Sao Paulo, Brazil, January 7, 2001
While I'd promised myself a full two month stay-at-home off season, it was too hard to turn down an all expenses paid weekend jaunt to Brazil for a 40km race. Especially with the weather peaking at 20F here and 90F there!
After an overnight 12 hour flight from Boston through JFK, I arrived Friday morning. Coming out of customs into the midst of the bustling Sao Paulo airport, the first hand held sign my bleary eyes focused on was for a Dr. Pedro Paulo. For some reason I found this name very funny. The race organizer had contracted with a tourism agency to handle the incoming foreigners, and a woman named Vera was waiting there with my name on a sign, a travel insurance folder, and printed schedules for the weekend. Impressive!
Unfortunately, the airlines weren't as organized. My teammate Doug Ziewacz was two hours delayed coming out of Denver, missed his international connection, rebooked on American, and they lost his bike. As we cruised into the city on a modern highway, traveling in a brand new Mercedes bus, the first thing I noticed was the omnipresence of grafitti. It covered every surface of more than half the buildings.
At our downtown hotel an unexpected call came from a guy I'll nickname Miami John. MJ talked a mile a minute and appointed himself our teammate and manager for the weekend. Florida state masters track champion, he works as a massage therapist. His wife and second home is near Sao Paulo. He would walk around our hotel floor wearing speedo style underwear and nothing else. Doug had to get a picture of him so attired as he was trying on a cycle helmet, and MJ flexed his upper body for the photo. He's built like Mr. Universe, not like a cyclist. MJ was wound up all weekend doing press interviews and generally worrying a lot. Any time he was going to be away from Doug and I he would slap a Motorola 2 way radio in front of us so we wouldn't be out of touch. OK. Another Floridian, Ray Sanchez, would be joining us late Friday night.
I stopped at the front desk to ask directions to the country roads, and the hotel staff had a good laugh at me. Then they got really serious and recommended that I stick to riding in the park 2km away, in the ritzy Jardins section of town. So I dove into the thick weekday traffic and headed towards Ibipuera Park. It was immediately apparent that you can't ride like in the USA, on the right. You have to ride right down the middle of a lane to discourage vehicles from pushing you right out of the lane. And Brazilian cyclists tend to plunge right through red lights even if opposing traffic has begun to roll, sticking out an outstretched palm like a cop directing traffic to indicate "I'm coming through, wait a sec!" While I wouldn't do that, I got a rush from lane splitting and passing slow moving cars, trucks and buses at 50kph.
The park was packed with kids on scooters and adults on cruisers, everyone going every which way on the wide paths. Not a good training ground. So after dunking my feet in the lake to reduce airplane swelling, I zeroed my brain's internal compass and went exploring. I found a great 5km loop within the gated grounds of the dormant University of Sao Paulo.
Breakfast Saturday included many exotic fruits (no thanks after getting food poisoning in Colombia in '95) and incredibly good coffee. Later I found 2 kilos of Brazilian espresso beans for 20 reals, about 10 bucks. 75% less than in the USA! A dozen foreign riders crammed in with our bikes into a double decker bus for a quick trip to the race venue. This was to preview the course and do press interviews. We rode the course a few times behind a press car loaded with a TV crew. After sweating in the sun for a few hours, Ray and I convinced MJ it was time to go training. I knew which way the USP grounds were, but after insisting that his 20 years of Sao Paulo riding would enable him to lead us there directly, I followed MJ.
We ended up stopping for directions a half dozen times and riding freeways to a neighboring city. We did finally find the USP but by then Ray and MJ were tired so we only got in about 60km/36mi this morning. When Doug's bike finally showed up at 4, I went out for another ride with him. On our way back we had almost made it to the hotel when the skies opened up and deluged us with hail and sheets of huge droplet rain.
Sunday. Cheerleaders, crowds, television helicopter, and 350 riders. Another Floridian, John Paul, showed up and donned one of the MJ-offered store bought "Volvo Cannondale" mountainbike national champion jerseys. (Doug and I were going with our 7UP stuff). While we waited for 50 minutes on the start line (good thing we cut our own rug this morning instead of taking the 6:30 am "hurry up and wait" bus) one of the TV reporters told me he had money on MJ and would be very surprised if MJ didn't pull off the win. I'm starting to think MJ could talk his way into the White House if he wanted to. MJ passed out radios to the press since Doug and I didn't want radios that didn't have earpieces. What are you gonna do, take your hands off the bars in the finale and dig the radio out of your back pocket to press the talk button and say "attack on the left!"?
Six lap race, first two at 55kph and I was redlined, the last 4 laps at 45 kph. Slow enough that I forgot about my white skin, the snow in Worcester, and the fact I'm not in race fitness. I attacked alone with 4km to go and they let me sit out ahead for 2km before sweeping me up. At least the move made the organizer happy and the press loved it too. Doug took 8th in the sprint and got called up onstage with the rest of the top 10 riders. He was psyched on getting up there with the podium girls and scoring a really cool metal trophy.
After the race John Paul, Doug and I did another couple hours training at USP. Doug and I packed up and caught our planes home. Next up: 7UP/Colorado Cyclist training camp in Boulder CO Feb 4-12. Then the Tour of Argentina, two weeks of hard racing starting Feb 25. Til then!
PS. You know how I was talking about not eating prepared Brazilian fruit above? Well, Tuesday after getting home I ate something bad here in Worcester and gave myself a good dose of food poisoning. Kind of ironic.