando would also be competing.

Everyone agrees that Lousã has excellent, unique conditions for practising all the different kinds of cycling. That is why they often choose the slopes of Lousã to train on. Besides, the landscape is beautiful and the people are friendly. According to Fernando Aires, it is a good place to make your peace. “Sometimes, we deliberately annoy our wives just so we can come here and make up. And ride a bike, of course”, he jokes, drawing a few laughs from his friends.

The tone quickly turns serious when he tells us that, during the DHI Portugal Cup, which was also held at Louzanpark two weeks beforehand, he had the opportunity to talk with athletes from several countries. “The athletes love the trails and say they are some of the best in the world. Everyone told me, without missing a beat, that the Serra da Lousã has everything needed to host a world-standard competition, he stated.

Pierre and Danger, commentators for the event, have already stressed this idea. “Lousã is to be congratulated. It is already a world-renowned spot for Downhill, as well as other sports”. Pierre has been a commentator for 20 years and it is with this experience that he interprets each race. His energy and passion for the sport are evident. And his familiarity with the riders. “I have followed some of the athletes since they were juniors”, he says. “You create many bonds and become intimately connected with the sport and the people”, he adds. An example: “Ana Martins [who, shortly after this conversation, became European Masters 35 champion] was my maid of honour a month ago”.
In any case, it is never a bad idea to be aware of the rankings in the sport. Danger, who was an athlete before becoming a commentator, agrees.

Next year there will be more, as Portugal will be organising this European Championship again. The Portuguese Cycling Federation is also considering a bid to host the European Marathon BTT Championship in one of the next few years.

Event Results

The adverse weather conditions, with lots of rain, strong wind and intense cold, show how special Francisco Pardal’s victory was. The athlete from Soure became European elite champion in a very competitive race, contested by 81 cyclists from 19 countries..

The morning had barely ended and the Portuguese anthem had already been heard four times at Louzanpark. Márcio Ferreira (Masters 35), Ana Martins (Masters 35), José Salgueiro (Masters 55) and Rui Portela (Masters 60) climbed to the top of the podium to receive their gold medals and be crowned European DHI champions in their category.  

In the afternoon, and before the elite category racers, there was another celebration: Tiago Ladeira came first in the juniors.

Portugal also won two silver medals (Rui Cabrita, Masters 30, and Hélder Padilha, Masters 35) and one bronze medal (João Estêvão, Masters 50).

Text: Andreia Gonçalves

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