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Dispatch: Steve Wentz Reports from the Copa Cannondale in Chile

Steve Wentz took a trip to Chile for some relaxing and DH racing...here's the riding and food-heavy report from a VERY healthy downhill scene. Looks awesome, go Chile!

I'm putting this together while having a sandwich at the Copa Cannondale race at Nevados de Chillan, an hour East of Chillan in the Andes. I'm washing the sandwich down with a Capirinha, I think that's how you spell it.  Last time I had one of these things this good it was in Brazil at the World Cup.

Day 1, Arrive in Chile, Course Walk
I just got done with course walk. After I built my bike, one of SRAM's importers gave me a ride up, super nice guy, Felipe. Sick course, lots of berms, epic dirt and some steep chutes.  It looks like one of the drops could be worse than Gee's Windham huck.  Serious, I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm glad the Commencal is progressive, I trust it more than my wrists and ankles.  On a more important note, the food at the buffet here is epic. I guess Chilean Sea Bass is an American fabrication, a few people I have talked to here have never heard of it.  But the flounder...that fish was awesome.  Ingredients:  Butter, flounder. Back to the race track though, looks to be about two minutes long, here is a photo of a waterfall. More tomorrow...

This thing might be 150 feet tall, pretty impressive.  Benny [Cory] would probably say something like 'F$&#ing gorgeous hey?' as a statement,  not a question.
Day 2, DH Practice
There are lots of hardtails here. Some guys are going damn fast on them as well.  As far as the other bikes?  There is a pretty good mix, just like the states.  I'd say 30 percent of the field have a nice DH bike. I would consider that a bike that is less than a few years old, there are a bunch of Cannondales, Specialized, and Intense 951's here.  There are also some riders with super tricked out bikes.  I've seen 2011 Boxxers, Commencal Supreme DH's, Transition TR450's and some Industry Nine wheels.  Good luck finding spokes for those.  40 percent of the field is on a bike that is a few years older, like an Iron Horse Sunday, 2nd generation Santa Cruz V-10 and stuff along those lines.  Everyone else is on a hardtail or locally made/modified bike.  I saw a White Brothers DH2 fork.  I rode one of those in 2000.  I also saw an Orange rear swingarms attached to a homemade front triangle. Awesome.  I saw two snapped bars today, and one old Easton Carbon bar with so many scratches it looked like it had been through a nuclear winter.  I don't know how it survived so long, and it was still in use.
Look at that! That's what I want to see when I go to a race.  Eat your heart out Sea Otter.
One of the blind hips on the course.  This is about halfway down,  after some cool corners and some whooped out berms.  This is the  'dry' part of the course, everything else is perfectly tacky.  One cool thing here, the go around is also a jump.  Chileans are not faint-hearted.
One of the steeper sections at the bottom.  The crowds here are supportive, a welcome change from Camboriu's World Cup where heckling  and chicken clucking happened as soon as a rider would not leap blindly to their death.
Hardtails are pretty damn popular here.  Lots of them are practicing.  I don't know why this guy is jumping, but hey, he's having fun. The grippy outside was too good for me to resist.
All that dirt on the left side of the corner entrance is loam kicked up from the hard braking.  You can really get away with murder here with the traction.  I'm trusting the Intense Zero rear [semi-slick] a bunch, and I've only had a few hiccups.  2.5 Invader on the front is good, I'm just hoping I roll fast enough tomorrow for the qualification and race. The padding on the trees is getting tested, I've clipped a couple elbows so far, hopefully nothing worse than that.
This berm didn't need any help, but the bike park here put some wood up anyway for support.  This corner is a massive g-out, super fun. At this point, probably 1:30 down, I can feel a bit of fatigue.  It is pumping the straight whooped out sections and corners all the way from the top to here.
Spomer, this is the guy you shorted when he won the Vital OTB. Hateful, simply hateful, Spomer.  Felipe Vasquez has helped me out a bunch, and you jipped him. You better not omit this from Vital. [I remember shipping his prize this past summer! Hopefully he took his anger out on you, Wentz. Email me, Felipe and we'll get you sorted. -spomer]
Lunch was awesome as usual, and this dessert was recommended to me. The Chileans are brilliant. Mix cream and sugar, and then reduce it  over heat.  Then soak cake in that mixture, and put just a little frosting and cream on top. Add strawberries and diabetes is just a step away.  At least I'll die happy. Practice was 9 hours long  today, but only one day of practice before the race.  It is tough having to learn a course, get up to speed and not kill myself all in one day. This lunch was a welcome break in the middle of the day.
Moar shimz! Is that a Stratos? I know that is an Avy sticker above, but I don't think their external reservoir shocks look like that.
Downhill is pretty popular in Chile, and the race scene is alive and  well.  Hooray bikes. Race tomorrow. Autumn [Steve's girlfriend], I miss you. Spomer, Moga, Matt? I don't miss you. Not yet.
Day 3, Race Day
The day is done.  It is about 9:00pm now, most people have left and I've just finished with dinner. Now I'm tired. The day was crazy for sure, too much going on to write it all here. A few photos might tell the story better.
Rain, rain, rain all day.  It stopped just in time for the Elite finals, so vision was not horrible, but stuff was slick and packing up.  This is where I say how my Intense Spikes worked so well, right?  Wrong.  Being me, I wanted to travel light, and I brought one extra tire with me, because all I saw in photos, weather, and last year's course was dry conditions.  For qualifying I decided I didn't care to change anything, because all Elite qualify for the finals here. I was cold, hungry (as usual) after practice, and just went up for quali's, dry conditions tire in the front, semi-slick on the back from yesterday.  I should be dead now because of that, what a wild ride.  I was all over the course, and it was super fun, but the clock told me it was not the quickest way down.  4th place in qualification for Elite men, I was pleasantly surprised.
I made a big fuss about this drop earlier, I finally brought my camera for a photo of it late on Saturday practice.  Did this guy check his stem bolts?  I hope so.  The entrance speed to this is around 25-30 mph, just a hateful section of course.  It is good to see stuff like this.
Does this guy know Pascal?  Holy shit.  Look at those pins!  He had Five Tens as well, might as well just clip in.
I didn't get a photo of this kid ripping, but here is his bike back at the hotel.  Pretty rad to see 7 year olds riding full-on DH tracks. You must be jealous Fitzy, this thing is called the Fox 50, and it was ripping.  Like I said earlier, the DH scene here is strong and healthy.
Hmmm, what to do now?  There were rivers running down the course at some parts, ruts everywhere and slick-as-snot entrances to corners. My spare tire was another dry condition 2.5, so I decided to stay with the semi-slick, hoping the rain would stop and the course would dry out.  The rain looked like it was letting up, and I thought the course was absorbing water well.  A word of wisdom to any up-and-coming riders out there:  When the entire field is putting full spikes on front and rear, do the same.  My gamble for the course to dry up and me to roll well with a fast tire did not work, rather idiotic of me.
The sketchy parts were the bridges into the forests, roots were popping up fast, and grip tape on the wood was disappearing faster.
What do you think you get when the race fee is around $10 USD for amateurs, $20 USD for Elite?  You get a fun course, free chairlift, and lots of young ladies who should be wearing more clothes handing out Quaker granola bars to old men in the lift lines. You also get UCI certification, Elite prize money, and a rad party where EVERYONE gets free dinner, a glass of local Chilean wine, a cold beer from a model, a dessert and soda, if you are still thirsty.  You know what else you get?  Laser timing by Tag Heuer at the top and bottom of the course for qualifying and race.  This place had their staff, courses and organization dialed.
OK, so the organizers weren't totally perfect.  Someone left out a 't' in my name on the results list.  Seriously though, I never heard  about another mess up the whole weekend.  In the end, the clock doesn't  lie, I had one hell of a fun run, but made some setup mistakes, and  paid the price by sliding off course in the finals. I paid the price  in valuable seconds.  I did have one moment of personal glory...going back to that photo of the hateful drop on top of the course, in my race run I almost landed on the pole past the rocks. I said 'f-it'  to safety and conservation and I didn't touch my brakes.  I was so proud of that one section, it may as well have been victory for me.  I heard a hell of a lot of Chileans yelling in support, too.
Eduardo or 'Large' as his friends called him, was a  tremendous help on the trip.  He and his girlfriend Stephanie  insisted that I stay with them on Monday night before my flight back  on Tuesday.  We had steak, chicken, salad, potatoes, a bunch of wine,  it was my first home cooked meal abroad, and it was incredible.  Eduardo doesn't just work a boring job and race when he can.   Eduardo's family produces some of the best wine in Chile.  I got a  tour of his family's winery the next day in Santiago.  So incredible,  you can tell by how he describes the process of the wine that he  loves the whole process, from beginning to end.  I hope I can try to  return the hospitality if he can come to the US to ride. THANK YOU!
The race was great.  Everyone, and I mean everyone was nice,  helpful and welcoming here.  The top guys were very quick, I think  Leiva has been top 30 in world cups before, and the quality of riders  here is very high.  The racing was only a small part of why I came  here though.  I like seeing new places.  I like to see other ways of  life, and I'm reminded of the same things I've already learned.  Here  in Chile, I'm told the average wage for a day of works is around  $20.  That's not even the minimum wage.  But the cycling community,  the community we are a part of, gets bikes cobbled together in the  back of sheds, through deals from friends, and they make it happen.   They have fun and live life to the fullest no matter what.  I haven't  found a better group of people anywhere than cyclists, I'm thankful  to be a part of it. -Steve Wentz
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