Not sure I can write a race recap for this epic trip without it being super crazy ridiculous long, so I'm just going to highlight the two days of racing and fill in the details about Brazil, our other rides, and the stuff I learned later in another post.
Also on that note, I'm kinda back to blogging. I know nothing has been posted in a long time, I was writing, but going through some personal struggles that I don't feel comfortable sharing, so those posts probably wont ever be published here. Time has a way of healing that you can't really understand until you surrender and let it, so things are getting better. But being a human is still incredibly complicated, fascinating, hard, fun and crazy to me, so I'm sorry in advance if I disappear again.
Sooo, I came to Mariana in Minas Gerais, Brazil last year for this same race. That trip was a hilarious cacophony of misfortune, including my bike and shoes not arriving, getting attacked by a swarm of wasps halfway through Saturday's stage, and getting multiple flats both days. In the end I was excited to have survived and decided that maybe the main focus of racing in South America was always about survival. This year I learned that is not the case!
This year the race was only two days, 94k on Saturday and 64k on Sunday. A mining disaster in the state of Minas Gerais caused many of last year's trails to be washed away in a flood/mudslide, so this year the race had a little more fire road and a little less climbing than before, probably about 40-50% singletrack with 5,000ft ascent on the first day and 3,000ft the second. The start of both days is a "neutral" roll out leaving the historic town of Mariana, which means that the thousands of people racing all ride together following a lead truck, who does not go slowly, to the first climb. Fortunately being elite meant I got to start right behind the truck.
The start of Saturday's stage went perfectly, I sat between two pro men on the bumper of the lead truck and wasn't stressed at all about the thousands of people behind me sprinting and braking in a massive pack. When we hit the climb I felt good, so I rode a little hard, and at some point last year's winner Angelita caught up to me and we were climbing together. We crested the top of the climb in a pack of about 6 men, and crushed the following slightly dh fire road with them. At some point I rode away from Angelita, which I later learned was because her pedal was giving her grief, and the pressure of being the first female settled in.
I had changed my Garmin to read distance in km, since the course elevation profile I taped to my top tube was in km, and on it I had marked the 6 water stops. This meant I could mentally break down the stage into 7 smaller chunks, and km tick by much faster than miles, so before I knew it I was passing water station #1. At this race they hand you plastic cups of water with foil tops and you bite into them and drink as you ride. I grabbed a water and started setting goals for myself: I would try to stay ahead of Angelita for the first 30km, about a third of the race. When that goal was accomplished I set a new one, to stay in the lead for the first half... and so on. I didn't know at that point that Angelita and a few others, including another elite female, had missed a turn and short-cutted the course by a fair amount. Angelita turned around when she realized she had taken a short cut and rode back to the missed turn, the other girl did not, she kept racing as if she never left the course, and then denied she took a short cut. So from the halfway point on I thought I was in the lead (I mean I was legitimately in the lead) but the other girl, Isabella, was in front of me.
Up to about 80km I rode as if I really wanted to win, pushing every flat section, climbing hard and staying off the brakes in the descents. Around 60km in a male rider had told me about Isabella taking the shortcut and being in front of me (he was with her when she missed the turn, and he also hadn't gone back like Angelita so he could confirm that Isabella cheated) so I was only concerned with Angelita catching me, which I fully expected at every climb. Then when we were about 12km from the finish the race took us up this heinous false flat uphill shale singletrack trail that seemed to last FOREVER and my tiredness started to catch up to me. My left shoulder blade started to burn and I started looking over my shoulder more. I tried to keep pushing hard, but with 6km to go rather than using up the last of my energy, I backed off to save something for Sunday.
The finish of stage one was anticlimactic to say the least. It was an uphill finish, tons of riders who rode the 60km option were standing around and I wasn't sure if the race organizers knew about Isabella cheating. Since no one there spoke English I ended up just riding back to the start and decided to tell the dude in charge about what happened later. We showered, had lunch, and I shot Lucas a text.
In typical South American dramatics, there was some confusion, lots of heated discussion about the situation and a little frustration, but in the end the race organizers and officials interestingly decided to give me 1st place for the day and score everyone else 2nd.
Day 2 again started with a neutral roll out, but this time I got pushed around a little more and lost my spot on the bumper of the car. I ended up somewhere in the middle of the swarm of aggressive men near the front, which was equal parts super stressful and exhilarating. When we hit the first long climb Angelita rode away from Isabella and I, and I decided to stay with Isabella for as long as I could. The overall stage race was scored on points by position and I spent a good amount of time during the first half of Sunday's stage obsessing about what the results would be if I finished 1st, 2nd, 3rd... and how Angelita had to finish to guarantee Isabella not win. To be honest we were all a bit upset with Isabella for lying about cutting the course. We all understood it was an accident, but she was never going to tell anyone, meaning she would have stolen 1st from me on Sat, and not cared at all about the fact that I rode longer than her and was beating her until the point she missed the turn.
Then a had a mishap on a rocky situation, and soon after I crashed pretty hard in a turn on a descent. After the second crash I picked myself up and decided I was too fixated on this girl and this situation, and that I would just ride my bike and have a good time, rather than stressing about results. So for the remaining 35ish km of Sunday I took the time to look at the scenery, to smile and cheer on the men who passed me, and to have fun on the sweet single track descents. The course took us through open valleys of farm land, through tiny rural villages, and up and over beautifully forested hills. We climbed an incredibly steep fire road that made me so grateful to train in SoCal, and descended some rocky, jungly, steep, awkward descents. We waded across a few rivers and rode through countless farms.
Then the unbelievable happened... as I was rolling through a village about 10km from the finish I saw Isabella ahead of me, walking her bike! I slowed to ask her if she was ok/needed anything like a tube, but got a growl for a response so I sped out of there, wondering what happened to cause her to abandon the race. Out of that village was a crazy fun rock climb, some deep crevasses to ride through, and then a beautiful trail carved into a bench in the hillside to the finish. I had to sprint at the end because in my lackadaisical state Amy had caught me, but I finished 2nd on Sunday, putting me in 1st for the overall title!
For a while I felt guilty about taking the overall win. I felt Angelita deserved it. Had she not taken the wrong turn I assumed she would have caught and beat me. But as time passed I accepted the win as somewhat deserved, and feel incredibly humbled to have the opportunity to race with Angelita, Amy, Isabella, and Viviane. There is SO much more to say about this experience. So much I learned from the people around me, about dignity and honesty and respect. I feel like the experience and the learning was more epic than the win, but the champagne shower was pretty sweet as well. I am very happy to have ended the season in Brazil, racing with so many fun, happy, enthusiastic people. Thanks IronBiker Brazil for having me, and taking care of me all week.