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New heights

Halfway down the slither of mainland on South America’s western coast lies the Chilean capital of Santiago, a haven of bright colors and bustling markets. Beyond the capital, the mighty Andes mountains loom, cushioning the city in a pale haze. Here, the landscape is untamed, unforgiving, and exposed. It is, in other words, an ideal locale for new heights of unpredictable trail fun, and the perfect rugged proving ground for the hardy group of riders who have come to Chile to test themselves against the treacherous trails in a five-day stage race called The Andes Pacifico.

In a pre-race warmup ride, after departing the capital and climbing over 2100 feet in our first hour, it feels strangely like we’ve barely left the city. Despite the perspiration beading on our brows, if we listen carefully we can still hear the car-honks and dog-barks below. We take a break and, looking down on Santiago, let the full weight of the challenge we’ll face in the coming days settle. After a well-earned, cooling traverse across the city foothills, we stop for a beer and a bite to eat. At the table, no one needs to voice what we’re all thinking: this adventure will be one for the books.

Welcome to Chile

A golden hue seeps into the valley from around the corner of the neighboring mountains. We grab a cold beer and, in true Chilean style, we sit back, relax, and take it all in with our fellow riders and amigos-to-be, our feet cooling in the mountain water that flows between us and our camp.

The Andes Pacifico is more than another race in the calendar. Exploration, not clock-watching, is the heart of this multi-day race, which is characterized by the spirit of the high Andes, shared tales of near-falls and new skills learned, and exhilarating lines that weave through stands of cacti, dusty drops over loose rocks, and heart-stopping corners. The Andes Pacifico is an adventure in the true sense of the word.

Let's meet anti-grip

There’s a fine line between the solid traction of a great tire and the feeling of uncertainty best described as “anti-grip.” The best riders walk that line with finesse. They know precisely where the limit lies. They don’t ride near the boundary; they ride on it. At Bontrager, we study this line. We examine it from every angle, analyze it, and test it in the harshest real world scenarios we can find because it helps us make better products.

The terrain in Chile has afforded ample opportunity to examine that fine line. There are moments of near-chaos—one rider said the conditions are like “riding marbles over ice”—but at the end of each particularly steep or technical section, we found ourselves surfing corner to corner with solid purchase, wondering what we were worried about in the first place. That’s the thing with the infamous “anti-grip.” It likes to tease our sense of security, a carrot at the end of a stick. It demands that you’re ready for it to catch you out. Blink and you’re suddenly in a riot with your bike, fighting for purchase as a cactus comes towards you all too quickly. On trails like these, focus is everything.

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The people

We chase each other into the setting sun at the close of our race in Chile. Our home for the night is 2,600 meters above sea level. Our abode has no roof, no walls, no water—just the condors for company and a room with an endless view.

In the distance, Santiago slumbers in an amber light, and above us the moon and the stars illuminate the skies. What better way to see out the journey here in Chile? Yes, the scenery is stunning, the weather faultless, and the riding truly exceptional. But it’s the people that make these tales stand the test of time.

The Andes Pacifico gathered 70 riders from all corners of the world to race side by side across what amounted to a small sampling of Chile’s amazing pastures. In the end, we are all friends because we share in a love of riding bikes and exploration. This race may not be unique in that respect, but the atmosphere encourages a camaraderie that is seldom found in other venues. At the end of it all, when we clink our beers together, we are grateful to have shared in another extraordinary adventure.

Get to the chopper

The engine grunts to life, sending a shockwave of punchy vibrations through the modest cockpit. With legs wedged into Plexiglass footwells, we brace ourselves as the pilot makes a final call to air traffic control. Three, two, one, and we’re up and away. It may have been just another day for our stoic pilot, but for us this was something unforgettable. The chopper climbs higher and higher, toward the moonlike summit of the 3500m Cerro de Ramon. Below, the jagged peaks carve a harsh divide into the clear blue skyline. As the helicopter sets down and our bikes are unloaded, we’re simply overwhelmed by what’s in store—a 2200m descent through the sun-kissed Andes, the perfect way to bring our adventure to an end.

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