Thomas Bishop looks back on unforgettable BCI Challenge Puerto Varas: ‘Bucket list destination’

He came, he saw and he conquered: Thomas Bishop was the strongest athlete at BCI Challenge Puerto Varas last weekend, picking up a stunning victory. Not only the race, but the entire trip to and through Chile he experienced as unforgettable. After the race, he wrote a wonderful story about it and we reproduce it here in full:

Chile was a country I never expected to visit as a triathlete. It is a bucket list destination for those lucky enough to travel the world, but to have the chance to race in such a country was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down.

When the Challenge Family team saw my entry to the Clash event in Miami, they offered a trip to Puerto Varas, a small town situated in the Los Lagos region of Chile, just north of the Patagonia region. I didn’t need to consider for very long, when does one often get an opportunity to race in a country famed for its beauty? Furthermore, I’d followed the results of the previous year and saw that some big names like Sam Long, Matt Hanson, Hayley Chura, Laura Siddal and Brent McMahon had raced, and by all accounts it was an exciting event to be a part of. The decision to travel to such a destination was easy.

After racing in Miami, myself, Lucy Byram and her partner and also my mate made the trip to Santiago and then on, to Puerto Montt, the closest airport to Puerto Varas. Fortunately, I didn’t have a window seat, so I was utterly unaware of the surroundings when I landed, this might sound strange but it meant I was in for an absolute treat once I reached my destination. When arriving in a country for the first time, I think everyone revisits their inner child, even if for a moment. I was glued to the transfer’s window for the entire drive to Puerto Varas. It looked magical, and I hadn’t seen what was really in store. 

We arrived at the hotel, late afternoon. The drive had taken us through the back streets of Puerto Varas, and we arrived on the lake sure. I couldn’t help but marvel at the vast expanse of water. It was incredible. A small town, inspired by German settlers took me back to the European Alps, but it was also, so different. The culture of the Chilean people resonated through every aspect of the town and by that I mean there overwhelming friendliness. The race directors, Loreto and Ariel were the most welcoming hosts I’ve ever encountered. They set the standard of what it means to host a race. We were professionals, invited to compete, but it wasn’t just a race for them, and for us either, it went beyond that. 

Before I get into the details of the race, I must say a few words about our hosts. They were fantastic and embodied the sport of triathlon. They wanted to host an event, an amazing race, but to also offer the residents of Puerto Varas and Chile beyond an experience of triathlon which would hopefully change people’s lives. They had initiatives to involve schools kids in the sport. They wanted to look after their environment and put Puerto Varas on the map as a city of sport in Southern Chile. It wasn’t just triathlon they were promoting, but all forms of sport to help the community and further, the interest of the Chilean citizens. It was great to have a Barbara Rivaros at the race, she’s a true ambassador for Chilean sport and a fierce competitor. She had an huge impact on the race and encouraged the values held by the race directors.

The lead into a race can be quite stressful, figuring out training venues, the right meals to eat and just relaxing. Puerto Varas was a place where this stress didn’t seem to exist. It was easy to train. The local swimming pool was close by and the course went straight out of the town so it was easy to recce the route. One didn’t need google maps to find somewhere good to eat, every restaurant, cafe, food truck had amazing food and it was so easy to switch off and relax in a setting surrounded by a tranquil lake and snow-capped volcanoes. 

As mentioned earlier, this event went beyond a middle distance triathlon. The day before saw a host of events, open water swimming, running events and kids triathlon. These were over subscribed which showed the popularity of the event. The biggest success was the enjoyment the kids had in their racing, they didn’t even need wetsuits to get stuck in, that’s all that really matters, that younger generations are still enthusiastic about sport.

So, to race day. We started just as the sun rose. The volcanoes were just viable through the morning cloud. It was cool but in my opinion perfect racing conditions. The lake was calm and the wind not too strong. The swim course went beyond the dock then took a right hand turn and continued parallel to the shore, then two 90 degree buoy turns took us back to the exit. The transition was up a ramp and on to the lakeside road. The bike course continued along the same round for 45km to a town situated at the foot of one of the 4 massive volcanoes on the horizon, it was a truly spectacular route and the road surface was excellent. The race logistical team did a fantastic job keeping everyone safe, there were aid stations and lots of additional support on the road. The wind picked up heading back into town which made the second half of the ride tough, but you couldn’t complain when all you had to do you was glance to the left and see the expanse of the water and volcanoes dominating the setting.

We were greeted by hundreds of supporters entering T2. The atmosphere was electric, even in the cool conditions. I’m certain everyone heading out from T2 was lifted by the support, and it wasn’t only at the transition and finish area, all around the course, spectators and local residents were getting behind the race. Triathlon is tough, but when you can look forward to parts of the course, where fans are cheering, it makes it so much easier. 

The finish was special for me. It was the first race I’d won in a while. But I was able to share that with everyone. School kids ran with my to the line. I was greeted like family when I crossed the line and it really felt like that. The other competitors shared the same experience too. Completing a triathlon should be celebrated equally for every finisher, it’s a proud achievement not matter what your background has been. 

The crowds didn’t leave until the last finisher which shows why Challenge events are so great to get involved with, you are part of their family. The celebrations carried on into the evening, and I won’t deny that some karaoke songs will go down in the race’s history. Thanks again to Loreto and Ariel for hosting such a great event and to the rest of their team. It’s something I won’t forget, and an event I recommend to anyone, from wherever in the world you will travel from.