For the past two years we have been lucky enough to not only travel to the country of Brazil, but also to participate in Iron Biker Brazil. The genuine people, fantastic food and beautiful topography combined with stiff competition make Iron Biker Brazil one of the best races to compete in. The three-day stage race consists of a night fat tire crit followed by two grueling endurance days.
Encircled by brick-red dirt, the small town of Mariana has been home to the Iron Biker race for the past two years of its 22-year reign as Brazil’s largest stage race. With a cap of 1500 entrants, this marks the 23rd year of the event’s existence and its final year in Mariana, as next year the race will move to a new location. Mariana is buried deep within the state of Minas Gerais and is one of Brazil’s oldest towns. Despite its age, Mariana comes to life during the Iron Biker.
Ready for an adventure? The jersey of the rider second from the left says it all: “Yeah!” There isn’t a better way to describe the mindset and status of the mountain bike culture of Brazil.
The first stage of the Iron Biker was a sub-10-minute fat tire crit through the cobblestone streets of Mariana. Non-elite racers, locals and spectators littered the streets, creating an exciting atmosphere. Blitzing staircases and powering up super steep climbs, the Prologue is an incredibly unique race experience that we don’t see here in the United States. A continuous cheer from the spectators lifted our spirits and gave us much needed motivation around the entire course. While we didn’t finish on the top step (fifth place instead), the experience and general atmosphere of the race left us feeling hopeful for the next two stages ahead.
More fun than we can say: Racing at night is really more fun than we can say. Between the excitement of the crowd and the altered elements, the first night of Iron Biker Brazil was a night to remember.
We woke ready for day two and were still buzzing from the excitement of the Prologue the night before. If there is any- thing that can be said about the bike community in Brazil, it is that they are excited about riding bikes. The tiny town square was loaded with local bike vendors sharing their common passion for mountain biking. Sure, you can find events in the U.S. where people are excited to share an experience, like Downieville, Missoula, and a few others, but not quite at this level. The 1500 riders funneled down a narrow street lined with rustic two-story buildings in eager anticipation of the start. Hearts pounded with excitement. The gun went off, and we followed the neutral moto until the route departed from the pavement two miles in.
Right off the bat we were faced with the KOM challenge, which shattered the field of riders as our heart rates spiked and set the tone for what would be a grueling day. After the first climb, there was a section of rolling fire roads, then a hard left for the A route riders (some took the B route, which is shorter) turned us onto a rough volcanic rock climb. My bike of choice was a Cannondale Scalpel. I was thankful for a little rear suspension.
A ride of its own: The racecourse offered plenty of variety that forced us to dismount at times. In this case, a tiny bridge made up of a few thin tree trunks got us across a healthy river sections.
As the race went on, we faced over 20 beautiful water crossings. Some were waist-deep, and we waded through the rivers looking for where the trail continued. All of the water crossings were in the first half of the race, with the exception of a few, so the ones towards the end were much appreciated as the sun got warmer. As Brazil is just entering its spring, the weather was very similar to Southern California’s, with fairly brisk mornings that transitioned to warm afternoons.
One of the oldest: Mariana is one of the oldest towns in Brazil, and the architecture is a strong reminder. This old church was a prominent building in the town square and was always a welcome sight after each stage.
Apart from the stream crossings, we were faced with incredibly steep climbs that led to steep descents into small local villages. Locals would make their way out into the streets to cheer on every passing rider. Some of us took this opportunity to ignore the suffering and show off with a couple wheelies. Fifty kilometers in, about halfway into the 102-kilometer stage, we came into a mandatory walk section that was the first real feed zone that we had seen all day. We stopped to grab two new bottles and make sure our legs still worked, then hit the dirt to finish the first day.
Wrap it up: The finish line could never come too soon. Every stage was taxing, and we were always looking for a welcome sight to ease the suffering.
Our legs felt good and our spirits were high until about the last 35 kilometers. At the base of a super steep climb, pitching at around 20 percent, a group of about five riders caught up with us. In an effort to stay with them, we increased our pace drastically. This didn’t pay off as we’d planned, as our bodies responded with cramping legs. As we fought through the cramps and tried to keep the intensity high, we kept pushing until we had nothing left. With a time of 4 hours and 20 minutes, I crossed the finish line in 17th place, happy to be done and ready for some much needed recovery.
Story swapping: After every stage, racers would sit and tell stories of all that they had encountered on the racecourse. Between the dusty clothes and tired legs, the end of every stage was well-earned.
Day three featured the same first climb as the day before, only this time we turned a different direction at the top. With tired legs, I didn’t hang with the front group for long, and I wasn’t alone. This final day was much shorter—58 kilometers—but the physical damage had been done the day before, and we paid the price the rest of the race. The third day featured much of same terrain: grueling, steep climbs and fast technical descents. The goal of races like these is always to go as fast as possible, but that doesn’t always mean drilling it the entire race. Even when it is the last day of the race, pacing yourself is very important. On the day before, we made the mistake of going out too hard and ended up paying for it in the end. On the final day, we set a much more realistic pace but found ourselves battling more with other riders.
More than riding: We did more than just ride our bike during this event; oftentimes we were carrying our bikes over modest bridges and through other obstacles that make this event so unique.
We were happy to finish the final day in the small town square of Mariana, which was filled with spectators and family members waiting for all the racers to cross the finish line. Slowly but surely, those who would finish came through in a display of exhaustion and triumph. The event organizers were sure to capture the mental carnage with a small photo booth right after the finish line that every rider had to pass through, dirty face and all.
A local’s pace: While the climate and dirt were similar to what we are used to riding on our local trails, the pace that was set by the locals was fast. Hometown glory seemed to be on the mind of all the locals.
Winding down: With the race behind us, we found time to relax and enjoy the evening air. Even though Iron Biker Brazil gave us a run for our money, it’s an event we are eager to return to.
Iron Biker Brazil is the place to be late in the each year. From the environment and excitement of the people to the beautiful landscape and insanely fun trail network, this race is one that we hope to return to each year. While some might not think of Brazil as a destination for mountain bike racing, it is clear that the country knows how to race.
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