Active + Adventure

Extreme Sports for Spectators

by Dave Flanagan

Mountain bike race, Valparaiso Cerro Abajo, Chile

Why watch: Sketchy Southern Hemisphere mountain biking, up close and personal

Those mountain bike trails you ride on the weekends might seem pretty gnarly, but south of the equator they've been busy rewriting the "Badass" chapter in the Annals of Cycling. Valparaiso, a coastal city about 80 miles to the northwest of the Chilean capital, Santiago, is a UNESCO World Heritage site that couldn't have been better designed for crazy urban mountain bikers. First run in 2002, the Valparaiso Cerro Abajo sees some of the world's boldest riders barrel through the town's labyrinth of narrow streets, tackling 90-degree corners, yawning gap jumps, and a bone-rattling succession of staircases in the fastest time. The under-wheel conditions cover the whole spectrum of marginal surfaces, from dirt tracks and wobbly wooden ramps to slippery cobblestones and potholes. Throw in an ever-present risk of collision with lampposts, cars, random dogs, and thousands of manic spectators standing inches away from the eyeballs-out action, and you begin to understand why this event is such a draw. You might want to check out the helmet-cam footage that has left millions of online viewers breathless before deciding how close you want to get to those handlebars. Pick your spot carefully and watch out for low-flying cyclists.

Valparaiso Cerro Abajo, February 2012

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