Valparaíso Cerro Abajo brings 50 top downhillers from 11 countries to confront some insane terrain.
ABOUT 50 OF THE WORLD’S best downhill cyclists competed in Valparaíso, Chile’s 10th annual downhill street race on February 20th. Every year the race attracts thousands of spectators, and this year an estimated 15,000 people came to watch Viña del Mar (a nearby city) resident Mauricio “Taca” Acuña zoom through the 2km course in 2:38 to win a $1,000 prize.
Race designers took out the front plate glass window of the pergola (gazebo) to turn it into a bike thoroughfare. One competitor came out of the pergola crooked, which led to a nasty, leg-breaking fall. Photos: author.
The building across the street houses one of several flower stores in the area, all closed (as is nearly everything) on a Sunday.
Valparaíso's poorly-maintained streets and pitched angles make a great canvas for designing a treacherous downhill race.
Here the cyclist is coming off of Cerro La Loma, a conflictive area where gun violence is common. Later I met a young widow whose husband was killed by what she called a "bala loca" (literally: crazy bullet) while he was working in social services up on the hill.
The landing off this jump is dirt, and the main question is, will they are won't they clear the foot-high dirt hump at the bottom. Years of people walking up bare earth hills, coupled with winter rains, makes the dirt roads a challenge all on their own.
Cerro La Loma, which is above Cerro Carcel, is considered one of the more dangerous hills to be on, and is generally avoided or ignored by visitors.
Stray dogs are everywhere in Chile, and have historically been a "feature" of this race, along with broken glass and other unpredictable obstacles. This house dog peeked over for a bit, and then found something more interesting to do.
Since Valparaíso is on the coast, it usually gets a good breeze, but on February 20th, at the height of southern summer, up to 15,000 fans watched the race in searing sun and temperatures in the high 80s.
Seconds before, the second layer of tape was added by a wandering race coordinator. A mishmash of graffitied brick and concrete walls line most streets of this port city.
This race made a city, which many deem unrideable, into a playground for the young and brave. But the course designer didn't ride it, proclaiming himself "not good enough."
Too close for comfort
Cyclists complained that the spectators were too close and blocked their view on occasion. Irresponsible spectating, along with poor crowd control, led to many injuries of cyclists and spectators alike. A friend of mine badly sliced one of her fingers on a piece of corrugated zinc trying to get off the race course.
Valparaiso is one of Chile's busiest ports. There are always cargo ships in the bay, either importing tooled goods or exporting raw materials and agricultural products. Economists consider this to be a weakness in the Chilean economy.
Riding tightly packed
Poor timing on the test run led to pile ups like this one, including one after a long drop that ended with one competitor breaking his jaw. Few spectators chose this spot to stand, preferring the jumps and banks to this relatively flat stretch.
Plaza Anibal Pinto, where the race ended, turns into a nighttime meeting place for young people, selling cans of Becker beer (for about a dollar) and homemade sandwiches out of backpacks, amid impromptu drum concerts.
Handwritten chalk signs advertise everything in Chile, from car parts to soup.
Parts of the city are poorly maintained, heavily graffitied, and filled with trash, though today's influx of visitors would put most cities' trash collecting to the test.
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Eileen Smith is the editor of Matador Abroad. She's an ex-Brooklynite who's made a life in Santiago, Chile. She's a fluent Spanish speaker who can be found biking, hiking, writing, photographing and/or seeking good coffee and nibbles at most hours of the day. She blogs here.