Craig Etheridge won a plane ticket to a messenger race in Guatemala. Then, he won that race.
Etheridge, a first time competitor at the Cycle Messenger World Championships, was the first to complete a delivery course through the tiny Guatemalan town of Panajachel.
Etheridge along with the top 40 male and top 10 female riders competed on Sunday to deliver a set of five manifests consisting of approximately 10 deliveries each.
Etheridge’s finished the course in two hours and 45 minutes, according to Shawn “bega” Blumenfeld, the results coordinator for the event.
“I just tried to ride smart, clean lines,” Etheridge said. “And on top of that, there’s always an element of luck.”
Etheridge won on a Milwaukee Orange One commuter frame, the bike he said he uses on the job as a messenger as well as when races cyclocross.
Blumenfeld said one rider mapped the ride out as 64 kilometers. Most riders took between three and four hours to finish their manifests.
The route designed by Andy Zalan and Luk Keller was a twisting controlled course that brought riders over a variety of terrain, all with specific challenges.
“The idea is that the race simulates a messenger’s workday,” Zalan said. “It’s not so much a race from point A to point B
There was the rain-washed ravine that hooked left into a gravel road that ran along the Rio San Fransisco, where locals waded in the waters to launder their clothes and others loaded gravel into trucks.
There were the main streets, made from a wrist-snapping collection of weather-polished stone.
And, yes, there was pavement. But even then riders reckoned with stray dogs, stubborn locals selling cashews or colorful trinkets in the middle of a race, or live taxi traffic.
Timothy Mason of Portland, Oregon, collided with a local child, who was unhurt. At the podium that night, he announced he would be donating his bicycle to the family.
In all, the crashes were minimal, one head-on collision between two riders that left both unharmed and a sideswipe with a taxi were the only injuries reported.
At the beginning of the weeklong event, the outlook was grim. Heavy rains from Tropical Storm Hermine closed roads and stranded racers across Central America, displacing villagers and even taking several lives.
One of the casualties of the storm was “La Ocho,” a three-dimensional figure-eight track constructed completely out of gravel with a wooden bridge over the middle section. Rio San Francisco swept away a large portion of the track as well as collapsing a corner of the bike polo courts.
“I saw people literally crying for me when La Ocho washed away,” Nadir Olivet, CMWC president said. “I told them: Cry for the people that lost their homes and loved ones.”
Olivet redirected the messenger’s energy and soon they were delivering truckloads of donated food and supplies to those displaced by the storm. On Tuesday, September 7, a group ride around Lake Atitlan was organized to deliver supplies to those in need.
“A lot of people think messengers are outlaws, but they’re always thinking about their surroundings,” Olivet said. “It makes sense they would want to help all these people around them.”
By Thursday, the weather had cleared and the roads reopened. A new, 2-dimensional “La Ocho” was chalked in the ground and bike polo was moved to a new court.
The night before the qualifying race, riders and local spectators gathered under a floodlight for competitions like the bunny hop, trackstands and backwards circles.
Veit Rueckert won the trackstand competition, ending with an acrobatic 30-second balancing act with only one foot on a pedal. He also completed 23 backwards circles in 60 seconds, a highlight of the evening.
In Saturday’s qualifying race, nearly 150 riders from places like Australia, Japan, New York, Seattle and Guatemala competed in a free-form race. Riders were given free reign to deliver whichever packages they wanted, with different deliveries being worth different points, measured in Guatemalan Quetzales, the local currency.
“The course was designed so that there was plenty of opportunity to navigate and make decisions,” Zalan said. “It was a challenging race.”
Riders all purchased Guatemalan cell phones and were dispatched via phone when it was their time to race, the most realistic detail of a working messenger’s day, Blumenfeld said.
“This is the first time using cell phones,” he said. “We’re the most high tech championships in the lowest-tech place.”
Besides the shared bond of messenger culture, Sunday’s competitors had very little else in common appearance-wise. There were the Australian’s whose party-hard, ride-harder sentiment was reflected by their lengthy beards and average-joe apparel to the professional poise of messenger legend and former mountain bike Olympian, Ivonne Kraft.
Kraft brought home the titles for “best veteran,” “La Ocho,” the sprint, the cargo race and the bunny hop. The top female racer, however, was Reitzel Josephine, a messenger from Switzerland who was racing at her first world championships as well.