Brasil Ride: What You Need to Know

You've read the race reports, flipped through the pictures, traced the GPS files, and thought to yourself, wow, that looks pretty cool. Now you're asking yourself, if I decide to sign up for the 2012 Brasil Ride, what do I need to know?

2011 Brasil Ride
This small chapel was part of the course. Photo: Brasil Ride

You’ve read the race reports, flipped through the pictures, traced the GPS files, and thought to yourself,’wow, that looks pretty cool.’ Now you’re asking yourself, if I decide to sign up for the 2012 Brasil Ride, what do I need to know?

Well, for starters, that it’s great. I’ve ridden all 13 stages of this now two-year-old race, and can attest that it is a true bucket-list type experience. The scenery is amazing, the trails are technical, fast and fun, the organization is top notch and the food is great. But before you click over to the race website and punch in your credit card details, ask yourself, am I prepared to suffer — really suffer — for seven days?

Make no mistake, this race is a beast. Just witness this year’s results: 103 teams started, but only 67 actually finished all seven stages. Those who did complete the test did so by riding 337.5 miles, climbing 34,299 feet, and logging between 23 and 46 hours of total saddle time.

The former mark belonged to overall race winners Robert Novatny and Kristian Hynek, a pair of Czech World Cup-level riders who get paid to ride their bikes. The later time belonged to Marcos and Manoel Dias, a pair of Brazilian masters riders, who presumably don’t receive compensation for their two-wheeled efforts.

Most riders fell somewhere in the 35-hour range, including your author, who lost his teammate to a crash on stage 3, but continued riding solo (which is allowed, you just don’t get official finisher status) and ended up logging just a shade over 36 hours for the week.

The toughest part of the event for me was unquestionably the heat. Despite very early race start times, usually around 7 a.m., at least some of most days was spent riding in 100-plus-degree temperatures. The good news is that Bahia, the Brazilian state where the race is held, is fairly arid, meaning humidity doesn’t add to the misery.

Still, body temperature management was key. I wore a light bandana under my helmet, which I doused with water every chance I got. I also carried spray-on sunscreen, and reapplied at least once a stage to avoid getting too cooked on arms, legs and neck.

It’s also worth noting that the 2012 edition of the race is slated to run September 23-29, a full month earlier than this year. And since Brazil is heading into summer right now, presumably the earlier start date will mean slightly cooler temperatures. At least I hope so.

But don’t expect the race to be easier. Race organizer Mario Roma told VeloNews after stage 7 this year that he has a few yet-to-be-finalized modifications in mind for 2012, but the general set-up will remain the same.

This year there were four stages in excess of 50 miles, including what’s become the event’s queen stage, stage 2’s 90-mile grind from Mucuge to Rio de Contas, which includes 10,600 feet of climbing, an extended jungle bushwhack that includes post-holing through a mud bog, and a grinding 6-mile dirt road finishing climb that broke many a racer this year.

The bright side is that the following day’s stage was just 21 miles long, as riders negotiated a tough but exhilarating cross country circuit that included some of the event’s best descending.

2011 Brasil Ride
Paul Romero shows us that suffering is the name of the game. Photo: Alexandre Cappi

The race’s true gauntlet this year were stages 4, 5 and 6, which were all more than 50 miles and had in excess of 6,000 feet of climbing. Here recovery becomes the key, and the real test. Can you push yourself hard day after day, or does accumulated fatigue build to the point of body failure?

You also need to be at least an above average technical rider, lest you want to spend large chunks of time walking downhill. The Brasil Ride trails remind me a lot of the rough, rocky riding in Moab. If you’ve ever ridden Porcupine Rim, for instance, you know what I mean. The rocks are big, sharp and loose, making deft line choice and the ability — and nerve — to maintain momentum paramount.

Unfortunately, lots of the Brasil Ride peloton hasn’t figured this out yet, meaning more technically savvy riders inevitably spend time slaloming their way around walkers, pleading with them to step out of the way. For whatever reason, the commonly accepted North American trail etiquette practice of walkers giving way to riders hasn’t completely trickled down south, so sometimes firm cajoling is necessary.

Here are some other tidbits of advice and information that will help in your decision-making process.

Cost: A full-price entry, which includes food and lodging in tent city, is R$2,500, about $1,500 at current exchange rates. You’ll also need to figure in travel to Brazil (author’s plane ticket from Denver to Salvador was around $1,600), and budget for meals right after the race, usually under $10. This later point is especially important, because from a recovery standpoint it’s vitally important to eat immediately after each day’s stage finish, and not wait until dinner, which was usually served around 7:30 p.m. Believe me you’ll be hungry again.

You’ll also likely need to swing for at least one night’s lodging in Salvador (the coastal city you fly into). This is because the race site is about 9 hours inland by bus, a trip that starts at 7 a.m. the day before stage 1. Flights out after the race are usually in the evening, so it’s possible to skip the hotel after the race, as the bus will have you back at the airport around 1 p.m. the day after the race. Of course, as long as you’re down there, you might as well spend a few extra days hanging at the beach. This is Brazil we’re talking about after all.

2011 Brasil Ride
Technical skills are necessary for descents like "the plunge." Photo: Bruno Senna

Ride a Full Suspension Bike: Yes. There’s a ton of dirt road riding, but the pounding from a week on a hardtail would be brutal. Instead opt for a full suspension marathon or XC race set-up. 29ers also make a ton of sense here due to all those road sections, and their ability to roll more smoothly through rock gardens, which are plentiful.

Use Tubeless Tires: A good set of tubeless wheels and tubeless tires is the only way to go. Otherwise, expect to spend an inordinate amount of time fixing punctures. I’d also recommend bring a little extra tire sealant and dropping it into your tires about halfway through the seven days just as a little insurance.

Bring a Kit For Every Day: Yes, you can wash them in the bathroom sink or shower at the end of each day, but that cuts into valuable recovery time.

Be a Good Teammate: This sounds obvious, but it’s stunning how many teams don’t take advantage of drafting on the road sections. It’s inevitable that one rider will be stronger than the other at least a few days, which is all the more reason to work together and support each other. Remember, the only way to gain official finisher status is for both riders to finish every stage.

And that brings us to the most important point…

Pick a Good Teammate: And I don’t mean this in the who-is-my-fastest-friend kind of way. You need to find someone that you are compatible with. Racing mountain bikes with a teammate is a very delicate balance. Ideally both riders will be fairly evenly matched both in fitness and technical skills, not the mention the ability to get along for a very intimate week.

If your skills don’t line up, be comfortable with the notion that one rider will likely spend at least part of the week pushing the other rider uphill. Whoever is better in the technical sections will need to do a fair bit of waiting around.

The good news is that it’s a rich and enriching experience that you won’t ever find racing solo.