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Jason Sager at the Trans Andes Challenge

Totally normal? Smoldering volcanos. Forget about it

Stages 2-6: Getting dropped is like bankruptcy

Jason Sager
February 01, 2012, 15:40 GMT,
February 01, 2012, 14:47 GMT

Back on the grid, Sager recaps last half of the race

Getting dropped is a lot like bankruptcy. It happens gradually, then suddenly.

The first couple of days of the Trans Andes Challenge (TAC) had been pretty heavy on the legs and just as importantly (and expensively), heavy on the mind. We'd traveled to Chile to race as much as train, but going full gas at a mid-summer fitness level wasn't something my winter brain or body really were too excited for, much less prepared to do.

Each day started with the duo team of Javier Püschel and Luciano Caraccioli quickly pulling Stefan Sahm and I off the front and quickly putting me, at least, a bit in the pain cave. Caraccioli, particularly, had become notorious for picking a gear that was pretty tall and then winding it up over and over and over again on the climbs. My ability to sag climb or chase back on the downhill was starting to dwindle, leaving me with having to climb at his pace... and I could feel the bank account draining.

Stage 3

We hit feed zone on day 3 with empty pockets and bottles, so the refuel was going to take a bit, and I was Ricky Bobby out of the pits - just a bit behind everyone and feeling a bit worse for the wear in the heat. Sahm and the guys sensed this, and unfortunately for me, 100 meters after the feed zone was an exposed, hot, dusty, and 1000-foot climb with an average of 14 percent. Sprinting out of the feed station, quickly I realized I'd need to change gears, and in my haste, dropped the chain. It's little things like this that, when you're in difficulty, are often the last nail in the coffin. Five seconds sneaks up to seven. Seven becomes 15 and suddenly what was merely a "gap" is a major situation.

I wasn't getting back on. Later, a review of our Strava files showed a VAM of almost 1500m/hr for the 12-minute climb, a good pace for me on dirt, so while I felt like something was wrong, really this was just the emergence of reality: I was dropped, and would have been most likely, anyway.

Once over the top of that climb, facing odds of 3:1 on rolling and fast terrain for the remaining 30km, regaining contact was going to be impossible. Gradually and suddenly, winning the Trans Andes Challenge was out of reach. I rode solo for the remaining portion of the day. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon when it comes down to it.

Stage 4

Stage 4 proved challenging again, as our usual quartet again emerged on the day's 30km climb through the ancient Araucaria pines forest near the Villarrica Volcano. Yes, I was the slow kid in class and had to summon my best super D skills to come back to terms with the group over the top of the climb before we hit the 20km to the finish. A race within a race, the duo team helped Sahm and I keep the chain on the 11-tooth cog coming in and Sahm in check on the last few rollers into the thermal complex of Coñaripe. No time gained (or lost) on GC though I did get a stage win for my suffering.

Our departure from Huilo Huilo meant we would spend the next four days in the no Wi-Fi zone. Reactions and withdrawal symptoms ranged from mild annoyance to disbelief and denial. Faces of folks who I'd had dinner with all week suddenly appeared where previously we'd only seen crowns of heads aimed at iPhones. It was liberating and confounding all at the same time. No communication with the outside world will force you to become present with the here and now. We rented a cabana without a TV, but it did have a dog and handful of chickens to visit with on the porch. Quiet afternoons where sunset ran the evening until almost 10:00 pm capped off three great days of amazing riding and zero social networking. Rebecca Rusch even mentioned something about looking a number up in the phone book... but let's not get out of hand here with this off-the-grid thing.

Stage 5

Stage 5 evolved into my favorite of the week - a reverse version of 2011's route proved a more natural if not more difficult sequence of climbs, each increasing in length and grade, but rewarded with a proper downhill trail and finish stretch into town. Our group on this stage was a mix of solo and duo-team riders, giving me a chance to see teammate Blake Harlan give a go at his first stage win against Belgian Jan Dams. Harlan would have the upper hand on the climbs 4km from the finish, but Dams took the initiative a little further out, catching Harlan out. Sahm drove tail gunner on our group as we tried to keep the Belgian in check on the final run in to Menetúe.

A painful and honest way to finish a stage, both Dams and Harlan left it all on the course with Dams taking the stage and Harlan having his first pint of bike racing bitter pale. If you've ever won anything in sport, you'll know it's best done with the after taste of loss still on your palate. Harlan's time will come.

Stage 6

Stage 6 had us traveling from Menetúe to Pucon to close out the 2012 chapter of the TAC. Another highlight moment of the race was lining up again on the wheel of former Team Telekom's Udo Bolts' wheel, hitting 50kph in a strung out paceline as Udo ground his bike's largest gear into dust.

Almost every time Udo hit the front of our group during the week, you could almost guarantee someone in the pace line would raise their hand, with a fist, and do the CHOO CHOO locomotive arm motion. Old habits die hard, and Udo and his partner Carsten are just as talented on the mountain bikes as they were on the road. Quickly, and with a fairly large group, we arrived in Pucon, knowingly contesting a sprint finish on unknown terrain.

Dam and I played the gentleman's race in the last kilometer, dodging livestock, parked delivery trucks and the like, eventually finding the finish straight and giving a go at an old fashioned drag race. I'm not sure who won it, as we've both seen our names on the top of the list, and honestly it doesn't matter.

Getting there, to the last finish line of the last stage, was the real point of this whole journey. What happens at the finish line will be one of the things I'm least likely to remember or bother to tell when I recall this fantastic week here in Chile.

Thanks for coming along on the journey with us. Next stop: the Cape Epic!

A screen shot from about mid-stage during day 2. Race leader Stefan Sahm is in the foreground

Stage 2 - From suffering to a stage win

Jason Sager
January 25, 2012, 14:59 GMT,
January 25, 2012, 15:08 GMT

Many crack on second day

On the back foot, I was struggling and riding with what felt like the parking brake on. Through hike-a-bike and granny gear climbs, bush whacking, gravel and cow-print downhill trails, nothing would permanently and with concise closure keep that five-second gap from opening back up. I eventually attributed this to (duh!) bad legs but more importantly, I was the anvil, not the hammer, in this situation.

It feels like stage 4 already, with the Osorno race, a travel day, and two days of the Trans Andes Challenge under our legs... there's been no real time to rest. While racing in Chile, at this time of year, is relatively easy on the equipment, somehow an entire day evaporates by just the simple act of racing for three or four hours.

As per usual (and in the time honored tradition of mountain biking), every racer and his brother gave it the maximum effort at the start of today's stage. Unfortunately for me, and them, the stage started with a 10-minute granny gear climb shortly after leaving the Huilo Huilo camping complex. Quickly the group went from 'bows and slashing handlebars to the exact same quartet as yesterday. 1500 meters into the stage, and we are down to four riders. With each of the other three guys taking turns turning the screws, I spent most of the entire first hour of the race dangling five seconds off the wheel of the guy in front of me. At 3mph and whilst on a 25 percent granny gear slope, this is only about 10 feet, but it might as well been a mile.

After the first hour's due-paying experience of chasing that five-second gap , I decided to take things into my own hands and simply set pace on the endless and never relenting granny gear climbs. There's something to be said for self-inflicting pain vs. having it dealt out to you. While no one could decisively drop each other, setting pace on the climbs seemed to at least temper the suffering, as we've now deemed our activity to be. This isn't gap riding... this is suffering. A bit dramatic, certainly, but to hear it with a German accent gives a bit more creedence to it.

Today's route was so difficult and heavy, simply lugging bike and body over the hills was race pace - going slower required walking and to go faster was beyond my means, so such was the day - we all would ride together and wait for failure rather than an attack.

Coming into the final few kilometeres, race leader Stefan Sahm and I knew it would be a gentleman's finish - after failing to cause a gap anywhere out on the course, we would contest the finish with a sprint in the final uphill meters to the finish, me taking the stage by less than a bike length. No change on GC, obviously, and Sahm demonstrated both his strength as well as sporting flair, as did the other guys. With such difficult stages, the race right now feels like an endless training ride with your buddies, waiting to sense a crack in your partner's amour, or catch the scent of blood, at which time you'll pounce... or become the prey.

With four more days to go, I can imagine we'll all have a chance to see both sides of that coin.

A volcano only adds to the scenery at the Trans Andes Challenge

Stage 1 - A shock to the system

Jason Sager
January 24, 2012, 14:58 GMT,
January 24, 2012, 15:03 GMT

Getting re-adjusted to the heat and racing

Every year races get bigger, and thusly, faster. The 2012 Trans Andes proved this self evident truth today with stage 1's victory going to Bulls team rider Stefan Sahm.

I knew going into the race that a rider like Sahm would bring the level of competition up several notches, as would the history and legacy of the event, now in its fourth year.

I have a personal history of poorly adjusting to the heat of mid-winter racing in the southern hemisphere (coming from Utah), so my teammate Blake Harlan and I decided to get our heat-stroke opener out of the way on Saturday by participating in the Osorno Volcano Challenge, one of Chile's largest single day races.

It was as much a pseudo excuse to open up the legs to the first effort of the year as it was a chance to simply race our bikes and see new terrain. The fallacy of doing a three-hour opener was apparent as the course featured a 90-minute climb from the gun. Then you still have another two hours to go. That's a long opener.

The racing was highly agressive through out, and while I fell out of the front group and settled into sixth by the finish, it was quite an amazing course, and a race, as well as region, that'd I'd visit again in a heartbeat.

With the sun baking my brain on that endless pumice climb, I likened air travel to having a time machine... on Wednesday, I was deep in the heart (and mindset) of a winter cyclist. Now, suddenly, it's Saturday and effectively we are in mid-July and deep in the middle of the South American racing season. No transition, no segue into the scene... simply imagine someone un-pressing the pause button from whenever the last fierce summer race you did in the mountains was. It was like that. And just about as awesome, too.

Feeling sore, alive, sunburned, and wishing we had a few more days to rest, we hitched a ride from Osorno to Panguipulli, about two hours north. This year's Trans Andes Challenge would begin in this sleepy lakeside town with a 8km "neutral" roll out before the racing in began, proper. If you've ever raced where they speak anything other than English, you'll know that often the neutral portion of the race will cause you concern as to what's going to happen when the race actually begins! If anything, the spirited neutral portion of the event will cause a selection and slim down the group before hitting the first "live" portion of the course.

Luciano Caraccioli (Argentina), straight from the Vuelta Chile road stage race, and Javier Püschel, the recently crowned Chilean national champion, set a terrible pace after just a few kilometers and quickly sorted the race to just themselves, Stefan, and yours truly. Endless slow and heavy jeep track trails, full of ankle-high grass, loose and hidden rocks, all made damp from over night rains put me deep into the hurt locker for the first hour until finally either the soreness of the weekend's escapes faded, or I simply became reacquainted to what racing really feels like. It was back and forth with these sensations for the next four hours as our quartet shared the workload during the day's 52-mile journey.

Race promotoer Juan Pablo Santos is an experienced man and a certified sadist, adding a brutal if not beautiful final 30-minute climb before this stage's finish at the tree house-esque resort of Huilo-Huilo. Having won the Absa Cape Epic several times, Sahm really comes alive around this point in the race, and it was here he rode the wheels off my wagon. I limped in for second, with my teammate in the solo category, Blake Harlan, finishing fifth.

It was at the finish that we all had time to reflect upon why we've returned to the TAC, and what, soon, the new competitors to the race will discover - the challenges on the bike - man vs. course, are as difficult as you'll find anywhere in the world of mountain bike stage racing. The views, they are unmatched with any that I've experienced anywhere else, and the vibe - that's what we're here for. Camaraderie is the word that comes up often. Maybe it's the Chilean culture, the relaxed atmosphere of the country. Possibly its a a bunch of Euros and Americans tickled (and burned) pink to be in the sun, warm, and on their bikes. No matter what, there's an energy to this race that keeps a smile on everyone's face and us all eager to come back for more.

Tomorrow's stage is supposed to have the same amount of climbing as today (2300m) yet, is 30km shorter. I'm not sure if that's going to be better, or worse, but either way, we'll all be happy when we're chillaxin' at Huilo Huilo (which looks like the Ewok village) tomorrow afternoon. Don't forget to let me tell you guys about the Yoda forest from today's course, either.

A Team Jamis rider races through the Andes

A rolling stone gathers no moss

Jason Sager
January 19, 2012, 16:47 GMT,
January 19, 2012, 16:50 GMT

Staying fit year-round for the next racing adventure

A rolling stone gathers no moss.

I've heard it from several of the elders and godfathers of our sport - it's easier to stay in shape than get in shape. Tinker, Ned, Tilly, Distefano... all of these guys have been around the block long enough to know how it works, and I myself have done my own share of laps here in life to know there's no reason to recreate the wheel. Listen to your elders, though now it seems I'm somehow joining those elders, at least as far as grey hairs in my beard go.

As I sit on the plane for our trip down to the 2012 Trans Andes Challenge, I'm wondering what happened to my offseason? As our calendar and my team is evolves, it seems we're racing year round more than ever. As they say, it's always summer somewhere. This holds as true as ever as we leave winter in the Northern Hemisphere for what will be mid-summer in Chile. Having most recently raced the Tour of Langkawi in October, you could say we had almost 90 days since our last competition... but throw in local cyclo-cross, November's Palo Duro Canyon marathon, and a little bit of actual preparation for this race, and it seems like just yesterday we were having an amazing global bike race adventure.

I'll stop there with this segue into complaining and get back to staying in some semblance of shape 12 months a year: every ride, trip, race, and adventure should have purpose. That purpose is to be present in the experiences that you are creating. Be aware of the time you're on your bike as well as the time you're off it.

Keeping the balance of passion and work within a singular activity requires a strategic balance. Appreciate the training rides, the fun rides, the adventures in flip flops with your kids as you use the bicycle to discover whatever journey you all are on together. Keeping it fresh is a mindset, and that means staying aware of each individual moment that you're in.

Blake Harlan and I are returning for our second trip to Chile. Juan Pablo and Daniel put on a fantastic event in the northern entry territory to Patagonia, and this year we're expanding our trip to include a one-day race in Osorno, connecting with Jamis Chile and developing new relationships with friends and business partners as we see more of the world.

For Team Jamis, Trans Andes and our trip to Chile is as much about competition as it is about seeing what we can get into on the bike. Squeezing past trail-side oxen carts, doing laps around smoldering volcanoes, making a good pace on an animal trail as it climbs into the Andes, finishing each stage camping at natural hot springs under a foreign night sky, and persevering through the challenges of a culture of instant coffee are what its all about.

Thanks for reading, and we'll see you before stage 1 in Panguipulli.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for regular Trans Andes race blogs from Jason Sager.

Jason Sager at the Trans Andes Challenge

Jason Sager (Team Jamis) is in Chile, racing the 2012 Trans Andes mountain bike stage race. The 37-year-old father and husband manages the Jamis team and also still competes professionally.

Sager is a long-time racer who often does in mountain bike stage races and other endurance events although you will still see him in some cross country races.

In 2011, he won five stages of the Trans Andes and finished second overall at the Trans-Sylvania Epic with three stage wins along the way. He was 17th at the Cape Epic with a few top 10 finishes.

The past two years, Sager has finished as runner-up in the BC Bike Race, in which he has eight total career stage wins.

Sager, a former banker, is based in Ogden, Utah.