Tuesday, October 12, 2010

El Reto del Quetzal

Carrying on what I hope will be a world tour of stage races, we headed south this fall for El Reto del Quetzal, a three day mountain bike race in Guatemala. The race this year was almost cancelled on account of severe mudslides that took out sections of major roads and left large segments of singletrack unrideable (getting 900mm of rain - the yearly average - in one week is not without its consequences). The result? This year's course offered up some technical challenges to spice things up. As Gerry said on one of the descents:

"This is totally rideable, if you're Jon Nutbrown and there is a hospital nearby" - The Ger

Nevertheless, we had good weather for the entire race and came away with some very good memories (even Brent, who suffered a bad injury on the first stage, left with a smile on his face). The only means that I can conceive of to share the experience of a stage race is to compel you to do it yourself. As I would guess that most people who might consider this race would be making a decision between El Reto and La Ruta, I will share some perspectives on the race by comparison.

While I think that La Ruta is a necessary right of passage for any stage race, I wouldn't put it in the category of 'relaxing cycling holidays'. El Reto, on the other hand, offers a nice combination of adventure, cycling, camaraderie and fun, without the intense suffering. The race has a number of distinct advantages over it's big brother:
1) The terrain is fun and challenging, without being soul-crushing (read: no lomo!)
2) The look of surprise and excitement on the faces of the little girls (and some of the older ones, too) when they see a girl ride by is something to remember. Their screams of 'Muchacha!' will stay with me for some time. It's nice to be somebody's hero.
3) The stages go from hotel to hotel, so there is no wasted time waiting for shuttles or other logistical issues (showers, changing, eating, massages). Relaxation and recovery starts from the moment that you cross the finish line.
4) The race is smaller (~120 racers versus 450 at La Ruta) and has more of a family feel. For example, when you cross the finish line, you shouldn't be surprised if the race organizers mother gives you a hug (that's pretty cool).
5) If there is cheating, it's much less blatant (with the exception of towing. It's not actually against the rules, I just think it is not in the spirit of the race).
6) The climate is much more comfortable for long days on the bike (no oppressive heat and humidity).
7) The race is WAY cheaper ($600 for El Reto versus $1,650 for La Ruta), putting it within reach for those of us flying in from afar.
8) It's much more 'local'. We were part of only a handful of english speakers among the racers.
9) The days are just a bit shorter, so riders like me can enjoy some daylight and take in the surroundings, rather than crawling into their sheets under darkness.
10) This may be the only place on earth where you can do an 'urban ride' like this (skip to about 2:20 to start):

El Reto is a worthy stop on any stage racers circuit. It sounds like they will be moving the race to take place in the spring some time, which will make it a pleasant pre-season warm up. By the next edition, I would hazard to guess that much of the damaged single track will be on the way to repair, the towing issue will probably be gone and, maybe, they will even have a solo women's category.


Blogger Emma said...

Wowjealous. You ride down STAIRS? Sure, mud's slippery and all, but stairs are terrifying! No? No?

November 25, 2010 at 4:29:00 AM MST  
Blogger tori said...

stairs are a lot of fun. when you come to calgary some time, we'll have to go for a ride together.

November 27, 2010 at 12:53:00 AM MST  

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