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.

Colombia's terrain is well suited for breeding climbers, since much of the country is perched high in the Andes. Medellin sits at an altitude of 1500 meters and Bogota, the capital, is at 2600 meters. 

I am still researching specific cycling routes. Of course, there is plenty of great cycling around the outskirts of Medellin. But there are also several legendary climbs. The first is La Linea (also known as 'The Stelvio of Colombia'). Its a 21km climb that rises from 1,653 meters to 3,265 meters. 

The second, Letras, is an unbelievable 80km in length (that is not a typo!). The starting elevation is 490 meters and it finishes at 3,677 meters (12,063 ft)! This is the climb profile:

The gradient is not particularly steep, but 80km is unheard of! The highest elevation I reached in Europe was 2,715 meters on Col de la Bonette, Europe's highest paved mountain pass. Bonette is just a foothill compared to Letras! I expect this climb to present all sorts of difficulties; the air will be thin and the weather unpredictable. The descent alone will take over an hour!

Just as Barcelona was my European base, Medellin will be my South American base. I have friends in Argentina and Ecuador I plan to visit. Matias Hodara is a good friend from Babson College. He moved back to Buenos Aires last year with his wife, Flor, and three kids. We're already planning a cycling trip to the western parts of Argentina (hopefully, we'll cross into Chile as well).

Another friend, Marcus Berkowitz, just moved to Guaranda, Ecuador. I know Marcus from International Bikes in Boston. Luckily, Marcus lives near Chimborazo volcano. I won't be able to ride to Chimborazo's summit (at 6,268 meters), but there is a road that goes up to 4,400 meters (14,400 ft). Loco? Yes!

I fly to Colombia this Thursday. Next weekend should be an exciting introduction to Colombian cycling. Medellin hosts the final two stages of the 9-day Clasico RCN race. I'm looking forward to watching the mountain stages!

Viva Colombia!

The 1986 Cafe de Colombia team.

Fabio Parra.

Luis Herrera in the 1987 Vuelta a Espana

Herrera winning the 1985 Tour de France King of the Mountains.

Rigoberto Uran of Team Sky.

1 comment:

  1. Another grand adventure!

    The Clasico RCN should be interesting

    Have fun!