The 17th Huairasinchi expedition adventure race took place last week in the spectacular scenery of the high Andes of Ecuador, with teams racing among the volcanoes around Cotopaxi. Thirty-four teams with racers from 8 countries started, and the winners were Ecuadorian team Team Movistar Terra Aventura, which is ranked 9th in the World Series.
However, for this race, perhaps more than any other, just taking part was a victory, as Huairasinchi showed how international adventure racing can resume with the required Covid-safe travel and event restrictions.
Organising an expedition adventure race takes a huge amount of work and dedication, and competing is a big commitment for any team, especially if they are travelling from another country. So, it was a fantastic achievement by race organisers Proyecto Aventura, and all the participating teams, to complete a successful and safe race.
As teams flew into the high altitude capital of Quito, Race Director Santiago López commented.
“We’ve developed a very structured protocol for social distancing. Instead of creating a race bubble we will apply social distancing, so the race start will be one team every minute and in transition areas everyone will have to use a mask.
“We’ve also reduced the gear box transportation to a minimum, and created a route with loops in a National Park, where there are no towns or villages. So, this year’s race will be very remote and very high, but amazingly beautiful. We are happy to be able to stage a safe race during this difficult time, and we hope it can help as a model to other races for next year.”
The adventure racing community in Ecuador stepped up to support the race, as did international racers from France, Brazil, Canada, USA, Colombia, Chile and Denmark.
All knew the experience and expertise of the organisers and trusted in their plans. The closed border did stop some Colombian teams driving to the race, and the racers who flew in took careful travel precautions with Covid tests and masks, reporting no problems.
There were 2 teams from Brazil, and Jose Thiago of ‘Brou Aventuras’ said, “It’s been a difficult year, but we’re longing so much for some adventure days.”
Jari Hiatt (nee Kirkland) travelled from the USA to race with the ‘Movistar’ team, and said, “When this opportunity came up I couldn’t say no. It will be unique for many reasons, but at least I get to race!”
This sentiment was echoed by other racers, who felt fortunate to be able to race at such a difficult time for so many people.
The teams gathered at the Hacienda el Porvenir in the ‘Tierra Del Volcan’ region for the race start. Situated at 3600m with a superb view of the nearby snow cone of Cotopaxi, it was a perfect start location; isolated, wild and beautiful. From here the course took teams on a 253km circuit of Cotopaxi with 2 trekking and 2 cycling stages, and just 2 transitions. The route was shorter than a normal expedition race and included no kayaking, both of which were necessary compromises to hold the race safely and to stage it in such a remote area.
It was still a tough challenge, especially as teams were racing between 3000m and 4300m, so they were constantly at high altitude. It was cold too, even though the race was taking place almost on the equator and the weather was good. The teams enjoyed clear days and amazing views of the open plains and the surrounding volcanoes.
All of the teams found the altitude hard, including the leaders and the local teams. Hiatt said, “I couldn’t find my cycling legs, there was just too much time at altitude and on the second trek I was sick and couldn’t eat. My team mates were not feeling great either, but were amazing, and took my gear. I suffered like never before on the race and they helped me keep going.”
It was a similar story from Lars Bukkehave (Denmark) on the Qualificar Beatfitness team (4th). “After the first day at altitude we were feeling sick and tried to sleep. I even lost the map out of my hand so knew it was time to sleep! But it was cold and windy and with our lightweight gear (adventure race style) we couldn’t really sleep. I will never forget that night and at the time was not sure we could finish the race.”
Franciso Pinto of ‘Life Adventure Team Imptek’, who finished third said, “The altitude above 4000m generates a lot of fatigue in the body and never allows you to rest or recover. The lack of oxygen keeps you tired all the time. The local teams also suffer from the altitude, but our lung capacity is more efficient and we hold on better than less acclimatized teams.”
As the race progressed some teams withdrew, including the two Brazilian teams, and the Haku AR team, who were trying for the 8th time to finish a full Huairasinchi course. They will have to come back again! By the end of the race 8 of the 17 Expedition course teams had completed the full course.
Guillaume Habouzit, who was with the RainForest team from Brazil said, “It was a great adaption of the race for the Covid environment and a true expedition race in the most amazing scenery.” (Although disappointed to withdraw, all the Brazilian racers used their acclimatisation to good effect and summited Cotopaxi after the race to finish their trip on a high.)
Race favourites Movistar Terra Aventura gradually pulled away from their challengers in the second half of the race, and on the final bike ride, which included a monster 4000m of climbing, they opened up a big lead. They crossed the finish line in a time of 38.20.42 to win the race for the third time, and had a winning margin of almost 8 hours. With the win, they claim a place on the start line of the AR World Championships next October in Spain.
All of the racers said the race felt very safe, and Hiatt summed up the experience of this unique and trail blazing Huairasinchi before returning home to the USA. “It was an adventure to be sure, with lessons learned and teammates loved! We raced for 46 hours with 20 minutes of sleep, only got rained on once and got to see amazing parts of Ecuador. Thank you for this incredible journey.”
You can find the full results on the Huairasinchi website
The next race in the AR World Series is also in South America with the Patagonia Raid taking place in Argentina from Feb 19-28th. For a full calendar see www.arworldseries.com