I was so excited to be back for the 2016 Andes Pacifico race, as these are the events that I truly LOVE. It is more about the whole adventure, the exotic location, the people you get to spend a whole week with and all the crazy things that tend to happen over a whole week of this kind of “blind” racing format. It’s a pretty nutty format that I really enjoy and seem to thrive at, but it does come with a hell of a lot more risks and dangers than your usual practised racing format. We have a little “dark cloud crew” of friends that usually reunite at these sorts of events, and usually one of them or us gets hurt, and this time it was my turn. I took one for the team you guys. Nonetheless, I still loved being in Chile, I loved hanging with all the staff and organisers, drivers, doctors & nurses who looked after me, all the wives and kiddies that kept me entertained and fed, thank you guys for making an injury such an “enjoyable” experience ;)
O Chile, how you have crept deep into my heart as quite the special place. From never setting foot on South American soil, to going over to Chile twice in the past 2 months has been quite the new love affair for me. Of course the first time around, everything is always a bit strange, or different and it takes you a while to find your feet in any new country, but then the second time around, those things you thought were a bit strange end up being the things you love about a new country. The first thing that struck me about Chile in February when we went out there for the Andes Pacifica race was the hospitality of the people and their pride of their country. This time around, this notion was again confirmed by spending some more time with this passionate nation, ready to approach, embrace and engage at any time, place or moment. They are truly a warm nation and that is what made this first round of the Enduro World Series in Nevados de Chillan so very special.
The fact that the tracks were absolutely amazing, the dirt – hero like no other, the scenery, simply spectacular and father Fall didn’t hold back in providing some extra spectacular changing fall colours to keep the photographers very happy indeed. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect; crisp, chilly mornings and evenings, which made for brilliant blue-sky days and the perfect temperature for riding bikes. Quite a difference from 6 weeks ago when we were suffering in the Andes mountains with not a tree in sight and temperatures souring well up into the 40 degree Celsius mark for the Andes Pacifico.
We had two days of practice, or riding, where we could practice the first three stages of day 1 and then the next three stages of day two the following day. They were full, long days of riding and it was brilliant. These two days gave us time to catch up with friends we haven’t seen since last season, to check out everyone’s new shiny bikes and bright coloured kits, to ride together, to scope out lines together and to revel in the spectacular scenery whilst hike a biking together. Yes, it was the first round of the EWS, but the two practice days felt like we were all just in one pretty cool place riding pretty amazing new tracks together. After these two days, you could feel all the hiking in your legs and your body felt like it’s been doing something; it was now time to race and repeat the past two days, just in a more serious matter I suppose, and without stopping to high five with your mates every few minutes.
You could definitely sense a bit of nervousness at the start of the first stage; this was it, the season opener and this was when your silly brain would take over with thoughts such as; did I train enough or in my case, did I ride enough? Maybe I should have done some intervals and skipped the berry ice cream and beer after every ride this summer; they look skinny, they must be super fit…blah, blah, blah, the brain wanting to pull you out of your confidence zone and into your doubting zone. Fuck it, not much you can do about anything now, just go and ride your bike, have fun with it and see what happens hey. My goal for this first round was to not crash & get over excited like I did in the opener last year in Punta Ala, just ease into it, steady as, get rid of the nerves and finish the weekend with a top 10. That would be ideal and I managed to do just that.
Stage 1 - Candonga: Super downhilly stage with super loose corners, shoots, berms and high-speed sections.
Stage 2 - G Del Diablo: This one had about an hour hike a bike to get to the start with a beautiful old Refugio and Alpine Beech forests with the most magical colours. It was a long and very physical stage with all the techie stuff near the bottom, long flat, sandy pedal sections and blown out loamy turns - it was a toughie.
Stage 3 - Dakar: Back up to the top of the mountain for this one; another old school downhill type track that was pretty straight down the mountain, soft, ruts, moto style until you entered the woods where it turned into the bike park with a few jumps and super fast berms to the finish line. So sick!
Stage 4 - Valle Hermosa: This day started off with a nice little steep hike a bike to the top of the start. It was another spectacular morning checking out the fumaroles – the steam coming out of the mountain with views to die for. It was tough to remember this stage, but it was very flowy, fast and flat towards the bottom, so much fun to start the day on.
Stage 5 - Olimpico: This one was my most dreaded one, as it was the most physical one, but also the one with the trickiest, tech sections and I never seemed to find much flow on it. Not much you can do about that, so I squished some gel into my body, ate a banana and went for it. It didn’t seem that long during the race, but there were way more flat pedal sections than I remembered and the flow; I couldn’t find much flow, but ended up being better than I thought it would be.
Stage 6 - Candado XL: I was so excited about this stage starting right at the top of the mountain in the snow with views of majestic mountains and snow covered volcanoes. So stunning. This was going to be a long one; 15 minutes or so starting off in really rough, barren, rocky, moon like terrain and ending up in the most magical, dark, loamy hero dirt of a forest with never-ending berms and steep shoots, it was so much fun! By the time I got the steepest part near the end, I was hanging and two finger braking just to make it down there and not blow it at the end.
The crowds were spectacular throughout the weekend, screaming and cheering and calling out your name as you went by. This was the general theme all weekend and it felt great. There were families and kids and competitors – amateurs and professionals, and everyone had a good vibe going. Maybe it was because it was Easter weekend, but whatever it was, it was awesome. The pit area was set up on this lush lawn area with the mountains surrounding us and no one wanted to go home. After practice people were just lounging about, enjoying the day and listening to some seriously good DJ mixes.
I was super happy ending up with an 8th place overall for the weekend. Better than the 18th I ended up with last year, so that’s a good start. I loved racing on my pretty new teal Juliana Roubion; she did steal a few hearts out there that’s for sure, as the ladies (and some guys) are super excited to get their hands on one of these bad boys soon.
Well done to all the pinners out there this weekend and to everyone that made the effort to go to the little ski town of Nevados de Chillan for a bike race. A big cheers to the Montenbaik crew and to everyone who made this event possible. Matias, Eduardo, Chris, Enrico, Nacho and too many others to mention.
Of course it’s all over before you know it, with a mad rush to get everything clean and packed up again and to get back to Santiago for whatever is next. We had a mad rush to get Sven to his flight the next morning with a 4am departure and a 6 hour drive, as he headed to Cairns for the next round of the World Cup and I couldn’t get on a flight for 2 days, so I had a little city layover in Santiago, exploring the city and doing some fun non bike related things, which of course included some eating (ceviche) and shopping of course.
Time for me to head home now for three weeks or so and to get everything ready for our next journey: our 5 month stint to Europe. Time to savor, appreciate & soak up everything that I so love about New Zealand and it’s beautiful forests, trails and people. The colours, the smells, the sea & the food…I already miss it, but there are more adventures waiting abroad and it’s time to go soon.
It’s pretty early on in the season for a big race, but this was one event that I wasn’t going to miss. I’ve never been to South America and I love being involved with new events, so off to Chile it was. Upon arrival it was anything but chilly, it was bloody hot. Heat like what we’re used to in South Africa, and I knew right then, that this stage race was not going to be a breeze. The heat is what was going to make this event a tough one, and the “anti-grip” dirt that everyone has been going on about.
Santiago was big, 6million people big, surrounded by massive Andes mountain peaks all around. It was dry, barren, polluted & dusty almost like Las Vegas, a city that just popped up in the middle of nowhere, but it was alive, colourful & bustling. It reminded me a lot of South Africa, the constant contrast between wealth & poverty. The shanties you drive past in your fancy car, the electric fences and gates in the neighborhoods. The maids. Only difference were the dogs, strays were everywhere, but they were all so friendly and non aggressive, unlike most South African dogs. Anyhow, those were my first impressions driving into Santiago. The greatest thing to me, were the friendly, warm people. Everyone, wherever you went were such amazing people. My lack of Spanish left me frustrated at times, wanting to communicate and chat, but our charade games would make do most of the time. We were welcomed into strangers homes like we were family, and that was to be the precedent of the entire trip. That and fruit cups. Delicious fruit cups.
The race was amazing. It was incredibly tough. We started high up in La Parva and finished up on the beach in Maitencillo. The 38 – 40degree Celsius heat turned it up a notch and the hike a bikes in the midday heat, made for some very long days out in the desert. The race stages were hard, technical, steep and strange. Strange in a good way, just weird to ride. Dirt like most of us have never experienced. You’d pick your line, go for your line and not even ever get anywhere near your line. This was to be the battle of the week, trying to pick and stay on line or on track. As soon as we’d feel a little more confident, we’d move to a new area with slightly different, anti-grip dirt and the learning curve would start from scratch. It was fun to try and figure this out, but also frustrating at times when the track looked straight forward, and usually you’d be able to let it go, but you just couldn’t out here. Not to mention the size of the cacti & its thorns that loomed around every corner. Besides the giant sized cacti, the rest of the vegetation scattered along the tracks were also thorny and they didn’t move. Our hands and forearms were cut up & battered to smithereens, and our legs looked like we fought with some samurai masters. This is what I love about these sorts of adventures. Everything was new, everything was exciting, and everything was scary. This is what riding bikes is all about to me. The adventure of all of this, thrown into a race with all the variables and the unknown factors is what excites me and why I love to do these sorts of events. It is a race, yes, but it is an adventure. It is an adventure with a group of awesome likeminded people and you have to embrace anything and everything that gets thrown at you.
It was like a reunion of sorts with all our friends meeting up from all over the world for another suffer fest. The dark cloud crew’s early reunion with loads of other familiar faces from previous adventures. Sven had a really bad first day, riddled with mechanicals, flats and of course crashes, that made him decide to focus on photographing the rest of the race. Everyone struggled with the stages, they were hard. Everyone crashed, got lost, got stuck and such, but everyone finished off the long days with a big smile and a sparkle in the eye. The food & the Chilean red wine helped ease the aches & pains after each long day, with loads of speculation of what the following day was going to be like. During the day, when you’re struggling, you keep thinking of the end of the race, but when it comes around, there is that sad, flat feeling of the adventure being over. The Dark Cloud crew had their fare share of mishaps – as usual, but nothing too serious. We all made it. We survived the crazy Chilean backcountry and crazy tracks. I ended up taking the win, with Pauline Dieffenthaler in second and Julia Hobson (fellow Juliana ambassador) in third place. In the men’s, Jerome Clementz took the win, with local Chilean Nico Prudencio in second and Francois Bailly-Maitre in third. Chris Ball also killed it as usual and Will beat me this time around. Damnit!
No rest for the weary as we managed to do some laundry and head South for about 5 hours to the mountains of Chillan to check out the area where the first round of the EWS will take place in a few weeks from now. Feeling pretty tired and beat up, all I wanted to do was sleep on the beach and eat more avocado everything, but it was time to do some more riding and exploring. I was loving this area. It was green and lush with beech forests – it felt like home! I loved seeing the smaller villages and towns and the quaint houses and gardens, this was the Chile that I had pictured in my head. We rode & explored for two days, did bits and pieces of one track; hike a biked to some steaming hot fumaroles to catch the most stellar sunset and to cook an egg. It smelt like Rotorua. It was breathtakingly beautiful. I wanted to keep going further south, to see more lush forests and lakes, but this will have to do for now as our time has run out.
We bee lined it back to Santiago, got home around 3am, woke up at 7am to wash & pack our bikes and to get to the Aquitaine Winery by 10am for a wine tasting tour with Eduardo at his family vineyard. This was a first for me, drinking wine at 10am, blending my toothpaste with tannins. Bloody hell, was it tasty. I could get used to drinking these delicious wines on the terrace at 10am. It was time to head home, back to NZ.
It was a whirlwind trip, with a wonderful race, in a magical country. It has been a little teaser of a big country that I cannot wait to return to and explore properly. Thank you Chile & its amazing people & scenery for a wonderful adventure. Thank you also to Mountain Works & Santa Cruz Bicycles Chile for all your help & late nights helping me with my bike, and to all the organizers for putting on such an amazing event. Eduardo, Nacho & Matias, Maria Eugenia & her family, Montenbaik, Sarita & all the chicas who ran everything. Cheers to all the drivers and everyone involved, it was magical and unforgettable & I’ll be back!
Next up: Trail riding trip with the SRAM family in Craigieburn forest & Nelson.
Peace out x