I’m Going to Portugal. Don’t Hate Me.

Porto Ribeira 7am
Porto Ribeira at 7 a.m. Raul Lieberwirth/Flickr

I’m going to Portugal.

I get to go with InGamba to ride my bike in Portugal.

I get to hang out with Joao and his team at InGamba while riding my bike in Portugal.

If you are anything like my wife you’re probably thinking, “Knock it off. Why do you like to torture me?”

The last time I went on an organized bike vacation, if you disregard the dozen or so times I biked across Iowa on RAGBRAI, was sometime in the 1990s when I attended the now-defunct Walden School of Cycling winter training camp in lovely Mt. Plymouth, Florida.

Back then, I was an underpaid newspaper photographer living in Southern Michigan. I rode my bike on rollers in the basement and dreamt of being fast and warm. In those days, pre-internet, I would look through the classified ads in the back of Velonews and dream about attending some exotic training camp in some glamorous European country. But the only thing I could afford, and it was a stretch, was the Walden Camp. If I remember correctly, it was all-inclusive at just over $300.

The InGamba camp is a bit more than $300, but I’m not a kid living in Michigan and riding in the basement anymore.

The Florida camp was founded by a cycling coach named Mike Walden and he was famous, at least in Midwestern circles. The camp was also partly run by a group called the Wolverine Sports Club of Southern Michigan.

Lisbon’s Palacio Belmonte was built in 1449 and restored in the mid-90’s.

The accommodations were rustic, primitive cabins on the edge of “Where the hell am I Florida?” I remember being slightly traumatized because the place reminded me of something out of Dirty Dancing, with an emphasis on dirty. My girlfriend and I shared half a cabin, while the other half, separated by a dorm style bathroom, was occupied by a pair of intensely serious, shaved-legged roadies from the Wolverine Club.

In direct contrast, InGamba is starting their trip off at the Palacio Belmonte, a restored piece of historic heaven in beautiful Lisbon. We’ll also be staying at a hotel inside the walls of an ancient castle, a 4-star boutique hotel, and a refurbished 18th-century manor.

A younger version of myself outside the cabins at Winter Camp.

Mike Walden was an old-school bicycle coach, even back then. He trained World Champions, National Champions, Olympic Champions, local crit champions and the famous professional rider turned commentator Frank Andreau.

By the time we attended his camp, Mike was getting on in years and left most of the coaching to members of the Wolverine Cycling Team. But he was always present, looming. He walked with his cane from one end of the camp to the other and you always felt like he had his eye on you.

Joao Corriea, the mastermind behind InGamba, grew up in Portugal. He raced as a young man, but afterwards went back to college and got a job. At one point he was the Associate Publisher of Bicycling magazine. He returned to pro cycling later in life during a stint with the Cervelo Test Team. Now he shares his love of bikes, good food and fine wine with anyone willing to pony up.

Joao riding with the Cervelo Team.

Mike Walden was famous for his tough love and his one liners including—“Pedal Circles,” “Finish at the line,” and “Race your strengths, train your weakness.” All the instructors adopted his style of coaching in an effort to “train” our rag tag crew. Every day, we woke up early and were put through a series of calisthenics. Then it was onto the bike for drills and out onto the open road for base miles. Before bed we were required to go for a long recovery walk.

Mike Walden

“You do need to prepare your liver,” is the advice I’ve heard from Joao. There will be some serious bike riding in Portugal, but there will also be some serious drinking. Apparently the InGamba crew has a different idea of what “walk it off” means.

I don’t remember much about the food at Walden. That’s probably because it wasn’t very memorable. The only thing I recall is that we ate a lot of carbs. Back then, any athlete worth his PB&J knew he had to carbo load to survive. We were responsible for packing our own sandwiches for lunch and at some point everyday the group would pull over on the side of the road to eat.

This will not be the case in Portugal. InGamba prides itself on making sure you want for nothing. Ever. The photographs you find on the internet when you search for InGamba will make your mouth water. Authentic Portuguese cuisine is a big selling point for this trip and I’m ready to suffer through it.

Joao Carreia orders up some grub for the InGamba crew.

The comparisons between my week at Walden and what I am advised to expect in Portugal continue to entertain. At Walden, we were taught the art of self-massage by a young rider from the Wolverine Team.

InGamba has a pro staff masseuse.

I remember driving all the way to Florida with my Eddy Merckx TSX Century on the roof of my girlfriend’s Ford Escort. That wonderful ride had just been updated with Campagnolo first-generation ergo levers. It also had the much maligned, heavyweight Campagnolo Delta brakes, a brand new Flite saddle, some Open Pro 4 rims laced to Phil Wood hubs and a custom made Keith Anderson stem.

I loved my Eddy, but in Portugal I get to ride a Pinarello Dogma setup by the team mechanic.

Ok. You get the idea.

InGamba is the grown-up version of the Mike Walden School of Cycling.

Terry Alvord arrives in Florida for the Mike Walden Cycling Camp. You can see the pool in the background, which no one ever used. Photo: Jim Merithew/Element.ly

I’m looking forward to my trip to Europe, but I’ll always have fond memories about my week in Florida because I learned a lot.

I learned how to pedal those circles Walden talked about. I learned how to eat on the bike and avoid a crash in the pack. I also learned that bicycle racers are nuts and that despite their bravado, they’re usually a great bunch.

Sometimes my younger self wishes I could go back to Florida and ride the safety cone gauntlet, or do the elbow bumping drill and rail the flats in a giant Midwestern, testosterone-fueled paceline. I reminisce about the Wolverines yelling at me for sloppy form and think about eating my PB&J sandwich under some giant shade tree.

But then my adult self kicks back in and I realize that I’d much rather go to Portugal and be pampered by Corriea and the InGamba team.