Ride report from Dave Thompson:
Where to start …
Brazil. I’ve never been there before, heard about crime, walled compounds, mental images of carnival, Ipanema, the Amazon … but what’s it really like?
Then of course there’s the ride – there was no question that this was going to be a climbing intensive ride – 20,233 metres / 65,757 feet upwards, and downwards. I expected hot. Was it going to be cold? They warned us that it might be. It is, after all, the Fall. How much rain would we get? Would it be like Rome, riding until dawn each day, having gotten off on the wrong foot (or is that pedal)?
The first draft of the route showed the first night around 300 km, the second about 550 later. No, that doesn’t work for me. 550 km later would be me, at best, finishing in the afternoon of the third day. We went back and forth with the organizers, providing optimum distances for overnights, making what would normally be a three overnight ride (1300 km) into four overnights. That extra 100 km and being climbing intensive does provide for 18+ more hours than a “normal” 1200. The final time is the goal, not the intermediate checkpoints. That said, running “flat time” means that it doesn’t get easier. Behind is behind.
The end result was a ride that roughly broke down into 308+255+274+304+167. The control close times were based on 12 km/h. We hit each of the overnight closes but left a few hours later with negative time in the bank. We got reasonable sleep, with about 5 hour night stops each night other than the last night. We could have stopped longer the last night but needed some margin. That night we cut to a 2.5 hour stop, leaving in the hole again.
Overall, we were running about 15 km/h during the day average, including stops. That provided the sleep time. Long breaks during the day, and we had a few, meant less sleep.
I rode with Mark Thomas and Hamid. At times, I’m sure, we irritated each other, but made it through. I would have had less stop time during the day; they like their food and their sleep. We compromised. I rode stronger and less sleepy with proper stops. The only time that I got really irritated was one night finishing where we could have spent time at the night Control and brought some sandwiches back to our hotel … instead, I went for a walk and found something. I needed something solid. Mark was right; it would have taken more than 5 minutes :).
We had booked hotels for nights 2 & 4. The ride was supposed to provide beds for 1 & 3. That first night worked out; the third didn’t, and the organizers found something for us. They graciously moved our drop bags from the control to the hotel / Pousada, and picked them up in the morning. I admit it, we got extra service. I might have fared better than Mark and Hamid at the ride-provided accommodation, but the extra hassle of moving to a different location meant better sleep. I never really got sleepy; neither did Hamid. Mark was sleepy on the last day but not debilitatingly so.
Each day got a little easier, riding-wise, even though the mileage increased from day 3 to 4. The first day featured a 6am start at the Aparecida Basilica, apparently the second largest one in the world, after St. Peter’s (or maybe I’ve got that backwards). Off we went, 30-something of us, and I was quickly the lanterne rouge, as usual. Getting to a gas station that Mark had targeted for a stop, I looked over and didn’t see anyone, so I rode on.
From the elevation of Aparecida, we descend to sea level. That one hour descent was so steep that I stopped a few times to let my rims cool. They were hot enough to burn my hands, let alone tubes. It hit 18% and was on pavers, rough going, bumps every 30 meters or so, no way that one could get up any speed …. constant braking. I was so relieved when the pavers ended but the asphalt was worse. Once that leveled out, I slowed down to check my location and Spotwalla, to see how far ahead they were, but lo and behold, Mark and Hamid caught up. From that point forward, we were mostly together, or close enough.
Soon we hit the first control. Like many cities we went through, the roads were either 12″ hexagon pavers, bricks or plain flat-topped rocks. The cities were brutal riding. There were also speed humps, but we were already slow! Those pavers, bricks and rocks made for very slow city rolling.
Late afternoon we hit the major featured climb, 8 km of 12+%. I knew in advance that this was a walk, likely a 2 hour walk. Sure enough, it was. There were switchbacks where that grade must have hit 20+% and it was difficult to push your bike up; bad traction walking in cycling shoes. I understand that 3 people were able to ride through. Simply amazing. Traffic was heavy so that even if you could have been spinning up with huge cogs, you’d have been wobbly enough that it might not be safe.
I figured that if I could get through the first day in reasonable time, i.e. not riding until dawn, I’d be ok. We finished up around 1am, hit the showers and bed. It was sort-of a camp with cots, better than mats on the floor. We rolled out at 6:30 — later than I’d like but realized from experience that more sleep for Hamid, at least, meant faster rolling. We all did pretty well but patience does wear thin at times; we do better with some sleep.
The second day was shorter, thank goodness, albeit with a lot of climbing early on. We finished up around 11:30, got help with our bags to our Pousada (bed and breakfast although we never had breakfast at any of these) and settled in to sleep. That Pousada was the best – Mark’s room had a huge jacuzzi; we also had luxury. However, after getting into the room, I realized that I’d left my phone on the bike and found that I had a flat. Ugh. This wasn’t my first. I had four rolling flats and this hotel flat. Two of the flats were radial wires. We rolled out around 5am, I think.
I was pretty knackered that night and it took some time to fix my tire. I was lucky to get two hours but Mark and Hamid got 3+. The other nights we shared a room and I let them hit the shower first.
An extra 25 km on the third day but an earlier start put us in around midnight. That was the night that I went for a walk to find some food, coming back with 3 beers and some buns from a pizza place that was trying to close. Mark was already asleep so Hamid and I had 1.5 each. There’s no point in wasting cold beer!
The fourth day was back at 300 km. It was a long day climbing and riding-wise. We wasted a huge amount of time at a restaurant waiting for a meal and lost sleep as a result. In at 2am, we left at 4:30 for the 5th day. That was already 1.5 hours after the control close so we had ground to make up but kept a pretty steady pace over that last day, finishing around 3:30 pm. Heck, we had almost 3 hours to spare!
There were some short climbs, long climbs, 6-7% sections, others advertised at 5-7% but hitting 11%, all over the map. Riding through towns was very slow with the rough cobbles. There were a couple of flat-ish sections, but mostly we had hills. Some of the riding was on major arteries and, for a while, Interstate equivalent (you can ride anywhere in Brazil!). The more major the road, the more engineered the grade. Trucks were plentiful and seldom moved over for us, maintaining their lane with a few inches to spare. Sometimes we had ample shoulder; sometimes not.
A few of the Controls were at what I would call Interstate Service Centers. During the day, they had an incredible selection with the hot and cold food bar. During the night, selection was more limited but still sustaining. There were also a couple of memorable restaurants with wonderful selections. We did eat well. Those stops mostly ran an hour or more, so you can see where we got our recovery time!
The scenery was wonderful; the people helpful and pleasant. English, however, is very limited to non-existent. These are not tourist areas. That said, we always felt safe.
The weather was hot in the afternoon, almost as bad as Rome last year, although I didn’t pour as much water on my head — but only because the springs weren’t as plentiful. We were able to maintain a normal riding schedule, stopping at night vs riding until dawn. That was my objective.
We finished up with about 3 hours to spare. Several riders were behind us; we weren’t the lanterne rouge. Beer awaited … it was time to celebrate!