The week in Brazil racing the first World Cup there in 17 years was incredible. From racing, to exploring, to cuisine, and catching up with mates, there wasn’t much to dislike!
I flew into Rio, and other than a slight flight change, I had a smooth trip from Aussie. I met Cameron Jones at the airport, who had been over with Ben and Craig Oliver, racing the week previous. Cam was kind enough to drive into Rio to pick me up at midnight, and together we drove towards petropolis up into the misty mountains surrounding the Rio metropolis.
It took me a while to adapt to the “fast and furious” driving style, with mopeds and motos swerving through the traffic, with beeps coming from everywhere and cars pulling left, right, up and down… however Cam was a master, and navigated it all calmly, and once you got a feel for the traffic, listening for beeps as a locating mechanism, rather than hearing angry drivers everywhere. Watching for cars indicators to briefly flash as they pulled infront, or just be ready on the brake as they swerved left and right without any indication, it really felt like a real life mario kart…
We made it to bed, and the following day we were straight out the door for some intervals on a hill nearby the course, followed by a shop and all of a sudden the day was gone!
We stopped for an Acai bowl on the way home, a local dessert that uses Acai berries in a sorbet icecream, with various toppings like muesli, milk powder, berries, nuts etc.
As always the day flies by when you first arrive somewhere, so this was no surprise.
Thursday rolled around and I finally got to look at the course, it was exceptional!
Starting in a horse arena, and blasting up a grass climb, briefly up a steep pinch, through a rock garden, and back onto the grass climb. Then you climb into the trees, and the course snaked its way up the hill toward the feedzone. With A/B lines everywhere, and plenty of passing opportunities you needed to be on your A-game to not let them slip by. Once you were sufficiently cross-eyed, you dropped into the feedzone where you could collect a fresh bottle before continuing the climb. There was a brief respite on a flatter section, but quickly you punched straight up a rooty climb to take the breath out of you before 2 nice drops in quick succession. In a controversial decision the UCI had placed landing pads on these drops, so they were rollable by nearly anyone. Reducing the advantage skilled riders had over others, but also making safer for all racing. You briefly popped out of the forrest before a sweeping berm took you back into the trees. Another rooty pinch, with some fallen concrete slabs to hop your way up, and then down out of the trees again.
In the clearing you flew through berms and some nicely made jumps that utilised rock features, as well as adding some of their own. you came back through the feedzone to collect another bottle or splash (in my case from the wonderful Celine at KMC-Orbea).
From here it felt like it was all downhill, but alas there was one final climb, possibly the hardest, to go. A wide open section sprinted into the trees, where you navigated your way up a switchback climb before rolling over a steep rock into a turn up the fire trail. A brief sprint up there, and you dropped into the final proper descent, a flowy and super high speed trail. At warp speed you shot out of the trees, into the spectator arena, down the jump line and off the big drop as you passed the start finish area. One last pinch up the fire trail, where all the big moves would be made in any close race, and you dropped into the finish chute to complete your lap.
With so many features to remember, we set to dialling in our lines. Feeling more and more confident as Cam showed me all the inside lines and tips from his race the previous weekend.
Friday flew by, with a few more intervals, a pre race gym session, and checking over everything for the race the next day. We went to bed early in preparation.
Unfortunately for me, this was when my jetlag decided to kick in, at 1am after 4h of sleep I was wide awake. Despite my best efforts at meditation and various relaxation efforts, I was not showing the slightest sign of sleep. So to take my thoughts off my pre-race nerves, I got up and began planning my Europe trip, at about 6am I finally calmed down and fell asleep for another hour.
Thankfully I’d brought some Nuddy coffee with me, and was feeling ok that morning. Cam and I headed out to the race.
We were prepared, and had paid one of the locals to reserve a park for us near the entry. Thankfully he had kept his word and we arrived amid chaotic traffic to a park right outside!
Here Cam and I split to prepare for our race, I headed up to the KMC-Orbea tent, and caught up with the team. Celine had been kind enough to offer feedzone support and access to their tent again, support that is essential in the heat.
I jumped on the rollers and began warming up, however after 15minutes I was cooking and had to jump off to spin along the road for some fresh air! In no time at all, it was callup…
Being called up in 10th, with a list of your recent achievements (short for me), was very cool. It felt nice to be called up at the front, finally back with some of the riders I had competed with as a junior. I had expected to feel out of place at the front, but instead I was feeling at home.
A quick fist bump with the riders around, and “the heartbeat” began…
“The gun will go any time in the next 15seconds”
A very long 10-12 seconds, and finally we were off! I missed my pedal off the start, but thankfully so did Amos in front of me, a gap opened up and I jumped straight into it. Already inside the top 10!
The pack flew into the single track, and the pace dropped immediately, giving me time to recover. As soon as there was a split line, I jumped forward a place, gradually picking off riders. Quickly I realised this wasn’t sustainable and settled in a group of five, with another small group of leaders ahead of us. Feeling comfortable I was excited for the race to come.
However, this position wasn’t to be… All of a sudden I was overheating, and dropped the wheel to the group I was in. Not panicking, I backed off for a lap hoping I would recover, and briefly I did, gaining some time back as I followed Carter Woods, but again my legs said no (despite my head saying yes). Cam Jones came flying passed, I tried to follow his furious pace and blew again, dropping back further. Finally the last lap came around, and I battled hard to maintain my position, dropping a few positions to finish in 19th.
A decent result, however a result I feel can be improved on…
There are plenty of theories I can provide as to why I didn’t have my best ride, but at the end of the day it was my decision to do the preparation I did, and so the result rests entirely on my shoulders. So knowing the potential for a great result is hidden somewhere in my legs, I am more motivated than ever to do all I can to get everything out of my legs for the coming world cups!
For those of you interested in bike racing only, that’s all I have for this week.
For people interested in some Brazil adventures, read on!
The following day, Cam and I were up early to do a few hours on the bike before we watched the Elite riders hit the course. I won’t give you a blow by blow account of the elite races, but to be a part of the incredible atmosphere was mind blowing. Seeing Bec bring home her first world cup win was so exciting, and to see the emotion on her face for hours after the race was a reminder of why she is the people’s favourite.
After supporting the boys, we went straight home (Cam and I playing drag race the whole way home until one of us blew), got changed and headed out to celebrate a great week. After losing rock paper scissors, I was the designated driver, so had the honour of watching everyone get after it at the afterparty… It’s always nice to see riders away from the racing scene, and get to know people off the bike. Sebastian Fini even saw me falling asleep on my feet, and whipped out a caffeine gel that kept me going until we made it home!
A few hours sleep, a few cups of coffee and Craig, Ben, Cam and I were chomping at the bit for an adventure off the bike. We jumped (or tenderly placed) ourselves in the car, and were off towards “God’s Finger”. A rocky outcrop on the top of a mountain in Teresopolis that looks like a finger jutting into the sky.
After arriving we were told that the walk is only open until 9am in the morning, to give walkers time to make it back before dark. Being the cocky athletes we are, we thought to ourselves “we reckon we can do it before dark!”
So as soon as the local rangers were distracted, we snuck up the track and started stomping up the hill. Sure enough, only 1.5h later we crested the pass, and were treated to some incredible views.
We rested briefly at the top, but being the adventurers we like to think we are, we weren’t satisfied with walking down the same way we had come up.
“maps says there’s a track that goes straight down the ridgelines” pipes up Cam…
Pretty quickly we all agreed it was worth a shot, we gave ourselves 45minutes to decide whether we commit before we wouldn’t make it back the same way before dark. Of course for the first 45minutes it was relatively straight forward, a few rock scrambles but we were enjoying ourselves and seeing some spectacular wildlife along the way so we continued. Shortly after we had passed our commitment window, we got to a big slab of rock, after hugging our way halfway down, jumping from bush to bush, we found the belay for the rock climbers going the other way… As the track was intended to be used… as a beginner climbing route…
However we were committed by this point, so down we went, and along the ridgeline. As it twisted around to look back on where we had been, we realised how sketchy our descent had been… Not 5m from where we had stopped our traverse, the slab ended in a vertical cliff dropping down for a good 100m. Thanking our lucky stars that we had navigated it safely, we continued on. From here the bush closed in a bit, and we felt a lot more protected from endless falls, so a little further on when we had to negotiote a proper little down-climb, it felt comparatively safe.
Finally, roughly 2.5h later we emerged from the bush, back at the car just before sunset.
All happily exhausted, but with some incredible views and memories stored away.
With only a few hours in the morning of my final day before I flew out, Cam and I had decided to go see “christ the redeemer” in Rio. However as we got closer and I brought up google maps, we realised it was going to take far too long to drive up there and back to the airport. So in our naivety we thought, “why not surpass the traffic and just run up?”
But as we parked, and looked up at the mountain that the statue is perched upon, we realised our mistake.
Some 700m of elevation, and a little goat track that ran straight up the side was what we were faced with. Neither of us having run much recently, we set off at a fairly blistering pace and soon were coated in sweat with the brazilian humidity. We settled in, and about 1h later we reached the top, after some fun scrambling up roots and steps bolted into the rock, to see hundreds of tourists clustered around giving us funny looks as they clambered off the bus, fresh as daisies.
It really is quite an atmosphere at the top, and despite the very “touristy” feel, I would absolutely recommend going (especially if you run/walk up).
You stand under the outstretched hands of the Christ statue, while birds wheel around in their thousands at eye level, above the city of Rio. You can see 360 degrees around the bay, and surrounding area, and it gives a real feel of how big the sprawling metropolis really is. While many people are there just for the photo, there is still an atmosphere of worship, and it’s hard not to be awed by the size and presence of the statue.
All too soon I realised I had to get to the airport, so Cam and I boosted back down the hill and breakneck speed. Both of us are relatively confident on two feet so we made it down in (I’m sure) record time, with only a small bingle when Cam’s big feet got caught on the cobbles as we finally exited the treacherous roots of the jungle…
Straight off to the airport, and made it through check in/bag drop just in time. As I arrived at my gate midway through boarding. A quick costume change in the bathroom and I was last on board (but not late!)
My apologies to anyone sitting nearby, as I’m sure the deodorant shower did not compensate for the lack of a proper shower until I arrived in Europe some 25h later…
That’s all for now, stay tuned as the European adventure begins!