JD Swanguen's South American Adventure - Dirt

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JD Swanguen’s South American Adventure

Freedom fighter JD Swanguen heads off to Columbia and Equador for some two wheeled adventure.

In January I had the opportunity to participate in the Chiguiro Extremo Urbano DH event through the streets of Manizales. Coming off an injury plagued 2011 season, I was excited to find myself in the mountains of Colombia healthy again. The event was very well organized, it had everything we needed for an urban downhill to be interesting.

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On Friday, the race began very early and we only had an hour and a half to learn the track and look for lines. The cable car was available to us at 8 am to take us up for training. We went up by cable car to the top of the city, started on top of an elevated platform on top of a guard rail used to keep cars from falling down the treacherous stair-set below. After the first stairs was a daunting six foot wall-ride that lacked a wide enough landing for riders who miscalculated the tricky obstacle. The stairs were steep, where you could make different lines, jumping from one to another.

The placement of the wooden ramps added a good degree of difficulty, right out of the corner exits. After the last chicane came the final long sprint into the finish arena where a massive freestyle-moto-looking ramp was waiting. In anticipation of the afternoon’s finals, local spectators gathered along the course tape, lining up 3-4 rows deep from start to finish arena. There was so much energy coming from the sidelines and we had only just opened practice. In my race, I pulled up to the starting line as rain had just begun to come down. With the streets below beginning to get ever shinier, most definitely slipperier, I took a deep breath and tried to focus as the clock started counting my six.

I was surrounded by ecstatic local fans encouraging me to push harder and go bigger as I took the drop out of the start gate. I connected set to set making doubles out of the steep stairs, avoiding the dangling electric power-lines above, hit the wall ride fast, and put in pedals out of all the corners. Just after the half way point there was a big pre-fab double, my run was going great, I decided to show the fans how I felt about it and threw them a nice toboggan. Hit the rest of my lines and pedaled all the way to the finish. I put in a solid ride and landed myself on the third step of the podium.

I knew I made the right choice in bike setup after the first run. With the X-Fusion Vector HLR on the back of my Intense M9 FRO, I was able to attack the course while the bike kept me smooth and planted to ground. Although not the result I was looking for, I had a very successful trip and start to my 2012 season.

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After my urban DH race in Colombia, I packed up and headed to Quito, Ecuador for my next DH event. Upon arrival I was greeted by Jose “Cuervo”, in the early evening, he picked me up in his flat bed and we headed into town for some dinner. There was a whole group of riders waiting for my first appearance in Ecuador at the place we would eat. We sat and exchanged stories over a delicious meal, and discussed the coming weekend’s event. It was nice to have such a great welcoming party for my first visit to Ecuador, thanks everybody.

The Day following my arrival, I was to be a guest of honor at a city press conference regarding the event. I mainly sat back, and did my best to interpret the conversation, until asked a question through my translator. When the conference ended, I indulged in many fine appetizers provided free for the conference, hoisted around by fancy butler-looking fellows. Interviews done, appetite sufficed, we packed up the trucks and headed to the mountain for a first look. The members of LFA and I walked the entire track, laying down miles of course tape, while giving me the local insight to lines down the course.

The jumps, adrenaline and vertigo of speed are the emotions that I live for, and the International Downhill Race “LFA Ilaló 2012” was sure to satisfy. On the 14th and 15th of January, located at the foot of a volcano, was Ilaló 2012 organized by the Loco Freeride Association (LFA). The event took place outside Quito in the community of La Tola Chica in Ilaló, with the participation of 250 competitors, including 30 international runners from Colombia, Peru, Slovakia and the United States. The setting for this event offered unique features for a safe, fast and technical descent. The city officials had realized, confirmed and recognized Ilaló as an important milestone in the city’s history. The turnout of spectators was shockingly large and inspirational over the weekend.

“It’s the race with seniority, in terms of awards and technical (timing) in South America,” said Diego Hurtado(LFA), who along with Stephen Larrea, Juan Gabriel Andrade and Jose Ricardo Jijon, organized this international event. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the support of the Government, even though this race is internationally recognized for the level of competition,” said Hurtado, adding that “the conduct of the competition is a personal effort.”

Despite the lack of support, Hurtado and the team of LFA funded about $100,000 in costs to organize the competition. The total prize purse, spread throughout the categories, was over $13k. Not to mention they had just spent $25k on a brand new Tag Hauer professional timing system. The LFA are leading the way in the progression for Ecuador’s downhill scene.

Once the event started, I found myself frustrated with the tough course conditions. The entire previous week, the area was hit with a major rain storm. The more we put in laps of practice, the more we would coax the water out of the hillside. It was like oil, dark sludgy mud seeping out of the ground, even from under the thick layers of tall grass. Conditions mixed with an elevation of 9,000+ feet made it nearly impossible to get a clean run down the hill. After struggling most of the day in practice I made some HS compression adjustments to my Vector HLR rear shock to help with the big hits on course. I instantly became more comfortable and started having more fun on the treacherous course.

Race day was kicked off with a short practice session, before seeding. My plan was, take an easy seeding run and save my energy for finals. I made a couple mistakes and took the run easy, but going over all my lines and pedal sections in preparation for the finals. With it being a seeding run, I waited for the next rider, Polc, to pass just before the pedal section, hopped on his back wheel and paced him towards the finish. Judging his efforts, I felt more confident about the finals and the run I was picturing in my mind.

The sun was out, fans were loving it, timing was dialed, marshals in place, and the riders headed to the top, the finals were set. I got into the gate with :57 on the clock, strapped my gloves, threw on my goggles, took two deep breaths, and watched the clock count down from ten. When the little hand struck and the clock read :03, I snapped out of the gate and started my descent. The top half of the track was the fastest, featuring two big road gaps, and made a good setting for the tempo of my run. I was in one of those rare moments of intensive focus, where everything seems to slow down and you are riding on rails. I was hitting every line perfectly, until I reached the so called, “Cangawa” section. The section saw a tight chicane entrance to a long off camber of hard packed, rock-like, “Cangawa”, covered in creamy peanut butter mud. I entered the section with far too much momentum and never got a chance to slow down.

Before I knew it, I watched my back wheel pass me on the left, and suddenly I was thrown to the saturated ground. I got up quickly but was unable to recover the momentum. As I sprinted into the last straight, I knew my chances of taking the win had passed by at the moment I could see my rear wheel passing me by. I charged hard to the finish to pushed my front wheel across the line and into 4th place. I had a great experience in Ecuador, racing and riding with the locals. I got to experience another beautiful country’s lifestyle, traditions, ethics, food, and so on, all because of mountain biking. Thanks to the LFA and all the Ecuadorians that I met along the way for making my experience so memorable.


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