New Brasil stage race about to kick off in Chapada Diamantina

Brazil's standing as a world sporting power will rise yet another level Sunday, as the first annual Claro Brasil Ride kicks off from the picturesque mountain town of Mucuge in the sprawling northeastern state of Bahia.

The six-day mountain bike stage race adds luster to a year that's already seen the globe's fifth largest country honoured as host of the next World Cup soccer cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympics in 2016.

Racing kicks off at noon local time with a 13km prologue. Top riders are expected to complete the technical loop in around 40 minutes.

The real action begins on Monday, with what's arguably the event's hardest day, a testing 86-mile trek from Mucuge to Rio de Contas. According to the race bible, total climbing on the day will exceed 11,000 feet. Ascending is spread equally across a knife-edged profile that's almost never flat. The last 40km finishes with a brutal 1772-foot grind.

All told, racers will take on 565km challenge with over 33,000 feet of climbing.

The first-year event is the brainchild of Mário Roma, a veteran of the mountain biking endurance game and owner of a sports communications company based in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Among Roma's accomplishments are finishes at Cape Epic in South Africa, Canada's TransRockies and the BC Bike Race, Costa Rica's La Ruta, and TransAlps, which criss-crosses Europe's highest mountains.

Roma's taken his experiences and observations from that list of great mountain bike stage races and used them as the starting point for his own creation.

"Racers can expect a very professionally run event and a very challenging race," said Roma, who along with his wife, sister and a staff of 80 will be doting on 109 teams of two over the next week.

The entire race is set within Parque Nacional da Chapada Diamantina, a massive 1520-square kilometer national park that's considered among Brazil's top scenic sights. But unlike many of North America major national parks, this gem is not overrun by tourists. That's due in large part to its remote setting deep in Bahia's western interior.

After arriving in the capital city of Salvador earlier in the week, the majority of racers and some staff took a bus to the Park - total travel time, including a brief lunch stop, nine hours.

The majority the Claro Brasil Ride racers are Brazilian amateurs, but there's also a handful of pro-level international teams from Europe and the US. Tops on that list are the Swiss duo of Martin Gujan and Christof Bischof. Gujan was 16th in the cross country at last summer's world championships in Monte-Sainte-Anne, Quebec. Bischof is an accomplished Swiss marathon and cross country rider, who was second in his country's nationals in 2004.

Perhaps the most intriguing battle will come in the mixed duo category, which includes a trio of US-based tandems: Jeff Kerkove and Sonya Looney (Topeak-Ergon), Brian and Jenny Smith (Trek), and Paul Romero and Karen Lundgren (Sole-Ellsworth).

Lundgren and Romero are accomplished adventure racers, but arguably they're better known for a recent ascent to the top of Mount Everest, along with Romero's 13-year-old son Jordan. It was a record-breaking effort for the teenager, who along with his dad and his girlfriend Lundgren, are on a quest to join the exclusive seven-summits club. They have six under their belts, with only Vinson Massif in Antarctica remaining to conquer.

Kerkove and Looney, meanwhile, swept the Breck Epic mixed category earlier in the year. The Smiths are both accomplished Xterra athletes.

Other notable names racing in Brazil include German Olympian Ivonne Kraft, multi-time Italian 24-hour-solo champ Menapace Lorenza and Portuguese cross country marathon champion Sandra Araujo.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the Claro Brasil Race including also daily blogs from racers Brian and Jenny Smith.

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