Mexico- Race Xcross Hidalgo

Mexico has always been one of the more interesting places in the World to race a bike with its combination of natural beauty, fun people and the excitement of racing through the uncontrolled environment of the 3rd World.  

The Teenek Race Xcross Hidalgo, known as one of the toughest mountain bike races in the Americas, is a 3 stage race across the mountains in the state of Hidalgo just north of Mexico City.  In its 9th edition it had nearly 300 km and 8000 metres of vertical gain as it traversed some pretty rough mountains. With 80-90 racers it was the perfect size to have a laid back atmosphere yet some tough competition!

  In 2008 and 2009 I raced the Transmexicana which went from one coast to the other over 800 km in 8 days.  It was one of the best courses I have ever raced and also one of the most memorable with every day being full of unorganized chaos often riding around lost in the middle of the countryside. I had heard from my friends that the Race XCross Hidalgo was a well organized version of the TransMexicana so when the opportunity arose to race it this year I jumped at it. It did not disappoint!

Arriving to the race start in the town of Pachuca at 2400 M was an easy 1.5 hr bus ride from the Mexico city airport.  After a couple days of acclimatization and eating tacos it was race day and we were off to tackle 80 km on Stage 1.  It was a pretty neutral start as we climbed out of town on some pavement but as soon as we dropped into a dirt road it was game on!  I let the other guys set the pace for the first couple km then launched an attack over a small hill to spice up the race.  A small gap would open which I would extend on the rough and rocky decent to follow. One of Mexicos top racers and multi time champion Tono Escarcega would have nothing of it and would claw his way back to me.   From here we went on to smash each other good for the next couple of hours of racing.  We would attack each other but then often come face to face with a 30% climbs which would have us cross eyed as we just tried to get up them without walking.  This took it’s toll on both of us and with 20 km to go we had one last stiff climb in which I barely managed to turn over my 36 T chain ring while Tono had to get off and walk.  Finally, he looked cracked, the only problem was I would crack a few km later and then had a long and suffer last hour to the finish line.  At one point 3rd place rider Juan Silva almost caught  me but I managed to dig deep to pull ahead for a 1 minute victory. Little did I know but last years winner Tono Escarcega pulled the pin at the last feedzone which opened up a bit of breathing room heading into the next stages.

 

Stage 2 was the queens stage with 120 km and 2800 m of vertical as we tackled one of the Worlds biggest half pipes!  After an easy first 10 km to warmup I set out on a solo mission to dedicate the day to a fallen comrade in Steve Stanko who had passed away on a freak climbing incident the week before.  Steve was known as the “godfather of cycling” in my hometown of Jasper and had played a big roll in my development of a cyclist over the years.  On this day there was a memorial for him in Jasper and a group ride with nearly 250 riders showing up to pay tribute to him.  Unfortunately I couldn’t be there in Jasper but I felt Steves wings on my shoulders as the legs were firing good this day eventually rolling in for a 20 minute + victory after 5.5 hours of racing.  The course was epic as we raced across the backroads of Hidalgo and dropped into a giant canyon at one point, descending all the way from 2400 meters to 1300.  It was 100% Mexican with Cacti everywhere, lots of locals out and about and loads of sketchy dogs chasing as we road by them.  Once in the canyon it turned into a bit of a jungle before setting out on a big climb out the other side of it.  After 45 minutes of climbing I crested the rim of the canyon to only we directed to drop right back into it and then onto another 45 minute climb out the otherside of it.  It was one hell of a big half pipe and made for a tough day of racing!  The finish of the stage was in a tourist town called Huasca, one of Mexicos famous “Pueblos Magicos.”  Post race a couple of us went to tour the Basaltic Prisms, a canyon full of columnar joints of basalt rock, it was unreal and apparently one of only a couple places in the world to have this natural phenomenom.  Mexico is certainly one of the most geographically and culturally interesting places I’ve ever travelled!

Back at race site racers were hanging out on the lawn drinking beer, listening to music and enjoying the fantastic atmosphere that the Teenek race organizers have around there events. For dinner we went to a street side Taco joint in Huasca and loaded up on some delicious tacos and enhciladas.  The Mexican’s sure now how to cook some damn fine food which also happens to be great fuel for riding!  Thankfully our stomachs also agreed with the food as eating street side in this part of the World is always a bit of a roll of the dice.

 

Going into Stage 3 we had just 70 km and 2000 meters of climbing between us and the finish line at the Cristo Rey statue in Pachuca.  With much of the course between 2500-3000 meters we could feel the altitude today as we raced on some rough dirt roads through the mountains.  I tried to keep a chill pace at the start to ride with the other racers for a while, but they seemed pretty fired up on the day and started attacking one after another.  Thus I attacked myself, riding away from the field for another solo ride to the finish.  It was a tough stage with some steep climbing but it also had some rad pieces of singeltrack mixed in. On the first piece of trail I came flying around corner in a tight ravine and saw a sheep up on the right hand side of the trail.  It wasn’t a grizzly bear so I though nothing of it but at the last possible second lamb chops jumped across the trail, I missed him but he was tied to a rope which clothes lined my bike and sent me crashing down the trail while at the same time yanking on lamb chops and causing him to come crashing back into my bike.  It was a sheep/bike racer yard sale but luckily we both got up unscathed. I remounted my Kona to continue onwards to the finish line with a extra surge of adrenaline to fuel the ride.  The rest of the trail was rad as it navigated over some rough terrain down a ravine until popping out into a cool Mexican town with cobbletstone streets.  Sitting up for a quick breather after the excitements on the trail, the next thing I saw were three dogs jumping at me from under a truck, one went straight in front of the bike, I felt like t-boning it but politely slammed on the brakes then used my water bottle to spray off the other sketchy beasts.  I don’t know if its just me but there seems to be more and more loose sketchy dogs around these countries like Mexico and Guatemala every year. 

The rest of the stage was rad as the course climbed up a steep fireroad into a forest at 3000 M before hitting pieces of single track all the way down to the finish line at Cristo Rey, sitting at 2500 M on a hill overlooking Pachuca. The riding reminded me a lot of Canada on this section.  The last 2-3 km was especially rad as we endurod down a ridge top on some flowing single track with cacti all over the place.  I managed to tag a Cacti with the back of my hand, ending up with 7 spikes sticking out of it.   It was a bit sketchy but I managed to pull one by one out while still making headway to the finishline. One of them broke off though and would require further attention from one of the race doctors later on but I figured that was a small price to pay for riding 300 km across the depths of rural Mexico!  The best stories were coming from the riders later on as apparently the sheep I hit earlier on got angry and started ramming the other riders as they went by.  Some of the riders came across the line with bruises on there thighs and some pretty wide eyes.

Like every day at the Race XCross Hidalgo the finish line atmosphere was great with music blarring, Mexican food been eating and on this day some local tequila/liquor being consumed to celebreate a successful 3 days of tough racing X Cross Hidalgo.  It’s races like these that really bring out the best in the mountain bike community.  Big days on the bike,  meeting new people, seeing new lands, adventures, challenges but most of all a chilled back atmosphere in which everyone seemed to be enjoying the simplicity of just being out there and riding there bikes.  I hear they change the course up every year as well which makes it that much more exciting to hopefully be able to return to defend the title next year.

 

Thanks Jorge, Bebeto, Veronica, Mariano and the rest of the crew at Teenek racing for making this a memorable trip to Mexico!

This Victory I have dedicated to Steve Stanko.  You left us too soon but you sure left your mark on this World.  You may be gone but your spirit will ride on with us forever!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

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