WHERE KESTRELS DARE | ANDES PACIFICO
Andes Pacifico proves a punishing enduro initiation for Adam Brayton in the land of the condor...
Andes Pacifico proves a punishing enduro initiation for Adam Brayton in the land of the condor.
DIRT ISSUE 146 - APRIL 2014
Words by Steve Jones. Photos by Steve Jones and Gary Perkin
The Andes rise sharply out of the Pacific Ocean but it’s only when you reach Santiago that the ascent into the hills becomes really abrupt. Before you know it the altimeter hits five figures and the sharp realization that a complex four–day itinerary westbound to reach the coast at Maitencillo was upon us.
There was always going to be drama but we had travelled the eight thousand miles an assumption based on what we had seen on video analysis that the trails would be relatively easy. World Cup downhill racer Adam Brayton had been drafted into tackle the event against the clock, his first ever enduro competition. Aaron Bartlett would take position in the helicopter for video footage, whilst I stupidly decided to ride each stage with a 40lb camera pack and water on my back.
The mood on this trip was always upbeat, but we felt the heat as soon as we arrived. Most of it was reflected off Keswick boy Brayton’s brilliant white body as we dropped off the plane. Is there a hole in the ozone layer over Chile? We certainly believed it as we quickly headed for the shade.
The sixteen hour journey via Sao Paulo, the largest city in the southern hemisphere, gave us plenty of time to discuss the race ahead. Brayton had come with a Specialized Stumpjumper Evo and was convinced from the event video that it was the right tool for the job. The trails had looked relatively smooth and it was our impression/belief that the task was within reach on the shorter travel bike. I definitely recall Brayton saying to me, “I reckon it’ll be pretty easy".
We began to recalibrate our thoughts however as we past over the Andes. It looked dry, barren, rocky, high, and… but no matter what you see or hear on the internet or from the sky it’s not until you start feeling and breathing the terrain that you get a grasp of things. Chile was only partly what we had expected.
Santiago is only just under two thousand feet high but you climb to twelve pretty sharpish. The start point is around this height and once you have taken a chairlift you’re in the snow line. Having photographed Brayton I knew his work rate was high, I knew he had the competitor mindset come what may, but I also knew he had the ability to full throttle everything. Back home they call him ‘The Kestrel’ because of his ability to swoop without notice. But he was an enduro novice with no reference points as to how to tackle longer stages even if he did do frequent descents off Skiddaw. His entire race career has been around the four–minute mark and only Garbanzo downhill last year did he experience the different physicality and mindset needed when the clock goes into double figures. Nevertheless Brayton is a grafter, he was upbeat and even as events turned for the next four days he remained that way. It proved intriguing viewing from the side of the track.>>
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[part title="WHERE KESTRELS DARE | ANDES PACIFICO PAGE TWO..."]
Start: La Parva
Food Station: Corral Quemado Camino a Farellones
Camp: Santuario de la Naturaleza, El Arrayan
Special stage: 22.76km distance/-3666m descending
Liaison stages: 17.05km distance/1608m uphill
Whilst you are in an area surrounded by twenty thousand footers (Aconcagua hits nearly 23,000ft) the race begins at a more modest 12,000, still you feel it. From the summit I believed Brayton had a good feeling of what was needed but was wary that his throttle control and downhill genetic might have an impact, he would also have to adapt very quickly to terrain he had no experience of. The helicopter circled the Kestrel as he launched into stage one.
Riding at the front with camera pack I knew of the dangers ahead that the riders would encounter as the weight of the bag accentuated weight transfer and gave an idea of what they would face. It quickly became obvious that any pressure on the front wheel would be punished, that the loose cinder offered nothing in terms of traction and could not be trusted for any kind of support whatsoever. Stage one was pretty much like that from the start and having seen someone on the deck on average every three minutes I knew the odds would be stacked against a man built for charging.
It came as little surprise then that when the Hope rider came into sight through the viewfinder that he was sans peak, slightly bent out of shape and lacking fluidity at around the fifteen minute mark. In short he was a shadow of the man I had put on the plane in London. As he past me I thought ‘learning curve’ and watch out stage three. On which he duly delivered a more shapely performance, yet still outside the top ten.
The lunch stop at the base of Yerba Loca valley was more than welcome but from here riders had a transfer in 42º heat on the San Francisco road that accesses one of Chile’s biggest copper mines, before heading east to the final stage of the day. A couple of prostitutes hung around some beaten up cars on the side of the road servicing the quarry but all I can say is the climb out of SFO valley was a big one and that the descent through valley of the condors will become one of the tour’s iconic for sure. Arriving at 6pm to a food tent brimming with curry and all the trimmings had never been so welcome.
1. Jerome Clementz 8.10 14.08 6.42 16.29 45.29
2. Nico Prudencio 8.27 14.40 6.36 16.40 46.23
3. Francois Bailly-Maitre 8.37 14.56 6.55 16.59 47.27
23. Adam Brayton 13.48 16.07 7.29 19.02 56.26
1. Anka Martin 11.07 18.24 9.30 21.11 58.12
Start: Santuario de la Naturaleza El Arrayan
Food Station: Shangri–La
Special stage: 20.5km distance/-2719m descending
Liaison stages: 19.72km distance/1611m uphill
Up at dawn and on the hill soon after, a big pick–up drive took us to a col that changed the game. If day one had concluded with a classic sixteen minute descent, the beginning of two reminded riders this was enduro not downhill. Wide, wild and handsome, the headbanger of a stage was one of the longest taking leader Jerome Clementz over 21minutes to complete. Brayton showed his mettle here by posting a solid top ten, but it was still two and a half minutes behind the Frenchman. On stages such as this looking ahead becomes much more important, you have to use your head too and scanning the track ahead and in front at the same time tests spatial awareness to the maximum.
This was definitely a big day in the mountains and as I rolled into the finish at around seven in the evening the Santa Cruz boys and John Cancellier from SRAM were munching crisps and water. One of the crazy things about this event was its proximity to the urban fringes of Santiago. One minute crunching through volcanic cinder in the middle of nowhere the next I found myself in a shopping mal munching a burger and chips. Knowing we had no chance of making camp by midnight Will Ockleton (Santa Cruz) sharply arranged for about seven of us to take a shower in a local gymnasium before we did the transfer to the seaward mountain range eating an ice cream. This was certainly one of the trip’s bizarre moments. Adam finished the day just out of the top ten but four minutes back. He seemed to be keeping his head down.
1. Jerome Clementz 21.27 8.11 7.13 36.51
2. Chris Johnston 22.10 8.31 7.37 38.18
3. Francois Bailly Maitre 21.45 9.02 7.42 38.29
11. Adam Brayton 23.51 9.05 8.08 41.04
1. Anka Martin 28.45 11.05 9.56 49.46
[part title="WHERE KESTRELS DARE | ANDES PACIFICO PAGE THREE..."]
Start: Cerro El Roble, Caleu
Food Station: La Dormida
Special stage: 20.36km distance/-2925m descending
Liaison stages: 17.71km distance/980m uphill
Thursday became Friday pretty quickly with time to grab only a couple of hours sleep before piling into a pick–up again to drive to another of the event’s classics. Luckily day three was slightly easier in terms of distance and after lunching out on steaks, salad and chorizo sausage around midday riders took on one the greatest stages of the week in terrain that was offering more grip than the first two legs. But the changing terrain was to have a marked effect on the riders and the day’s first had already taken its toll. Chris Johnson broke an arm, Joey Schulser opened his leg up.
Francois Bailly Maitre charged Clementz on this day and took the Cannondale man on the tightest twistiest corners of the week on his 29 BMC Trailfox. Pedro Ferriera took Chile’s second stage win (Prudencio won stage two) on what was a trail of utter beauty – that one after the lunch stop. Brayton had come good again and punched out a top ten on that stage although it was nearly a minute back. Even though it was a relatively easy day the stages still offered 31 minutes of racing for the winner, and they were again largely downhill.
1. Francois Bailly Maitre 13.38 10.34 7.13 31.25
2. Jerome Clementz 13.25 10.43 7.19 31.27
3. Pedro Ferreira 13.53 10.34 7.35 32.02
10. Adam Brayton 14.32 11.48 8.03 34.02
1. Anka Martin 17.10 13.12 10.08 40.30
Start: La Canela
Food Station: La Canela Alta
Special stage: 16km distance/-1727m descending
Liaison stages: 17.05km distance/1608m uphill
The drive to the coast offered another change of scenery and smells, the sea mist covering the burning sun for a short while. Driving to the summit of the day’s remote hilltop opener a man walks down the road holding his jeans up followed five minutes later by a woman with a handbag and a world of troubles.
It was the tour’s prickly day and how more riders didn’t puncture in the thorny scrub remains a mystery. A day of short stages, a chance for the Hope man to make amends for earlier strife. If he’d begun the week in typical fashion he should surely wrap it up with something to tell the bosses. How much had he learned from his week in the Andes?
Brayton managed to hold together top tens on each of the sub ten–minute tracks to nail seventh overall on the final day and pip Chris Ball for top Brit. It began with high speed offering full throttle corners, tucked–in straights and awkward stream beds before the transfer to the penultimate track through the highly reflective leaves of a beautiful rubber plantation.
We were now in farmland good and proper and after a brief chat with the locals we made our way to the conclusion just above Puchuncavi before the last transfer to the Pacific. Sixth and only 21 seconds back to the Enduro World Champion on a seven minute track was good going, the closest all week, but it also highlighted the sheer all–round brilliance of Clementz.
[part title="WHERE KESTRELS DARE | ANDES PACIFICO PAGE FOUR..."]
1. Jerome Clementz 8.24 5.36 7.35 21.35
2. Nico Prudencio 8.28 5.47 7.44 21.59
3. Pedro Ferreira 8.30 5.45 7.48 22.03
7. Adam Brayton 8.45 6.09 7.56 22.50
1. Anka Martin 10.13 7.21 9.48 27.22
With six countries in the top ten the Andes Pacifico had put Chile well and truly on the map and in the minds of riders worldwide. It was a tough event, not for novices, the terrain was complex to understand, the heat relentless. As an adventure it delivered priceless moments, spectacular views. As a race it offered drama, pain and tests of huge diversity. To win this you are no ordinary rider.
At World Cup downhill level Brayton has been around three seconds per minute off the leaders pace, the same proved true here in Chile once he had settled in, even on the shorter downhill stages. He was probably under biked, a 150mm plus bike would have placed him higher, so what he did was pretty tidy. The learning curve was a steep one and was lavished with the scars that most riders had from the volcanic terrain. Quietly, very quietly I think Brayton marvelled at the skill of Jerome Clementz on tracks that were quite the opposite to what we expected. This was heads–up riding amongst angular rock, cactus, extreme heat and high speed. He toughed it out, but then he always was going to.
Of the travelling racers what was striking was the camaraderie and the general upbeat mood of everyone given the tough situations that they were being placed into. But I guess the food was great and the corners of sheer beauty. Eduardo, Matias and Nacho presented Chile brilliantly – our hosts were simply flawless.
1. Jerome Clementz 2hrs 15min 22 sec
2. Nico Prudencio 2.19.21
3. Francois Bailly Maitre 2.19.27
12. Adam Brayton 2.34.43
1. Anka Martin 2.55.50
2. Pauline Dieffenthaler 3.02.15
3. Julia Hobson 3.13.27