Procycling magazine’s 12 days of Christmas revisits some of the highlights from our contributors in the magazine over the last year. Here, James Knox gets a major case of déjà-vu when he heads to the Algarve for some winter training, which reminds him of his Under-23 days.
James Knox is one of Procycling’s 2020 diarists. This article was taken from Procycling magazine issue 266 March 2020.
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Nostalgia has been hitting me this week. I’m in the Algarve, putting the final touches on a winter of training before the season kicks off and every day I’ve stumbled on something that brings memories flooding back.
In 2014 and 2015, while racing for Zappi’s Racing Team, we would come to the Algarve in January and February for some warm weather training and relaxed races. Of all the hotels across the region, we’ve ended up in one that I’ve stayed in before, during a race – the filthy, piss-wet-through 200km stage 1 of the GP Liberty Seguros in 2015.
Since then, the open road has brought back more memories. There must be something about the hypersensitivity of your surroundings while racing or training, because my memory is usually incredibly average, but I’ve got an almost photographic memory for roads. Using Strava as a reference I was able to pinpoint different parts of a race I did in 2015 on roads I’ve only ever ridden once before in my life and it’s been fun looking back.
Our only ‘big’ ride so far took us over Malhão, a tough climb they use as a summit finish in the Volta ao Algarve. We used to go out and race up it; we even ended up doing a full lead-out one time to go for the Strava. We failed but I’m pretty sure I got myself into the top 10 on the leaderboard, surrounded by pros, which in 2015, riding for an amateur team, felt like a win.
I was two minutes slower than my best this time around so that tells you enough about how eager we were to hurt ourselves back then. Then, moving on through the pretty Algarve hills, we passed through Cachopo, a dead little village north of our base in Tavira. It’s been hard explaining to the guys on the team but this spot was a bit of a running joke.
A local pro who we trained with would take us on loops passing through and a couple of climbs out of the village became showdowns for the boys in the team to get some old-school, all-out efforts in. It felt like every training ride took us there… “Cachopo?! Again?!” Plus, there was a bar where they sold espressos for 60 cents.
Then out of nowhere we were back onto another old course, following the final 25km of the 2015 GP Loule, living every moment of the race again, even the pain in my legs on a few kickers we had to get over. It was a landmark moment – I stayed with the best guys during the race and then on the last climb of the day followed a few Portuguese riders as they tried to break clear. Mike Woods came flying over the top of us and we could do nothing but watch.
In the end me and the other guys I was with got caught, but in a nice twist of fate, and with help from wacky Portuguese bike races, I got a nice result. While sat on the back of a group coming into the finish, the lads ahead were sent the wrong way on a roundabout and I got a jump on everyone and finished ninth.
I followed Woods’s progression after this to the WorldTour and it was one of the moments where I believed I had what it took to get there, too. Three years later, I’m still doing training camps in the Algarve, still enjoying the 60-cent coffee and still trying to avoid eating too many pastel de natas. Not much has changed.
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