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.