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Across the Equator and From the Amazon to the Andes

Rob Howard / Photo : Rob Howard/SleepMonsters.com / 18.12.2013

Santiago Lopez

Sounds like a good plan for an AR World Championships doesn’t it?  At the minute it is only a plan as the course for Huairasinchi and ARWC 2014 in Ecuador isn’t finalised yet, but this was one of the ideas talked about by Race Director Santiago Lopez when I spoke to him recently.  

He was at ARWC in Costa Rica throughout with key members of his team, observing, talking to teams, volunteers and press, and learning what he could about staging a World Championships and the same team were in France last year.

First I asked him about the history of Huairasinchi and his organisation.

“We started the race in 2003”, he said, “so the World Championships will be our 12th edition. We joined the AR World Series in 2009 and have had lots more international teams come to Ecuador since then, and seen many improvements in the organisation of the ARWS.

“The quality of the race is very important to us and teams have supported us because of this. I think Buff and Thule Adventure have both raced 3 times, and both were World Champions in the year they won in Ecuador.

“Our World Championship bid was accepted in February last year and we heard the news right at the end of our race, which was both exciting and a bit scary!  It was strange hearing it at the end of the race as at that time you want to make sure everything is properly finalised and then relax a little, and then we were suddenly thinking about organising a World Championships and all that would involve!

“In the past we have had up to 50 teams take part in Huairasinchi and would expect 60 for a World Championships, so it’s not such a big jump in numbers.” (By contrast Costa Rica had never reached 20 teams in previous races.)

“As an organisation we stage around 10 races per year,” he added. “They are all off-road and include an Xterra style triathlon, a big mountain bike race, some sprint races where we get up to 140 teams of 3 take part, and also 24 hour adventure races. 

“We hope these will help prepare teams for an expedition race and have already used the 24 hour race as a National Qualifier for the Worlds to motivate teams. The first qualifier took place last October  so we already have 3 teams qualified for ARWC in Ecuador. (They are Ecuador Explorer, USFQ and Fedeme.) We have another national qualifier next June as well.

“We plan to keep 10 places for Ecuadorian teams and we will also set aside some places for teams from Colombia as we work with them closely.”

It’s clear the team from Proyecto Aventura, the host company, are one of the busiest and most experienced in the World Series, and as Lopez continued to explain his plans it also became clear they have considerable resources to draw on in Ecuador.

“We have really strong support,” he said, “from the Government, the Tourist Board and the city of Quito.  The race will be based in the capital city of Quito and we’ll have excellent venues and plan a parade through the Old Town. This will have a strong national element as it’s the first time ARWC will be for National teams. We want a really well planned and organised race, with the best venues, logistics and facilities, and to make life as easy as possible for the teams.”  (Historic Quito was one of the first ever World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO.)

However, the race will have some big challenges to face as it steps up be the World Championships.

“One big organisational change for us is that in all past races teams have had support crews and at ARWC they will not.  This changes our logistics, but we are already preparing and practiced at our 24 hour event with all of our marshals and staff.  It went well and I loved it. It was much quieter and we found that although the logistics were harder we were not managing the support teams, so I am sure everything will be fine for next November.”

“Another change for us is the length of the course. Our race is one of the shortest in the World Series, and is usually around 72 hours with the winners taking maybe 65 hours. This is partly because of the altitude, which makes teams more tired. I’d say they might be more exhausted at a 3 day race in Ecuador than a 7 day race in Costa Rica.”  (That’s something to think about for the teams!)

This naturally led on to discussion of his plans for the course, and the effect high altitudes will have on the race.

“For the World Championships we will make the course longer,” he said, “but have less of it at high altitude. I expect it to be 600-700km in length and take perhaps 5 days for the winners and 8 days for the final teams.

“Our philosophy is to make it tough, but not to punish the teams. We want them to enjoy the entire route and to get to the most beautiful places. They should see the highlights of Ecuador and get to know the country from inside. When things are hard they must feel their efforts are well rewarded. They should leave with unforgettable memories and knowing they have discovered the soul of our country.”

It was at this point that he spoke about plans to cross the equator and visit the coast, the Amazon and the High Andes, which brought us back to the question of altitude.

I know it is a concern for the teams,” he said, “and we will cross an Andean pass over 4500m, but we will not go onto the glaciers or above 5000m, and the course will not stay at very high altitudes. We plan for 45% of the course to be below 1000m, and only 3% will be above 4000m, so altitude will not be decisive. However, teams must still acclimatise as much of the course will be between 1000 and 3000m.”  Quito is the highest capital city in the world at a height of 2800m (9,350 feet).

The race will take place from November 7th to 19th 2014 and entries are expected to open on January 15th with 60 places available in total.

You can find out more about the race at www.huairasinchi.com

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