Back on the bike in Cusco

This weekend heralded my return to really fun, really fast downhill and single track mountain biking in and around Cusco. After two months of being rained out – and a little post-wreck nervousness- I got back on my bike for a few laps on the local Yuncaypata downhill classic.
The fact that the ride is literally right above Cusco and can be shuttled by local bus (2 soles for lugging you and your bike up to the top of the ride), allows for a leisurely departure time. On Saturday my friend met me at my apartment for a tire and disc brake pad replacement (not surprisingly, having some traction and braking power made a huge difference!) at 1:45pm – and we were headed up on the bus by 2:30. Even with our late start we had time for 2 full laps, and several re-walks (attempt jump, miss, try again). And what fun laps they were!
We started from Abra Corao – a small pullover above the tiny town of Corao. The start is steep but not technical; a good warm up entry after a two-month hiatus. After that it mellows out for a while; a few bumps and small jumps but mostly cross-country style pedaling through the small town (watch out for the irrigation ditch in the middle of the main street!) We followed the trail through some fields out of town and actually had a quick uphill pedal before the start of the downhill madness.
The downhill section of this ride is fast and steep – and, of course, fun. The first drop in is quick and provides the option to hit a few manageable jumps before dropping into a much longer, exposed dirt hillside covered in small loose rocks and slick clay. This was the site of my mega wreck at the end of January; and I will admit I walked the whole thing on my first lap, but managed to ride it out on the second. From here it’s pretty much a constructed downhill course. We came across a dozen or so young local riders practicing for the next day’s competition and they were impressive to watch – they were also young and fearless, as indicated by their willingness to hit these massive jumps at top speeds without body armor – or helmets for that matter.
After a second bus ride and a second lap we met up with some fellow riders and sipped cold beers as the discussion turned to the upcoming downhill competitions in April. This month expert and some pro riders will descend upon Cusco and the Sacred Valley for several comps in the city, the Sacred Valley, and Abra Malga. While the local young guns weren’t able to convince me to compete in this morning’s rally, I’m keeping my options open for later this month. After all, my mother did go through the trouble of carrying a full-face helmet down in her carry on…