The Road to Brazil and the 24 HR World Champs 🇧🇷

Leaving my hometown of Jasper Alberta at 7am Sunday July 21st kicked off the longest recorded travels I’ve experienced to get to a bike race.   The end destination was Costa Rica MS, a small town in the middle of Brazil, which was playing host to the 2019 WEMBO World Solo 24 HR Championships. Having won the last two 24 HR World Championships in Italy and Scotland, I was focused on going for the natural hat trick.  It’s not often I get home  anymore but whenever I do it is refreshing and generally gets the system fired up for the next worldly travels. Thanks for the home cooking Mom!

After a 9 hour drive the first stop was Dik and Corey’s in North Vancouver to have there son Seth build up my main race bike for Brazil, a new Kona Hei Hei.  This went on into the evening and after a good BBQ and visit we hit the beds for a short 3-4 hour sleep. Getting up in the middle of the night, Dik roared his truck through the barren streets of Vancouver and soon my two travel partners, Leighton Poidevin and his girlfriend Candace, were being dropped off at YVR airport to catch a 6am flight to start the next leg of our journey, 3 flights and 24 hours travel time to South America!

Landing in Sao Paulo Brazil a bit red eyed but with all our luggage it was off to the rental car centre to find out that the 9 passenger van we had rented was actually not as shown in the pictures and was instead just slightly bigger then a North American hatchback.  After some arguing we eventually ended up with a small mini van in which we could barely squeeze all our stuff into. Our tetris skills came in  handy trying to jam 2 bike boxes, 3 people and a few other duffel bags in this pint size South American car. Finally loaded up, Candace realized she had left her wallet and cell phone in the rental car bathroom.  It was gone and to be never found again.  This was a tough introduction to Brazil and delayed our trip another hour, but eventually we got on the road and out of Sao Paulo, somewhat in one piece.  Exiting Sao Paulo was the next challenge as the freeway kept splitting into 3’s and all of a sudden we’d find ourselves on off ramps, which would require 20 minutes of figure eights in some dodgy neighbourhoods to get back on the freeway.  This happened 4 times and by the last time I was near the end of my fuse, our goal had been to potentially get to Costa Rica MS, 1000 km away, by night, but it was already 4 pm and we had only gone 50 km from the airport!

Eventually we had our mini sized van pointed out of Sao Paolo and on track to Costa Rica MS when we hit the next hurdle, toll stations.  We had all misread the email stating that US money was the best to bring to Brazil, and that is all we had.  With the toll stations not excepting cards, or any currency other then Brazilian Reals we were screwed.  The first toll lady scolded us in Portuguese for a few minutes then gave us a note and sent us on our way.  The 2nd toll, we were pulled over for 30 minutes, and had 3 different officers scold us, eventually they got the message across on google translate that we we being given a ticket, and that at the next toll we would be barred from passing if we didn’t have proper money.  We tried to bribe them, as the toll was only $2.5, but they were honest and wouldn’t except our US currency.  The next challenge was to find a bank before the next toll, this involved driving around in circles for a while, being denied at the first 2 ATM’s we found, but luckily the 3rd one spat out some local currency.  Now we were in business and could pay the $2-3 toll at the toll booths which seemed to appear every 30 minutes on the highway.  Eventually we made it half way to Costa Rica MS this night, puling over at 11 pm to catch a few zzz’s.

The next day we woke up to drive the last 6 hours to Costa Rica MS, 4 of them on a 2 lane highway in which we experienced some crazy Brazilian driving first hand. Apparently it’s common practice for semis to drive down the centre line and for them to drive 40 km/hr in passing lanes going up hill.  At nights it’s especially sketchy as some trucks don’t have any lights. The big trucks were real obstacles but Leighton kept us alive and by mid afternoon we were pulling into the Ives Hotel, which would be our home for the next 5 nights.  This place was a real oasis and had a swimming pool backed onto a river valley 

which provided the perfect place to recover from our 4 days of travelling.  Thursday and Friday were spent loosening the legs, buying food and trying to get ready in time to put in a 24 hour effort.  Waking up Saturday morning, the body finally seemed to be almost back to normal which was a relief as I figured there was now just enough in the tank to try and defend my 2 World 24 hr titles!

The race kicked off at high noon in the heat of the Brazilian day with nearly 300 of us running around a 400 M track before picking up our bikes and heading out onto the 29.3 km course.  Running in carbon soled bike shoes is one of the best ways to end a bike race before it starts so I took it easy and soon found myself way back in the masses as people sprinted by with there elbows up high.  I was tempted to go into hockey mode and lay out some of the more aggressive runners but decided to channel that energy into the bike later on as these 24 hour races require all the energy one can muster.  After the run I could just get a glimpse of Brazil’s marathon Champion Mario Verissimo as he sprinted away like it was a 1 lap race.  On paper Mario was one of the riders to watch but it was a relief to see him ride so hard on the first lap as I figured he’d blow himself up at that pace.  I still had to put in a small effort to catch up to last years runner up, Taylor Lideen from the USA,  which was an important move so we could work together on the roadie style course and keep Mario and the other riders in check.

The next 5 hours rolled by pretty fast as Taylor and I set a steady pace and slowly reeled in the Brazilians who set off on flyers at the start of the race.  The course was interesting with the first 2-3 km on twisting single track down by an amazing Brazilian waterfall in a jungle before climbing out of a ravine and onto a fast double track section through open farmland.  The final 7 km of the course was on a false flat pavement climb back into town and then we’d have to dodge Brazilian traffic as we maneuvered through the backstreets of Costa Rica MS back to the race venue.  The biggest challenge for my Canadian blood was the heat of the Brazilian sun as it was beating down hard on the open course with temperatures reading in the low thirties.  My tactic was to keep it mellow until the sun went down and then start to rev the engine as I’ve found one of the the best ways for me to lose a race is to over cook the system in these warm environments.

As darkness set in we had word that we were getting close to the race leader so I went to the front on the only sustained climb on course and put in a small effort to test Taylor who was riding strong.  Surprisingly he dropped back pretty quickly so I kept on the gas and put in a couple solid laps.  Thinking Taylor was right on my ass, I was in attack mode, but then received word that he was a lap behind as he had to pull over due to a nerve issue in his leg.  This was unfortunate news, but it meant the race was now between Brazilians champ Mario and myself.  Mario was still suffering from his early attacks so I was able to put in a couple more solid laps to stretch the gap to nearly 45 minutes before midnight.  My pit crew tried to get me to slowdown a bit and take a breather but I was pretty keen to keep the momentum going  and get the lead to a comfortable 1 hour before letting my guard down at all.   It was a weird situation to be in as the race was in our hands, but mentally I had to stay engaged for another 10 hours, as alot can still happen over that time.

From 2 am onwards I toned it down a bit, keeping a steady pace but taking longer pit breaks and really just cruising around to eat up the time and stay out of trouble.  It was a good feeling to have, but in the past I have had trouble with my eyes fogging up and some stomach issues so there were still a few x-factors that could derail the effort. 
Thankfully everything worked out and at 11:13 am I finished my 16th lap and got word that no one could catch me any more and that the race was over.  Mentally and physically I was ready for a 17th lap, but being told it was not necessary I decided to stop early as there was no reason to do another lap except to rub it in my competitions face a little.  This I didn’t think was necessary so instead it was game over and I could soak in the atmosphere of winning a 3rd straight 24 HR World Title!  It seemed a bit surreal to have a 3rd title in the bag already as it seemed like just yesterday I was winning my first one in Italy back in 2017.

It takes a pile of work and a huge team effort to win a 24 Hour race and this year I had both.  Spending the winter hiking and biking around at altitude in Nepal built a huge base which was carried through the first part of the year.  Tossing in a bunch of racing and some bike packing adventures across BC, the body was more then ready for this 24 hour race.  The x factors were the travel and the Brazilian environment, but these were managed, and once again I had the dream team in the pits keeping things in line. 

Leighton Poidevin has had my back for a number of years and has been there at the past 3 championships.  Being an accomplished 24 hour racer, he knows what I’m going through and I don’t even need words to tell him what to do as he already has it done.  Hiran from Radical Lights has also been there for the past 3 titles.  He knows 24 hour racing as good as anyone and his lighting systems are 2nd to none.  I use to dread the night parts of 24 hour races, but now I can’t wait for them as I know my Radical lights are better then anyones as they are a big advantage once the sun goes down.  Leighton’s girlfriend Candace,  has been at the last two 24 hour races and  has done a great job on the social media side of things, keeping the atmosphere light, and in Scotland she saved the day by finding potatoes to eat when my stomach went sideways mid race.  Having this team has made my job simple, just ride, ride and ride till the earth goes 360 around the sun!

Having two identical Kona Hei Hei dual suspension bikes for the past 3 years has also been a big difference maker.  I have been lucky to have had Kona’s support for over a decade now and am proud to be part of such a family that enjoys riding bikes as much as they do.  Luke Way at Balance Point racing in Kelowna has also been supporting me for over a decade with precision bike fits, testing 2-3 times a year and coaching suggestions to help keep the body in tune.  It’s this type of support, that goes on for years through good and bad times which is what makes all this possible.

The next WEMBO World 24 Hour Championships will be in Australia in November of 2020. Australia is the centre of 24 Hour racing, and home of 7 time World Champion Jason English.  I’ll be looking forward to going into the lions den over there to try and keep this win streak alive.  Until then it’s off to Colorado to take on the 6 day UCI Breck Epic before heading back to Canada to soak in what is left of our short summer!

 

Big shout out to Mario Roma and the Brasil Ride organization for putting on a great 24 HR Championships this year 🇧🇷👍.

Over and out!

Picture credits to Candace Bourque, Radical Lights and WEMBO.

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