Panamericano MTB - Catamarca, Argentina

There’s nothing like some intercontinental travel to finally kick-off the travel season. While TJ and I kind of approached Bonelli as a trial-run, a kind of practice race for the team to test out our equipment and our fitness, this past weekend’s race in Catamarca, Argentina was the first race where we had more concrete objectives: earn some points, go for a medal, have a clean race. And I managed to achieve those things despite not having a great race. Now here I am, reflecting on the weekend while flying home from Buenos Aires on a red-eye flight.

So, “que paso?” The race was a tough one. Really tough. The trails of Catamarca resembled some of the rugged terrain we have in Arizona—rocky, rutted, loose, and rough. A year ago I described the Pan American Championship course in Cota, Colombia as ‘empinado y duro’; well the course in Catamarca was ‘empinado y durisimo.’ After my very first lap on the course during my pre-ride, it was clear this was a course for my Pivot Mach 4 and that I was going to have a fun time of the short, DH sections of the course. While the climbing was very significant each lap, more striking was the lack of passing opportunities along the course. This was less of a concern in the (relatively) small women’s field but would be significant in the men’s races. 

Here's  a mellow section of the course. 

The lead-up to race day, including our travel, went quite well. I left home on the Arizona Shuttle mid-day on Tuesday (every time I fly I begin the day with a two hour shuttle ride, aka ’nap time’) and was able to meet up with my good friend, Judy, for lunch at Sky Harbor. I then had a single layover in Dallas/Fort Worth before beginning my red-eye flight to Buenos Aires. For the first time ever, I upgraded my seat to business class and kind of reveled in the whole experience—airplane lounges and all. Once in Buenos Aires, I met up with the rest of the Team USA crew flying from the States (Finsty, Stephen, Keegan, Marc, and Tom). With only one flight per day from Buenos Aires to Catamarca from a different airport, it made sense to book a night for the team in Buenos Aires. So we had a day to spend in the capital city of Argentina. Finsty, Stephen, and I decided to un-pack our bikes for a bit of a ride around the city—why not? The city is spectacular and it was well worth the extra bike build (and then subsequent pack). 

We stayed in the Palermo neighborhood which is known for its trees. 

We stayed in the Palermo neighborhood which is known for its trees. 

Buenos Aires sits along the Rio Plata which isn’t really a river but a large sea-like estuary. We got to witness the sunrise over the city and Rio Plata during take-off—that is, if you had the window seat. 

The Rio Plata.

The Rio Plata.

Catamarca is an arid province in the northern parts of Argentina. It sits near the base of the Andes (apparently there’s a 15,000ft peak not far from the city) and the climate almost feels Mediterranean—hot, humid, with lots of succulents and olive trees. The terrain looks a bit like the Sonoran Desert, and apparently copper drives the local economy. When we arrived on Wednesday it was HOT. The air temperature was well over 90 and the humidity made it particularly suffocating. With an endurance ride on my training schedule for the day, I used Strava to identify a popular climb nearby and eagerly planned my training route. The ride was tough in the heat but unforgettable. 

Cuesta del Portezuelo. Amazing climb & views!

Cuesta del Portezuelo. Amazing climb & views!

Thursday was my day to relax, recover, and plan out my race day a bit. I took a short spin to the race venue (which was an easy spin from our team hotel) to check things out and see if I could see any of the course without actually riding it. That evening we went out to a restaurant recommended to us for the ‘carne’ called Don Vaca. I ordered a traditional “Parillada” meal which apparently includes many many courses of different types of meat. Things started out like this.

Then the cuts of meat moved into areas I wasn’t entirely comfortable with: livers, intestines, hearts and other parts we couldn’t identify. Keegles, Finsty, and Mary were all pretty daring and went for some of the more ‘distinct’ cuts. I took a pass.

The day before the race, I was up early to pre-ride the course. Allegedly the junior race started at 9:00am but there were kids out racing on a section of the course at 8:00am. My plan for the day was to ride just two laps, and call it good. When I suddenly found myself in the midst of a junior race, all these spectators jumped in and started helping me navigate around the confusing sea of course tape and kiddos pedaling every which direction. Nobody seemed upset. Actually that seemed to be a recurring trend in Argentina; people are extremely nice and forgiving, even when you’re clearly doing something wrong. So I went ahead and squeezed in my second lap and wrapped up my training before 9:00am, before the heat.

Race day cooled off substantially from the couple days prior. It was cloudy and the stated high was about 10 degrees cooler—only 85 and humid. But the course was exposed and the climbing so steep and slow that the heat was still going to be a factor. We had five laps to race on course and our field was about 20-riders deep. Daniela Campuzano, the gold medal winner in 2015, was the heavy favorite. Raiza is a Brazilian World Cup racer who was well into her season and looking fit and motivated. She’s a skilled DH’er and I knew she’d be in the mix. Mary McConneloug was the only other U.S. elite woman in attendance (and my roomie for the weekend) and she is always a contender. So the race wasn’t going to be easy for anyone.

When the race started, I managed to reach the first singletrack descent first and led for the entire first lap (remember, there really isn’t any passing). I had a blast on the DH sections on lap one and put a few seconds on the chasers by the bottom of each downhill, which I hoped took some ‘extra’ effort to then close. I didn’t feel like I was hammering up the climbs at that point but I also knew that neither Raiza or Daniela seemed very fazed by my pace (we were a group of three after lap 1).

Lap 2 largely played out the same way but Daniela attacked before beginning Lap 3 and instantly created some separation to me and Raiza. I settled into my own pace in 2nd and put in a good effort to close the gap to Daniela. Which didn’t work and I started to suffer from the heat on Lap 4. Raiza got around me and simply rode away from me on the steepest (longest) climb. I had to back way off from my pace as I got goosebumps and really started to feel the heat. On a 4 minute climb, Raiza put about 30 seconds on me that lap. After giving myself that bit of rest, I felt much better heading into the last lap. When we hit the long climb once again, I just had Raiza in my sights and put in a big effort to catch her—and I almost did. I had closed the gap to just a few seconds near the top of the climb but I lost my focus or was a little too blown to handle the final loose, steep push to crest the climb—I dabbed, didn’t recover smoothly, jumped off my bike and had to run up the last tiny bit. And like that, Raiza was gone. 

But I still won a medal! Bronze felt pretty good even the second year in a row, despite expecting a little more from myself on race day. While my race wasn’t perfect, I usually need a couple of really miserable days in hot and humid weather to acclimate to those conditions—and between my Thursday training ride and race day, I feel better prepared heading into a potentially hot and humid Cairns World Cup. Plus I earned a bunch of UCI points which will help my start position at the World Cups and keep Team USA women on track to secure two Olympic spots. 

The trip was very low-stress due to the great support from Marc and Tom and I got to practice and improve my Spanish quite a bit. Everyone had a solid race: Stephen earned a Bronze for the men, Mary and Keegan both finished in 4th, and Russell rallied after a tough mid-race to finish in 15th. No flats. No falls. Just a lot of UCI points, Dulce de Leche snacks, Empanadas, and some good bike riding. Plus, Rose Grant won the Fontana Pro XCT Short Track on Sunday against a stacked field! Hearing that news made the weekend even better.         

I’m wrapping up this write-up on my final stage of travel home, on the Arizona Shuttle bus from Sky Harbor Airport to Prescott. I didn’t get the upgrade for my transcontinental red-eye flight home but I had one of the most restful nights of airplane sleep ever. Then I ran into Teal Stetson-Lee in Dallas Fort-Worth who was returning from Bariloche, Argentina after racing the Enduro World Series there. It’s always fun to run into your fellow racers at the airport. And Valentino Rossi was on my flight from Buenos Aires as well (and I figured out who he was in the customs hall), and how I came to learn about that is a whole other story… 

The only bummer is that I am returning home sans luggage (0/2). My bike is currently in the hands of Aerolinas Argentinas somewhere in Argentina and my suitcase is somewhere else currently. But what can you do besides file a lost baggage claim and make repeated calls to the airline? A couple years ago I would have been a mess in this situation but right now I realize there are some things you just can’t control (but I can control my attitude and perspective in this whole situation). And with that, 2016 is on!

Thanks for checking in and pedal on,

Chloe 

Posted on April 5, 2016 .