This post describes my experiences in my first ever MTB Stage Race. This is VERY long, so take some wine, beer,hot tea or chocolate if you are willing to read through everything.
As posted before, the race chosen was the Claro Brasil Ride in Chapada Diamantina – Bahia – Brazil. Two motives drove the decision, first Chapada Diamantina is a natural reserve that I always wanted to know and it is 500km away from my hometown and second my partner and 2 other friends that were going live in Brasil so this was a natural choice for them. The race was 560km long in 6 days, being the first day a prologue of 11 km which we completed in 50 min. For details on the stages and the race course you can go here.
Our objective, being this our first experience, was to complete de race and get the "finisher" shirt . I also entered the race trying to understand better what goes through the minds and bodies of the pros when they do stage races and off course willing and wanting to experience similar sensations. After having gone through that I can tell you that a lot of times I remembered the discussions here at the Café, but let’s not jump into that just yet.
Stage Racing on the jump!
Planning and Traveling
Not being Mark Cavendish, Alberto Contador or Julien Absalon our difficulties started well before the race itself. Part of the complexity and also the fun was planning all the logistics: flights, connections, car rental, racing kit, spare parts, accommodation and food supplies with no help and off course while we performed our regular jobs. Off course, at this point in time, I need to acknowledge the full support given by our wives and the sponsorship given by the company we work for: Procter & Gamble, through its brands Gillette Deodorants and Duracell who paid for our inscription, our kits and part of the car that we rented to get to the host town.
Some stress was going on before the race since we couldn’t find brake pads for our XT 775 models in Sao Paulo or Panama. Fortunately my internet shipment with 8 pairs of brake pads arrived the night before I flew to Brasil together with some extra socks. We also had some spare chains (HG-93), No Tubes sealant, some tubes (despite racing with Tubeless) a pair of tires, all the needed tools, some lubricant, gatorade (powder), carbo gels, endurox and off course 5 cans of Nutella.
More stress was going on when I arrived in Sao Paulo on Friday November 12th since, due to an issue with the supplier our kits were not ready! After endless discussions we were able to get 2 jerseys and 2 shorts each (for a 6 days race!). We would have no choice but to wash the jerseys after each stage. The short problem was not so dramatic…well I raced 2 days in white shorts (the ones I received, the original design was with blue shorts) and that was dramatic enough for me hehehe but as for the other days we raced using our own bibshorts. (You will be able to recognize me in some pictures because I was using my Podium Café bib shorts.)
From there we flew to Salvador where a rented pick up was waiting for us. After stopping at my mother’s house for some lasagna and a good night of sleep we were on our way to Mucuge, the first host town of the race.
We arrived around mid day on Saturday just in time for lunch, unpacking and assembling our bikes, checking in at the lodge and going for the recognition of the prologue course/stretching our lags. Here the first difference with the PROs: we needed to use valuable energy to take care of our equipment instead of having a team mechanic to bring it ready to ride for us. J
Day 1 – Prologue 11km
The prologue started at mid day so we had time for good rest. I always get a little bit anxious before the race day so I could not say that I have an uninterrupted night of sleep but certainly the extra rest time was welcomed. The start was by race number order with 1 min of difference so we were scheduled for 12:51 pm. Before us a very well known duo in the Brasil MTB race scene was starting: the Flower People, they race in full pink kits with pink bikes and are usually very funny.
To use a cliché the general comment about the prologue was "A stage where you cannot win the race, but you certainly can loose". The course started with 2-3 km of sand and a river cross. After the river we had already reached the Flower People girls but the duo behind us also got to us. We passed the girls with some time for me to do a superman (with reference to the pink capes that they were using) and the 6 of us entered the technical part together. After the first more rideable and technical session we had stretch of tarmac where we could get some time on the other 2 duos to enter the last technical part alone. This one was not that rideable with lots of big rocks and rock gardens and we entered back in the city to complete the loop in around 50 min. We get to the finish in one piece so this was good enough for us.
Full results and race report for all stages are also on cycling news.
Day 2 – Mucuge-Rio de Contas 140 km
This was the Queen stage. We started with a good pace until km 70 where we had the first PC/Food replenishment point. A first learning here was never ever to delay your food time. I was already hungry at km 60 and we took the decision to eat some solid (besides de gels) only at the PC. This caused me to do 10 km with low energy levels, not bad, bad could have been smoother. After that there was a long downhill session until km 90, this part was not technical but my partner fell credit to our already tired minds and muscles. Then the trail entered into a jungle section were we alternated riding and hike a bike sections. For you to have an image of this section just picture Sylvester Stallone in Rambo II all covered in mud while he waited for the Vietnamese. This was the scenery. At this point I had cramps in the legs and fingers (!) that were locked in the "race position" (indicator straight for the brake and all others as holding the bars). The recompense was a beautiful water fall forming a small lagoon inside the jungle. After spending endless time in this section we got out of it and quickly realized that after about 10 hours of racing we were very tight to make the time cut. So we started a desperate team time trial effort to the finish that would see us arrive 2 minutes before the time cut of 11.5 hs. We arrived like zombies, but happy to have made the time cut. The race was so hard this day because of the rain that the time cut was finally extended to 13 hours but we already had made a big effort….and I would pay for that later.
A big difference for us here was also after all this effort we needed to wash our bikes and leave them at the Shimano neutral support. On this first day I already needed to change my brake pads wasted by the rain, sand and mud. It seem that the neutral support changed almost 1000 brake pads during the 6 days competition.
Day 3 – Rio de Contas-Rio de Contas 85 km
This was supposed to be a "rest/easier" day after the queen stage. It started with a short technical session followed by dirt roads and at the end we need to climb 10 km in tarmac but with very steep pitches of around 13%. I always wondered what happens to guy that does a big effort on 1 day and disappears on the following day…..now I know: your body simply does not respond. During this day I had an off day for the first 40 km. I was just pedaling around, with no energy my head down and just thinking "keep your feet moving Alexandre, keep your feet moving". Somehow my body waked up after that and we could finish in good shape, not before having to put a tube in my rear tire as my Schwalbe Nobby Nick gave up, surprisingly, in the Tarmac section. The funny thing was that we didn’t have any strength on our fingers to perform the change properly. After more wash-revsion-massage-eat- prepare for the next day-sleep- we were ready to one more day.
Day 4 – Rio de Contas-Rio de Contas 95 km
This day saw a lazy peloton leave the town of Mucuge. You could feel, since the very first beginning of the morning that everybody was already very tired after 2 big days. Racers were just sited in the lounge areas with their bikes and most of them only went to the start gates about 2 minutes before the start. As for me, I was feeling OK, but I could not stand the flavor of sweet things after so much carbo gels, nutella and gatorade so I changed my diet from "things I should eat" to "things my body accepts to eat". Instead of pancakes, cereal and bread on the breakfast I was already eating eggs with bacon, sausage and onion. My mid day nutella sandwich was substituted by a ham, cheese, salami and 1g of extra salt sandwich. At this point having a cold Coke at the PCs was like heaven. Ah the pleasures of small things….I also substituted my cut Nolby Nick for a brand new Continental Mountain King UST 2.2.
This day started with a long, beautiful and very very fun technical section with garden rocks and endless single tracks uphill and downhill. Unfortunately my partner paid for dragging my ass for 40 km and had an off day. So it was my turn to drag his ass around for about 70 km with the nose in the wind. At the end we could form a group of around 8 riders and even stop in a local store for a late day snack before making it to the finish. This day we still had to sprint…..not to be the last to arrive. Pride…gives you so much energy…..
Day 5 – Rio de Contas-Mucuge 130 km.
We were already getting used to the dynamics: big effort = shitty day on the following day. This day was not technical but I had an off day for the whole stage what made us barely making the time cut since I sucked my partner wheel for the whole stage. He also had to deal with what we thought it was a broken finger from a fall the day before and a lot of pain in the Achilles tendon. We will not even mention our long time in the saddle caused rash, this is implicit. My partner was really a hero on that day and I give him full credit for making it to the finish. At this point in time something that I thought it would never happen to me occurred: I couldn’t stand eating all the calories that I needed. We were spending about 6000 kcal/day (9500 on day 2!) and as Chris Horner described some time ago in his blog I was just not in the mood of eating tons of pasta. Other than that we were confident that, with 99km and only 700 m of elevation on the following day, we would make it in good shape to the end of the race.
Day 6 – Mucuge-Mucuge 99 km
Surprise-surprise-surprise…the last "easy" day started with rain in catastrophically amounts. However, how your energy levels make the difference! Both of us woke up feeling good as we went to the start on a cold/wet day. The relay between ourselves on the wind was fast, snappy, we were racing with confidence again. We hided in the "grupetto" on a few tarmac sections and even lead the "autobus" in some single tracks during the day. Unfortunately we had to navigate through sections with water to our knees and it made the day not as fast as It could have been. Still, we were in good mood and even our replenishment of food at the PCs was fast, as if we were racing for a podium result…..or more probably it was just the emotion of getting close to the finish line. We made it in 6 hours and 10 minutes and this was our best stage result for us. We took some pictures immediately followed by a couple of beers. Our smiles were frozen in our mud covered faces. We made it! Without any breaks...but we made it.
Podium Ceremony and Final Comments
The whole organization was amazing. The food provided (breakfast and dinner) was simply amazing and this opinion is shared by top PROs like the Adventure Racer Paul Romero with whom we had the pleasure to share one dinner. The course was unbelievably well marked. On every, I said every, change of direction there was a guy hired by the organization to point the right way, after just a few meters of changing direction there was always a sign to re-assure you that you were on the right course. For me this was well above my expectation. We got a shirt, arm warmers and a cap, all good quality stuff, the personalized bag to move our stuff from town to town was very good also. Besides the planned parts, the organization worked well also on unexpected situations like when, due to the rain, we could not cross a bridge and had to find another bridge to continue racing: all staff arrived within minutes and when we finally crossed the river the organizator and race director were waiting for us at the other side.
Podium Ceremony was great. We were called one by one to receive our podium kisses, finisher jerseys and take an official picture. I could not be happier.
If you plan to do this type of races I fully recommend the Claro Brasil Ride which will happen in October 2011.
For videos of the stages chec twitter/clarobrasilride for the You Tube links.
If you want a few more pictures and reactions or to show your support you can also check our facebook page: Equipe Gillette Duracell