Inca Downhill mountain bike race in the Sacred Valley

There were rumors circulating for a while when I first arrived in Peru this fall that Peru’s Megavalanche downhill race was a thing of the past. Turns out that’s true, kind of. This year the race was reorganized and renamed the Inca Downhill to differentiate this uniquely Peruvian race course from a larger DH race in the French Alps. For 2011, an ex-pat gringo named KB who now runs KB Tambo Hotel and Tours in Ollantaytambo took the reins and made this scary/fun/amazing race happen. A huge thanks to him – because I saw so many smiling faces both before, during, and after the actual course laps it was obvious everyone was enjoying the fruits of his labor.
My decision to enter and participate (I would not call what I did ‘racing’) was made in usual fashion for me – on the spur of the moment without allowing myself time to back out. Fortunately I had back up on this one – a friend from Montana had arrived the day before with a ‘can do’ attitude and, at least, a kayaking helmet, bike shorts and some on-trail repair tools. Unfortunately our last minute decision left no time to find an appropriate bike, so he borrowed a friend’s hard tail that was (several sizes) smaller than the frame he rides at home. oh well – it’s an adventure, right?
We were up and out of the house at the bleary-eyed hour of 6am, with the intention of catching a bus to Ollantaytambo with backpacks, body armor, and bikes in tow. We made it from my apartment in San Blas to the Plaza de Armas before we made the decision to flag down a taxi and pay whatever they wanted to drive us out to the Sacred Valley instead of dealing with all that stuff on buses and combis. Once again I was stoked on the ability to hire transport from Cusco…we ended up paying roughly $20 for our 2-hour direct trip.
Once we got a hotel room and registered we loaded up on the buses provided by the event for the one-hour jaw-dropping beautiful ride up the mountain road to the course’s start at Abra Malga. After piling out of the bus in the midst of huge glaciated peaks we all had to push our bikes up to the starting line at 4,600 meters – or just over 15,000ft. That burned a little.
The first day is just a qualifying run, and if you’re me and have no intention of actually ‘qualifying’ for any certain position it could also be called a ‘fun run’. (As one of four women in the race there wasn’t too much to figure out anyway). As we started down the wet, mossy, bumped up landscape at the top of the course I found myself alternately giggling and gritting my teeth…it’s fun, but it’s pucker-up steep and fast, too.
The course, offered as a non -race, mellow pace single-track trip by local tour operator Amazonas Explorers, is technical and as mentioned, white knuckle steep in places. But, with a slow approach it’s definitely rideable for riders with moderate skills and the willingness to let off the brakes and roll it out on the looser sections. We finished the qualifying lap and returned to Ollantaytambo for a night of relaxation and fun (probably too much fun…but more about that later) before the big race day.
Race day was gorgeously sunny and cool as we made the return journey up the road, and everyone was relaxed and friendly as we huffed and puffed our bikes to the start line. There were a few pros from the States racing as part of the team put together by Bike Magazine, and a few other high-profile racers, but everyone was just enjoying the amazing scenery and the atmosphere was decidedly less amped up than other competitive events I’ve been to/in. For those seriously racing I’m sure it was a lot faster and more intense than the day before. For me, it was another trip down a beautiful mountain on a bike.
The overall winner was a Chilean guy who apparently hauled on the road sections, but I would like to note that both Paul AND Carol of Amazonas Explorer placed in their categories. Props. The awards and after party that night were fitting for the event: laid back and fun. While I don’t know that I will ever be a serious ‘racer’, I have to say that downhill mountain bike races attract a really fun crowd – and at least I got a sweet t-shirt out of the deal!
Unfortunately I don’t have my own photos of the race, but pics and event info can be found at:
http://incadownhill.com/photos-video.php

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