The Goats 2023 - By Joachim Lindhardt
Once again, a friend of ours, Joachim Lindhardt has been exploring the boundaries of his physical and mental capacity. Some months ago, he took on one of the hardest races in Europe. The decision to participate in significant ultrarace like The Goats reflects a commitment to physical fitness, mental resilience, and a passion for challenge and achievement. We are glad that Joachim will share his passion, thoughts and challenges with us. Happy reading
The Goats23 by Joachim Lindhardt
In October 2023 I went to Portugal to race the inaugural edition of the GOATS. After finishing the Hellenic Mountain Race in May 2023, I already knew that my next big race would be the Atlas Mountain Race 2024 (AMR). But during the summer I felt really good and decided to participate in the GOATS as part of my preparations for the AMR. It turned out to be much more than that.
Coming in to the race my summer had been more “ride by feel” than structured programming and training. When I decided to sign up for the race it was mid August and I started working a bit more structured. I felt good on the bike and the strength was building up nicely. I participated in some shorter fast paced races in Denmark. A big part of my preparations is being outside on the bike, for longer periods. Doing big days and doing them no matter the weather forecast. 250 km in the rain and mud in Denmark puts a big toll on your gear. But that is the only way to really test it. And I really enjoy being outside on the bike, and do all my preparations outside, no matter the conditions. I’ve found that to be the best way to mentally prepare for every kind of weather when I am racing (or almost – let’s talk about heat later).
In the aftermath of the Hellenic Mountain Race I really wanted to change my setup, to go lighter. Part of racing ultras is the never ending search for optimizing. Lighter, versatile, durable, faster gear. It almost becomes an obsession. From multitool to bibs, bottom brackets to gloves. You keep going over every detail in your head, test new gear and go back and forth between different setups. When racing I only want to bring the bare minimum of what I might need during the race. The problem is you never know which issues you will encounter, and what you might need to fix them.
The bike and the bags:
For the race I was riding my Ari Cycles gravel bike put together by BENBEN cykler. It is a steel frame welded by Ari in Denmark. I have been riding this bike for many kilometres and I know how the bike and I work together. For this race I chose a 34 chainring with 11-46 in the rear. I went with aerobars as well, since the elevation didn’t seem too bad and some of the route took us out for longer tarmac stretches. Pirelli Cinturato M 45 mm’s on the rims.
I tried Apidura’s frame bag (14 l) with a three litre water bladder and apidura seat bag (14 l). Both of them where too big and I could’ve done with smaller bags. You live and you learn.
The GOATS is a 750 km (approx. 16900+ m elevation gain) gravel race through the Serra da Estrela mountain range in Portugal. The 2023 edition started in Penhas da Saúde from where the parkour is a loop through these beautiful mountains. The race finishes in Torre at 1993 meters of elevation which is the highest point in Portugal. The race is a fixed route unsupported bikepacking race.
Getting to Penhas da Saúde from Lisbon Airport is fairly easy. The infrastructure in Portugal is good and it was only a four hour train ride. Arriving in Penhas da Saúde a few days before the race allowed me to do a few shorter rides. I did a small recon ride to check out the first part of the route. The first part was a little bit sketchy. The rain had taken its toll on the gravel roads and you needed to focus.
Spending a couple of days before the race also allows you to meet fellow riders. This is one of the many great things about bikepacking. The community around it is very welcoming. You meet a bunch of people who have the same interest as you. You meet seasoned riders providing advice or first timers nervous before going out on their first bikepacking adventure.
On race day we started at 9 in the morning so I got up at 6. Quick breakfast and coffee before getting the last things ready. It is always nerve wrecking before the race starts. Those last few hours you really start to wonder if you packed right if you brought enough food, enough water, too much food, too much water? The best feeling is the second the race is off and you leave all those worries behind. When you hit the road you can’t change anything about your setup and you can focus on riding your bike, rather than worrying about what’s on your bike.
After a few kilometres of climbing, a long descent started which quickly scattered the riders. As mentioned above the first downhill was kinda tricky and you needed to focus. Especially when riding in a group which blew up a lot of dust from the road. Knowing I had a long race ahead I didn’t go too fast down the first descent. At the bottom I picked up my pace as we started climbing and I felt really good on the bike. I was satisfied with my setup for now, not knowing the steeeep climbs ahead, and I felt I was in a good state of mind to race.
40 kilometres into the race I had a feeling I lost pressure in the front tyre, but couldn’t really see any tubeless sealant coming out. So I decided to move on a little bit. Turning away from the tarmac put a bit more pressure on the tyre and sealant started to show. Reaching in to my frame bag to grab my dynaplug and fix the leak was where I found something worse than a small leak in the tyre. In my apidura frame bag there is a divider which is meant to keep the upper compartment separated from the water bladder. This is supposed to be held up by Velcro. It turned out that the divider had collapsed and the pressure from the stuff I had in the upper compartment had blown my water bladder open and emptied it into my frame bag. Upside I knew the frame bag was water proof since the 2 litres didn’t leak – downside everything in my frame bag was soaked, including my pump which gave in later on in the race. First things first I fixed the tyre and then emptied the water out from my frame bag. I had to repack everything and ended up spending 30 minutes at a water fountain to get all set again. Not the start to the race I had hoped for but nothing too serious as well. Moving on from that the day started getting warmer. My pacing strategy was on point and I felt good throughout the first 12 hours. I learned that the ascents were steep and the descent tricky. But most of it was rideable and a fun challenge. My only concern was my tyres. Pressure kept dropping without any leaks. After 9 hours on the bike and multiple stops to inflate I decided to get a big meal for dinner. I ordered two toasts with ham and cheese. The lady behind the counter told me how big they were and assured me I couldn’t eat both. I left her with two empty plates and a bit surprised. Waiting for the toasts to get ready gave me the chance to have a closer look at my tyres and hopefully fix the issue. I feared that the tape wasn’t holding up and the leak came from one of the spoke holes. I brought some extra sealant and two spare valve cores. Changed valve cores and put in sealant and hoping for the best. Luckily it fixed the issue. Pressure stopped dropping and I felt good going into the night.
After a few setbacks I arrived at CP2 just after midnight. CP2 was located at the top of a climb after 265 k’s and 4500 meters of elevation gain. The race so far was way steeper than I thought it would be and the surface made me miss my mountain bike. Especially the downhills.
Leaving CP2 in second place made me feel good. I still had a lot of energy and power and didn’t feel tired yet. Decided to keep pushing into the night. Absolutely loved my light setup. I had a Supernova in the front and a Fenix light on the helmet. Gave me perfect vision through the night. I had no issues during the night and I was able to keep pushing. At 5 in the morning I felt a bit tired. I’d been riding for 20 hours nonstop and decided to take a small nap. Found a suitable bus stop and sat there sleeping for 15 minutes. My sleeping kit was minimalistic and easy to unpack. I only brought a silk liner no sleeping bag and no air mattress. Minimalistic and a little bit cold.
Stats before first nap:
300 kilometres riding.
6700 meters of elevation gain.
Approx. 40% of the course done.
Don’t know if it was the 15 minutes of sleep or the sound of a freehub passing me that energized me to get going again. But after a stop for more or less 30 minutes I was back on the bike. After a few hours the sun started showing. Those hours just before the dawn felt long but I still made good progress. At sunrise I had been riding for a couple of hours, crossed a beautiful dam, climbed a fair amount, and started to feel hungry for breakfast and thirsty for coffee. 327 k’s into the race I arrived in Pampilhosa da Serra. On the downhill into the village I snapped my rear derailleur cable. Pastries and coffee were suddenly secondary and I just hoped I would be able to fix the cable on my own. But after having a closer look, I found that the cable snapped in the hood/grip, and I wasn’t able to get the “head” of the cable out. Thinking I might do more damage than good I decided to take a break and focus on breakfast and coffee. Sometimes rushing the decision making can result in bigger problems rather than fixing the ones you’ve already got. Not having the suitable tools to get the job done on the road and lack of the required technical knowledge I decided against taking the hood/grip apart on my own. Felt a bit unlucky. I came prepared but not for a cable snapping inside the hood/grip. Only way to stay in the race was get a cab and go to a bike mechanic. Best one was in Lousã – 1 hour 15 minutes away by car. But I had no other options. Took the bike apart, put it in the trunk, fix the issue at the mechanic, get the bike back in the trunk, back on the road. Had really hoped for some sleep in the cab, but the driver really gave everything to get me back in the race as quick as possible, which resulted in me not being able to sleep driving through the mountainous terrain. 5 hours 30 minutes after the snap I found myself back in the race. I re-entered the race in 5th place. I left in 3rd so it didn’t feel too bad.
Being back on the road I immediately started the climb towards CP3. It was a rather long climb and after the setback I found myself starting the climb at midday. With the temperature rising it was not ideal and made the climb harder. The ascent was steep but rideable. Some shorter sections with 20%+ inclination riding under big wind mills in treeless terrain with no shade was a big challenge for a tall and somewhat heavy guy from the Danish climate. But it was manageable. The views were spectacular and I really enjoyed being back on the bike. Having mechanicals puts you through and emotional rollercoaster. From wondering if you have to scratch to getting back on the road can fuck with your head. Even smaller ones can make you wonder if the bike is going to last.
I decided to get a late lunch. Stressing about the rear derailleur cable made me forget everything about food, so I stopped at a café to get something to eat. At the café they didn’t have an English menu and didn’t speak English either. My Portuguese is equally poor and the only thing I could tell from the menu was the translations in the end of some of the main courses. To list a few; calf cheeks, tongue and so on. To avoid putting pressure on my digestive system I didn’t want to eat too much meat and chose the only course without translation in the end. That was the only item on the menu that included “Arroz” which I knew was Portuguese for rice. Turns out that it was meat from a goat mixed with rice, and cooked in the empty belly of the goat. Normally I’m not a picky eater but in 35 degrees I couldn’t think of anything worse. So I ate the fries and salad that also came with the dish and left the goat.
From there on the ride to CP3 and on was beautiful, hard, and pretty uneventful. Other than changing brake pads and waxing the chain nothing out of the ordinary happened. I made a quick stop to get some dinner and grabbed a couple of sandwiches to go. Kept on riding till 4 in the morning. Starting to feel tired I found a suitable bench. Keeping my ascetic lifestyle going I popped out my sleeping kit and decided for an hour of sleep.
Stats before second nap:
480 kilometres of riding.
13000 meters of elevation gain.
Approx. 70% of the course done.
After 1 hour of sleep I decided to move on. Waking up in 5th place after getting back to 3rd before the nap made me want to push. I ate the second sandwich for breakfast and left the bench at 5:15 in the morning. The day started cold and a little rainy – perfect conditions to push through without overheating. After an hour of riding I caught up with the 3rd place and reclaimed my position on the podium, knowing there was still far to go, I was optimistic. Even with the extensive setbacks I still managed to stay at the sharp end of the race. I decided to go all the way to the finish line knowing the hardest part was ahead. Only 270 km and almost 4000 meters of elevation to go…
The first part of the day was perfect. Still a little cold and still a little rainy. After 3 hours on the bike I wanted to find something to eat. Couldn’t really find anything and eventually I ate 8 plastic packed croissants and brought 5 with me. Not the best nutrition but at least it was better than nothing. Around midday I started a part of the race we were warned about at the briefing. 30-35 kilometres without any water supply. It might not seem that long, but this part was up steep climbs and down tricky descents. I had 3 litres of water with me and thought I would be fine. Little did I know that the weather would change. Suddenly it was 40+ degrees and this part of the course took me longer than expected. Something around 5 hours. I ran out of water after 3. Knowing that heat and no water and salt was bad I tried to convince myself not to drink water to fast, when I would find a water source again. That plan failed. When I found water I immediately drank 2 litres. Idiot.
I kept riding for an hour. Suddenly I wasn’t able to find the track – something others also struggled with at the same spot. Feeling a little dizzy I decided to get some dinner. Found a restaurant and started eating. Feeling more dizzy I knew I had fucked up. Suddenly I needed to vomit and it was clear I was in the middle of the aftermath of a heatstroke. Started to get really confused as well. In the end I decided to get a cab to the hotel where the race started, in Penhas da Saude. Worst decision ever, but that is what happens when your confused, dizzy, and have a none existing
ability to make good decisions. After 1 hour in a cab I came back to the hotel and booked a room. Vomited a couple of times during the night and felt like shit when I woke up. All energy had left my body and I just felt bad. But I was determined to get back in the race to finish the course. My mindset before a race is always “scratching is not an option”, and that was also the case here. But it took all my mental strength to get back on the bike. Every fibre in my body told me not to. Getting back on the track made me feel a little bit better though. Somehow my legs actually pedalled and I was able to climb. Not fast paced climbing but climbing nonetheless. I decided that I could finish in “touring mode”. But it was important for me to cross that finish line and get to Torre. The last day was a day where headache and a tired body was the main issues. I made slow progress but Torre was within reach. Luckily the last part of the course was amazing. Steep climbs with amazing views and fast paced descents. Made it to the finish line just before midnight. Felt so good to finish. To actually be able to put mind over body is something I have learned to do from these races. Being strong-willed is definitely an ability you need as an ultra-racer. I finished the course of 750 km and 17000 meters of elevation in three days and 13 hours and 7th place. Much longer than what I planned but I was just happy to finish taking all my problems into consideration.
The race is something I would recommend for anyone who want put themselves through a challenge of mind and body. I hope I can come back one day.