Human Powered Health returns to the Volta a Portugal em Bicicleta with a newly minted US champion in Kyle Murphy a year after the program had one of its most successful ever weeks of racing in Europe.
The 2021 edition was one that will live long in the memory, with Murphy tasting victory from two epic breakaway days and Ben King winning solo on stage 7 before backing it up with a second place the next day.
Running from August 4-15, The race known as ‘La Grandíssima’ signals the beginning of the second half of the season for the men’s team as they take on a series of European stage races.
With ten stages and a prologue on the horizon, the Portuguese prelude to fall is set to be one of, if not the hardest race of the year. All this time on the road means that Murphy and the rest of the team have to be very aware of their nutrition and supplementation.
“I eat a ton, drink a ton, and try and maximize sleep as much as possible,” Murphy explains, “Then of course supplementing properly with Thorne. A race buffet can be out of your control so it is nice to know you are nailing the fundamentals.”
It’s not just the physical either, mental stimulation is paramount for an athlete’s performance.
“I like to have a good book going or a series to have something to reset the mind and take me out of the race environment,” Murphy says. “Getting updates from my family at home is also incredible for the morale and the heart.”
After his success in Knoxville, Tennessee and a well earned summer break, Murphy reacclimatised to European racing at a Spanish one-day doubleheader, the first chance he had to pull on the iconic Pactimo jersey that Joey Rosskopf had displayed so proudly.
“It’s definitely a boost in races,” Murphy explained on the eve of the Volta. “Cycling can be very in the moment, with high highs and low lows, and staff and riders tend to forget recent successes. The nice thing about the jersey is that it sticks with you and is a constant reminder that success is possible,” he added on the collective motivation of being a national champion.
It had been an ongoing joke when Rosskopf was in the jersey that staff members can often miss the champion at the feed zones, but luckily LEM helmets stepped in with a white lid for the champ. Murphy first felt the Stars and Stripes effect back home during the summer.
“I have had some super memorable and really nice interactions in my local community that I didn’t even know were possible,” Murphy said of his Vermont homecoming after the championships. “Cyclists seemingly have sprung out of nowhere and I am now aware of and feel excited to tap into a local cycling scene that I didn’t know existed.”
The 30-year-old has a tough record to follow in Portugal having won two stages in glorious fashion in 2021, attacking on both days and riding clear to victory, racing memories that Murphy cherishes.
“The best memory from last year would probably be making the break on stage 2. Initially, thinking ‘crap, kind of a bad move to be in with three riders and a lot of wind’, but then all of a sudden we had over eight minutes. I started slamming gels and started to believe.”
“I would be happy for us to focus on stages,” Murphy says of this year’s objectives. “Like in 2021, when those opportunities present themselves, you have to take your shot. I am super proud that I was able to take the shot, because every shot is a shot not taken.”
Thanks to a large quantity of Portuguese staff, racing in Portugal has an extra special significance to Human Powered Health. This is something that makes a huge difference to the riders when the soigneurs are in their own environment.
“It’s such a massive race here and I really believe it’s a rite of passage for a certain level of racer to come through and hit the ‘Grandissima’. I cannot understate how insane the stage 9 Senhora da Graça climb is. Absolutely wild party vibes, the entire road is lined with little bottles of Sagres [a local pale lager], people barbecuing, camping, cheering, losing their minds, it is so sick,” Murphy jovially recounts.
Volta a Portugal stage by stage
8/4 Prologue | Lisboa – Lisboa (5.4km)
A relentless week of climbing begins with a prologue time trial in Portugal’s beautiful capital Lisbon. Savor the flat while it lasts.
8/5 Stage 1 | Vila Franca de Xira – Elvas (193.7km) Hilly
The opening road stage puts the peloton right into the thick of the action as they take on a rolling, ever gradually climbing day before finishing atop a 1.8km ramp in the fortress city of Elvas.
8/6 Stage 2 | Badajoz – Castelo Branco (181.5km) Hilly
Stage 2 is almost a carbon copy of Murphy’s first stage victory at last years Tour, albeit with twenty or so kilometers stuck on at the beginning. The Vermonter took a shot in the dark last year to join the race-winning breakaway. Will history repeat itself for the team?
8/7 Stage 3 | Sertã – Alto da Torre (159km) Mountaintop finish
After two ramped finishes we take on a real mountain, the Alto da Torre. Twenty kilometers bottom to top with a kilometer respite midway up the climb, the GC favorites will come to the fore and stake an early claim to the final yellow jersey.
8/8 Stage 4 | Guarda – Visea (169.1km) Hilly
With a stage profile that looks like an up-turned saw blade, there’s no rest for the peloton as they tackle a rolling stage with some seriously nasty unclassified climbs.
8/9 Rest day
Rest days for Human Powered Health mean massages, recharging the batteries, recovery rides, activation with Hyperice and Normatec gadgets, and plenty of Thorne recovery products to get our athletes through the day.
8/10 Stage 5 | Mealhada – Miranda do Corvo (Observatório de Vila Nova) (165.7km) Mountain top finish
After the rest day the peloton will head for the windswept Observatório de Vila Nova. With a sharp 9.9km climb with average gradients of 8.2%, we’ll soon see if the rest day had a positive impact on the riders’ conditions.
8/11 Stage 6 | Águeda – Maia (159.9km) Rolling
The most likely stage to finish in some semblance of a lead group of 20 plus riders, the rolling roads to Maia will suit a breakaway but a strong enough chase could bring them back on the Maia finishing circuit.
8/12 Stage 7 | Santo Tirso – Braga (150.1km) Hilly
Stage 7 looks relatively easy going until the final hour where the riders will face a 5.3km climb to Sameiro before descending straight to the finish in Portugal’s northern capital of Braga. Good bike handlers will thrive on the downhill slope.
8/13 Stage 8 | Viana do Castelo – Fafe (182.4km) Hilly
The penultimate road stage is a repeat of the stage that Ben King won last year in Fafe. A memorable day for the program, the relentless rolling nature of the finale will suit riders who can put out repeated efforts.
8/14 Stage 9 | Paredes – Mondim de Basto (Senhora da Graça) (174.5km) Mountains
The queen stage includes a trio of category one climbs which will soften up the legs before the race-deciding final day TT. Climbers without a good track record in the race of truth will want to get as much of a buffer as possible, so expect an exciting stage full of attacking.
8/15 Stage 10 | Porto – Vila Nova de Gaia (18.6km) ITT
A tight, hilly, technical TT to finish the Volta a Portugal, there’s no switching off on the final day as the race is decided on the beautiful streets of Porto.
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