Zach's Sketchball Inca Run.
By Zach White
By American standards, the Inca Avalanche is a bit of a cluster. Initially a stop on the Mega Avalanche circuit back in 2009, it's now run by a local ex-pat who has a style that's about as loose as it gets, which definitely reflects on the entirety of the event. This is only stated to keep American-standard expectations checked at the airport if the otherwise fun event sounds appealing enough to give a try next year.
Clouds rolled in at 16,000-ft on race day, bringing a bit of snow to the starting line.
The race starts at a nose-bleeding 16,000-feet, and demands riders to choose their own line through almost a mile of lichen-covered, lumpy, bumpy, swampy, rock and muck, before choking into the first section of singletrack. Average times for each of the combined two race runs down the same course are in the low 20-minutes, with pro times sneaking into the high teens. Is it an Enduro? Well, there really isn't more than a flat section or two, and no climbing to speak of, but the sheer amount of time spent on the bike may label the Inca Avalanche into that buzzword of the week. But, it's much better described as a mass start downhill race - some would even say a Chinese Downhill, for those up on their '80s B-rated movies.
(L) Inca Avalanche’s self proclaimed Zar of International Multimedia, Ali Goulet, not only promotes the event, but races in the Pro/Open class as well. (R) The race’s awards ceremony takes place in Ollantaytambo’s central plaza, and is well-received by the locals.
Dropping almost 6,000-feet to the finish line through varying lengths of singletrack, the race course crisscrosses the main road multiple times, often allowing the only opportunities for riders to pass somewhat safely. But, these road sections are also a gamble with what's supposed to be a closed course - there were more than a couple of stories and first-hand sightings of cars on the road during the race. In addition to motorized dangers, there's always an occasional horse and/or llama wondering dangerously close - or on - the course, and local dogs have a tendency to hang out roadside, too. Most of the dogs seen were content to simply spectate, but one decided to jump right into the singletrack in front of me, and did his best impression of an indecisive squirrel for at least 100-yards, before finding a place to finally yield the trail.
Generally speaking, the race course was faster than the road it often paralleled. But there were a few questionable sections that were in no way cut off from the course. During the qualifier and two race runs, it seemed most riders opted for at least one road-based cheater line, if anything to allow for more passing before the next singletrack. This was a hot topic amongst a few racers at the finish line, mostly in a good-spirited way of calling out how lame riding road over trail is - regardless of whether or not it's faster.
(L) For about a dollar, local kids wash race bikes in the irrigation ditch near the finish line.(R) Down to the last second, a crew of volunteers head up to the race course the day before the qualifier to try and smooth out the infamous huck-to-flat optional line.
Short of an optional 10-foot drop to almost flat that was the culprit of many mechanicals for the day, and a buttery smooth double, there isn't much to the Inca Avalanche course beyond fun, relatively smooth, and sometimes tight singletrack. However, many of the top riders opt for full downhill bikes, mostly for passing options, and to get through the steep, line-free labyrinth of the first mile quickly. Regardless of ride choice, many riders flatted out of the event, with another handful having mechanicals or wrecks that kept them from finishing the raceday's 2-run combined format.
Speaking of mechanicals, riders were completely on their own in regards to tools and parts. The nearest thing resembling a US bike shop was never seen, but said to be in the small city of Cusco - a 2-hour drive from race headquarters in Ollantaytambo. So, many riders familiar with the lack of resources opted for a more stout setup than they usually would run at a race.
Somewhat surprisingly, there were no major injuries in this year's race. There were definitely racers seen wrecking from top to bottom, and more than a couple even dropped over 100-feet down exposed, steep slope and into the valley below the course. However, at the end of the day, the worst injury heard of was a separated shoulder. Probably a good thing, as one of Ollantaytambo's EMS trainings was witnessed earlier in the week, and lets just say that a bad day might just get worse if those guys showed up.
(L)There are roughly a dozen road crossings in the Inca Avalanche course, and markings vary between obvious signs like this, and more subtle markings that could be easily missed - at least in the opinion of a solid handful of racers who blew right past various turns. (R) While an impressive project bike, something tells us that the ‘medium’ Fox rebound tune may be limiting the true potential of such ingenuity, especially under a 40-lb pilot.
A little Quechuan capitalism immediately before and after the race only added to the Peruvian experience of the Inca Avalanche. For the equivalent of about $1, locals would push racer's bikes up the steep, oxygen-deprived mountainside to the starting line, which was about a 1/2-mile from the road, and worth every penny. And for about the same amount of Peruvian Soles, nothing shy of a cluster of kids were immediately hustling each finisher to wash dirty race bikes in the local irrigation ditch, usually scraping the hell out of stanchion tubes on the centuries-old Incan rocks at no extra charge.
Overall, the Inca Avalanche is a great excuse to check out all of what Peru has to offer. The riding in the Cuzco region is impressive, the views and sights are phenomenal, and it's all but impossible to avoid the rich culture. As for the race itself, if you don't take racing too seriously, know how to use your elbows, are very self-reliant, and don't expect it to be run anything like a race back home, then it's a great experience. Just be warned, South American racers ride like they drive, too.
Before the first singletrack section was reached approximately a mile below, racers had to create their own lines around rock walls and through muddy bogs where there was no defined trail.