ICF Marathon Classic Series: Regata Internacional Del Rio Negro (Argentina)
Banner photo credit: Photos by Carolyn Cooper
The Regata Internacional Del Rio Negro (International Regatta of the Black River) has been paddled and won last week in very hot Argentinian conditions. The competition was truly international and fiercer than the hot climate with the local Neuquén crew of brothers Franco and Dardo Bilbao carving a solid lead in the general classification of this multiday stage race.
This was ahead of 2nd placed crew of local rising stars Manual Garaycochea and Sebastian Vergauven and 3rd placed previous K2 marathon World Champions Quentin Urban and Jeremy Candy of France. Urban and Candy are regulars at this race in recent years along with Hungarian Adrian Boros, Spanish paddlers such as Walter Bouzan, Alvaro Fuiza and Ivan Alonso all frequenting the race in recent years to get their mileage up and escape the cold European winter. Of worthy mention too is the fiercely competitive masters paddler Alberto Diaz Portas of Kayak Tudense in Tui Spain, who has made the race nearly every year since 2014. Alberto features often in our 2014 race against one another. Watch all 6 stages of the 2014 edition here:
The Regata Internacional Del Rio Negro is a stage race run on the Black River (Rio Negro) which crosses the entire province of Rio Negro in northern Patagonia. The stages differ year to year but generally start in the regional city of Neuquén and travelling east downstream towards the finish in the coastal city of Viedma.
The 6 stages are broken into 2-day blocks with a very civilised (and sensible) rest day after every 2 stage piece. This creates a fiercely strategic 6 days of racing over a total of 8 days where break aways can occur at any time to change the general classifications.
The race format is predominantly a rolling start due to the flow of the river and then a downstream nature of the race. Navigating the fast-flowing Rio Negro provides paddlers with shallows, gravel runs, weed, large eddies and great scenery along the average stage distance of 40km+ in 40 degree Celsius conditions.
Though the racing is downstream the finishes are regularly upstream with a single turn buoy set up several hundred meters past the finish line so paddlers need to complete the final stretch back up stream to complete the stage. This is an excellent feature of the race to showcase the positions of the paddlers to the large crowd of onlookers and land crews which welcome the paddlers into the finish each day. This is also a real test of a paddlers grit with the final strokes of a long day made harder against the flow and paddlers hungry for any seconds they can steal for overall standings.
Unlike the Tour de France cycling race, where the final stage is generally uncontested, the Rio Negro’s finale in Viedma is fiercely competitive. The prestigious final stage attracts a large crowd along the bank at Viedma as a more traditional lap style canoe marathon race is regularly the format with portages on each up-stream leg to test the paddlers skill. In addition to this the river at Viedma is notoriously windy with large waves more suitable for ocean skis than K1s or K2s. This sees many paddlers improvising wave deflectors out of water bottles to survive the race without being swamped.
You can see what we mean here with the surfing segments and emptying of the boat to stay afloat:
Paddlers who thrive in the Rio Negro will be comfortable racing in the heat, asserting themselves in mass starts, handling large river eddies and spending the first hour of each day doing sprints on and off as the front pack of 20-30 paddlers (k1 or K2) thins itself down to the leaders and several chasing packs behind. Consistently savage racing at the front to say the least. The river for the most part is flowing quickly but with the heat of the summer sun you will want to know how to hydrate properly and recover well from each day’s racing as the fatigue of 6 stages wears you down.
With the demise of several canoe stage races losing popularity, closing or reducing their distances down to single days such as the Danish Tour de Gudenaa, the Rio Negro is one of the last great canoeing stage races. And in terms of quality racing it is up there with the South African river classics but without the big whitewater rapids.
An article about the Regata Internacional Del Rio Negro would not be complete without mentioning the Néstor Pinta and Martín Mozzicafreddo who understood the requirements of this great race with a dominant 14 wins in the K2 category over the last 20 years. Pinta and Mozzicafreddo regularly raced 1 day marathon racing demonstrated by their strong performances at the ICF World Marathon Championships over the years. However, their real talent was managing the fierce pack over many hot gruelling days on the Rio Negro. This skill is something which the Bilbao brothers have taken up in recent years representing the strong paddling culture of Neuquén and Argentina.
The Regata Internacional Del Rio Negro is a rite of passage for Argentine paddlers and a superb stage race to add to your paddling bucket list as an amateur or serious contender.
- Kieran Babich