Photo Story: Tomáš Slavík on Why He Considers Chile His Second Home

Apr 4, 2020
by GHOST Bikes  
Hardly any other name is as closely associated with Urban Downhill Racing as Tomáš Slavík. For years, the Czech gravity rider has been spending every winter in South America to prepare for the bike season in Europe. Meanwhile, Tomáš is something like a "local hero" in South America – and not without reason. From his last trip Tomáš brought many memories of country, people and mountain biking.





Chile is my second home

South America is a place I love returning to. I’ve spent several consecutive winters here. I can take advantage of the local summery conditions when training, and I regularly participate in the City Downhill World Series races. While I concentrated solely on myself in the past, I led a training camp this year. A bunch of Chilean riders joined me; we trained from morning until lunch, and then again in the afternoon. As the proverbial icing on the cake, the camp concluded with a race, the winner of which got a wild card and license to start in the Red Bull Monserrate Cerro Abajo race in Colombia. In South America, city downhills are followed by more people than the Dakar Rally. Their popularity is massive among the locals, and up to five million viewers watch them on TV. It’s a place that I’ve grown very fond of, and now I have the opportunity to tell you why.

Local spot of Tomas s friend Ignacio Rojo Racing in Santiago. Shot by Jan Kasl.
Local spot of Tomáš's friend Ignacio Rojo (Santiago)

Local spot of Tomas s friend Ignacio Rojo Racing in Santiago. Shot by Jan Kasl.
Local spot of Tomas s friend Ignacio Rojo Racing in Santiago. Shot by Jan Kasl.

Training camp Red Bull Del Cerro al Barrio in Nevados de Chillan credit J rgen Westermeyer
Training camp in Nevados de Chillan © Jürgen Westermeyer
raining camp Red Bull Del Cerro al Barrio in Nevados de Chillan credit J rgen Westermeyer
© Jürgen Westermeyer
Training camp Red Bull Del Cerro al Barrio in Nevados de Chillan credit Luis Barra
© Luis Barra

Training camp Red Bull Del Cerro al Barrio in Nevados de Chillan credit Luis Barra
© Luis Barra
Training camp Red Bull Del Cerro al Barrio in Nevados de Chillan credit Luis Barra
© Luis Barra

Red Bull Valparaiso Cerro Abajo communication at the gas station. Shot by Jan Kasl.
Red Bull Valparaiso Cerro Abajo communication at the gas station


The South American Mountain Bike Community

Very few people in Europe or North America can imagine what a community of mountain bikers in the countries of South America looks like. In Chile alone, this sport has been growing rapidly in recent years, and in Santiago, you sometimes get the impression that every other pickup truck is loaded with downhill or enduro bikes. In the last eight years that I have been traveling to Chile, the country has made huge progress. Previously, there had been no riders good enough to be able to compete with us, but that has changed. At the training, at least ten people were tailing me. Last year, the race in Valparaiso was won by the Chilean Pedro Ferreira.

bigquotesPedro Ferreira is the best local rider. He is a domestic star who took gold last year, the same year I had a nasty crash and was unconscious for five minutes after hitting the pavement with my head.Tomáš Slavík

Riding La Parva trails with locals. Shot by Jan Kasl.
Riding La Parva trails with locals
Riding La Parva trails with locals. Shot by Jan Kasl.

Riding La Parva trails with locals. Shot by Jan Kasl.
Riding La Parva trails with locals


A hearty encounter in Valparaíso

It was a gnarly crash. Upon impact, the GoPro camera got knocked off my helmet, flew over a fence, and ended up in some locals’ garden. A gentleman and his wife saw it, and they were worried about my condition. After the race, they came to the organizers and insisted on not leaving until they were promised that the GoPro was returned to me. They wanted to know if I was OK and make sure I was not hurt. This year, Chile has been swept by a revolutionary mood, and no one knows what the future holds, so they opted to cancel the race, but I like the place and so we had to stop by. We went to the site of my crash, and suddenly, I see the gentleman. He approaches me and says: Hey, you must be Tomáš! His name is Gerard, the man who saved my camera. He hugged me, asked me how I was, he was incredibly welcoming. We talked for about an hour. This might be just a moment, a blink of an eye, for some, but for me, it was a huge gesture and a lovely representation of the beautiful mentality of the locals.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
The place where Tomáš crashed in 2019
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Happy reunion with Gerard


Beloved Valparaíso

This is a city to which I’ve developed a very personal relationship. Here, they have a track, and crowds, and an atmosphere that you would not find anywhere else in the world. The best race of the World Cup series is nothing compared to this. Dogs are running everywhere, the walls are painted with graffiti, there’s a music club on every corner. This is pure culture for me. The locals are very warm, many of them know me; there is a lady who has taken a picture of herself, her dog, and me every single year for the last five years. It is because of the people of Valparaiso that I decided to take up Spanish, and I believe that when I’m there next year, I will be able to communicate with them in their native language.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Cruising Valparaiso with Ignacio Rojo
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Riding with Pedro Burns
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.


Who is Chimuelo?

I have a few nicknames back home in the Czech Republic. As a small boy riding a BMX bike, I once hit a tree trunk with my head. And so my friends nicknamed me “Datel” (woodpecker). Others call me Sláva, which is derived from my surname. I have a nickname in Chile, too. When they meet me in the street, they shout “Chimuelo, Chimuelo!” at me. I earned the nickname in an interview that I gave on television shortly before I started the race. It must have been like the twentieth interview in a row, and I was asked if I had any memories related to Chile. I told him I was sorry for what had happened to Chimuelo. I saw it on YouTube. A small boy filmed the funeral of his budgie, Chimuelo, with his cellphone. He dug a grave for his bird, and when he finally came to burying it, a dog came over from God knows where, grabbed Chimuelo, and was about to run away, but this little boy wasn’t having it. He pried its jaws open and pulled the poor bird out of the dog’s mouth. I said this in the TV interview, and I’ve been known as Chimuelo ever since.


Three best places in Chile

Chile is a country where I’ve spent the last couple of winters. While conditions in Europe are bad from December to spring, it is summer in the southern hemisphere. If I had to name the best places for riding, I would mention the following three:

Nevados de Chillan
The best place and an amazing ski resort that offers perfect dry powder snow in the winter. It is located about 300 miles from Santiago, so about a six-hour drive. They have a bike park with three cableways, and the place is characteristic by its specific surface that they call “anti grip.” It provides no traction for tires, it is difficult to keep your bike under control, but when you ride, you whip up a huge cloud of dust behind you. It looks really dramatic, and so most of the pictures of me in the Ghost catalog were taken here. Jan Kasl, the photographer, loves it here.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shooting in 2017
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shooting in 2019
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shooting in 2019

La Parva
This is an area full of trails. It is located in Santiago itself, and you ride at altitudes of 9,800 to 11,500 feet. The local trails are really long, and descending some of them takes up to half an hour. It means a great deal of hard work and sweating at this altitude. There are stones and dust everywhere; the trails are really difficult but amazing. It is the mecca of enduro riding. In addition to the fact that it hosts an Enduro World Series event, the most famous individual enduro race, the Andes Pacifico, takes place here every year.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Tomáš with Ignacio Rojo in La Parva

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.


Matanzas
A breathtaking landscape right by the sea. Most local trails start at the tops of the mountains and plunge down through steep slopes to the sandy beaches. Even though they run through private plots of land, nobody minds and no one complains about the cyclists.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Tomáš with Ignacio Rojo / Matanzas
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Riding with the locals
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Tomáš with Ignacio Rojo / Matanzas

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Tomáš with Ignacio Rojo / Matanzas
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.


Red Bull Monserrate Cerro Abajo in Bogotá

A race known as the Red Bull Monserrate Cerro Abajo in Bogotá was on my schedule after the camp and free riding. We landed in the capital of Colombia after a six-hour flight from Santiago. The race has a reputation for being the most difficult in the world. You would find it in the Guinness Book of World Records for its length of 1.5 miles. It has 1,605 high and sharp-edged steps that wind in endless, tight doglegs. The route the track takes is considered holy by many locals, and so the race actually arouses some controversy. Some praise it, others would rather see it organized elsewhere. I came and was touted as the favorite, which I wasn’t very happy about. When racing, I need at least five rides to read the course and feel at home on it. I had just one and a half practice rides before the race. Marcelo Gutierrez who had won the race in the previous year advised me to conserve my energy, so I took it easy in the qualification, studied the obstacles, and finished ninth anyway. I saved my energy for the final ride and managed to have the fastest time. Only two other riders got on the track before it started to rain, which made the conditions much more difficult for the others. I won, but honestly, I prefer to win a race with equal conditions for all. As I sat in the hot seat, I watched other riders crashing and tumbling down, and rather than being happy about winning, I was glad no one got seriously injured. But on the other hand, I’ve ridden many races where it was the other way round, and I had to race in difficult conditions. That’s the sport and that’s just the way it is. The race is extremely difficult. Never in my life have I felt such piercing pain as what I felt here; your lungs and legs lack oxygen, and just one minute into your run, you feel like getting off the bike and giving up. But you know you have to endure it for four more minutes. Three days after the race I boarded a plane and found that I had cramps in muscles I didn’t even know existed. This is a race that’s a whole class harder than anything I’ve ever had to endure before.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Track walk with Marcelo Gutierrez Villegas

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.
Shot by Jan Kasl.

Shot by Jan Kasl.


A big bike for big stairs

I normally ride a Ghost SL AMR X 29 with 160mm of travel in the front, and 145mm in the back. But the race in Bogotá is different. It is hard, and its tall stairs feel like a surface that is very similar to downhill tracks. So, I opted for the FR AMR 27 model in this case. It’s a bike that offers greater travel of 180/170mm, and I equipped it with downhill brakes, rims, and gears. As the local streets are narrow and the track is lined with walls, I decided to shorten the handlebar to 75cm. I use tires with a very soft compound that offers perfect traction: I used Maxxis Assegai on the front wheel and Maxxis Minion DHR on the back. Thus, I managed to create a perfect cross-breed of a downhill and enduro bike that was capable of flawlessly absorbing even the biggest hits, but could accelerate like a rocket when the track flattened.


A paradise for gourmets

South America is famous for its steaks, but the local seafood and fish are delicious, too. Ceviche, made of raw fish, marinated in lemon or lime juice and spiced up by onions, chili peppers, and other ingredients, is Chile’s national dish. For me, South America offers diverse cuisine, with meals prepared on fires and grills. Bandeja Paisa is the meal that I enjoyed most in Colombia. When they place it in front of you, you get the impression that it contains everything the cook could find in the pantry: beans, steak, pancakes, pig belly, avocado, rice, and fried eggs. It is a heavy meal, and quite fatty too—I wouldn’t have it before a race—but it so delicious.

Shot by Jan Kasl.


(This story was produced at the beginning of this year before the worldwide Corona lockdown. Hopefully, we'll get back to "normal" soon. Stay safe, stay healthy, stay home.)


17 Comments

  • 13 1
 This was a brilliant read!! Might have to start adding Chile on to the list of riding destinations.
  • 4 0
 Colombia, Ecuador, Perú (you might consider visiting Cuzco for a ride), Chile and Argentina. Andes are so huge and have such a variety of landscapes that you can´t imagine.
  • 1 0
 @cebolla: totally agree southamerica mountain trails are amazing and the rides in Peru are so big, lot of vertical drop on a single ride
  • 10 0
 This was a really wholesome and enjoyable read while in lockdown, thanks. A great advert for Chile too!
  • 8 0
 Pretty cool for him to have found such a beautiful second home
  • 3 0
 He should visit Coyhaique and Patagonia next time, the MTB trails on that area are out of this world with the best grip you can imagine and some of the most incredible views.
  • 1 0
 I just rode in Punta Arenas Chile last month with Patagonia mtb trails. Great dude who runs the company. trails were super steep and fun. Next time I'll have to do a multi day tour
  • 2 0
 many riders have been grateful of chilean hospitality, before you did, was Polcster, before him Van Dine, before was Cedric, etc
  • 2 0
 Such a nice dude. All places are awesome to ride... Nice to see how quickly riding scene has growth here!
  • 1 0
 nevados es genial como bike park, pero si te gusta el mountain bike singletrack debes visitar coyhaique Wink
de seguro se modifica tu top 3 Wink
  • 2 0
 Solid article! Really liking the photos!
  • 2 0
 If I had a second home like Chile, I'd probably forget my first home.
  • 2 0
 Zřejmě slušnej oddíl.
  • 2 0
 Great read ...great shots ...Thank you
  • 1 0
 ...Chileans has a great mountain biking scene and are very cool people!
  • 1 0
 Looks amazing, and the locals seem pretty cool too
  • 1 2
 Never heard of a seafood dish that isn’t made from raw fish.

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