And then you'll find yourself riding this iconic path that takes you to the next stage. Magical Faial da Terra.
Arriving in São Miguel, the biggest island of Azores archipelago, is always magical. The green plain fields in contrast with the blue and unforgiving Atlantic Ocean makes it one of most beautiful islands I have ever visited. Located 1360 km west of continental Portugal and 1925 km southeast of Newfoundland, Canada, the Azores are an undiscovered paradise that has been slowly making its mark as a biking destination - there's no rush in making it too big and that's a good way to make it unique. With a total of nine islands, our flight lands in Ponta Delgada, the capital and most populated city of the entire archipelago.
I'm back for the third edition of Faial da Terra Enduro Fest, a two-day race that takes place on the southeastern side of São Miguel, all powered by Bike Safari Tour. There are a total of 15 trails over 21km total distance, where there's a constant battle for grip, beautiful landscapes and a trip to remember. You need to add this event to your bucket list and add the Azores to your travel wishes!
Training Days: Finding The Grip
Grip is something you wish for each time you start rolling down a stage. I's usually nowhere to be found in this place which is something that gets you on the edge on every trail. The event is divided into two training days, that basically covers the entire route with just one shuttle in each day.
Outside assistance is not permitted during training, meaning that you'll have to push yourself for four entire days of bike action. The first time you get your tires on the ground will be on a winding tarmac road – basically the only one – that takes you to the start of almost every stage. You'll feel confident and strong on the first ascent of the day to the top of stage one, believe me. Once you enter the first special stage and hit the first corner, your perception of riding and racing mountain bikers changes completely. These trails test you.
These special stages are a challenge and surviving them will become your main goal for the entire weekend. Racing becomes secondary as you are sharing these singletracks with some people that have the same passion as you and they're all struggling to get to the bottom in one piece. You have to lean and trust your tires at all times, hopefully finding the minimum amount of grip to clear another section with a smile on your face.
On our way to stage one, we came across a very old tradition called 'Romeiros'. They basically go around the island on foot for five days, as a religious belief to 'avoid' earthquakes.
Local shredder, Joao Machado, droppin' in stage one. For him, Azores is not that slippery...
Pedro Figueiredo, from Portugal mainland, having a first taste of Azores.
Open green fields and a bit of rain at the bottom of SS1.
Andre Cachado came from the United Kingdom for the sunny weather but didn't find it on SS2.
First enduro race for Colombian, Javier Reyes.
Quick lift to the top was much appreciated by all riders. Four days in the Azores will beat the hell out of you!
Typical traffic jam in Azores.
Local boys, Joao Machado and Roberto Camara, decided to train together. That would mean first and second place overall by the end of the weekend.
It's just a bit of mud guys, don't make a big deal about it.
Last couple meters of pain and joy in SS8 for Jose Afonseca that teamed up with Pedro Figueiredo.
Race Day One: Forget Your Line Choice
The first day of racing started off with beautiful blue skies which made everyone more excited for the following 38 kilometers of racing. Once we arrived at the top of SS2, things got tricky, with the sun being replaced by heavy showers and one hell of a ride to the bottom! After that, everything calmed down once again but the damage was done to bodies and bikes. Needless to say that line choices from training days were quickly forgotten and replaced by a word pumping on your head: survival.
Good luck bro, let's survive this!
Morning blue skies got everyone smiling, although everyone knew it wouldn't last much longer.
Nuno Fernandes from Madeira, starting his blind race in Azores with a rental bike. Gambling with the odds!
Come in to the dark side. Stage one was sketchy and short, with a lot of slippery roots.
Stephen Collins leading the pack for the win on the DUO category.
Local Luis Melo leading the pack on their way to SS2.
Until the sky decided that Azores needed a bit more rain and all hell broke loose!
Luis Melo won the M40 category with a total time of 51:18
Ivan Roxo had a big crash on SS2 and I had to jump in to rescue him under pouring rain and muddy conditions. We ended up laughing about it!
This first switchback is weird and sketchy. Third place elite, Roberto Chaves, went through without problems.
Foot out flat out from local boy, Joao Machado.
Race Day Two: Enjoying It From Start To Finish
I saw so many scared faces over the weekend, some of them too worried about their performance other than having fun. Mud flying, bikes taking a real beating and bodies worn out for the last three days of riding. On the last race day, things changed completely, it was all about having fun sliding around as much as possible, trying to get to the end and have a beer all together. The total route had another four super fun stages with a total of 30km and about 1500 meters climbing.
Although this is the main road, there are almost no cars to be seen. Just bikes and more bikes!
Left to right and right to left, getting the tires on top of slick rock top to bottom.
SS6 was a mix of well-compact downhill track and bits of new sections that got worn out from the heavy rains.
No time to check the views! Riders went from tight jungly tobogans to open fields with views over the ocean.
SS7: Escadinha is one of the most iconic stages of Faial da Terra. Brand new sections were added for this edition!
From the jungle to the bottom of the valley, SS8 is a beast for your body. 1400 meters doesn't sound too big but it's certainly a challenge for everyone.
All riders stayed at the bottom of SS8 to welcome who was left on the hill. Beer added to the equation got things a bit wild.
The feeling of surviving the weekend is unique. Celebration from the German and British racers at the end of SS8.
This is what we end up with. A wild weekend of racing, too many beers to count, good times, new friendships and another ride to remember.
Joao Machado ended up winning the overall with a total time of 42:19m Congratulations mate!
1) Joao Machado - 42:29m
2) Roberto Camara - 43:26m
3) Roberto Chaves - 48:12m
1) Luis Melo - 51:18m
2) Eleuterio Gomes - 1:06:31m
1) Phil Fallows / Stephen Collins - 57:43m
2) José Afonseca / Pedro Figueiredo - 1:20:30m
Photos and Words: Antonio Abreu, MADproductions
Special thanks to Carlos dos Santos, Bike Safari Tour, Município da Povoação, Monbike and Junta Freguesia Faial da Terra