25 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. Start at the beginning and read volume I of Black Mountain Crusaders HERE.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011                                                            Cerro Negro, Nicaragua

Max Stöckl sits atop his stock mountain bike on the crest of the Cerro Negro volcano, looking down at the vertiginous slope before him. The wind is blowing stronger than it has all week, whipping the ends of the Red Bull wrap Markus has affixed to his head. Quietly he contemplates the run ahead. The first two runs of the day have gone smoothly, and preparation has segued into actualization. The moment is at hand. Everything is silent on the peak, the only sound the sharp flapping of the plastic flags set to delineate Max’s trajectory over the volcano’s lip. From here the air tastes like arid rocks. We all wait, wait for him to be ready, wait for the wind to calm even just a bit, offering a clear window for which to make a record-breaking run for Fastest Human on Dirt. The he puts his helmet on.

It’s an inexplicable feeling to be here, ready to witness such an event. Historic? Perhaps not — who will remember such a feat? How many avid fans of Speed Mountain Biking are there? But the anonymity of the endeavor makes it all the more authentic. What is the true motivation for many record-breaking attempts — money, notoriety, fans, women. It’s quite positive this feat, whether successful or not, will not provide Markus with much of the above. Still, he does it for no other reason than because he simply “likes to go fast,” as Stöckl is fond of saying.

Then suddenly, he’s going fast. He’s going very fast down the blackened face of the volcano. From up top all you can follow is a cloud of black dust. And then there’s the yelling, and the running.

Hit the Jump to continue reading the final installment of “Black Mountain Crusaders”…

And then there’s the paper readout feeding out from the timer. It reads 164.95 kmph. The record for Fastest Stock/Production Mountain Bike Speed on dirt has been re-set.

At the bottom of the run there is celebration. Eric is hugging Max in victory, and endless photos are shot. Andreas pours water on Max’s head in triumph. It is a moment of true jubilation. There’s an amorphous bond that’s grown among this group of strangers during these last 4 days — a bond built on being strangers in a strange land, seared together by the torrid heat of 110 degree sun, melting on a distant black volcano. The copious Flor de Caña rum ingested doesn’t hurt either. But with celebration surrounding him, Markus still seems unfulfilled. Removed.

Mad Max Stockl’s record setting timeslip

We jump in the sapphire blue Toyota Hilux and surge forward, rising and falling in the waves of the vast volcanic dunes, a lost boat shimmering in the sun, rolling out of the swells of a coal black sea. As we drive back towards Leon, I ask him: “If you’d been just 2 kilometers per hour slower, you wouldn’t’ have beaten the record.” “Well,” he begins, considering every word, “Eric had a really good run on his run too. It’s really, really hard to beat the best.” “Well now, you’re the best. So how does it feel?” Max stares straight ahead, driving. “I registered it as a record, and I’m very happy, but at the same moment I’m thinking about the next step and what’s going on in the future. Is there any higher volcano?” he asks, more to himself than anyone. Max looks youthful, virile, despite his full beard. Yet the temples are graying. There’s something there about an athlete perhaps just over his own personal athletic peak, coming to grips with the latter end of his professional career. It’s been 3 years since his last speed record, and at 36 years old he’s clearly no longer in the dawning stage of his career.

“Even with the stock bike I want to beat Eric’s prototype bike speed record, that’s the final goal. I’m completely onto the next thing. Especially because I am personally not that happy with the end result. I’m not disappointed, but I would love to go faster and it’s just not possible on this hill.”

I guess, in the end, there are always more mountains left to conquer. Even for Hercules…

Black Mountain Crusaders originally appeared in the Red Bulletin

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