23 Jan
"Mad Max" Stöckl attempts to break the World Serial Mountain Bike Speed Record on a remote Nicaraguan volcano

Austrian downhill mountain biker Marcus “Max” Stöckl has been training to claim the record as the fastest on Earth. To seize the title, he’ll have to beat renowned French rider Eric Barone’s time of 101.68 mph — a record Barone established a decade ago on the unforgiving Cerro Negro volcano in northern Nicaragua. It was a run that almost claimed his life, and now Stöckl has returned to the Black Moutain to give it his best shot. This is his story.

Sunday, May 12, 2002                                                            Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Eric Barone sits atop his customized prototype mountain bike on the crest of the Cerro Negro volcano, looking down at the vertiginous slope before him. In the remote savannas of northwest Nicaragua the clouds of the coming rainy season have yet to arrive, leaving the skies utterly spotless. With the peak bereft of trees or vegetation of any sort, the late morning 105-degree sun lasers down directly, transforming his red Lycra aerodynamic bodysuit into a skintight plastic tandori. Underfoot, the black volcanic rock emits waves of heat, obstructing the otherwise clear view to the timer 650 meters [2132 feet] below him. The goal is simple: to descend down this mountain face faster than 130 km/h — the standing Prototype Mountain Bike Speed record notched less than 6 months prior. He’s focused, calm. And why shouldn’t he be? Only earlier that day, Barone established the downhill record on a stock bike by clocking 101.68 mph. He knows this mountain well; just get a good start, hold on tight, maintain perfect form and gravity should do the rest. Then and there, looking down that unforgiving coal slope, Barone realizes this will be his last speed run on soil. He’s simply going to break the record, then hang up his aerodynamic helmet in victory.

A half kilometer below, his best friend and business partner Marco Rebuttini and a beautiful Nicaraguan redhead named Jany Salinas Medina stare up at the apex anxiously, both seemingly more aware of the mortal danger of the impending feat than Barone himself. From the timer where they stand, Eric is little more than a crimson Lycra ant gleaming in the sun.

Then the wind offers a moment of calm, and he’s off. Over the ledge and speeding up as the bike makes its accelerating descent down the face of Cerro Negro. The velocity is remarkable, the sound of the wheels rushing over the rocky slope like a sharp, incoming wind. A growing plume of dust follows his descent like a scalpel. Then the slope hits an elbow where it flattens out from 95 to 40 degrees, and instead of absorbing the grade change the fork of the prototype buckles instantly, the front wheel disappears before him, and Barone’s chest slams into the ground at 106.88 miles per hour. His helmet jettisons like a slingshot, his ribcage colliding with the volcanic rock at full speed, shattering 5 ribs on impact. He then bounces up and begins cartwheeling like a spineless child’s doll across the black earth. In his violent tumbling he ruptures the tendons clean from both shoulders, dislocating his left. The forearm muscles in his right arm rip in half when he overextends his wrist. On the last impact he tears his glutes and breaks his hip. Somewhere along the rolling cannonball of collisions, Barone breaks his fourth cervical vertebra. Finally he comes to a grinding halt, body motionless in a broken heap of dust and silence.

Hit the Jump to continue reading “Black Mountain Crusaders, vol 1″…

“Do Not Pass: High Risk Region for Volcanic Eruptions”

“Everyone was saying, ‘He’s dead.’ Imagine, he was sitting there lifeless, not moving,” recalls Jany anxiously, now Jany Barone. “It horrified me, we were all crying. For me, I had already lost him; he couldn’t have survived that. So we ran over, he was bleeding everywhere and his face was covered in dirt. And suddenly, his eyes opened! We couldn’t believe it. We’re all very Christian here, so to us it was God’s miracle.”

“There was no time for emotion,” explains Rebuttini coolly. “There was only time for action.” Unfortunately for Eric, the team had spent all their money on production and preparation, so they didn’t have funds left for a prepared airlift. In fact, they didn’t even have health insurance. So Marco did the only thing he could do: he lifted his crumpled buddy up and placed him in the pickup — unknowingly putting his broken spine in unconscionable peril. In a high anxiety sweat they rushed to the hospital — in a pickup truck, on Nicaraguan dirt roads, his broken body jostling in the cabin like a shoe in a dryer. When they finally arrived at the hospital 50 minutes later the elevator was broken, so with Murphy’s Law in full effect they carried him to the second floor.

Needless to say, Barone’s injuries were critical. His surgeon Dr. Laurent Lafosse argues that if it weren’t for the nearly superhuman bull-like muscles around his neck, he’d be paralyzed or dead. On a slightly upbeat note, Barone now walks with a slight hipshaking cumbia-like limp in his gait, as if perpetually salsa dancing, thanks to the damage to his hips from the accident.

To keep reading Black Mountain Crusaders, continue onto volume II and find out if Stockl found success. To get an idea of the danger involved, check out the horrifying video below of the accident that almost killed Eric Barone…

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