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Watching the news this weekend, Tom and I saw an interesting piece on how mountain biking is taking the favelas of Rio by storm. It won’t be an Olympic event soon, I’m sure, but it’s gaining a lot of attention locally.

It seems that several mountain bike events have taken place in the last few year, hosted by (who else) Red Bull, with seven categories of riders, including one 11-year-old who has been training “for years…well, two years actually” to brave the tracks of beaten earth, pressboard planks, and plywood steps that tumble down the hillsides of the favelas.

Here’s the newscast of this year’s event from Globo News, Rio de Janeiro.

The event apparently began in 2009 with the 2009 Red Bull Desafio no Morro (Challenge in Morro, or Mountain Challenge) Mountain Bike event, an unprecedented mountain bike downhill competition inside a favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro, where racers careen at top speeds down the 760 meters (2,280 feet) of the favela’s alleys and staircases.

Here’s a video of the 2009 race.

It appears that some rising names in mountain biking are taking an interest in the favela races, though from what we could see, safety standards aren’t high priority in these early stages.

As the bike racer, Gee Atherton, stated in an interview on Redbull’s website after the 2009 race:

“The track was incredible – one of the fastest street races I have ever ridden. It was sketchy riding, with dogs and people wandering across the track. Every run, there was a new challenge, and because of the speed it meant you really had to stay focused.”

What did strike us, however, was the enthusiasm of the crowds who watched the competition. What other events of such diversion and magnitude take place right outside of their doors and windows, where they don’t have to pay to watch exciting competitions?

Said Atherton:

“But the most impressive thing was the atmosphere. The crowds were awesome and were so excitable – it was a real party atmosphere. I would love to have a street race like this at home, but the main thing about this race is how unique it is.

““I was nervous coming into this. I’d heard a lot about the favela, but once we walked the course and saw how friendly everyone was and how pleased they were, I changed my mind. It was awesome to see how much support the riders had.”

I’m not sure how long this event will continue, but for the moment, it gives visitors a reason to go to the favelas, and provides a much-needed diversion for those who live there.