Pan Am Champs | Russell Finsterwald and Team USA head to Argentina to race the Pan American Championship
Bike racing is an excellent way to sample the world and visit places you might not visit on a typical tourist vacation, giving you a truer sense of the country and culture. It’s a bit of a tease, though, as most of these scenes are taken in by pedaling to and from the race venue. I like being able to get a taste for these areas as it gives me some ideas for trips way down the road when there is more time and freedom to do so. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some extremely wonderful spots, and this past weekend’s trip to Catamarca, Argentina, sits high on the list. In 2013, I raced Pan Ams about 2 hours farther north, in Tucuman, and thoroughly enjoyed that trip as well. The scenic landscapes, empanadas, laidback feel and kind people all come to mind as reasons to love Argentina.
The journey south began on Tuesday from Arizona. It was a busy morning, as I had to pack up my winter apartment and send all my stuff home with my brother — who generously agreed to do so. Team USA arrived Wednesday morning, 20 hours later, in Buenos Aires. We built our bikes up for a ride in the city, packed them up again, got some shuteye, woke at 4:00 a.m. on Thursday to fly to Catamarca, finally arriving there roughly 36 hours after leaving Tucson.
The area looked strikingly similar to the desert I had just left. The mountains looked similar and there were plenty of saguaro-esque cactus in the area. Only difference was that the humidity was 100 percent and the temperatures were approaching 100 degrees.
The course had two long climbs, a short climb and three main descents. The climbs and descents were steep and loose. By the end of the weekend, the descent was filled with hub-deep ruts from hard braking into the corners. The course, which circles a lake, had plenty of nice views, with the mountains to one side and Catamarca on the other. I liked the course and was excited to test myself on it.
Race day came around, and I was feeling ready to take on the day. Training has been going really well into this block of racing, so that gave me some added confidence. Into the singletrack, I was able to squeeze in right around 10th. I knew the heat would factor into the race big time, so I tried to just maintain position and not gas myself too far into the red by trying to move up too quickly. I knew it was going to be a race of attrition.
On lap 3 of 6, I went into a pretty dark spot, and started to shut down. My head felt like it was boiling despite my best efforts to avoid this. I ate some Clif Bloks, pounded some water and began to come around on lap 4. I found myself out of the top 20 at this point, which is nowhere near where I wanted to be. Some clouds moved in, my body cooled down and, finally, my legs could do their job. I made it up to 14th at the end of the day. I finished 10th at Pan Ams last year, so I had high hopes of improving on that. Heat isn’t my forte, so I was happy that I was able to survive — and come around at the end. It’s hard to keep your head in the race when you aren’t doing well, so it’s a small victory when you’re able to do so. I scored some UCI points, but not as many as I had hoped. There are two more opportunities to score points before the first main event of the season, the World Cup in Cairns, Australia.
I often leave South America thinking how nice it would be to do a winter training camp somewhere here. There are some amazing areas I would love to further explore on two wheels. I’ve found the people to be super friendly and accommodating, plus some Spanish immersion would most likely help improve my mediocre attempt at speaking it. Thanks for a great time Catamarca!
Photos by Russell Finsterwald.