Words & Video: Giant Bicycles
For the past decade Marcelo Gutierrez has been the constant professional. Year after year he did what it took to race downhill as fast as possible. In a sport where a split second can be the difference between winning or not making the podium, it was a life in which the clock was always ticking.
And it’s a life that Marcelo has loved. The 30-year-old began racing BMX bikes at age 7 in his hometown of Manizales, Colombia, and within a few years he was also racing XC and DH on his mountain bike. In 2007 Marcelo arrived on the global race scene when he finished 12th in the junior men’s downhill race at the UCI World Championships in Fort William, Scotland.
After a few years as a privateer, Marcelo turned pro and joined the Giant Factory Off-Road Team in 2013. He immediately proved to be a top contender on the World Cup circuit. The results came, and Marcelo rose through the ranks to become the most successful South American downhiller of all time. His list of accomplishments is long: 11 national championships in Colombia (nine elite, two junior), three Pan-American titles, four World Cup podiums and four top-10 finishes at World Championships.
“To have stood on multiple World Cup podiums makes me feel like I’ve accomplished way more than I thought possible, or what other people thought was possible for a Colombian rider,” Marcelo says now. “I’m proud of the fact that I have been able to show Latin American riders that there is a way for us to be out there competing at the top level.”
Looking back, one racing memory stands out as a favorite for Marcelo. “No doubt, it was the Fort William [Scotland] World Cup in 2015,” he says. “That was my first ever World Cup podium. That is something all downhill racers dream about, so when that day comes and you realize that you will go stand on that podium and feel the champagne, man that’s a good feeling.”
Beyond World Cup racing, Marcelo also made a name for himself at other major international events. For years he dominated the famously long and gruelling Garbanzo DH at Crankworx Whistler in Canada, winning the race a record five times.
And as many fans know, Marcelo developed a reputation as the King of Urban Downhill. Flying down man-made tracks through the steep streets, alleys and stairways of South American cities in these spectator-favorite events, he thrilled onlookers with his speed and skills. Marcelo has been a constant favorite to win at the most well-known urban DH events in South America, including those in his hometown of Manizales, Colombia, and Valparaiso, Chile.
The last couple years on the race circuit were difficult for Marcelo as he struggled with health issues including ulcerative colitis, a bowel disease that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. It’s something he has dealt with for several years, and ultimately led Marcelo to adapt a gluten-free diet. In the fall of 2019, he decided it was time for a change: He wouldn’t be racing in 2020.
Over the past few months, Marcelo has changed his focus, making great strides in improving his overall health. Now he says he has more time to cook for himself, prepare the types of foods that help him stay healthy, and spend more time with his girlfriend Valentina and their dog Jefe. Beyond that, he is also enjoying his new role as a Giant ambassador.
“I could not be happier right now,” Marcelo says. “We all start in this sport because we love what it’s all about: being in nature, seeing new places, making friends and pushing your limits. Then, if you’re good enough and you want to be a racer, you might find a team. Over time, such a strict and busy schedule starts to become quite a lot—in a good way because this is normal if you want to be a professional athlete.”
While Marcelo has thoroughly enjoyed the life and opportunities that come with being a pro racer, year after year it can be consuming. “You have less personal time, less time with your family,” he says. “So now I’m feeling like the luckiest person in the world to be able to ride as much as I want, wherever I want. I can be home more and ride with good friends and be able to do projects with Giant and other partners.”
Marcelo’s new projects include creating videos and telling stories about his experiences. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the things I had planned are on hold for now, but I can’t wait to go out on the road and share with the world what Colombia is all about,” he says. “And I hope to share this by going beyond Colombia and throughout Latin America. My goal would be to share stories like Anthony Bourdain did, but on bikes: to show different cultures, food, places, people, trails and nature.”
For now, Marcelo is enjoying the downtime. “My DH bike has been hanging on the wall since November,” he admits. “I have always been a big fan of pedaling a lot, so I have been spending a lot of time on my [enduro bike]. I have found a great group of riders and we have been pedaling a lot. Long rides plus a lot of trail running and hiking too. Unlike my typical DH race prep, I’m doing less time in the gym. No sprints, nothing specific. It’s just me and my bikes and a few good friends.”
One last thing, Marcelo says. While he’s certainly enjoying this new role, and busy working on projects he has planned this year, that doesn’t mean he has forever abandoned competition.
“Oh yes,” he adds. “I have not said yet that I am retired! I’m just taking some time, and I still might want to come back for specific races that I really like.”
The call of a start gate, a ticking clock and all-out sprints to the finish line may never disappear completely.