Filip Polc in Cusco

Half an hour before the start of the Santisimo Downhill competition on April 3, 2010, about 100 competitors arrive in Cusco, Peru looking to win the race – among them Slovak Filip Polc. With fans approaching him and asking him for a photo, he is the star of the show and the odds-on favorite.

Radical city
In Cusco you can find lots of different downhill routes. Nestled between the Andean mountains, Cusco City and its surroundings are a paradise to practice this sport. There are routes for every taste, some long, some shorter, for beginners or experts. In addition, there are urban stretches and paths located on the outskirts of the city that are all the more inviting because of the relatively little traffic that passes through them.

It was Filip’s second time to visit Peru after an earlier stay in 2008 for some photo shoots and sampling of the delicious local cuisine. This time, however, Filip came to compete.

Located in the Yawarmaki region of Urubamba, the Santisimo Downhill track was specially built for this tournament and almost took three weeks to finish. At more than 3,000 feet above sea level, the track offers views of the Sacred Valley of the Incas leading up to Machu Picchu.

Before the start of the competition, Filip was listening to music inside the pickup truck taking him up to the mountaintop. “I concentrated on the task ahead and created an image in my mind of how I wanted the tour to turn out. This helps me stay positive.”

Being positive is a key ingredient of Filip’s success formula. He not only believes that winning is all about the mind, he is also superstitious. Everything Filip wears and does before a competition has a deeper meaning, from numbered gloves and socks (for competitions he prefers lucky pair No. 7) to the preference of green things because the color gives him peace of mind. Until recently, Filip even had a pair of lucky boxer shorts saying “Ur the star”. “I won many competitions wearing them until one day I forgot to put them on and still won. This made me kind of lose faith in them. It’s a good thing I have an underwear sponsorship now though,” he laughs.

Inside the fabric liner of his helmet, Filip carries a lucky charm from his girlfriend Jana sprayed with her perfume and around his neck he wears a pendant given to him at the traditional market of Pisaq.

And for the competition in Cusco, Polc’s positive attitude really paid off, earning him a spectacular first place with a winning time of 3 minutes and 21 seconds. The thrill-seeking Slovak wowed the crowd with his speed on the tight corners and challenging drops and spent the rest of the afternoon signing autographs, taking pictures and giving interviews.

Imperial tour
On the following two days, Filip did a little exploring off the beaten track accompanied by Diego Sarmiento, who designed the Cusco racetrack. The two daredevils started their expedition right next to the remains of the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuaman, going down an impressive stone staircase to continue along a path ending at Cultura Avenue, one of Cusco’s main roads.

On the next day Filip fell in love with Chincheros – a small town about 30 minutes from Cusco featuring spectacular ruins – and the long, thrilling track leading down to the banks of the Urubamba River. They also passed the archaeological complex of Pisaq with its gigantic zigzag staircase with great downhill opportunities. Their final ride was the famous Maras and Moray route running along some picturesque archaeological ruins.

Riding through the breathtaking scenery of Cusco City and the Urubamba Valley also offered the perfect backdrop for some photo shooting. Himself a fan of photography that always carries his Canon 50D, Filip knows what it takes to get that perfect shot and is a highly professional athlete to work with.

“Look at the corner over there! The light is perfect and if you set your camera to 1000, it should work out fine,” is one of the frequent suggestions you might hear from Filip. Asked about why he knows so much about photography, he confesses to be an autodidact. “I always look at the specifications of the pictures taken of me. It helps me improve my own skills.”

Photos by Sergio Urday courtersy of Red Bull Photofiles.
Story courtersy of Red Bull Photofiles.