I show up in Buenos Aires and I am antsy for some racing action on mi bicicleta. I go online and look for whatever I can find and come across a very helpful website at http://www.infobiker.com.ar. I look on the calendario for wahtever I can find and see that there is a race in a province of Buenos Aires in a city called Olavarria. Perfect! So I am staying in the province of Capital Federal in the state of Buenos Aires. Olavarria is in it’s own province in the state of Buenos Aires. This basically means that the place I had to go was 350 kilometers from where I am living. No matter, I was committed.
First I had to make sure I was interpreting the flyer correctly which can be seen here. Thanks to Marcos from El Dorado fame for confirming this one for me. I figured I would be in the second race which is for everyone up until 35 years of age. I assumed the Masters classes were for our equivalent of category 1,2,3.
So my race was at 6:40 pm, I needed to take a bus to get there. The bus I needed to take left at 7:30 a.m. from Retiro, the main bus station in BsAs. This was also the day that John Fincher was leaving so I knew he would want to go big the night before. I also needed to pack my bike back in the box that Pat bought me, get it to Retiro when it doesn’t fit in many taxi’s and cannot be brought on a bus or the subte (subway) and hope that it would be there when I arrive. I figured I would just do my usual method of finding hotels once I got there. I did no research on the city or the surrounding areas and here is what happened.
The night before John meets with a long time friend Gonzalo who knows the owner of a really nice restaurant in Palermo Hollywood called Freak. We basically get catered to all night for a group of 15 or more with endless sushi, appetizers, drinks, martinis, champagne, and a whole huge bottle of saki all for about $400 u.s. We stayed up all night and I decided that I would not sleep and get my bus at 7:30. I left John and crew at Sugar where he was in the middle of spinning his way into the bathroom or some tourist girls arms, who knows. I got home, packed, and then found a taxi that I forced my bike box into. With shaved body and mini backpack, we goto Retiro for 20 pesos. I get to my bus and tip the guy 5 pesos to take care of my bike as he packs it into the bus and we ship off. The bus ride is 7 hours long and I sleep for maybe 4 of the hours. When I awake I can only see the most flattest landscape I have seen outside of the midwest. Vast distances of grass fields dotted with grass fed cows that I have been getting used to eating for the last month or so. We make one stop in a town called Azul I knew to be close and I got out to stretch and make sure my bike was not unloaded which it wasn’t. An hour later we are in Olavarria and it is absolutely baking outside. I get a map and directions to some hotels and walk down the road dragging a giant bike box. I am telling everyone that I am a professional ciclista and I am causing quite a commotion I might add.
I pick the first hotel called the Hotel Argentino and check in to a meager room for 68 peso. I convince them I want a lower floor room so I don’t have to lug the box upstairs. They were very friendly and agreeable and also impressed with my origin and luggage. I put my bike together and then go for a ride to investigate the town and make sure I can find the track that the race is at. This town was extremely serious about it’s siesta and it’s mate drinking ability. There was no one out, absolutely no one, nadie! I eventually find the track which I have to ride on a dirt road to get to which made me a little apprehensive for worry of a popped tire right as I arrive at the race with tires at 120psi. I eat a random lunch at a gas station since that is all that was open and then head back to my hotel to catch an hour nap.
I wake up and get dressed in my tights and head off. It is still extremely hot outside. As always I am a little early but it is evident that something is going on and people are coming out. One of my worries is that I was looking into this all wrong and would come to find out that there was no bike race at all. I paid the 2 peso admission and claimed my spot on the fence. I warmed up for a bit scoping out the other riders and I quickly noticed that most of the people here had single speed bikes with a front brake only with a free wheel. Interesting. The track is only maybe 500 meters so I guess they assumed that was all they needed, que se yo? It was their track.
It was becoming extremely windy and the back side of the piste was full on into the wind. Just over the dirt road you have to ride on there is a field that is being burned to make way for new crops but also creating plenty of smoke for us cyclists to inhale as we romp around the track. First race is for the old guys older than 35. They are fast and I was impressed. During this race I made friends with some older guys who were constantly inspecting my bike and asking me all sorts of questions regarding price and stiffness. They also told me about a 60 mile race going on the next day in a near (100km) city that I needed to go to.
Then my race was up. It would be for 40 minutes and there were probably 30 or more riders. A lot of machismo going on it seemed but that is just the usual Argentine spirit. The race began and a group quickly shot out in front. I waitied for the pelaton to organize which it never did. So I decided to take control and spent the first 5 minutes catching up to this group with no one wanting to take turns with me going into the wind. I caught them and then spent the next 5 minutes leading the pack trying to keep a fst pace to wear down any stragglers. I notice after 10 minutes my heart is near 200 bpm and I needed a break. For the next 20 minutes there were a few breaks but nothing significant and myself and about 10 others had set themselves up to be the main competition. I moved into the 6th position and planned on sprinting the final lap full out. With 1.5 laps to go someone goes but I hear the bell before this and we are not even close to the line so I sprint to catch him, pass him, and then cross the line thinking I won but there was still one lap to go. Fuck! I did not travel for half a day to get fucked like this. On the back side I was in the lead and I didn’t want to see what was behind me. In front of me there were dozens of spectators in the track screaming “VAMOS!” “DALE!” which was most inspiring I got to say. Final stretch came, I was back out of my saddle and I was getting wobbly arms and I had never felt so exhausted. I was passed at the line and took second place by only 2 feet. I slumped in my bike and rolled around the course absolutely exhausted.
Take a look at my Garmin print out. During that final sprint which I started half a lap too early, my heart got up to 207 bpm. I challenge you to just try and tap your finger, make a sound, or do anything that fast in one minute. Fucking amazing what the body can do. An average speed of 23 miles an hour I suppose is OK considering the ridiculous wind on one length of the track. Second place won me 40 pesos but lets consider the cost for my love of cycling. 140 peso for bus, 70 peso for hotel, 20 peso for race admission, 40 peso for taxi to and from retiro, 50 peso for food. Total of 320 pesos or $90 u.s. to do this race minus $15 bucks for the price money. I love cycling.
I stayed the rest of the night to watch the rest of the races. The next exciting race was the kids under 17 race which was pretty good. The kid who won was dropped way early but since the pack was cat and mousing it all the time he caught up late in the race and took the trophy. No money for the kids. Take a look at this video and just listen to this announcer. He was intense for every race and I wish I could have heard what he was saying for my race, I was too busy sucking wind. Probably went something like “Naranja! Naranja! Naranja!”
The last race was amazing. These were the pros and you could tell by their bikes, their legs, and the extreme speed they were riding. It was just absolutely amazing how fast these guys were going for 90 minutes. They could not pedal on the turns since they were angled so far over. That happened to me only once where I dragged my pedal but I was pedaling the entire time through all the curves. Here is their video of the last lap. There were maybe 40 guys to start but anyone not in the running for the 300 peso purse just dropped out and the final sprint was only with 6 or so people.
During this last race I made friends with this guy Luis who had a friend in the race who did not end up winning. While we talked about cycling and comparing lives in different countries his family was giving me food and drink and were absolutely amazing. While Luis had his little girl climbing all over him while we talked I had this random little kitten just show up and climb my back and snuggle into my neck and hair. A little random, hope I didn’t get fleas. Luis invited me to his house and he showed me his bikes and we talked cycling and politics while his family rushed around me listening and rubbing my tattoo and watching me ride his ridiculously expensive bike. We ate and drank and it was an absolutely precious time that I could never repeat. One of those moments in traveling that are hard to explain to people and you can only wish that everyone in the world had these moments to be able to appreciate the good hearted nature of almost everyone on earth. They did not have much but were willing to share all of it with me and didn’t mind that I was wearing my tights the whole time.
The next day I tried to get to Atalque to goto the 60 mile ride but would not arrive until way too late so I had to wait for my 5pm train back to BsAs. I walked the ghost town looking for anything and then ate at a parilla and had two beers. My hotel had agreed to leave my bike case there so I did not have to drag it around even though I checked out at 11am. I went back to the hotel, a little tipsy, and asked if i could have a mate (pronounced maa te, its a tea like drink here renowned for its compartir aspects) with the girls that run the hotel. They loved me and invited me in their back room for a drink and a huge cake. We talked about the town and where they met their husbands and how I dont like reggatone and why they were not fat even though they had dulce de leche for lunch. This went on for hours. Eventually I asked if I could take a nap which they were happy to offer me my old room and I napped for an hour before my bus. Another experience that is hard to communicate how much something like that can mean to someone.
Another long bus ride home and I got back. Nothing bad happened and in fact I wish I could have stayed and continued the adventure. All the portenos thought I was crazy for doing this but that is why they are portenos and think the rest of the country is a little wierd. Next race, two weeks! Back to the training track.
And all this using only Castellano!