Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Race Across the Jungle

Bike Race
This is the third year we have supported the “Race Across the Jungle”. The race travels 100 kilometers on the only paved road within 300 miles. We began supporting the race when we met some serious riders in the city of Iquitos located on the banks of the Amazon River. Iquitos is almost 2,000 miles up river from the Atlantic Ocean and was a bustling river port during the rubber boom before World War I. Now Iquitos is over populated with 350,000 people and an oil drilling economy that only benefits 10% of the people. That leaves a majority of 200,000 people living at a near poverty level. To own a basic one speed bicycle is a luxury. To own a racing bike that actually shifts is as rare as owning a Rolls Royce in the United States.

There is a serious core group of about 25 road racers in Iquitos who are as enthusiastic as any Velo News readers in the United States. They are fanatics about cycling and physically talented. These are the riders we have been trying to help with equipment and race prizes during the past three years.

This year there were two stages in the race. The road race was on Saturday and on Sunday a circuit route went around a one kilometer course down town. The 100 kilometer road race was held on an out and back course. The police provided escorts to the pelaton of racers and support motorcycles. The parade of bikes and vehicles racing on the quiet jungle road must have been a unique sight for the families in grass huts along the route.

The best female rider is Alessandra Divila from Iquitos. She is 24 years old and she is the main organizer and promoter of road cycling in the jungle. Alessandra walks with the tough swagger of a high school football player. Her attitude on the bike is similar by always attacking and pushing the pace. Cycling is not considered a sport for women in Peru so Alessandra’s aggressive riding style is not always popular with the men. When she goes to the city of Lima for races they call her “Jungle Girl”. It is a nick name she is proud of now and she is always trying to get more girls involved in the unique sport of bicycle racing.

During the “Race Across the Jungle” Alessandra and her 16 year old sister Samantha were the only women entrants. They finished in the chase pack in 10th and 11th place overall. Alessandra probably could have stayed with the lead breakaway but she stayed back to make sure her sister didn’t get dropped. The men’s winner was a pencil thin rider from Lima. He was a “ringer” from out of town and a top racer in Peru. It was good the “Race Across the Jungle” attracted some more nationally recognized riders.

We brought an assortment of prizes for the riders. The prizes had been donated by dozens of riders across the United States during the past year. We were limited by how much weight we were able to bring on the airlines with our group of four people coming to Iquitos. We were overloaded with about 100 pounds per person. We brought five bicycles, 120 jerseys and shorts, 30 saddles, 20 derailleurs, 10 pairs of shoes with matching pedals, 20 pumps and a whole bunch of other parts. All together we brought over 330 items for prizes valued at $7,000 (for used equipment). PAC Tour also gave $1,000 in cash to the top riders. The prizes for most races in Iquitos are usually points to be applied toward a trophy at the end of the year. The prize list for the “Race Across the Jungle” was very special for the riders. We had enough prizes so everyone who entered in the race received a goody bag full of useful equipment and clothing.

The racers were very thankful for the prizes and support they received this year. They want to say thank you to everyone who donated equipment. They are in need of so many basic cycling items we take for granted. One thing I would like to organize is a bike repair station with good bike tools for working a Shimano and Campagnolo type bike parts. The bike shops in Iquitos are basically blacksmith shops who hammer everything together. The riders with better equipment need specific tools to adjust and repair their bottom brackets, cassettes, headsets and cranks. I am working with Alessandra to make a repair shop at her house where riders with good bikes can make repairs.

We will continue to collect clothing and bike parts for next year. We still have five more bicycles that were donated last summer to be used as prizes in Peru. Our goal is to overhaul these bikes this winter. Some of the bikes need new shifting systems. Next October we will have riders from the United States take the bikes to Iquitos to use on the tour and then donate them to the prize list.

Equipment Donations can be sent to:

PAC Tour - Peru Fund
P.O. Box 303
202 Prairie Pedal Lane
Sharon, WI 53585

The plan for next year is to make the “Race Across the Jungle” bigger with more good riders from Columbia and Brazil. I met with the Director of the Sports Council in Iquitos who is the most politically influential person in Iquitos for promoting sporting events. He was very happy for the support the “Race Across the Jungle” received this year. He wants to be personally involved next year to make the race popular with riders from all of South America. Wouldn’t it be great to have a bunch of riders from the United States go to the Amazon to race and make a one week tour of the sights in the rain forest?


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