The first Baja Portalegre, 35 years ago, by José Megre

18 outubro 2022

The classic of the classics was born 35 years ago. It was in 1987 that José Megre, Pedro Vilas-Boas and the group of pioneers from Clube Aventura created what would become one of the most emblematic bajas in Europe. The “1.º Rali Maratona de Portalegre – Finicisa” encapsulated all the dedication, ingenuity, creativity and overcoming capacity of the off-road pioneers in Portugal. In the book "Aventura 87", the late José Megre gives a 'delicious' account of the Portalegre’s original odyssey. Here are some excerpts from a journey through time.


"It is difficult to write objectively and dispassionately about a race to which one has been linked from the beginning. The creation of something new, even if it’s identical in spirit to other existing ones, is not easy and needs great motivation and dedication.

600 kilometres competed against the clock, from start to finish, for cars and motorbikes, a secret route marked with arrows, four assistance points without neutralisation. This is the secret of the Baja type races, of which our “Maratona” was the first example in Portugal.

We had to adapt the idea to our country, find the necessary logistical, financial and personal support, make it acceptable to the federal authorities and sell the idea to competitors, sponsors and the media.

The huge puzzle that constitutes the assembly of the test at the technical level, from the radio network, the air resources, the articulation of all the controls, the marking of the tracks, the assembly of the device on the day of the Race, the policing of the intersection controls, the crossing control teams (some schedules to be able to neutralize the race in case of emergency), the crossing control posts with the tar road, the placement of Firefighters, GNR and doctors and, above all, the track guards, local volunteers, ambulances, on whose responsibility depended the closing of the circuit, that is, to prevent other vehicles from intruding in the race itinerary.

Several nights were spent thinking about the best way to do it, many trips to Portalegre to contact those responsible for the local authorities and clubs, countless personal contacts, briefings with the participants, various explanations, constant reconnaissance of the route.

It's just that no one had ever seen anything like what was going to happen. We had to explain the idea to the authorities involved, competitors and members of the organisation. In many, I felt scepticism. But, together with Pedro, we managed to overcome the various difficulties and successfully carry out the “1.° Rali Maratona em Portugal”. Portalegre was the chosen district because of the various kinds of support we were able to get there.

Another difficulty that we did not foresee at the outset was the change in the state of the roads due to the rains that hit the region in the three months preceding the race.

We changed the route several times. Pedro Vilas-Boas spent hours and hours trying to come up with a solution, testing various hypotheses and getting stuck for long periods in the mud, from which he would only come out late at night, helped by the great local enthusiasts.

Until the last day we hesitated at two points, but they turned out to be a success! One crossing the Ribeira de Seda, which varied in height every day. It ended up being necessary to unload stones in the riverbed the day before, work carried out by the Câmara de Alter, which allowed the two-wheeled cars to pass but made it difficult for the motorcyclists.

The other was a stream that flows into the Maranhão Dam, near Benavila.
Perhaps the most critical point of the race, as the only solution was to introduce 17 km of tarmac, which we wanted to avoid at all costs.

We had several problems with this, especially when we did the reconnaissance and even on the day we marked the itinerary with arrows. We eventually solved the matter in an emergency visit to the Mayor of Avis, who in half a dozen hours built a real motorway on the spot! At least the inhabitants benefited too!


The mud turned out to be the big puzzle, as the race was at stake. It was difficult to neutralize it in case nobody passed through a certain place.

In many places there were great difficulties that we did not foresee, as the passage of several cars caused the roads to collapse in sections where we never thought this would happen.

So, it was only (around 7.30pm) when the first bike and the first car (around 10pm) crossed the finish line that we breathed a sigh of relief and the weight of our worries passed. I gave Pedro a hug then, which only he and I understood.

In fact, several times during the day we had to change small passages, and some were naturally found by the competitors themselves. The machines from various city councils and private tractors came all day long to help here and there to dig out cars and jeeps, often getting themselves bogged down.

We ourselves, and for the great delight of the competitors, were hopelessly stuck, Pedro and I, each in their jeep jeep, at 6am, when we were trying to help some competitors who were still in a difficult situation. It was only with the help of Commander Belo Morais and three huge fire engines with winches that we managed to get out of the difficult position we were still in at 10am!

I hardly had time to say goodbye to Patrick Zaniroli and take a shower before the prize giving. It was the revenge of the competitors who suffered the harshness of the “Maratona”!


José Megre"

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