Claro Brasil Ride: The Next Epic?

Jason Sumner has a few pointers for riders considering a new stage race in Brazil.

The inaugural Claro Brasil Ride in Brazil served up some epic challenges. Photo by Claro Brasil Ride
The inaugural Claro Brasil Ride in Brazil served up some epic challenges. Photo by Claro Brasil Ride

The inaugural Claro Brasil Ride was a rousing success by most measures. There was competitive racing at the front of the field, and lots of epic suffering at the back, firmly slotting the new event alongside its more well-known cousins such as Cape Epic, Trans Rockies and La Ruta de los Conquistadores.

The nuts and bolts of the CBR was a mountain bike stage race held in the western part of Bahia, Brazil, in an area know as the Chapada Diamantina (Chapada means region of steep cliffs. Diamantina is a reference to the area’s past diamond mining history). Think southwest canyon country, only a whole lot greener and wetter, and you’re on the right track.

The trails themselves ranged from smooth and tacky, to über rough and rocky.

Total saddle time included 565.5km traveled over six days, with a 13km prologue and two stages with more than 130km in the saddle. Total climbing was in excess of 10,000 meters. Racers competed in teams of two, with rules stating you must always be within 2 minutes of your partner. Scenery was off-the-hook beautiful. The people — both race staff and in the two host towns of Mucuge and Rio de Contas — were helpful and friendly.

Racing 2010

Overall winners in the open class was Czech long-distance specialist Robert Novotny and countryman Kristian Hynek, who heretofore has been a World Cup XC rider.

The downside for this pair was a freak, late-race crash on stage 6 that saw a video moto swerve in front of the leading group, causing Novotny to crash and break his collarbone. A day later he was still debating whether to get surgery in Brazil, or wait until he got home. Either way it was a sad way to spend his extra six day’s in the world’s fifth most populous country.

In the women’s race German Ivonne Kraft and Portugal’s Celina Carpinteiro swept all six stages and the GC. Kraft, a 2004 Olympian, dragged Carpinteiro around all week, and would even switch bikes with her teammate, wash her bike, then catch up and switch back.

The mixed win went to the Gunnison, Colorado husband-and-wife duo of Brian and Jenny Smith, who also took stage wins on all but the final day.

What's the Claro Brasil Ride? Think southwest canyon country, only a whole lot greener and wetter. Photo by Claro Brasil Ride
What's the Claro Brasil Ride? Think southwest canyon country, only a whole lot greener and wetter. Photo by Claro Brasil Ride

Planning on Riding?

If this sounds like an interesting adventure (and it should if you like riding mountain bikes and exploring exoctic places) then here are some tips to get your planning started:

Ride Full Suspension: Sure there are lots of dirt road sections where a cyclocross bike would be the best tool for the job, but unless you’re as light and limber as a teenage Russian gymnast, the pounding from six days on a hardtail would be brutal. Instead opt for a full suspension marathon or XC race set-up.

Your author rode all six stages on a 2010 Rocky Mountain Altitude 70. This smooth handling 5.5-inch travel bike is part of Rocky’s new line of marathon steeds, replacing its popular ETSX series. While not perfectly suited for fire road climbing — what mountain bike is? — this plush ride devoured the rough stuff, and with it’s aggressive 76-degree seat-tube angle, deftly handled technical climbs that forced many of the hardtail-riding weight weenies into hike-a-bike mode. It was also surprisingly swift on flat roads once you ramped it up to big-ring speed, a crucial part of this race if you’re actually racing and not simply riding to get a finisher’s jersey.

Use Tubless Tires: If you’re still running tubes, you probably think social media is a New York Post gossip column. A good set of tubeless wheels and/or tubeless tires mated with latex sealant is the only way to go. And at this race running tubes is like bringing a butter knife to a bazooka fight. Three of the six stages included extended sections of fast, rough and rocky singletrack, and there were bone rattling, downhill road sections every day. Add all the rain, mud and sand racers encountered, and the hassle of dealing with tubes far outweighed the minor inconvenience of pouring a little Stan’s in your tires pre-race.

Bring Spare Brake Pads: And we are not talking just one or two pairs. On all but the first day, it’s probable that at least one of your four pads will get completely vaporized thanks to the combined effect of water, sand and steep descending. The carnage was so bad that by the end of stage 4, the capable and diligent Shimano neutral support crew was completely out of the popular Avid Elixir pads, forcing them to cull the garbage for previously tossed sets that had a little life left. Thankfully a re-supply shipment arrived from the coast the next day, and you can bet the Shimano crew will have a larger supply in 2011.

Bring Six Kits: And don’t fret if they’re all permanently stained brick red by jungle mud, which they will be. Sure you can try to wash them in the bathroom sink or shower at the end of each day, but this being the tropics, things don’t dry very quickly. There’s nothing worse than slipping into a moist, sandy chamois after breakfast.

Be a Good Teammate: This might sound obvious, but it’s amazing how many teams didn’t take advantage of drafting on the road sections, or worse yet rode away from their partner, putting the weaker person under pressure. It’s inevitable that one rider will be stronger than the other on at least a few days, which is all the more reason to work together and support each other. Remember total time is based on when the second rider crosses the line each day.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: Obviously you can’t ride a six-day stage race unless you’ve got some solid fitness. But if your mind isn’t ready to take on a monster challenge, you’ll be just as screwed as if you’d trained by smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. A lot can go wrong over the span of six days, be it mechanical, bio-mechanical or both. Those who calmly shake off adversity, collect themselves and keep pushing will go further faster — and have a lot more fun along the way.