HOW A CZECH BECAME HERO IN SOUTH AMERICA
TOMAS SLAVIK IN CHILE
Tomas Slavik is a local hero in South America. When the Czech is racing on crazy urban downhill courses through old South American cities spectators are getting hyped. But how did he become hero on the complete other side of the world? Tomas about his recent trip to South America.
South America is a place I love returning to. I’ve spent several consecutive winters here. I can take advantage of the local summery conditions when training, and I regularly participate in the City Downhill World Series races. While I concentrated solely on myself in the past, I led a training camp this year. A bunch of Chilean riders joined me; we trained from morning until lunch, and then again in the afternoon. As the proverbial icing on the cake, the camp concluded with a race, the winner of which got a wild card and license to start in the Red Bull Monserrate Cerro Abajo race in Colombia. In South America, city downhills are followed by more people than the Dakar Rally. Their popularity is massive among the locals, and up to five million viewers watch them on TV. It’s a place that I’ve grown very fond of, and now I have the opportunity to tell you why.
THE SOUTH AMERICAN BIKE COMMUNITY
Very few people in Europe or North America can imagine what a community of mountain bikers in the countries of South America looks like. In Chile alone, this sport has been growing rapidly in recent years, and in Santiago you sometimes get the impression that every other pickup truck is loaded with downhill or enduro bikes. In the last eight years that I have been traveling to Chile, the country has made huge progress. Previously, there had been no riders good enough to be able to compete with us, but that has changed. At the training, at least ten people were tailing me. Last year, the race in Valparaiso was won by a Chilean. Pedro Ferreira is the best local rider. He is a domestic star who took gold last year, the same year I had a nasty crash and was unconscious for five minutes after hitting pavement with my head.
MY CRASH IN 2019
It was a really gnarly crash. Upon impact, the GoPro camera got knocked off my helmet, flew over a fence, and ended up in some locals’ garden. A gentleman and his wife saw it, and they were worried about my condition. After the race, they came to the organizers and insisted on not leaving until they were promised that the GoPro was returned to me. They wanted to know if I was OK and make sure I was not hurt.
A HEARTY ENCOUNTER
This year, Chile has been swept by a revolutionary mood, and no one really knows what the future holds, so they opted to cancel the race, but I like the place and so we had to stop by. We went to the site of my crash, and suddenly, I see the gentleman. He approaches me and says: Hey, you must be Tomáš! His name is Gerard, the man who saved my camera. He hugged me, asked me how I was, he was incredibly welcoming. We talked for about an hour. This might be just a moment, a blink of an eye, for some, but for me it was a huge gesture and a lovely representation of the beautiful mentality of the locals.
This is a city to which I’ve developed a very personal relationship. Here, they have a track, and crowds, and an atmosphere that you would not find anywhere else in the world. The best race of the World Cup series is nothing compared to this. Dogs are running everywhere, the walls are painted with graffiti, there’s a music club on every corner. This is pure culture to me. The locals are very warm, many of them know me; there is a lady who has taken a picture of herself, her dog, and me every single year for the last five years. It is because of the people of Valparaiso that I decided to take up Spanish, and I believe that when I’m there next year, I will be able to communicate with them in their native language.
WHO IS CHIMUELO?
I have a few nicknames back home in the Czech Republic. As a small boy riding a BMX bike, I once hit a tree trunk with my head. And so my friends nicknamed me “Datel” (woodpecker). Others call me Sláva, which is derived from my surname. I have a nickname in Chile, too. When they meet me in the street, they shout “Chimuelo, Chimuelo!” at me. I earned the nickname in an interview that I gave on television shortly before I started the race. It must have been like the twentieth interview in a row, and I was asked if I had any memories related to Chile. I told him I was sorry for what had happened to Chimuelo. I saw it on YouTube. A small boy filmed the funeral of his budgie, Chimuelo, with his cellphone. He dug a grave for his bird, and when he finally came to burying it, a dog came over from God knows where, grabbed Chimuelo, and was about to run away, but this little boy wasn’t having it. He pried its jaws open and pulled the poor bird out of the dog’s mouth. I said this in the TV interview, and I’ve been known as Chimuelo ever since.
THREE BEST PLACES IN CHILE
Chile is a country where I’ve spent the last couple of winters. While conditions in Europe are bad from December to spring, it is summer in the southern hemisphere. If I had to name the best places for riding, I would mention the following three:
Nevados de Chillan – the best place and an amazing ski resort that offers perfect dry powder snow in the winter. It is located about 300 miles from Santiago, so about a six-hour drive. They have a bike park with three cableways, and the place is characteristic by its specific surface that they call “antigrip.” It provides no traction for tires, it is difficult to keep your bike under control, but when you ride, you whip up a huge cloud of dust behind you. It looks really dramatic, and so most of the pictures of me in the Ghost catalog were taken here. Jan Kasl, the photographer, loves it here.
La Parva – this is an area full of trails. It is located in Santiago itself, and you ride at altitudes of 9,800 to 11,500 feet. The local trails are really long, and descending some of them takes up to half an hour. It means a great deal of hard work and sweating at this altitude. There’s are stones and dust everywhere; the trails are really difficult, but amazing. It is the mecca of enduro riding. In addition to the fact that it hosts an Enduro World Series event, the most famous individual enduro race, the Andes Pacifico, takes place here every year.
Matanzas – a breathtaking landscape right by the sea. Most local trails start at the tops of the mountains and plunge down through steep slopes to the sandy beaches. Even though they run through private plots of land, nobody minds and no one complains about the cyclists.
RED BULL MONSERRATE CERRO ABAJO - RACING IN BOGOTÁ
A race known as the Red Bull Monserrate Cerro Abajo in Bogotá was on my schedule after the camp and free riding. We landed in the capital of Colombia after a six-hour flight from Santiago. The race has a reputation for being the most difficult in the world. You would find it in the Guinness Book of World Records for its length of 1.5 miles. It has 1,605 high and sharp-edged steps that wind in endless, tight doglegs. The route the track takes is considered holy by many locals, and so the race actually arouses some controversy. Some praise it, others would rather see it organized elsewhere.
I came and was touted as the favorite, which I wasn’t very happy about. When racing, I need at least five rides to read the course and feel at home on it. I had just one and a half practice rides before the race. Marcelo Gutierrez who had won the race in the previous year, advised me to conserve my energy, so I took it easy in the qualification, studied the obstacles, and finished ninth anyway. I saved my energy for the final ride, and managed to have the fastest time. Only two other riders got on the track before it started to rain, which made the conditions much more difficult for the others. I won, but honestly, I prefer to win a race with equal conditions for all.
As I sat in the hot seat, I watched other riders crashing and tumbling down, and rather than being happy about winning, I was glad no one got seriously injured. But on the other hand, I’ve ridden many races where it was the other way round, and I had to race in difficult conditions. That’s the sport and that’s just the way it is. The race is extremely difficult. Never in my life have I felt such piercing pain as what I felt here; your lungs and legs lack oxygen, and just one minute into your run, you feel like getting off the bike and giving up. But you know you have to endure it for four more minutes. Three days after the race I boarded a plane and found that I had cramps in muscles I didn’t even know existed. This is a race that’s a whole class harder than anything I’ve ever had to endure before.
TOMAS SLAVIKS RACE MOUNTAINBIKE
I normally ride a Ghost SL AMR X 29 with 160mm of travel in the front, and 145mm in the back. But the race in Bogotá is different. It is hard, and its tall stairs feel like a surface that is very similar to downhill tracks. So, I opted for the FR AMR 27 model in this case. It’s a bike that offers greater travel of 180/170mm, and I equipped it with downhill brakes, rims, and gears. As the local streets are narrow and the track is lined with walls, I decided to shorten the handlebar to 75cm. I use tires with a very soft compound that offers perfect traction: I used Maxxis Assegai on the front wheel, and Maxxis Minion DHR on the back. Thus, I managed to create a perfect cross-breed of a downhill and enduro bike that was capable of flawlessly absorbing even the biggest hits, but could accelerate like a rocket when the track flattened.
A PARADISE FOR GOURMETS
South America is famous for its steaks, but the local seafood and fish are delicious, too. Ceviche, made of raw fish, marinated in lemon or lime juice and spiced up by onions, chili peppers, and other ingredients, is Chile’s national dish. For me, South America offers diverse cuisine, with meals prepared on fires and grills. Bandeja Paisa is the meal that I enjoyed most in Colombia. When they place it in front of you, you get the impression that it contains everything the cook could find in the pantry: beans, steak, pancakes, pig belly, avocado, rice, and fried eggs. It is a heavy meal, and quite fatty too—I wouldn’t have it before a race—but it so delicious.