Monday, December 19, 2011

The Importance of Good Hair

It was all about the hair. No doubt. In the old days, sponsors wanted their cyclists to look good, on and off the bike. 

Louis Bobet

Hugo Koblet, below, was known for carrying a comb in his jersey pocket. Just prior to the finish line, he would comb his hair to look good for the girls and the cameras.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ciclovia Medellin

Medellin is one of several Latin American cities that hosts a weekly Ciclovia. Every Sunday from 9am to 1pm, Medellin closes 30km of main roads to vehicles. The roads are dedicated to cycling and other forms of recreational use, including walking, jogging, and rollerblading. 

Ciclovia Medellin began in 1989. Back then, only a few kilometers were allocated by the city; all on the city outskirts. Now, Ciclovia runs along the river and through the city center and upscale neighborhoods of Poblado and Envigado. Its the equivalent of shutting down Auckland's Queen St and Tamaki Drive, or, Boston's Newbury St, Storrow Drive and Atlantic Avenue.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Grand Snail of the Velodrome

Medellin hosted 3 nights of track racing at the Martin Rodriguez ('Cochise') velodrome in Estadio, Medellin. The event is named Gran Caracol de Pista, which translates to The Grand Snail of the Track (I don't know why its called this, except the lead sponsor is a media company named Caracol). The Grand Snail was held one week after the World Cup in Cali (in southern Colombia), so many athletes from around the world were still here to participate. The biggest 'estrella' was Maximilian Levy of Germany. Other countries included France, Switzerland, Poland, and Malaysia along with most of Latin America.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Makes Colombian Cycling So Unique? Part V

During my first two weeks here, I rode into the mountains on the other side of Medellin. A few days later, a Colombian friend asked about my route across the city. I didn't realize at the time, but I had chosen a road that borders the neighborhood of San Javier. When you think of Medellin as the murder capital of the world (which it was in the 1980s and 1990s), you shouldn't think of Medellin. You should think of San Javier.

This post is about Medellin's violent past. Its not directly related to cycling, but its important that visting cyclists, or any tourist for that matter, be aware of the neighborhoods they enter. A Garmin device or wrong turn can easily route you through one Medellin's dangerous barrios.

Medellin has long been a violent city. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar's Medellin drug cartel fought an urban war to control the city. They eliminated competing cartels, bribed government officials, and offered rewards for the killing of police officers. Escobar himself was killed by the Colombian government in 1993 after a year-long manhunt. At its peak in 1991, Medellin's murder rate stood at 381 murders per 100,000 people. And the absolute number for the year: 6,500. (The UN's marker for an 'epidemic' murder rate is 10 per 100,000).  

Monday, December 5, 2011

What Makes Colombian Cycling So Unique? Part IV

Carry a rain jacket when cycling in Medellin. I learned my lesson shortly after arriving in October. 

Medellin is known as 'La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera' or 'City of Eternal Spring.' The average temperature here of 22C (72F) remains constant throughout the year with only minimal variations (Colombia sits just above the equator). But it can be very wet here. Medellin's tropical rainforest climate averages 224 rain days per year. The months with the highest number of rain days are April and May, as well as September, October, and November (see chart below). 

Source: Instituto de Hidrologia Meteorologia y Estudios Ambientales.

However, my Colombian cycling friends tell me that rainfall in the last couple of years has been much higher than normal. They attribute this to El Nino, with Medellin experiencing unusually high rainfall every 4-5 years. In late 2010, dozens of people living on the slopes of Medellin were buried by mudslides.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Colombian Wedding and Cycling

My friend, Camila, invited me to a Colombian wedding. Her high-school friend, Paula, married Alejandro in Medellin last night. I wouldn't normally post about weddings, but a fairly serious Trek Madone and Pinarello riding cyclist was sitting at our table. We spent at least 15 minutes discussing routes, hardware, and VAM, so I guess the wedding now qualifies for my blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Quebrada de Las Conchas, Argentina

This is a video of my MTB ride with Matias, Gonzalo, and Javier from Cafayate to Cabra Corral. The ride took us through 80km of Quebrada de Las Conchas. 

If you saw the photos in my post here, you'll love the video. Most of the footage was shot just prior to sunset, so the picture is a little darker than usual. We rode until after dark, around 8.15pm.

The soundtrack is a little unclear, but I think the singer is saying something about Tony Danza.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Switchback

A switchback, also known as a hairpin bend, is a sharp turn on a mountain road. Engineers use switchbacks to give vehicles the ability to ascend and descend a mountain by traversing it, rather than going up or down a prohibitively steep slope. And, constructing a road of switchbacks on either side of a mountain is far more economical than drilling a tunnel.

The 21 switchbacks of Alpe D'Huez.

I found surprisingly little information on the Internet about the history of switchbacks. Some of Europe's mountain passes were cleared thousands of years ago. Great Saint Bernard Pass in Switzerland is the oldest pass in the western Alps, with surviving traces of a Roman road. Today's road may not follow the original road, so I don't know if switchbacks were used by the Romans. However, many Roman roads were built to support military campaigns and transport heavy equipment, so I would suspect that switchbacks were used.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Makes Colombian Cycling So Unique? Part III

I am back in Medellin after two superb weeks in Argentina. Its been a month or so since I wrote about Colombian cycling, so today I am writing the third installment: Support Vehicles. You can read Part I here (The Colombians and Colombia's Road Surfaces) and Part II here (Food and Diet).

Colombian cyclists often arrange a support vehicle for long rides. The support vehicle serves three purposes: 1) to carry spare wheels and fix any mechanical problems, 2) to hand-out food and liquids, and 3) for safety (by trailing us if the traffic is heavy). A support vehicle is just like having a team-car, but without the sponsors' logos. 

If we're a small group (say 3-4) we'll have one motorcycle. With larger groups, say 12 or so, we'll have a motorcycle and at least one SUV. Usually, the driver is an ex-cyclist and bike mechanic. We often have Jorge accompany us (Jorge goes by the nickname 'Sapuca'). Sapuca is a former track-cyclist and very agile on his motorbike.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

ARG by MTB Day 4: Cafayate to Cabra Corral

Another awesome day in Argentina! We started at midday with a tour of the Michel Torino vineyard (where our hotel was located). After downing several tasting glasses of white and red wines, I was ready to ride. 

We spent the last 2 days riding south. Today we took Route 68 northeast back towards Salta, where we landed on Wednesday morning. 

An hour or so into the ride, we entered Quebrada de las Conchas, which is another amazing valley of unreal red rock formations. Route 68 winds its way through the Conchas valley, following an almost dry river bed.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

ARG by MTB Day 3: Molinos to Cafayate

Today was by far the best riding we've had in Argentina. The scenery was truly spectacular, as you'll see below! 

My day started at 9am. I went to the hotel dining room and was shocked to see two of my Argentine friends finishing their breakfast! I cannot believe an Argentine would be up so early. In fact, I am convinced they stayed up all night. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

ARG by MTB Day 2: Cachi to Molinos

Today we started cycling at the 'prompt' Argentine time of 3pm. I thought we were under the gun considering we had a 60km ride to Molinos, and all of it was on a windy, undulating, gravel road.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

ARG by MTB Day 1: Salta to Cachi

Today, we started our 5 day MTB trip in northwest Argentina. We are four: Matias Hodara, Gonzalo Chernitsky, Javier Vilamowski, and myself. Flights were dicey in Buenos Aires this morning. Just 5 minutes before we were due to board at 6.30am, all flights out of BA were put on hold due to volcanic ash from Chile. I knew about problems in the south west, but I wasn't aware of ash reaching the east coast of South America. Not knowing whether we would be waiting hours or days for flights to resume, all we could do was take a seat. The Argentines didn't seem too stressed, but I was quite worried (perhaps another sign that I over-stayed in the US). Luckily, flights were taking off again within a couple of hours. It all seemed very odd. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Buenos Aires

On Thursday of last week, I borrowed Matias' hybrid and rode the 35km into Buenos Aires from the suburb of Tigre. BA is perfectly flat, so it was a pretty easy ride. The weather was great and the traffic was easily manageable (despite what I read online). And, just as my Colombian friends had warned me, Buenos Aires is the nicest European city I have seen.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I've been staying with my friend, Matias Hodara, and his family in Buenos Aires for the past few days. Yesterday, we conceived a plan to take the boat from Buenos Aires across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay, ride 80km from Colonia to Carmelo, and then return by boat to Tigre (near Matias' house). We were three: Matias, his friend, Gonzalo Chernitsky, and myself, plus mountain bikes. It would be a good test - the three of us (and a fourth) will be riding together for 5 days in northwest Argentina next weekend.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Interview with Colombian Cyclist, Mauricio Leyva (Part II)

This is the second part of a two-part interview with Colombian cyclist, Mauricio Leyva. You can read Part I here.

Switchback Publications: Now lets talk about Medellin. I have been here about a month and I love this city. What do you like most about Medellin?

Mauricio Leyva: I like the weather, the girls - my wife is from Medellin - and the people are very nice and friendly. 

And the family. In Medellin, the family is very important; its the nucleus of society. And in the family, the most important person is the mother. So whats really nice in Medellin is the values and the culture. 

SP: As I mentioned, I've been here about a month. I find Medellin a very peaceful, calm city. But it wasn't always like that. Back in the 1980s, Medellin was a very different place. It was violent and unsafe. What was Medellin like for you in the 1980s?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Fun in the Barrio: Clasico El Colombiano Urban Downhill

Every year, the local newspaper, El Colombiano, hosts 5 days of various cycling races in Medellin. The event is called Clasico El Colombiano and the races include a time-trial, road circuit, downhill urban, BMX, gravity, and mountain biking.

I spent a couple of hours watching the downhill urban this afternoon. Its similar to this event in Valparaiso, Chile, although today's course was not quite as suicidal, unfortunately.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Tuesday I fly to Buenos Aires. I'll be staying with my good friend, Matias Hodara, his wife Flor, and their three kids. Its been eight years since I saw Matias and Flor so its about time we caught up! I'll also be catching up with Javier Dborkin (although I'm lucky to see him fairly regularly in Boston). Matias, Javier, and I got our MBAs together at Babson College. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Interview with Colombian Cyclist, Mauricio Leyva (Part I)

Switchback Publications sat down recently with Colombian cyclist, Mauricio Leyva. In an extensive interview, Mauricio talks about cycling, the city of Medellin, and Colombia.

Switchback Publications: Thanks Mauricio for taking the time to speak with us. Firstly, tell us a little about yourself.

Mauricio Leyva: I am 34 years old and I have lived in Medellin all my life. I've been married for almost a year now. I work for Banco de Bogota in private banking. I started cycling on a mountain bike. It was not easy because the bike weighed 15kg. I did my longest ride on that bike, Vuelta de Sur, at 192km. It was really hard. Then I got into road cycling. Since then, I've been doing riding a lot.

SP: Cycling in Medellin has gone through some ups and downs. It was huge in the 1980s because of Cafe de Colombia. It quietened down, but there was an explosion in cycling's popularity in the last 5-10 years.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Riding with EPM & Shimano GW Development Teams

A friend suggested riding with one of Colombia's development teams. So, at 7am this morning, I met 10-12 young cyclists from the EPM and Shimano GW development teams. (EPM is a utility company in Medellin and GW is a frame manufacturer). Like Major League Baseball's farming systems, development teams feed professional cycling teams. EPM and Shimano GW have UCI Continental status. An EPM rider finished second overall in the 2011 Tour of Utah (behind Levi Leipheimer), and the team won three stages. No small feat - the Tour of Utah is one of the biggest races in the US.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Just a short post today. I rode a 95km O&B to Montebello this morning. Montebello is a small town south-east of Medellin. There is nothing particularly noteworthy about Montebello, except for the 12km road that leads to the town from Alto de Minas. The ride hugs the ridgeline and offers some really nice views of the valleys on either side.

On another note, I called Hincapie Sportswear headquarters in South Carolina today, asking if they offer tours of their Medellin factory. The woman who picked up the phone said no. If anyone has any contacts at Hincapie, please let me know. Thanks.  

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Makes Colombian Cycling So Unique? Part II

This is the second installment looking into Colombian cycling. My first installment talked about The Colombians and Colombia's Road Surfaces. (You can read it here). Part II is focused on Colombia's food and diet.

One of Colombia's highlights is the food. I like the local cuisine because so much of it is unprocessed and complements endurance sports. Daily staples here include rice, beans, plantain, eggs, chicken and fresh fruit juice. It may sound a little bland to the sophisticated pallet, but the point is that its very healthy. 

Colombia has approximately a dozen kinds of fruit you cannot get elsewhere. One of my favorite daily activities is walking down to the local Carulla (an upscale supermarket chain) to eat at the fruit bar. One kilogram of fruit costs $3. Examples of native fruits include guanabana, lulo, and uchuva. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

What Makes Colombian Cycling So Unique? Part I

This is the first installment of an ongoing series which will examine cycling in Colombia. Many of you wrote in asking such questions as: "How is the cycling in Colombia?" ..."What is Colombia's cycling culture?"..."How safe is cycling outside of Colombia's main cities?"..."Does the local diet suit endurance sports?"..."How hot are the female cyclists?"...and..."Duncan, I get the Alps, Pyrenees, and Dolomites, but Colombia WTF?!"

So, I'll attempt to answer your insightful questions. I expect to describe around 12-15 unique aspects of Colombian cycling over the next few weeks. Here are the first two (The Colombians and Road Surfaces):

The Colombians
Certainly most European cyclists are very friendly. I met countless cyclists at Le Tour, in cyclosportifs, and on the road. All were happy to chat and share cycling stories. But the Colombians are different. Colombian cyclists go out of their way to introduce themselves to a foreign cyclist. They are curious to know why I chose Colombia and how I learned about it. And they all ask for my phone number schedule a ride for the next week. Several invited me to their houses for dinner and/or to meet their families. I have not met more friendlier people anywhere in the world, including New Zealand.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Santa Fe de Antioquia

Santa Fe is a small, colonial town located on the far side of Medellin's western mountain range. Founded in 1541, Santa Fe is a popular tourist attraction partly because its been so well maintained. Santa Fe reminded me of Antigua in Guatemala (but without the vibrant colors).

Monday, October 24, 2011

Escobero: El 'Mortirolo' Colombiano

Loma del Escobero is regarded as Colombia's Mortirolo. The climb profiles are almost identical: Escobero ascends 930 meters over 9.6km (an average gradient of 9.7%) while Mortirolo ascends 1300 meters over 12.4km (a 10.5% average gradient). See below for the official climb profiles of each. 

Escobero felt a lot harder today than Mortirolo did back in August. Perhaps because most of the gradients in Colombia are 5-7%. Rarely do the slopes reach into the double digits here. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Alto de Minas

I climbed Colombia's '3rd most mythical climb' (as the locals describe it) yesterday. Alto de Minas is located 30 km south of Medellin. Its a 42km climb rising from 600 meters to 2,450 meters. The problem is that I prefer loop rides and the climb is on the southern side of the mountain. Somehow, I had to get 72km south of Medellin without a simple out-and-back route. My friend Mauricio mapped a route that circumnavigates Minas by riding southwest from Medellin to Bolombolo, and then southeast following the Rio Cauca to La Pintada.

The day started out just great. I was up at 5.30am and left my apartment an hour later with clear skies and dry roads.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Llanogrande (pronounced "Jamo-grande" in Colombian Spanish) was on the cards for today. Llanogrande is the area just east of Medellin. It was a good ride, and a lot easier than yesterday. I'll just post a few photos. 

On the way home through Medellin, I accidentally discovered 'Ciclovia Medellin.' Every Sunday, Medellin closes several of its main streets to allow traffic-free cycling. I should not have been surprised; Ciclovia Bogata closes 120km of streets for 2 million cyclists! (Source: I will dedicate a post to Ciclovia Medellin at a later time.

We stopped at Ciclo Ramirez in a small town to borrow a floor-pump after one guy in our group punctured.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Santa Rosa: Vuelta de Leche

We rode 130km round-trip today to Santa Rosa. Colombians call this Vuelta de Leche (The Milk Ride) because of the large number of cows in the area. I am told the high altitude (2400 meters), wind, and rain make for perfect conditions to raise cows. That is a little strange to hear, since New Zealand produces so much dairy yet we are mostly at sea level. 

I have just a few photos from today's out-and-back route. All of the pictures below are from the first half of the ride. We hammered home on the second half, constantly trying to escape the rain, so I never had a chance to pull out the camera. Plus, Vuelta de Leche's 74 short but sharp hills take a toll. By the end, we were all pretty buggered. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

San Jeronimo

I planned this ride for Tuesday, but postponed it to Wednesday because of rain. Aside from the rain, not riding on Tuesday was probably a good thing considering Monday night's 3 martinis, 2 glasses of wine, and 4 hours sleep.

San Jeronimo is a small colonial town that was founded in 1616, making it one of the oldest towns in Colombia. It is located 35km west of Medellin. Thirty five kilometers may not sound like much, but you have to cross Alto de Boqueron, at 2500 meters altitude, to get there.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Clasico RCN

Today was my introduction to Colombian cycling, and what a cool day it was. One of my Colombian contacts, Alejandro Jimenez Moreno, hooked me up with his cycling friend, Mauricio Leyva. I had the chance to meet with Mauricio and his wife, Tatiana, last night for dinner in Medellin. They didn't know me until then, but they went far out of their way to introduce me to the local cycling community.

This morning I met with Alejandro (a different Alejandro), Sergio, and Juan (Mauricio couldn't make it, unfortunately). We set off to ride part of today's Clasico RCN stage. Clasico RCN is Colombia's second most important stage race, after the Vuelta a Colombia, and attracts top Pro Continental teams including Movistar. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dallas in the Big Ring

In the big ring? Of course I was in the big ring today. I was riding in Dallas. I've never seen anything so flat. I barely needed to change gears. In fact, cyclists here only need about three gears, and there is certainly no need for the small chainring. Here is the profile from today's 139km ride:

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My Next Cycling Adventure: Viva Colombia!

Well, I am off to Colombia for two months! I visited the beautiful city of Cartagena on the Caribbean coast in 2009 and since then, I've always wanted to return. So, last week I bought a plane ticket and arranged to rent an apartment in Medellin. 

Most of you probably don't know that cycling is Colombia's second biggest sport (after soccer). And, Colombians have featured prominently in world professional cycling since the mid-1980s. At first, they weren't taken seriously. The peloton often blamed the Colombians for crashes, and considered their racing tactics amateurish for the European ranks. However, within just a couple of years Colombian cyclists such as Luis Herrera and Fabio Parra were winning Tour de France mountain stages and regularly finishing in the top-10 of the General Classification.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Brief Off-Season (WARNING: non-cycling content)

For just the second time in Switchback Publications' short (but distinguished) history, I am publishing a non-cycling post. My 2011 summer cycling season pretty much ended with a 160km ride in Cesme, Turkey in early September. I had hoped to ride the following week in Istanbul, but the traffic and chaos was a little too unbearable. Plus, all I really wanted to do was eat more baklava (which would explain why I gained 3kg in Istanbul).

So, I decided my legs and knees should rest and recover in advance of my next cycling trip (details to be announced next week). I returned to the US on September 15th. Since then, I've been catching up with friends and family in Boston, New York City, and Dallas. 

Here are a few pictures from September. It was great to see so many people I had not seen in such a long time. 

I spent a week in Turkey with my friend from Babson College, Yigit Tatis, and his wife, Denise, and their two kids. We were in Bodrum for several days and then Cesme.

Friday, September 23, 2011

La Marmotte con Pave - Mas Fotos!

Javier from Pave in Barcelona emailed his photos of our La Marmotte ride today. His pictures are much better than mine, so I am posting them here. We did the 184km ride on August 13 with a group of Catalan cyclists. Marmotte crosses 3 passes and then finishes at Alpe d'Huez - a total of 5,200 meters of elevation gain. Its epic to say the least.

Pave in Barcelona.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cote d'Azur with Paul Amey (June 2011)

I spent several days with Paul Amey in mid-June. Paul is an old friend from high school days. We did several rides out the back of Nice including the Ironman course and Col de Braus. Paul was in his final stages of training for Ironman France. He finished 4th in the Pro field in the race on June 26th.

The following movie is a compilation of our rides. I was wearing a Contour HD camera and Paul had two GoPro cameras attached to his bike (front and rear). 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Video Highlights from Pyrenees, Euskadi, Spain and Andorra

You may have seen my daily blog posts (below) from my cycling trip with Dave Andersen. We spent 9 days in late-August riding in the Pyrenees, Basque Country, Spain and Andorra. We shot many hours of footage and I finally had some time to edit it down to just a few minutes. Here it is. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Cesme, Turkey

I've been in Turkey for the past week visiting my friend from Babson College, Yigit Tatis, and his family. He was kind enough to host me in Bodrum and Cesme, two beautiful towns on Turkey's western coast. I didn't ride in Bodrum; I was mainly relaxing. But I did get out for several rides in Cesme. Yesterday, I rode 160km around Cesme's northern peninsula. It was just what I like: quiet, hilly, and scenic (although, all I really wanted to do was jump in the ocean). Here are a few photos.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day 9 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Col du Chioula

Just a brief post today. Unfortunately, our last day was a wash again. After Thursday's 210km ride, we planned a 100km route on the French side of the Pyrenees that would take us over 2 cols (Col du Chioula and Col du Pailheres) and a mountain finish at Ax-3 Domaines. The weather packed in as we descended Chioula and we were forced to turn back. It was a bummer, but we've had more than our fair share of awesome rides this week. I'll save Pailheres and Ax-3 for another trip. So, here a just a few pictures from today's ride.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 8 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Tres Nations (Andorra - France - Spain)

Today turned into an epic ride. We were looking for some big climbs on our second to last day of riding, and we sure got it. The ride was 210km and 4,200 meters. Our initial plan was to ride three out-and-back climbs centered in Andorra la Vella. Instead, we found a great loop that took us up all three climbs, plus one more, by way of Andorra, France and Spain. The four climbs, in sequence, were Port d'Envalira (the highest pass in the Pyrenees), Col de Puymorens, La Rabassa, and finally, Vallnord-Pal. 

Its too late to write much more, so I'll just include the Garmin file and a few photos.

By the way, Day-7 was a forced rest-day. It rained all day in Basque, so we drove back to the Pyrenees and found a hotel in Andorra. We are staying here tonight, but we drive to France in the morning for our final ride before returning to Barcelona on Friday evening.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 6 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Stage 4 of the 2010 Tour of the Basque Country

Today we rode stage 4 of the 2010 Tour of the Basque Country. Dave and I joined the course just prior to the first climb (we rode 125km). I really enjoyed the climbs, although many of the flatter sections in the valleys were on major roads. Here are some pictures with captions:

Researching the course prior to our ride.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 5 Pyrenees & Euskadi: San Sebastian

San Sebastian: culinary capital of the world. And not too shabby for a ride either. Today was an easy day. Dave and I rode a tiki-tour in and around the city of San Sebastian. We started in the hills just to the east of San Sebastian overlooking the coastline, before chowing down a superb 3-course lunch (I ordered gazpacho, duck and crema Catalana). Then we headed back to the Old City, the beach, and the nearby hills. San Sebastian is a beautiful city with excellent food (try the pintxos). I highly recommend visiting. Tomorrow, we'll be back in the big ring.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 4 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Puerto de Elosua and Alto de Aztira

Dave and I explored a little of Euskadi today. We hit several passes that took us from valley to valley and town to town. Basque Country is very different than Catalonia. The land is green and full of rolling hills. And the architecture is quite different too - all the buildings look like they were built in the last 20 years. Its hard to believe that is the case, since people have lived here for thousands of years (and Basques believe they speak the original European language).

Anyway, here are some pictures from today's 100km ride. Tomorrow, we hit San Sebastian and the coast.

Day 3 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Puerto del Portillon and Superbagneres

It was another super hot day today in the Pyrenees. Temps were ~35c/90f and I feel over-cooked right now. We opted for a slightly easier day with just 95km and 2000m of climbing. First climb on the docket was Puerto del Portillon. To get there, we rode a loop around a mountain range and crossed into Spain. We found Portillon out the back of a small village and ascended into the wooded mountains. It was just a cat-1 climb but very enjoyable.

We then quickly headed down into the town of Bagneres to begin the 1200m climb to reach the ski station at Superbagneres. The Tour has been here a half dozen times but not since 1991. Superbagneres was very hard, especially with the high temps. After 90 minutes of hard slog I reached the summit. Totally worthwhile as usual; the views are amazing.

Anyway, today was our last day in the Pyrenees. After the ride, we packed up the car and drove 400km to Basque Country (Euskadi) which is where I am now.

Tomorrow will be an adventure. Basques are into cycling big-time so I am keen to check out the local scene.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 2 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Port de Bales and Col de Peyresourde

Today was a hot, hot day in France. The forecast was for fairly cool temps, but by midday the sun was beating down at ~35c/95f. We set out this morning on a 155km cyclosportif route. The first ~70km took us on a clockwise loop north and then east through the Pyrenean foothills. The sportifs really know how to pick the best rides. 

Our first climb was Col des Ares. Its a TDF regular, but nothing too serious; just a warm-up really. The big climb of the day was Port de Bales. It was a 1200 meter beast taking us up to 1800 meters. Bales is most famous for the Schleck/Contador chain incident in the 2010 TDF. Just a few seconds after Schleck attacked, his chain fell off and he lost 38 seconds while putting it back on. Contador took off, left Schleck behind, and went on to win the Tour by, coincidentally, 38 seconds. Some people argued that cycling etiquette dictates cyclists should not take advantage of misfortune (e.g. a mechanical mishap). Others say that Contador had no choice since several other GC contenders responded to Schleck's attack. I agree with Contador. The race was 'on' at that point. 

Anyway, Bales was damn hard. In fact, I would say it was much harder that Tourmalet. We climbed sustained 10-11% sections. It was all very worthwhile, though, as the above-treeline summit was quite spectacular. 

The descent was awesome (fast and dangerous), and then we hit Col de Peyresourde. It wasn't too challenging (10km at 7-8%) but it was a very nice climb through a wide, green valley. Jan Ullrich crashed descending Peyresourde in 2001. He overshot the first switchback and tumbled down a small grass ditch (he was ok). And today I could see how it happened. The descent is very fast and the first switchback appears out of nowhere. Luckily, my Garmin warns me of tight turns ahead.

All in all, it was a long and epic ride: 155km and 2800 meters. Tomorrow is our last day in the Pyrenees before driving over to the Basque Country (Euskadi).

In the Pyrenean foothills early in the day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 1 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Col du Tourmalet

Today was our prologue ride. We had to go easy, knowing what lies ahead. The day started with a beautiful climb up the southeast side of Col d'Aspin followed by a descent down to the valley. We then began the day's big climb; Col du Tourmalet. I climbed the west side of Tourmalet last month during the Tour, but wanted to experience the west side. It was just as hard. The sun was beating down today (80-90f) and the pitch was a constant 8%-9% for 12+km. 

After a quick lunch we made our way back to Saint-Lary-Soulan via a cat-1 climb, Hourquette d'Ancizan. It turned out to be a hidden gem. Ancizan appears occasionally in the Tour, but its not well known. We climbed the north side through a stunning valley. In some ways, this little surprise was the highlight of the day. Here are some pictures from Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, and Hourquette d'Ancizan.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

La Marmotte con Pave

I went back to Marmotte this weekend. A group of guys from Pave bike shop in Barcelona were making the trip and were kind enough to invite me. There were nine of us in total: Javier, Raphael, Gordi, Luis, Gerard, Carlos, David, Valentin and myself. 

Saturday was a really long day. The 700km drive to the Alpes took about 11 hours, thanks to horrendous French traffic and frequent toll stops.

Anyway, we finally arrived and ate a great dinner in Bourg d’Oisan. Unfortunately, Sunday’s weather was cold and wet. I think I was spoiled by the weather when I spent a week here in June; it was hot and sunny everyday. We spent a good chunk of today’s ride in the rain and cold. It was quite miserable at times, but luckily, Galibier - the highest pass at 2,645 meters - was kind to us.

All the Spaniards turned out to be very strong cyclists. Back in the US, I can hold my own on climbs. But here in Europe, I pretty much get nailed every day. I hoped to be mid-pack on this ride, but I was consistently towards the back on every climb.

If you didn’t see my June posting, La Marmotte is one of the world’s toughest rides. Its 175km and 5,000m of vertical over 3 hors categorie climbs and a cat-1 (Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, and finally, Alpe D’Huez. Stage 19 of this year’s Tour went over the final three. It was one of the most exciting stages: Contador attacked early on Telegraphe but couldn’t hold it; a French rider, Pierre Roland, won the stage at Alpe d'Huez; and Thomas Voeckler lost the maillot jaune after 10 days of leading the General Classification.

And, if you are looking for a high-end bike shop in Barcelona, check out Pave ( Javier Mayo is the person you want to see.

Here are some pictures from the trip:
Warming up after Col du Glandon.

This Week's Cycling Adventure: The Pyrenees and Euskadi

My friend from Boston, Dave Andersen, arrives in Barcelona tomorrow. We're heading up to The Pyrenees and Basque Country for a litte bike ride or two.

Here is the loose plan:
  • Wednesday: Dave arrives and we drive to Saint-Lary-Soulan on the French side of the Pyrenees
  • Thursday: Horquette d'Ancizan, Col du Tourmalet, and Col d'Aspin (174km and 3200 meters)
  • Friday: Col des Ares, Port de Bales, and Col de Peyresourde (152km and ~3000 meters)
  • Saturday: likely Superbagnares, Puerto de Portillon, and Portet d'Aspet. 
  • Sunday: we'll drive to Euskadi (Basque Country) for several days of riding. Zumarraga will be our base, as its close to many of the Tour of The Basque Country routes and climbs. 
  • Tuesday through Friday: TBD. We have everything we need for Northern Spain (bikes, routes, Garmin, cash and credit cards), so we'll just take it day-by-day.
  • Saturday: Dave flies back to Boston. 
Stay posted for photos/videos.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stelvio Footage

I had some time this week to edit my Passo Stelvio footage. Seriously, its one of the most beautiful passes I've seen in Europe (and one of the biggest - 1800 meters on the north side). BBC's Top Gear ranked Stelvio the world's greatest driving road, until they found the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania. 

For a bit more background, you can read my full Stelvio blog post here: 


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Girona & The Costa Brava

I took a (flatter) ride today around Girona and the Costa Brava. It was a nice to see more of Spain's countryside.

Girona was home to many North American professional cyclists in the late 1990s and 2000s including Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and Tyler Hamilton. I'm not sure why. Of course, the weather is great, but Girona barely sits at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Its a decent drive to get to the real climbs.

Girona had a very large Jewish population until the Inquisition. I rode around the Jewish Quarter (see pictures below) today, which reminded me of Jerusalem's Old City (perhaps no surprise).

As for the Costa Brava, well, its very nice. I desperately wanted to jump in for a swim, but no one was there to watch my bici.

The day turned out to be much, much longer than expected. I was counting on ~110km, but I botched Google maps in my research last night. The actual distance today was 180km. That is a big difference. I was borderline bonking in the last hour (two cans of Coke to the rescue). And I was quite worried I would miss the last train back to Barcelona (especially because my Garmin ran out of batteries - after nearly 10 hrs. I needed the Garmin to find a small town called Sils where I planned to catch the train).

Anyway, everything turned out fine (worst-case scenario: hitchhike to Barcelona). I got home at 10pm after a 90 minute train ride during which I devoured 3 bottles of chocolate milk, a huge sandwich, and a muffin. Now I am diving into the ice-cream.

Here are some pictures from Girona and Costa Brava:

Girona's Jewish Quarter.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

La Leggendaria Charly Gaul Gran Fondo

I raced in another cyclosportif (or Gran Fondo, as they are known in Italy) last week. This was a 138km race with 3,200 meters of climbing, and there were only two climbs! The event started in Trento and finished on nearby Monte Bondone, the highest mountain in the area. Both climbs were up Monte Bondone; the first up the southern slope and the second on the northern slope.

The event is named after Charly Gaul. He won the Tour de France in 1958, as well as the Giro d'Italia in 1956 and 1959.  

Here is footage from the race. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Passo Mortirolo and Passo Gavia

Two massive passes: Passo Mortirolo and Passo Gavia. Mortirolo is known as the hardest climb in Italy. It gains 1,300 meters over 12km, averages 11%, and peaks at 18%. Armstrong said its the toughest climb he's ever done, and within the professional peloton Mortirolo is known as the "Queen Climb of Europe."

Mortirolo was a typical Italian pass, beginning with a narrow road that quietly leads out the back of a small village. The road looked more like a hillside villa driveway than a legendary mountain pass.  Many Italian passes are hidden in the woods and you cannot really see much for most of the ascent (Stelvio and many of the Dolomite passes are the exception). Mortirolo immediately aimed for the sky, and stayed that way until the last few kms. I really enjoyed the climb. It hurt - more than i realized - because I could feel the fatigue once I got to Passo Gavia.

Gavia is another legendary Italian pass. It is a Giro d'Italia regular and Gavia is best known for Andy Hampsten’s attack in the 1988 Giro (he went on to win the Giro that year). Although it was June, a fierce snowstorm enveloped Gavia. Apparently, the Europeans in the peloton pleaded with Hampsten not to attack as everyone was wearing their summer kits and no one was prepared for below freezing temperatures. He ignored them and gained precious time. The storm was so bad that team cars and race officials were unable to escort the cyclists up Gavia. YouTube has videos of the racers once they reached the finish in Bormio. They are almost frozen solid, unable to speak, and their exposed skin is a glossy bright red.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Gavia. I read several ride reports and watched a handful of YouTube videos, but still waters run deep and I had the feeling that Gavia would be quite a ride. About half-way up the 1,363m climb, the clouds moved in, from above and below. In some ways, the clouds ruined the views, however, I got some spectacular cloud formations, and the sun still poked through occasionally. The climb became more and more surreal as I got closer to the 2,652 meter summit: modern guardrails on the lower slopes turned to nothing more than rope and string, a pitch-black 1km tunnel that I had to navigate with my hands (see photos below), and a road surface that felt like it was built by the Roman Empire. But that was all part of “The Gavia Experience”, a climb I could really only describe as “unbelievable."

The customary pre-ride espresso. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Passo Stelvio

Passo Stelvio is one of the best climbs I've done. I would put it up on the list next to Col du Galibier in the French Alps. I rode both sides (north, then south) of Stelvio today. Its the highest pass in the eastern Alps at 2,757 meters.

The pass was completed in 1825 by the Austrians and its route has not changed since. The north ascent is the more famous route. It has 48 switchbacks up a steep wall. Ascending the south was just as awesome (38 switchbacks), but the scenery is quite different. In fact, the southern side had a wide, green valley that reminded me of Col du Tourmalet and Col du Galibier.

Once I finished the southern ascent, I descended a few kilometers back to Passo Umbrail. It sits on Stelvio's shoulder (so I didn't need to climb) and then descended ~1200 meters into Switzerland. From Santa Maria, it was a 20km loop back to my hotel in Gomagoi, Italy.

Switchback #40 (the northern side has 48). Only 39 to go.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

La Marmolada

Marmolada is the highest mountain in the Dolomites at 3,343 meters. I found a route that would take me on a 85km circuit around Marmolada by crossing Passo San Pellegrino and Passo Fedaia. 

Fedaia was an awesome climb. I didn't realize it, but there is a fairly large lake (and dam) at the top of the pass (altitude: 2,057 meters). Marmolada's peak towers another 1,300 meters above Fedaia.

Below are some pictures. If you are looking for my Garmin data file, it somehow got corrupted. I am hoping Garmin can fix the file so I can upload it.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Maratona dles Dolomites

Another long day. I am pretty buggered after crossing 7 passes totaling 4,000 meters. I won't bore you with the details, but below are ~20 pictures of the Dolomites as well as my Garmin ride data.

The passes, in sequence, were: Gardena, Sella, Pordoi, Campolongo (from the south), Campolongo (from the north), Giau, and Falzarego.

Click here for the complete Garmin ride data.

I will update this post sometime next week with a video from today's ride.