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Along for the ride

Apr 1, 2020 | El Observador

Mazatlán is famous for its natural beauty, most of which is centred on its amazing beaches and coastline. But what many people don’t know is that the terrain behind the city has made Mazatlán one of the most popular destinations in México for mountain bikers. There are easy, flat rides, but also hills and rugged back-country trails for more advanced cyclists.

“In Mazatlán we have the Serial MTB, which is a series of six race events that we hold on the outskirts of town,” says Jair Zamudio, who is on the Serial MTB Organizing Committee. “Riders come from all over the state of Sinaloa, mostly from Culiacan. We also have riders from Guadalajara in Jalisco, and from the states of Durango, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Sonora, and Nayarit. There are some very difficult spots around Mazatlán, and people from the other states like that.”

All told, last year there was representation from 40 cities, ten states, and five countries. The season runs from January to June, with this its third year. The Serial MTB is a very inclusive event, with 24 race categories, and cyclists ranging in age from three to 73 years old. All told, about 1,000 cyclists and 25 cycling teams participate.

“There’s a little bit of everything, for all kinds of skills,” says Graciela Domínguez, who administers the finances for Serial MTB. “Of the 24 categories, eight of them include prize money, with equal amounts for men and women. We also have prizes for the eight ‘champions of champions’, which are the category winners for the entire series.”

All told, $175,000 pesos in prize money is given out during the series, including the $25,000 pesos paid out to the “champions of champions.” Obviously, the races can be very competitive, however, race days are also notable for the fun, family-friendly atmosphere—including a race for small children on push bikes.

Part of the appeal for Mazatlán is that the surrounding communities are more than willing to help out. Most of the races are in nearby rural communities, and the locals are usually enthusiastic to see an influx of people. For example, on a recent Sunday hundreds of bikers and their supporters descended on El Chillilo, which is only a few miles out of town. Local kids joined in the races, and music filled the air.

“Of course, we always have to ask their permission to put in a new route, but the communities are usually happy to host us,” says Zamudio. “They can prepare food to make extra money, and the races have a festive, party atmosphere.”

Part of the pride of Serial MTB is the varied on- and off-road course design, achieved by volunteers who have devoted weekends to clearing trails through the bush. Some sections are demanding, with riders navigating tree roots and creek beds. However, since many competitors travel great distances to take part, it’s critical that the courses meet their expectations. Teams wear identifying jerseys, and some participants embrace the newest, most advanced tech—while others rely on beat-up bikes with re-used parts.

“It can be a challenge to design courses for all categories in the same area,” says Alberto Robles Martinez, whose job it is to map out the routes. “I’ve been given this task because I’m the most experienced – I’ve been riding since 1993.”

Serial MTB has been growing steadily in popularity, with the organizing committee now having representation from eight different race teams. Keeping all this afloat requires sponsorship, which goes a long way to making Serial MTB financially viable.

“We give away $25,000 pesos in prize money at every race, and we can’t do that through entry fees,” says Domínguez. “We also have to pay for the portable toilets, the ambulance – which has to be on site in case of accident—and the sound system, among other things.”

The scale and ambition of the series speaks to the popularity of a sport that might otherwise be invisible to many beach-goers. The cyclists, many of whom have family and work obligations, give up significant amounts of time to ensure success, and often spend time socializing together.

“It is important to acknowledge all the work that gets done, particularly by Carlos Suarez, who is the president of our series organizing committee,” says Zamudio. “Carlos is also the president of Mazatlán’s Municipal Cycling Committee. If not for him, we wouldn’t be here.”

The extent of the group effort speaks to the riders’ passion, not only for cycling but also for the larger community. With the sport and Serial MTB growing in popularity, sponsorship has grown.

“We have four categories of sponsors, from small to medium and large, and then the really large ones,” says Pablo Sarre, the member of the Serial MTB Organizing Committee responsible for sponsorships. “The bigger sponsors include Volkswagen and Vicasa, as well as Mazatlán’s Municipal Institute of Sport.”

As the Serial MTB comes to the conclusion of its third season, the growing interest from cyclists in Mazatlán, as well as from other parts of Mexico, ensures that next year will be an even bigger success. The Organizing Committee has established the Serial MTB as an event that’s both well-run and fun—the perfect mix for Mazatlán’s growing community of cyclists, young and old.

Written By TE Wilson
TE Wilson is a journalist and the author of the Detective Sánchez series of crime novels. Wilson was born in Montreal, and attended McGill University, where he shared the Shapiro Award for creative writing (graduating class). He continues to work as a journalist in Mexico, both for the mainstream press and at his blog, "La politica es la politica".