The "world's craziest bike race" begins with a stunning view atop a hill overlooking the Chilean city of Valparaíso and the Pacific Ocean, includes bone-jarring jumps, nerve-rattling descents in an urban landscape, and a sudden end at Plaza Anibal Pinto.
The 10th annual Valparaíso Cerro Abajo downhill bike race, recently held in the seaport city known as “The Jewel of the Pacific,” ended with its usual accompaniment of bangs, thuds, crashes and emergency room visits, with the winning trophy returning to one of Chile’s own, after a two-year reign by Slovakia.
A rapid descent through an ongoing maze of steps, dirt paths, wall rides and jumps over concrete embankments gives the legendary VCA a variety of labels, from “insane” to “awesome” to “more extreme than skydiving out of an exploding F-18 piloted by Charlie Sheen,” and this year’s winner was Chile’s own Mauricio Acuña, who unseated Slovakian Filip Polc, winner of the last two VCAs.
Polc had won an event in Santos, Brazil just two weeks earlier and was the odds-on favorite for a tri-peat at Valpo. A video of his winning ride at the 2011 VCA will leave the viewer's fingers clutching the nearest arm rest while attempting to displace the vertigo.
The race, an annual affair which gives mountain bike riders the chance to strut their stuff in less than three minutes, attracts some of the best riders in the world.
With ten riders left - from an initial field of 60 which was quickly decimated to half during qualifying runs - Acuña blasted across the finish line with a time of 2:38.35, putting him temporarily in the lead. With Polc, the reigning champ, yet to run.
The race draws thousands of spectators, many of them just inches away from the riders as they make their maddening descent to the plaza. Race officials conservatively estimated this year’s crowd at 15,000. Most race injuries occur during the qualifying stage, often caused by spectators.
“The fans here are crazy,” Acuña told the Santiago Times. They will reach out and touch you, they make it hard to see the jumps. It’s crazy.” At least seven riders were taken to a local hospital with injuries sustained during the race.
Watching from the bed of a truck called the “hot seat,” where riders with the best times watch the race until their time is bested, Acuña added, “Cerro Abajo is the world’s craziest race.” Then came Polc.
Flying into the plaza and sprinting across the finish line, Polc jumped from his bike just before it crashed into the crowd barricades. The race commentator asked for silence before announcing Polc’s time. Two minutes and 39.06 seconds. The crowd erupted over Acuña’s victory.
“The Chileans were putting it all on the line today,” said American rider Mikey Haderer, according to the Santiago Times. “It’s been years since a Chilean won and they like to be giant killers.”