Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ironbiker, Brazil

Team Ironbike

When I found out that I won an entry to Ironbiker, Brazil for my first place at Ironbike, Italy I had no idea that it included airfare, room, and meals and a chance to hang out with the Ironbike organizers and 4 other racers from team Ironbike. Eric and I decided to go a week early to have a little vacation before the race. We flew in to Belo Horizonte which is Brazil's 3rd largest city, in the state of Minas Gerais. For 5 days we stayed in Ouro Preto, which is a beautiful town that dates back to the Gold rush era. We stayed at a youth hostel at the top of a cobble stone street that was so steep it was difficult to walk either up or down. Little old ladies in fashion shoes and smokers would fly past us when we walked back and forth into town. We spent most of the time around Ouro Preto doing some riding to explore the area and had fun trying to get around without speaking a lick of Portugese. We only ran in to 2 people in a shop who spoke a bit of English, so it was quite challenging reading menus and ordering food, ask for directions, and get around in general.

Ouro Preto

After our time in Ouro Preto we packed up our bikes and took a taxi to meet up with "the Italians" who were staying outside Mariana, the town where Ironbiker starts and finishes the first day. The place we stayed at during the race, Hotel Fazenda Galeria 12, was definitely an upgrade from the hostel. It was a small hotel with a restaurant and pool on a large property. The owner, known as "the Madame" was a energetic little lady who was super friendly and very animated but didn't speak a word of English or Italian.

From the Ironbike organization there was Caesar, the race promoter, Simone and Theo. Those 3 always seemed to have a friendly argument going on, which was very entertaining. Theo, an older italian guy who raced in the first ever Paris to Dakkar rally smoked like a chimney and was in charge of driving the VW bus they rented. They also brought Katia, Piero, Malin, and Filipo to the race, so there was 9 of us crammed into the van which sometimes made it quite challenging getting up the steep rocky hills. The couple of days before the race we did a little touring of the area. One day we went down into an old gold mine where we were able to swim in an underground lake in the mine. The mine had produced gold, silver, and arsenic up until 20 years ago. When the mining stopped, it was producing 4 grams of gold per ton of ore! Sounds like a lot of work for so little gold.

Starting Line

Ironbiker is the biggest Mountain Bike marathon in South America with 1100 riders. There was an elite field of about 20 women. The first day was supposed to be 74 km and we rode the 8 km from our hotel to the start. It was really hot and humid even before we took off. In general, Brazilians seem very layed-back and never in a rush or on any sort of time schedule until you get some wheels under them. They drive like they are CRAZY with no regards for other cars, pedestrians, animals, or speed bumps. This is what I learned on the internet about driving in Brazil:

"Brazil has one of the highest rates of Car accident fatalities in the Americas with 24.2 killed in crashes per 100,000 members of the population. Brazil ranks third in the world with worst road death rate per person, just behind El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. Crashes claim over 35,000 lives year each on Brazilian roads ( shockingly more- 39,000 are killed in Gunshot violence)."

From what I observed in the race, they ride like they drive. There are no straight lines, no looking before you move over, no letting someone faster pass. It was funny but a little unnerving, especially at the start.

The course was mostly on dirt with very steep short hills. There were a few climbs, but nothing over 10 minutes or so. I didn't feel great the first day, so I was happy to hear I was 3rd when the race all of the sudden finished at 61 kms. I thought I had reached a check point or gotten lost when I was told the race was "finito". The last 10 km were not timed and we all cruised in to town and the finish line. Sandra Klompe from Italy won that day, and Erica, a Brazilian woman was 2nd, 3 minutes ahead of me. Rebecca Rush was in 5th about 3 minutes behind me. Eric, with his 1 ride per week training came in a couple of minutes behind me and when he was getting some water at the finish-line a woman started yelling at him in Portugese. Apparently she was trying hard to beat Rebecca, and had a team of guys working for her, pushing and pulling her most of the way. She was mad because Eric didn't want to be her domestique and help her out.

The 2nd day started in Ouro Preto and we were able to get a ride in the VW bus and the Madame brought our bikes in her giant Ford truck (very unusual for Brazil, where only 10 percent of the population even owns a car). The race was scheduled to go off at 8, but when we got there we found out that it had been delayed until 8:30 for unknown reasons. Maybe it was because the Porto-potties didn't show up until just before 8? It was much cooler than the day before. It actually rained very hard the night before and it was still cloudy. I felt much better, the course was more technical with lots of mud, and the climbs were longer so this day suited me a little better even though it was only 55 km. I was behind Sandra and Rebecca but passed both with about 10 km to go and ended up winning that day. It was enough for 2nd place!! Caesar handed me a big American flag to carry up on the stage! They were so happy and excited waving the American flag.

Slightly dirty at the finish-line

We had an awesome time in Brazil thanks to Caesar and Ironbike, Italy! Thank You also to all my supportive sponsors, PROGRESS, Magura, Kenda, Ergon, and PTLG and my team Sho-Air.

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