UCI Marathon World Series
After a massive 24-hour travel day of layovers and sitting in one spot on the airplane, I arrived in Santiago, Chile to sun and spring breezes.
Word on the street was that the weekend’s UCI Marathon Series race on Chile’s semi-arid maritime coast was to be steep in spots and a little rocky; ‘ok, that’s nice,’ I thought.
I heard 3,500+meters in 85 kilometers and thought, ‘Nah… The long races are known to be off on elevation stats.’
I enjoyed my visit at the massive new Cannondale flagship store Intercycle. The staff snapped pictures of my Cannondale Flash and me. It was fun talking about our shared love of high-performance bicycles!
The next day we picked up Perlikis Ilias – the 2012 World Champ – and his coach Andre. We started the 2-hour drive north toward the Bay of Punchuncavi. There, the resort village was dotted with nice old beach houses reminding me of the central California coast – except for the notable presence of penguins!
The race venue was in the city square and it was well appointed with chairs, vendors, food and of course the Latin flair of competing promo/podium girls meant to maximize the attention of the mostly male crowd. Don’t worry Cannondale had some too!
The gun went off melting the cold chill of the foggy morning.
The pace was tough; led by Chilean rider Javier Puchel. We settled into more of a tempo on the start lap and I knew right away my legs were tight and heavy despite the reduced pace ‘uh oh,’ I thought.
I had taken the lead on a technical section and raced with what I had; punching the climbs hoping a change of luck changed my leg-speed setting. The first descent was brief but a fun roller coaster through dry forest.
The hiking and grinding at a cadence of just 40 took its toll on all of us, and the race course became like a battle ground. I was shocked to see many of the lapped riders lying on the ground! Cramped up, I assume.
I did hang it out on some of the steep descents and made sure to keep a balance in the smile-to-grimace ratio. My rotors were smoking from dropping 4,000 feet in 3 miles on a section of trail that is more suitable to world cup downhill!
Our stiff pace set Perlikis and me firmly off the front, leading ahead of Argentina’s top endurance racer and the team leaders from the other visiting countries of Ecuador, Peru and Colombia.
My fast descending was over after lap-one, when police slowed us as we came upon the scene of a nasty head-on car accident. I turned my head so the sight wouldn’t shake my composure to tackle the treacherous descents ahead.
The race on the second 35-kilometer loop became a bit of a death march as we ascended back into the cool clouded forest. Thistle-like plants hung with dewdrops, but the east slope was exposed with bluebird skies, dry and hot with a Sonoran desert feel!
The legs had just one speed since I had climbed 10,000 ft and my quads were loaded with maximum effort. My left arm streaked with blood from an encounter with the local plant life; imagine a cross between thornbush and a small tree: when clipped makes like a steel wire trimmed on angle.
Damage control earned my silver medal ahead of the Argentine rider Miguel Angel Hidalgo. Given my season is done, I was proud of the effort! Nothing like a helicopter camera crew flying above to keep you honest!
The vortex from the chopper 30-feet above me came with the added benefit of crop dusting my sweat and sports drink-covered legs like two skinny brown powdered doughnut sticks. I was a sight to see at the finish, covered with bloody scratches and dust.
Post race, I wiped the dust from my face and laughed. I revisited the math: 4,000 meters for 78 kilometers works out to be an average of… about 20% with pitches at 40% walking up a washed-out landslide on the dry mountainside!
The after-race scene was great. I’d signed more autographs and done more photo sessions that the whole US Pro series combined! It made me blush to have so much star-quality attention, but I’m cool with it as long as more people are stoked to ride.
My trip was over and a final fond memory was carpooling with Xavier, Jose and Chi Chi (team Ecuador) back to the airport. We were joking and having fun, sharing pictures of our vastly different homelands, and stopping at the roadside vendors to sample the local pastry skills. The sharp Andes passed to the east; surreal like burnt brown cardboard triangles of a play backdrop.
My mind replayed the warp-speed trip to South America, and off to bed I went. It was just a nap before my 2:30 a.m. alarm kicked off a 23-hour travel day home. After the Chilean spring, back to Virginia’s autumn and pumpkin-picking with Conrad, the trip felt like a vivid dream.