The World (GeoQuiz): Extreme Bike Race in Chile

This story had more Facebook & Twitter recommendations than any other GeoQuiz for months. People love them some extreme sports. Click here to hear the story and to see the original web page, with the gorgeous slide show photographed by Josefina Bahamondes and assembled by The World’s crack web team — plus a hair-raising YouTube video from a racer’s helmet cam. Really, go click.

Click here to download the story.

Valparaíso, Chile is a World Heritage Site, with Victorian homes hanging off the hillsides and tiny cobblestone streets covered in murals. But once a year, the city is turned into a racetrack for downhill mountain-bikers. Steven Bodzin dodged them.

Valparaiso is a normally a quiet city. Pablo Neruda lived here for years, gazing out from a hillside home to write poetry in peace.

But Sunday wasn’t a normal day. Fifty elite mountain bikers from around the world converged on Valparaiso to ride down some of the city’s steepest streets. It’s an annual event called, simply, Valparaiso Cerro Abajo, the Valparaiso Downhill. It’s a race against the clock… and an attempt to cheat death.

Sound: Bike crashing down on a jump, people cheering.

It’s hard to explain just how exciting and terrifying this ride really is. The race creator – the guy who lays out the course each year – hasn’t even tried it. He says he’s not good enough. Mikey Haderer – his friends call him mad-Haderer – is a professional downhill cyclist from California. He does lots of crazy races. None of them quite like this.

Haderer: It’s a little nerve-wracking, the people in the stairs, they’re putting their hands in front of you and pulling them back last second so you can’t see the stairs you’re trying to jump. I bunnyhopped over a dog, but they’re the least of the worries. They’ve kind of figured it out to stay out of the way. The people don’t though.

The riders start on a steep street, than jump onto a dirt alley and pedal down dozens of staircases. The organizers have also installed what seem like inhuman jumps. The biggest is at historic Plaza Bismarck. Riders fly off a ledge and drop two stories to another steep street below. At the finish line, riders actually go through a building, jump out a second-story window and down into the plaza.

Sound: Whoo!

That was the sound of a rider clearing the last jump with spectacular form. In the finals, one rider missed the landing and broke his leg. During the warm-up rides, several other riders crashed, one of them breaking his jaw at the bottom of the big jump at Plaza Bismarck.

The event is about more than adrenaline. It’s also a great promotion for cycling. and extreme sports. And for the residents of these normally quiet streets, it’s a good way to showcase their town. Enrique Astudillo has lived on the hill for more than 30 years.

Astudillo: Veo que cada vez tiene más adeptos. Ha sido bastante pintoresco sobre todo para valparaiso, que ha sido bien llamativo por todos los turistas. y lo mejor es que trae mucha juventud.

It attracts more riders and spectators every time, Astudillo says. And it makes Valparaiso more colorful, and brings in lots of tourists. The best part is it attracts a lot of youth.

In the end, Chilean Mauricio Acuña won the race, riding the 18-hundred meters in 2 minutes, 38 seconds. For The World, this is Steven Bodzin in Valparaiso, Chile

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About Steven Bodzin

Steven Bodzin is a reporter. He blogged when he was a freelancer.

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