Community, Pilgrimage and Dedication – The Making of the 2021 AR World Championship

Teams are sorting out their equipment at the Coliseum stadium in Gallaecia for the Adventure Racing World Championships in Gallaecia.

“It’s like having our family back, like we are home again.” Those were the words of Brazilian racer Camila Nicolau as she sat high in the Coliseum stadium sorting out her personal equipment for the Adventure Racing World Championships in Gallaecia.

Around her, and below in the centre of the arena, racers from 90 teams and more than 20 countries were also preparing for a return to big time adventure racing, a long overdue return.  

After the cancellation of one World Championships due to security issues, followed by the global shutdown for Covid, this is the first ARWC for 3 years.  However, it’s much more than that; it’s a return to the adventure racing lifestyle followed by a global, sporting community, who can, at last, meet up again.

“We have our life back,” said Guilherme Pahl, Nicolau’s husband and team mate. “Our life is different from that of regular people, who don’t understand what we do or why, which made us feel more isolated in the pandemic when we couldn’t race.  Now we are back with our community where everyone understands.”  Smiling, he added, “We might be mad to do this, but we are not alone anymore.”

Camila Nicolau and Guilherme Pahl are a part of team BOA Brazil Multisport

There have been reunions at airports and hotels over the past couple of days, and today the Coliseum was packed with racers, renewing friendships, sharing stories and looking forward to the race ahead.  Conversations were still at a safe distance, and from behind masks, but the racers were together and prepping for a World Championships, something which for much of the year had seemed unlikely to happen.

Mark Lattanzi, with the US Strong Machine Adventure Racing team, said, “Until recently I was worried the race might not happen, and I think many others were too. We couldn’t quite believe it would go ahead, but now we are here, and I have to say I’ve been really impressed with their Covid security and the tight organisation.”

All racers had to complete a COVID lateral flow tests prior to entry into the Coliseum

Those procedures included lateral flow tests for all the racers, which had to be taken before teams were allowed into the stadium today.  All were negative, justifying the decision to go ahead, and the care racers have taken with their own covid security, vaccinations and tests.  Inside, the huge stadium was in full use with team’s gear and bike boxes all spread out metres apart, allowing teams to stay in their mini-bubbles, and masks were mandatory of course. (They will be in transitions and when teams are close on the course as well.)

All of this, and the necessary paperwork and permissions to ensure 90 teams could travel and race, is the result of the incredible hard work of Pablo Lopez and his Raid Gallaecia team.  They’re the ones who have made this event possible. To hold a World Championships has been their dream since their first ARWS race in 2015 and they’ve fought hard to ensure it has gone ahead.

Lopez, who had looked a little more relaxed as the day went on, explained what they’ve been through to make it all happen. “To stage a big World Championship is hard,” he said, “but to do it in Covid times has been so much harder.  There have been dark times when we felt we might never stage a race again and worried about the financial risks we had to take. It’s been an emotional roller coaster with so many ups and downs, and so much uncertainty.

Pablo Lopez and his Raid Gallaecia team have been working on the race for 3 years

“Sponsors and partners were uncertain too, and we had to get all the permits and permissions so we were always under pressure.  I think in the last few months I probably slept 4 hours a night, and it was hard to sleep at all as my mind was not calm.

“In total we had to get 210 permits, from many authorities; government, council, community, even hunters and fishermen.  There were 50 different councils in 3 provinces and there were special protocols for all of them. Then there were all the teams needing help and letters of approval and support to travel or get visas.  It was only because it was a World Championships and important to our region that everything could be done.”

He went on to explain that this is a Xacobeo year, which is important to Gallaecia, and helped secure the support the race needed. It is related to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and 2021 is a holy year, when the Feast of St. James falls on a Sunday.  The last time this happened was 2010, and the fact it has fallen this year has helped secure sponsorship from companies in the region and the political backing the race needed. Almost all of the racers are probably unaware of it, but the date of the feast of St. James has been important for this World Championships.

Media at the ARWC 2021

“We could present a strong message,” said Lopez, “to put on this sporting pilgrimage through our region and show our native Gallaecia and all its natural beauty to the world. Now we are so pleased to have teams from many nations here and there will be a TV production for National Geographic, which will be shown worldwide.

“It is what we have always wanted to do, and we are grateful to the Adventure Racing World Series and to the teams for believing in us and coming to Gallaecia. We have kept many of the very best parts of the region in reserve in past editions and the teams will see them all in our World Championship.”  

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