Sam’s Xterra Brazil report

TV game shows, anacondas and more at last weekend's Xterra Brazil. Here's GB athlete Sam Gardner's extraordinary account…

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Sam Gardner is our most prolific off-road triathlete, recording victories at Xterras Philippines, Saipan and Guam earlier in the season.
 
He’s just dropped us a line regarding his latest Xterra exploits in Brazil…
 
This was certainly been like no other race I’ve ever done. This is the race that puts the ‘X’ into Xterra!
 
The race wouldn’t be put on without the support of CIGS – the specialist Jungle unit of the Brazilian army and known as the most feared army for jungle warfare in the world. Many other countries send their troops to CIGS for training. You don’t mess with them.
 
We rocked up on the Wednesday before Saturday’s race. As a foreign pro, you expect to help with the odd media commitment especially when the very kind organisers are paying for your hotel and airfare.
 
So on the Thursday I was asked if I wanted to play “a small game against a team from the army”. Hoping it wouldn’t involve physical contact I agreed and met at the agreed time.
 
Now I’m not sure if something was lost in translation or they thought I’d say ‘no’ if I knew what it involved, but over the next two days I got involved in a televised game show competition with the army against Xterra athletes on a Brazilian TV channel watched by 30million viewers!
 
Not the best preparation, as we were being whisked off into the jungle at 6am each day and missing meals left, right and centre the day before the race, but certainly an experience, which included triathlon disciplines along with tree climbing, lighting fires, cooking eggs and eating various grubs and beetles! I guess it made good TV!
 
It also took a while to get used to Brazilian time, which is a very loose concept. The best way to deal with BST (Brazilian Sort of Time) is to embrace it with a simple guessing game. Take dinner, organised for 8:30pm. I guessed 8:45, Susan (my wife) guessed 8:50 and we left in the shuttle at 9:45pm, so she won.
 
Onto the race…
 
We were up at 3:30am to meet at the CIGS base at 4am. The army organised these timings, so it ran pretty much on time. From the base we went on six coaches with fully military escorts and roadblocks (like a presidential convoy!) to a small village on the river Amazon. From here we got on Army Mosquito rapid deployment boats and took off down the river as the sun started rising. Amazing stuff!
 
The race was held at a special operations base, only reachable by boat, deep in the jungle and our bikes were transported in the day before (see photo on home page).
 
We had a breakfast put on by the army at 6am, and the race started at 8am. Some journalists and adventurous athletes had gone for the full jungle experience, with a training course on survival and sleeping in hammocks.
 
The Brazilians are a damn fit bunch and take their sport pretty seriously. UK triathletes look fitter than the average guys on the street, but these Brazilians were super tanned, not an ounce of fat and really looked like they knew what they were doing! They have a very well-supported Xterra national series in Brazil that has been going for several years.
 
As the gun went, they didn’t mess around. It was a total bun fight on the swim with people pulling at your legs, trying to swim over you; the thought of the piranhas and alligators that live in the waters didn’t help either!
 
The swim was led out by one of the relay teams that were using an Olympic swimmer! Next out of the water was Ben Allen from Australia who already made his mark last weekend in his first European Xterra with a podium place ahead of most of the favourites.
 
I had a terrible swim and came out of the water in 13th place in the individuals with several relay members ahead of me too. Most worryingly I was 5mins down and it wasn’t going to plan.
 
Onto the bike and I was on a mission and halfway round the 30km bike I caught up to the second-place athlete – local Brazilian pro Felip Moletta – who is winning many of the Brazilian races and had a top 30 at the Worlds last year in Maui.
 
Felip obviously had the bit between his teeth in his home race and jumped on my back wheel in my slipstream. I was left with the dilemma of whether to tow him round to the end of the bike and keep chasing Ben or to play the tactical game and race for second place and make Felip work with me. In the end I ended up towing him round and we’d gained 2mins on Ben, but it wouldn’t be enough starting the run 3mins back still.
 
I felt great for the first 4km of the run and got away from Filip and thought I had second in the bag, but the extreme heat and humidity was sapping my strength and Filip got back to me. With only 1km to go he made his move and I couldn’t respond and I was left with third place on the podium.
 
Ben Allen took the win for the men; Carina Wasle (AUS) grabbed the women’s title.
 
What a race, though – you can’t replicate it anywhere. After the race we visited the local tourist sights such as the meeting of the rivers, and saw anacondas, sloths and the like. It’s been a great experience, but I’m looking forward to rest week on a beach in Rio and then the start of my long-distance campaign.
 
More on Sam’s journey at www.samgardner.com
 
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