Climbing was very much the theme of the day on the third leg of the Classic Marathon, as the competition had its only full day in Portugal. Climbing up to the summit of one of Portugal’s greatest driving roads, climbing up the famous Caramulo hill climb and, for some, climbing on up the leader board.
After a short regularity to stretch the legs on the escape from Lamego, the Tulips transported the competition away from the hustle and bustle of the lowlands and into a regularity that rally regular Paul Bloxidge declared was “the best regularity I think I have ever done.” It was a tricky affair and maintaining average speeds must have been a challenge up the sinuous roads, with their tight switchbacks and ever so steep gradients. Travelling through the belly of the regularity, one could have been forgiven for thinking that we weren’t in Portugal at all, as at times it looked more like Borneo, but as the altitude quickly increased the Eucalyptus trees cleared and the summit opened up onto views for miles.
The peak marked the end of regularity two, and the beginning of what will undoubtedly be a trip highlight, a link section across the infamous Portal do Inferno, or the Gateway to Hell. This high ridge road that splits the Aviero and Viseu Districts, cuts a slender path at an altitude of some 3000 feet, with abrupt drops either side, not a place for those with a disposition to heights!
If driving the Portal wasn’t enough to get the adrenalin coursing, a short hop up the road the speed junkies amongst the group had a chance to flex their throttle leg and tackle the Caramello Hill Climb, under closed road conditions, not once, but twice! Now whilst the Marathon isn’t really about the tests, I’m sure deep down everyone in the group wished to set a good time up the famous stretch of tarmac. Pretty soon though, it was the spirit of cooperation that was in evidence at the climb, rather than the spirit of competition, as the Godfreys turned fairy Godparents for the stricken MG B of Cliff England and Peter Rushforth, who with their excitement at tackling Caramulo’s ascent had managed to snap a half shaft in two off of the start. A spare was duly lent and with more heroic work from the sweeps, with the help of a local workshop, the car was fixed and no 19 was able to tackle the hill at the second attempt.
One pair who were certainly enjoying the hill were the Porsche partnering of Paul Crosby and Andy Pullan, and after some nail-biting moments wondering if they were able to continue after mechanical problems on leg two, on leg three they were flying. Their ascent up the leader board continued throughout the day, and by the close of play they had moved into second place, 32 seconds behind perennial leaders Marcus Anderson and Matthew Lymn Rose in the Jag.
Further back in the fight for the top ten both Jayne Wignall and Kevin Savage, and Stephen Owens and Nick Bloxham had leap frogged Cliff England and Peter Rushforth, perhaps taking advantage of the latter crew’s mechanical problems, but both are still some two minutes short of challenging for the top three.
As well as those fighting for top honours, those battling for pride were also having a better time of it, with both of Tuesdays stricken Alfas back in the hunt and on song, as well as ‘Betsy’, the Model A that never says die, with occupants Bill Cleyndert and Leigh Powley chugging along with smiles on their faces again.
With the halfway point reached, and a trip back over the border into Spain again tomorrow, it isn’t just the roads and the competition that are on the up, but the fatigue as well. This is, after all, The Marathon, and with 340 km’s in store for leg four it isn’t getting any easier. The fortunes of anyone in the field could change with each click of the trip meter, and undoubtedly will. Expect the unexpected and take nothing for granted, we might be halfway, but this is far from finished.
*The Shires host Round Two as the Challenge Increases