The inaugural Claro Brasil Ride was a six day mountain bike stage race in Brazil staged between 14-19 November. Always one for a new challenge, Jason Sumner put his body and his bike to the test.
The buses are much quieter on the return trip. Call it the sound of satisfaction combined with outright exhaustion.
A week ago, all three coaches were abuzz with nervous anticipation as they headed west from the coastal metropolis of Salvador toward the remote and lightly populated Chapada Diamantina area in the heart of the Brazilian state of Bahia. None of the roughly 200 people on board knew exactly what to expect. But it was a near 9-hour trip, so there was plenty of time to speculate.
Sure you could peruse the Claro Brasil Ride event program and see that it was a mountain bike stage race with 565.5km of pedaling parceled out over six days, including a 13km opening day prologue and two stages in excess of 130km. Total climbing topped 10,000 meters.
You also knew that riders would compete in teams of two. Results would be given for men’s and women’s open, men’s masters and mixed. Tents equipped with mattresses would serve as lodging. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included in the cost of entry — about $US1450 at current exchange rates.
But the trails, scenery and weather that would define this first-year event were unknown. This was the first time ultra-marathon mountain biking had come to Brazil, a sporting mad country famous for its incomparable soccer players, and host nation for the next World Cup and Summer Olympics.
Colour was high on the menu, even on the podium
Now, with six days of racing in the books, the mystery is gone. While not 100-percent perfect, the inaugural Claro Brasil Ride gets high marks in the important areas.
Courses were so well marked, Mr. Magoo could have made the trek from Mucuge to Rio de Contas and back. Food was tasty, plentiful and served on time. Important information was given as needed in Brazil’s native tongue of Portuguese — and English for the smattering of North Americans and Europeans who traveled south to the world’s fifth largest country.
And most important of all, along with lots of dirt road riding, there was also plenty of rip-roaring, giggle-inducing singletrack, a facet that’s missing from some of the world’s other more famous exotic-locale MTB stage races.
Add in spectacular scenery that ranged from Moab-like landscapes draped in tropical green, to full-on Jurassic Park jungle, and the Claro Brasil Ride delivered on its promise of epic adventure.
Looks like rain
The only knock was the weather. And even that is debatable. Had the sun shown the whole time, racers would have been cooked. As it was, every day but the first saw rain batter at least some portion of the field that numbered 104 teams at the start, but only 77 by the finish.
Total saddle time ranged from 24 hours for the men’s open winners, Czech Robert Novotny and Kristian Hynek, to 45 hours for the Brazilian pair of Claudio Kligerman and Carlos Perpetou. Most of the mid packers were in the 33- to 38-hour range.
All that precipitation made the going exceptionally slow at times. At best there was a semi-regular barrage of gooey mud and/or wet sand that grabbed your tires and killed momentum. At worst there was stage 6’s city-block long stretch of wheel deep water on a dirt road turned flooded river. Ride it, walk it or swim it were your options, as the sides of the road were lined with thick bushes.
That meant bikes took a serious beating from the combined erosional effects of water, dirt, sand and friction. Brand new drivetrains aged six years in six days. Cables scratched away frame paint. And new ground was broken in mechanical meltdowns. One rider’s bottom bracket shell came unglued from its frame. Another’s slight shoe rub in his pedal stroke literally wore a hole in his bike’s carbon chainstay. Brake pads were vaporized in record numbers. The Shimano neutral service crew didn’t get much sleep at night.
Despite all that carnage, if someone invites you to team up to race the Claro Brasil Ride, pack your bags and go. It’s a true bucket list experience for cycling junkies with a penchant for exploration both outward and inward.
But if that same person tries to sell you the bike they rode there the year before, laugh and walk away.
If You Go: Race organizers have pushed the date to 16-22 October next year, and plan to find new routes to keep the event dynamic year to year. They hope to roughly double the number of participants in 2011. Here are a few tips if you decide to check it out for yourself (which you should):
Learn Some Portuguese: Yes, Brazilians speak Portuguese not Spanish like the rest of South America. And while, English speakers aren’t non-existent, don’t expect to encounter a lot of folks outside the race staff that have bilingual abilities.
Ride Full Suspension: Indeed there are plenty of dirt road sections and steep climbing where a hardtail would serve you well. But there’s also a ton of rough and rocky terrain — and it’s six days long! Give your body a break and bring the dualie.
The press vehicle
Your author pedaled a 2010 Rocky Mountain Altitude 70 with 5.5-inches of travel front and rear. Granted it wasn’t perfect for the road sections, but this marathon XC bike sailed through the rocky downhills, and climbed smoothly, especially when things got technical. That’s owed primarily to an aggressive 76-degree seat-tube angle.
Go Tubless: If you haven’t discovered latex tire sealant, pull your head out of the sand and go buy some Stan’s. It’s a bit messy to set up, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to deal with than a rear puncture in the middle of muddy Brazilian jungle.
Pack A Ton Of Spare Brake Pads: The combination of sand, water and motion helped carved the Grand Canyon. Think what it’ll do to your bike’s brake pads. In fact, so many Claro Brasil Ride racers shredded theirs that the Shimano neutral service crew ran out of Avid Elixirs for two days while waiting for a re-supply delivery.
Bring Kit For Every Stage: It rains a lot here and things don’t dry very fast. And we all known that pulling on a wet chamois in the morning is not fun. Along those same lines, bring extra chamois cream. The sand and water does the same thing to… well you get the picture.
Note: For full reports, results and more photos head over to the event race page on Cyclingnews.