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Chile was a number of firsts for me. First time to South America, first multi day race, first time putting my bike on a ski lift!
Having raced in one day and two day events I was really up for the challenge of a 5 day race. Why Andes Pacifico? Of the multi day races running throughout the year this one was the most appealing location, I mean who wouldn't want to ride (race ) their bike from the high Andes west to the Pacific Ocean??!!
I made the 15hour journey from the UK over to the capital, Santiago. With half a day to mooch about the city I was soon on my way to the meeting point. Riders from all over the world gathered, hiding from the mid day heat in the shade we chatted and put our bikes together.
Pick ups fully loaded we were off, to base camp at Antawaya. About an hour drive from the Santiago. We arrived to this beautiful cactus lined valley, tents all pitched ready for us to choose then it was off to river to cool down. As the Brit coming from the uk winter to Chile for their summer and someone who doesn't cope too well with the heat I was very pleased to get in the river!
The evening consisted of eating some great food, sampling the local Chilean wine and meeting new friends. After the race presentation it was off to bed excitedly nervous about what the first day of racing would bring.
Breakfast was mega! Always a bit of worry when you’re not in charge of your own fuel.
So much fresh fruit, yoghurt, granola, scrambled eggs, avocado, meats, bread, tea and fresh oranges to squeeze your own! I was a happy Claire!
With bikes loaded into the pick up we were off to La Parva ski resort high up in the Andes, starting the race at 3600m. It was amazing, the views were stunning, big snowy capped peaks, condors sawing high up and the heat was intense! After catching the ski lift up and a short push and pedal we were soon gathered at the start.
The ground was so loose, I was about to experience the famous antigrip of the high Andes. I was scared! I didn't want to crash and burn at the start.
I made it! Stage 1 done! A couple of wobbles, almost having the front wheel wash out a couple of times! With the nerves settled a little, it was onward to remaining three stages.
Stage 2 went well, a long stage at 8km over 1100m of decent, stayed on and really enjoyed it. With a new found confidence it was into stage 3, the Chilean lasses warned us it was a Dh track. Started well, then it soon got steep and rocky. Off I went, without a clue I was on the floor in all the dust. My right knee throbbing, not surprising as it was the first thing to hit the ground as I was spat onto it! Back on I gingerly got down the rest of the track.
With an hour and half at the feed station! We all started to feel pretty sleepy! Back in the trucks for the last stage of the day. After a half hour beautiful liaison we arrived at the start of stage 4, Festival of switchbacks!
It started well and then I got my ass handed to me, many times! I spent the latter half of the track trying to slide the bike round the tight, steep switchbacks but most of the time running off the track into the prickly bushes! I had on big off and got a bit worried as
I struggled to get back up to the track falling further down in the dusty steep terrain! One bonus, I suppose, was I managed to avoid all cactuses on the stage!
Complete survival mode had set in on that stage! With a 20 minute gravel track to get back to camp on, I was exhausted, ran out of water and the heat was searing. I was sooo happy to get back, get in the river and eat some great food! Survived day one!
Back in the pick ups to La Parva ski station for the start of stage 5. A short but sweet stage avoiding the horses and cows on track! With a quick liaison of 20 mins we were at stage 6, a great stage with lovely bermed corners a welcome change to the flat ones!
Back in the trucks for stage 7, after a half hour liaison we arrived at the brand new track, only 3 weeks old. Route finding was a little hard to start! With a river crossing to negotiate after the stage, shoes and socks whipped off I wobbled across! So refreshing! Off to the feed station which was at the camp.
Back in the trucks for the final stage of the day. The drive to the start was pretty epic, proper off road ride! With an extra 20 minute pedal and push the views from the top of stage 8 were vast. I loved this stage. I stayed on, overtook some guys and really got into the flow of it. Until I hit a rock pretty hard and bent my rear rotor. My back break would be there then not for the last few meters of the track, pretty scary at times. The boys at Sram did a great job of sorting it out for me, bent it back and smoothed the rotor out. Very grateful!
Last day high in the Andes. Into the pick ups for a big off road ride up to 2500m then a 35 minute liaison to start of stage 9 at 2750m. A really loose, vague and pedally stage in places then followed but a really good stage. Stage 10 came after a 45 liaison, a real wilderness, beautiful pedal through the rocky, arid terrain. I found the route finding hard on this one, over the bars I went and then completely off route! Onwards to stage 11, this was a tough one! Such a long stage at 4.7km, so rough and multiply line choice's.
Only one off though, which I'm pleased about, the forearm pump was massive! After a short liaison the last stage of the day was on us. Stage 12 had three river crossings mid stage in it! We were told to get off for the first one, glad I did, there were some big boulders! The other two were fine to ride straight through; it was going so well until the last 5m of the trail and boom I was on the floor before I had time to realise! The bottom took the brunt of it, with a dead bum I limped across the finish pushing my bike!
After a 3km pedal we arrived at an open meadow to be met by hot empanadas, fruit, Coke, brownies, water! Just what I needed!
Full on all the good food, it was into the trucks and on the road to the next camp, a 3hr drive away in the Colchagua Valley, wine country!
Feeling pretty knackered, I found my bag, picked a tent, showered and ate. It ended up been a bit of late one but sleep came very easy!
Feeling much better than when I went to bed, we got on our way with day 4. Only two stages for this day but they were big!
We we're dropped off at the nearest vineyard to start. After a short pedal it was time to put the bike on the back and get hiking. With sweat pouring off me I arrived at the start of the stage. Absolutely soaking wet, I sorted out my full face helmet and knee and elbow pads for the start. Stage 13 went so well, felt fast and in control! After a really fast, straight chute in-between the vines I punched out the bottom of the stage onto the feed station, luckily in the shade! With a belly full of fruit, brownie and sandwich I set out on the 1000m hike a bike. Negotiating the narrow tracks with a bike on your back was tough at times, adopting the sideways crab walk seemed to do the trick! After 2 hours 15mins I arrived at the top of the stage 14 once again dripping wet, such a delight!
The arm pump that followed on the stage was immense! Route finding in the bottom half of the track was tough work. So many tracks and routes to take in amongst the water worn ruts and jumps, trying to spot the next flag to follow I found myself flying off a gap jump! Pretty chuffed I’d made it, it made me weary of what else was going to be in the track. I did my usual eject off the bike just before the finish line, down a steep, loose chute I found myself flying through the air grabbing the nearest tree to break my fall. I soon found out that that stage had been taken out of the overall as the tape had been broke and too many riders went the wrong way. That explains the gap jump!
Part of the evening was spent visiting the local vineyard sampling the Chardonnay, Merlot and Malbec. Lovely way to round up the day.
The last day of the race. It was a big one too! Dropped off, we began the 47km journey from the mountains to the beach at Matanzes. IT WAS HOT!! 42.2 degrees hot! My little head felt like it was going to pop! We had 7 stages to ride with transitions nearly all made out of the shade of the trees. It was a hard day. Tracks were shorter than previous days, anywhere between 2 ½ to 5 minutes long.
At the end of stage 6 all 70 odd riders gathered and we rode to the last stage all together, a great to finish the race, all in it together. The last stage was under the cover of pine trees and the sun was starting to set, a chill set in whilst we waited to start slowest through to fastest. A few supporters lined the tracks towards the finish to cheer us on. It was done! I’d done it, completed the Andes Pacifico 2016 enduro.
Last little pedal onto the beach to the proper finish line with the sun just hitting the sea. So pleased to finish, all limbs and body parts still attached! And 6th spot too what a bonus! 12,000m of vertical decent, 95km of timed stages, 271km on the bike in total.
Tent and bag found, beer in hand I went for a shower then it was soon onto the biggest meat fest of a BBQ you’ve ever seen. The Piscolas flowed all night long! No pisco no disco!
Andes Pacifico was everything I’d hoped for and so much more in a multi day race. Such a chilled vibe, so well organised, amazing food and great stages to race on. The guys and girls at Montenbaik put on a great show! The first of many multi day races for me I think!
Big thanks to my sponsors: Sealskinz, Flare Clothing co and Mudhugger for sorting me with the equipment and kit needed to compete and be comfy! And a big thank you to Mat from Evolution Bikes Bangor for making sure my steed was race ready.