Race Review: The TransCR, Costa Rica Enduro
August 8th, 2017
August 8th, 2017
Anna is a jack-of-all-bikes, and has been riding and racing in a myriad of genres for over seven years; from World Cup level cross-country, to grass roots coaching kids on the road.
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As the dates for the second annual Trans Costa Rica enduro are announced, I thought I’d share my experiences, just in case you need a little nudge to book your entry, although, if you’ve seen the photos from the race, and seen the incredible sights that Costa Rica has to offer outside of the race, then this article should be nothing more than reassurance that you’ve made the right decision to go. As the Costa Rican’s say; Pura Vida!
This country is nothing short of amazing, and couldn’t be more different to what we are used to in Europe (or even America and Canada, if that’s where you are joining us from today). The jungle engulfs most of the country, stretching all the way out to the coast giving you stunning, lush scenery with monkeys and sloths hanging out on the beach and colourful parrots flying over the blue skies ahead. The cities are hot and full of life and culture with a notable Latin American feel, and the mountains surrounding San José are littered with waterfalls and volcanoes to explore, so there’s no worries about post-race activities if you’re into that sort of thing.
Though the race is a four day event, you can expect at least six days of being looked after, from the first night in the hotel, complete with lagoon-like pool and top notch food served in the garden, right through to the transfers, full board catering and occasional uplift segments during the race. Some of the locals would set up table stalls to sell locally farmed coffee, handmade trinkets and (everyone’s favourites) empanadas; a Latin America stuffed pastry that could be sweet or savoury.
The campsite was built into a mountain side, and was trimmed and trimmed especially to create a clear deck for post-race parties around the wooden bar, or for simply chilling out and recovering with new friends on the bean bags, admiring the views into the valley. Seeing as we spent every night at the campsite, and ventured back to base every lunch, a wonderful community feel came about the race, and it felt as much like a bunch of mates on a camping holiday as it did a serious race. Food was pretty spot on, well, assuming you like rice and meat, as that’s pretty much the Costa Rican standard. The campsite doesn’t move, so this allowed the race a unique opportunity to cater home-cooked food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The gazebo “mess hall” also created a good community feel with riders bonding over rice and racing stories. There’s no worry of being short on carbs, but the on-site chef was also willing to make special meals for veggies and vegans, even if he did think it was a tad weird.
The Prologue was a short one-stager after arriving in the jungle, bagging your preferred tent and building your bike. The stage was incredibly rocky with boulder fields to negotiate and rock gardens to barrel through. The Terrain was steep with switchbacks and corners hand carved deeply into the open fields to create loose, dry lines. It appears Jay Balabas, co-organiser and course builder, wanted a super technical first ride-out to set the expectations for blind riding, as well as slow people down on the first stage - a stage that usually has people sprinting out with a little too much excitement.
This would be the first full day, and Jay quite rightly put the longest climb in early on in the event when people still had the energy, totalling four stages all accessed by your own power. One and a half hours of hike-a-bike may not be to everyone’s taste, but the views at the top of a scorched, jungle-lined mountain range were not to be sniffed at. At the top you are treated to proper jungle wood, but the terrain is largely dry and dusty, often loose and natural, but with surprisingly very little in the way of roots. Jay had seemingly scoped out all the steepest gradients of the wood and either cleared a long, steep shoot for us to run out or carved some extremely tight switchbacks for us to negotiate. End turns wouldn’t have gone amiss here, and if you’ve never experienced “brown powder”, then you'll be in for a wild ride; this is deep loose dirt that behaves more like skis on fresh snow than riding a bike.
This was uplift day, so we got shuttled to the top of the mountains, above the cloud forest to begin the longest stage of the week. There’s a satisfying feeling to be had from riding a mountain from top to bottom, especially when the terrain is as varied as what we'd encountered; from natural woodland with loads of flow, to super steep switchbacks and technical single track carved out of sand-like brown powder. We ventured through open clearings in the jungle, and descended down jagged boulder fields, eventually arriving in the valley with a river bed of smooth boulders to negotiate. The trails are everything you’d expect, and yet not at all what you’d expect. Shuttling up to ride this trail again was a treat, not a chore.
On the finial day we used the shuttles again to ride two tracks, then finish early for bike-packing and final celebrations. The Red Bull DJ truck pulled up on the side of the mountain edge to blare tunes out into the valley through to early hours of the morning while one of the locals served classic Costa Rican beer and some rather potent alcoholic punch. There were a few green faces on the transfer buses back into the city the next day, that was for sure.
I stayed in the country for a few days to visit some volcanoes and beaches, and my time was made abundantly more enjoyable after making friends with a bunch of Canadians and a couple of Americans during the race - people I will forever keep in touch with - a sure sign that this race is one of the best out there for atmosphere as well as location, and one that absolutely has to be on your ‘to do’ list for enduro stage races.
TransCR entries go live on 12th September 2017, with racing due for 13-18th February 2018 with only 100 riders accepted.