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.