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CLIMBING TO GLORY: A LISBON TRADITION RETURNS

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The centennial of Portugal’s Subida à Glória—the “Ascent to Glory” bike race—was celebrated last year, a quarter-century after its previous edition. In a festive atmosphere, with the Lisbon hill lined by hundreds of spectators, an 87-year-old record was beaten. And the people had a party.

Words: Miguel Andrade

Images: Courtesy, Subida à Glória

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There is a song by a Portuguese band Radio Macau that says two minutes separate the bottom from the top of the Glória—by the elevador (a funicular tram ride). But the ascent is much faster by bike.

At last year’s revived edition, it rained a lot. But “the rain does not hurt anyone,” said the speaker who was cheering for the 123 riders—115 men and eight women—who dared to climb the slippery slope. Several riders had the misfortune to stick a wheel in one of the tram rails and crashed. But most of the riders, still panting after climbing the steep hill, were just glad to have overcome the epic challenge.

Because the race began at 9 p.m., people going to party at Bairro Alto—the barhopping neighborhood—were also there, asking “What’s going on here?” Many stayed with the bike racing fans to watch the fast-paced action.

After all the riders completed their uphill time trial, the fastest qualified for the semifinals, and then the finals for men and women. There was a man in the mid-part of the climb, saying “Damn, it’s better to lose. Whoever wins has to climb it three times.”

And he was right. The climb is tough. That’s why in 1885 the funicular was built—a project by Raoul Mesnier du Ponsard, the man who did the same for other Lisbon ascents such as Bica, Lavra and Santa Justa.

On that night last year, amateurs and professionals came to compete. Even 90-year-old Leonel Miranda—a team colleague of the legendary Portuguese rider Joaquim Agostinho—was there.

It wasn’t an easy race, even though it was just 265 meters long. But the riders had to contend with cobblestones and tram rails on a hill with an average gradient of 17 percent—and some parts reaching 28 percent.

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Every participant could choose which type of bike to use and so there were of all kinds of machines: BMX, mini-bikes, road and mountain bikes.

On a mountain bike, Portuguese Olympic rider Ricardo Marinheiro climbed the Glória in 39.7 seconds to break the 1926 record of Alfredo Piedade. But as at any well-organized party, everybody won. That’s why not even the rider with the slowest time of 3 minutes and 41 seconds was not forgotten—and won a bike. The winning men and women each received a trophy weighing 5 kilograms (11 pounds) made from a section of tram rail. And there will be more fun racing over the pavé and rails in 2015. p

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From issue 33. Buy it here. Or the Spanish 4-pack here.